Sinkholes are generally something we don’t think about as a hazard in our day-to-day lives. While not particularly common seeing whole homes and cars being swallowed by sinkholes, according to the USGS, close to 20 percent of the United States is susceptible to having sinkholes open up. While sinkholes can happen anywhere, the states of Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas tend to have the most sinkhole damage.
How Natural Sinkholes Form
To understand why sinkholes exist at all, we need to understand how natural sinkholes form. Areas prone to sinkholes tend to have a certain type of rock susceptible to becoming soluble in water. This bedrock is made of a type of rock called carbonates which includes dolomite and limestone, or evaporates, which is made up of anhydrite, gypsum, and salt. The region that has these type of rocks are called karst regions.
Acidic water slowly erodes the soft bedrock as it comes in contact with it. The water becomes acidic through contact with plants and absorbing carbon dioxide. This erosion leads to caverns and conduits where the water flows. Eventually, too much rock has been washed away and there isn’t enough supporting structure. The ground collapses, and there is sinkhole.
Too much water and too little water may cause a sinkhole to form. In the case of too little water, the underground water levels drop and no longer support the dirt above it. In the case of too much water, the excess water weakens the structure and gravity takes over, causing it to collapse.
How Man-Made Sinkholes Form
Man-made sinkholes can happen due to all sorts of reasons including broken pipes from water main breaks, vibrations and drilling, flooding, increase in the weight on a particular section of land, and mining. For example, in 1994 a huge 150 foot deep sinkhole opened up in central Florida because of improper storage of a radioactive waste known as phosphogypsum. Mining for phosphate in Florida created this radioactive waste. Mining companies piled close to 1 billion tons in Polk County, Florida, which was already riddled with karst regions. The sheer weight of the waste caused that sinkhole to open up.
New construction and mining is often the culprit when it comes to sinkholes. But old construction can also cause a problem, especially a sewer system, such as the huge sinkhole in Guatemala City that occurred in 2007. This sinkhole was 330 feet deep and killed people and destroyed homes right within the city.
Other Causes of Man-Made Sinkholes
Because man-made sinkholes can occur during droughts by pumping away the water that holds the karst region together, it’s important to understand that those drawing the water away are responsible for the damage they caused. Farmers who use water for irrigation and cities that draw too much water from the aquifer may be liable for causing sinkholes. Another industrial practice, that of brining salt beds, can be liable for creating sinkholes. The practice is to pump fresh water into areas with salt to extract the salt as brine. Brine is often used for drilling fluid in oil fields.
The Suddenness of Sinkholes
With some natural disasters you have some warning. With tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods you may have some warning to seek shelter or get out of the area, but not so much with sinkholes. Your home or business may be on a sinkhole, or at least in a karst region, and you may never be aware of it until the sinkhole suddenly swallows up your building, car, or yard. You may not even be aware that some business is undermining the very foundation of your home. In other words, it simply happens. What’s more, normal home owner’s insurance generally doesn’t cover sinkhole damage, even though, alarmingly up to 40 percent of the United States is susceptible. Unless you have enough foresight to have purchased sinkhole insurance, it is unlikely that you will be compensated for your loss without consulting an attorney. Even if you did have the foresight of purchasing sinkhole insurance, it’s best to have an attorney on your side when dealing with the insurance.
Get the Compensation You Deserve
If you’ve lost property or loved ones due to a sinkhole, you are hurting and probably don’t know where to turn. Sinkholes are traumatic and if you’ve lost your house or property, you need to be compensated. In many cases, sinkholes are manmade, which means someone caused them. Call us today for a free consultation or fill out our free case evaluation form. We can help you.