Hurricane Irma's lingering effect: Sinkholes

TAMPA --  The winds have died down. The rain has ended. But the effects from Irma are still being felt in the form of floods, and now, sinkholes.

In Apopka, outside Orlando, another sinkhole courtesy of Irma, has caused the ground below a house to give way.

“You do see an increase in sinkhole activity,” said USF Environmental Engineer Nick Albergo.

Albergo says we can expect to see more of this sinkhole activity.

Irma’s soaking rains, he said, have made the ground so heavy that in some places it's collapsing into underground voids. 

“There is an archway in the soil, and now that overburden on the archway collapses, as the result of the heaviness<’ said Albergo.

In less than two weeks, there have been at least eight Florida communities affected by the sinkholes.

In Orlando, a van was swallowed up. In Altamonte Springs, it caused a road collapse.

Some of the sinkholes are affecting structures, like an apartment complex in Orlando. Others have harmlessly opened-up in huge fields like the one behind an Apopka middle school.

Experts say it's actually fortunate that Irma's heavy rains came later in the rainy season because, by this point, three months of heavy rain have created a situation where those underground voids have been filled by rainwater.

That puts upward pressure on the soil, giving it even more support.

Jay Silver, founder of the sinkhole repair company Helicon, says it could've been even worse had we gotten Irma's soaking rain right after our recent drought. Now?

“You are not going to see these sinkholes open up as you would in a rapid rain scenario,” said Silver.

But that same water table, holding the ground up for now, will eventually recede, says Albergo, which will create voids that could lead to dramatic collapses like the one recently in Pasco County. 

“That roof gets really thin, and anything can cause it. And when it goes down, bam! That's what you saw in Land O' Lakes,” said Albergo.

And since it can take several weeks for rainwater to slowly seep its way into Florida's aquifer, experts say the effects of the storm could be with us for months to come.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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