As Florida sinkhole widens, more homes may be evacuated

The Florida sinkhole that swallowed two homes last week isn't getting any deeper, but it's getting wider, officials said Wednesday.

Because of the growth, residents of two additional homes in the neighborhood north of Tampa have been warned they may need to evacuate. They were told to gather their possessions in preparation of leaving, said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County's assistant administrator for public safety.

Five homes near the sinkhole already had been evacuated.

"This is not a time for panic. We have somebody out here monitoring this sinkhole, monitoring the expansion. We will let people know in plenty of time that they need to get their stuff together and be ready to go," Guthrie said. "When we say, 'Now is the time to leave.' It's time to leave. It's not time to pack things up."

The edges of the sinkhole are caving in because there's no support for the sandy soil as it dries out, officials said.

It's now about 235 feet (72 meters) wide, about 10 feet (3 meters) wider than it was several days ago. It remains 50 feet (15 meters) deep.

As the water line in the sinkhole goes down, the sand on the right-angled banks can't support the weight of the ground and it's giving away. Engineers believe the solution lies in getting dirt into the area as soon as possible to create a sloping bank with support that can keep the edges of the sinkhole from falling in, Guthrie said.

"We're working to that end right now," Guthrie said.

Meanwhile, power was restored to one of the evacuated homes and the homeowner will be allowed back, Guthrie said.

None of 20 water wells tested came back positive for E. coli, but water samples from 17 of the wells will be re-tested for any signs of contamination. Greg Crumpton, a local health official, said elements found in water from those wells may be the result of improper maintenance by homeowners, but health officials want to make sure it's not from the sinkhole.