Gainesville residents might be alarmed to know just how stable — or unstable — the ground they walk on is.
Anthony Randazzo, a UF professor emeritus of geological sciences and president of Geohazards — a group that evaluates areas for sinkholes — said Gainesville is at high risk when it comes to sinkhole formation. However, he said, residents shouldn’t be worried that an event like the Tampa-area Seffner sinkhole, which trapped one person Feb. 28, will happen here.
“[Gainesville is] probably ahead of Seffner in terms of the number of sinkholes, probably behind Seffner in terms of the catastrophic kind of sinkholes — the ones that swallow up a home in a matter of hours,” Randazzo said.
He added sinkholes form as a result of eroding limestone near the Earth’s surface. Over time, the erosion creates cavities, which can get bigger and no longer support the weight of the ground above them.
Randazzo said the 20-foot-wide and 50- to 60-foot deep Seffner sinkhole, which swallowed and killed Jeffrey Bush, 37, while he was sleeping, is rare.
“This is only the third time in 40 years … that I have documented a case of a fatality associated with the formation of a sinkhole,” he said.
Donald Sessions, special operations chief at Gainesville Fire Rescue, said he doesn’t think residents should panic because of the Seffner tragedy.
“All of Florida presents a risk just because of the land,” he said. “When sinkholes open up here, it’s been in rural areas.”
Sessions said GFR doesn’t have specific policies for sinkholes, adding firefighters are still trained to handle those types of emergencies.
“It’s part of our technical rescue: rope rescue, trench collapse, structural collapse,” he said. “All of these things are elements that we train on and have specialty teams that respond to them.”
Randazzo and Sessions both said residents should monitor their homes for signs of damage such as cracks in the walls, tilting of floor slabs or strange noises that could all be a precursor to a sinkhole.