Uncommon but dangerous, 20% of U.S land is vulnerable to sinkholes. Sinkholes occur when the ground collapses in on itself. Not many people know what a sinkhole is or how it damages the environment, only ever hearing about them when human lives are impacted, and do not know how to prepare or recover from a sinkhole. Sinkholes are a natural disaster, defined as a cavity that forms in the ground. They can occur from a multitude of causes, both human and natural.
Humans can create sinkholes when developing cities with activities like drilling, creating roads, buildings, and other underground projects that compromise the structural integrity of underlying rock. Water can also collect in certain areas and erode the supporting rock layer. Once the supporting layer is gone, there is nothing for the top layers to rest on, so the ground caves in on itself, creating a sinkhole.
Erosion due to underground water is more of a natural cause, and these sinkholes start to develop long before they are ever seen. Water continually is seeping into the ground, washing away the dirt, minerals, and rocks supporting the upper layers of soil. Once these layers are gone, there is no more support, causing the ground to collapse.
Sinkholes cause a lot of damage to the environment, as the ground is caving in on itself. Sinkholes can change the topography of an area, and also change the path of underground streams of water. Important structures built underground, such as sewage lines, can rupture, and leak toxic chemicals into the soil and possible drinking water. Sinkholes also have big effects on human life.
Sinkholes can cause massive property damage and even property loss, as well as injuring humans and even killing them. Recently, a sinkhole opened up in a Florida suburb and swallowed up two houses whole while making four others unsafe. The sinkhole has stopped expanding, and those four houses are now habitable. The sinkhole started as a hole no bigger than a pool, and expanded to be roughly 225 feet in diameter and 50 feet deep. The sinkhole is stopped up by debris, and contains parts from septic tanks and household chemicals.
Officials are treating it as a hazmat incident, and will have to work to decontaminate the area, as well as get the debris out. While sinkholes are uncommon, there are things people can do to prepare for them, as well as recovery tips. Ways to prepare include making a ‘grab and go’ kit, complete with important family documents, food, water, and extra money. Making an escape plan that is the fastest route out of your house is another good way to prepare, that way everyone knows how to get out quickly and safely, should your home fall into a sinkhole. Ways to recover from a sinkhole include filling it back up.
The Florida DEP has some tips for filling a sinkhole, suggesting the use of natural earth materials or concrete, using limestone rip-rap or a concrete plug to create a stable foundation for the filling. Add clayey sand to prevent water from seeping down into the hole and expanding it. Top off the hole with sand and topsoil. The hole may need additional filling over time, but should eventually settle.
Sinkholes are uncommon, but are very dangerous and can be life-threatening. When these holes open up in the ground due to erosion or human activity, the damage to the environment can be huge. Humans have lost their property due to sinkholes, such as the one in Florida which consumed two houses. By making escape routes and ready-to-go kits, people can be prepared for the worst, and eventually recover once the hole is filled and stabilized. Sinkholes should be treated seriously and with caution, as they can open up suddenly and change lives forever.