MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – During the past two weeks, stories of sinkhole catastrophes. Earlier this month, a man was buried alive as his bedroom was engulfed as a sinkhole opened up in southwest Florida. Most recently, a golfer in Illinois fell in an 18-foot sinkhole. Thankfully, a rescue team pulled the 43-year-old golfer out alive.
Over time, our part of the Gulf Coast has seen many natural disasters. We have experienced everything from hurricanes to tornadoes, but never a sinkhole.
This raises the question: could it happen where you live?
“Not what I would call real sinkholes,” said Associate Professor of Geography and Chair of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of South Alabama Dr. Mimi Fearn. She said there is nothing to worry about where we live.
“Right around here, I certainly wouldn’t worry about it, not at all. We have some ground collapses where you’ve got erosion and where you’ve got some underground piping but not like traditional sinkholes like you’re going to see in Central Florida,” said Dr. Fearn.
She said the most common misperception of sinkholes in our area can be found in Baldwin County; they’re called Grady Ponds. When it comes to these ponds, it all has to do with the type of soil. It’s wet and sticky, but not quite the right ingredients for a proper sinkhole to form.
Dr. Fearn said sinkholes are usually associated with limestone below the surface. She said when it rains, water goes down and crosses the surface of the soil.
“The water goes down into the soil, goes down into the limestone; the limestone usually has cracks,” said Dr. Fearn. “And as that water goes through the limestone, it actually dissolves it away.”
For those of us on the Gulf Coast, we don’t have to worry about limestone beneath the top soil. What about places that do have it, like central Florida? How would you know where to buy a house?
“You’d have to go along about every hundred feet and punch a hole. Nobody’s going to do that. If you were really going to invest big bucks, probably the first thing I’d do is invest the big bucks to dig that core and find out what was below me before I built my mansion on top of that property. But people don’t think about it. These…you’re not going to fall into these. You might get stuck in the mud.” she said.
Dr. Fearn said the closest place around with the threat of sinkholes is east near Marianna, Florida. That’s just north of Panama City.