The Horrifying History Of House-Eating Sinkholes In Florida

A situation where entire houses suddenly fall into gaping pits sounds like it could only exist in a horror movie. But sinkholes are real, and they're fairly common in states like Florida. The very worst sinkholes have caused losses of life, homes, and property. Florida is prone to sinkholes because the state is built on a foundation of limestone, which is a porous, soluble rock that can be dissolved by water. When the weight of manmade and natural structures becomes too great for the foundation to hold, a cavern in the ground opens up and takes everything above with it. Because of Florida's weather, which includes torrential summer rains, sinkholes are common in the state.

  • Human Activity Can Create Sinkholes

    Sinkholes are usually caused by natural phenomena like heavy rainfall, but human activity can also trigger them. Drilling, excavation, and fracking, for instance, are major causes of sinkholes. When groundwater is pumped for agricultural purposes, it can weaken the earth and lead to a collapse. An article in The Guardian investigated the ways in which humans are contributing to the frequency of sinkholes, citing a particular incidence in Plant City, Florida, where farmers pumped millions of gallons of water onto their strawberries, causing the limestone foundation underneath to erode and cave in.

  • A Man Was Swallowed Into A Sinkhole When His Bedroom Collapsed

    A Man Was Swallowed Into A Sinkhole When His Bedroom Collapsed
    Photo: ABC News / YouTube

    In 2013, a Tampa man named Jeff Bush fell into a sinkhole after his bedroom floor gave way in the middle of the night. His brother, Jeremy Bush, was sleeping in the room next to his, and he described the sound of the sinkhole opening as "like a truck hitting the house." Jeremy jumped into the hole and tried to dig Jeff out. Jeremy said, "I thought I could hear [Jeff] screaming for me and hollering for me." Emergency services couldn't save him, and they later determined there was no way he could have survived the fall. Jeff's body was never recovered.

  • A Woman Was Trapped Inside A Sinkhole In Her Backyard Twice Within The Same Year

    A Woman Was Trapped Inside A Sinkhole In Her Backyard Twice Within The Same Year
    Photo: CBS / YouTube

    In 2010, a small sinkhole formed in the backyard of Carla Chapman's home in Plant City, Florida. She happened to be outside when the ground opened up, and she got stuck in the sinkhole. She suffered minor injuries and was eventually rescued by a neighbor.

    Shockingly, however, Chapman fell through another sinkhole only a few months later. This one was more dangerous. She couldn't get cell service underground, so Chapman dialed 911, then tossed her phone outside of the hole so that the call would go through. When a police officer found her, she was buried under heavy sand and clay. He couldn't pull her out, but fortunately backup arrived. Chapman lived but suffered severe injuries after the second accident.

  • There Are Warning Signs When A Sinkhole Is Imminent

    There Are Warning Signs When A Sinkhole Is Imminent
    Photo: Telstar Logistics / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Sinkholes appear suddenly, but there are often warning signs before they collapse. Look out for sagging trees and fences, doors that won't close properly, and rainwater that collects in odd places. Once a sinkhole forms, it expands over a number of hours, so residents usually have time to grab a few important belongings and leave their homes.

  • A 1981 Sinkhole Swallowed A Car Dealership And An Olympic Pool

    A sinkhole opened in Winter Park, Florida, in May of 1981. It eventually grew to be 350 feet wide and 75 feet deep. Jim Jammal, an expert on sinkholes, called the event "the largest sinkhole event witnessed by man as a result of natural geological reasons or conditions." It took a car dealership, an Olympic-size pool, a house, and sections of two streets. The city filled the hole and transformed it into a manmade pond.

  • A Sinkhole Opened Up Under A Resort In 2013

    A Sinkhole Opened Up Under A Resort In 2013
    Photo: ABC News / YouTube

    A 60-foot-wide sinkhole opened up under a Clermont, Florida, resort in August 2013, just 10 minutes from Disney World. Guests heard windows shattering, and several door frames collapsed. Everyone was evacuated, and about 40 minutes later the building fell into the sinkhole. There were no injuries or deaths reported.