2 more homes condemned as huge Florida sinkhole grows

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LAND O'LAKES, Fla. (AP) — Officials in Florida said Saturday a sinkhole that swallowed two homes last month is growing.

Pasco County officials during a news conference that a large chunk of the hole's edge has collapsed. Two more homes in Land O'Lakes, a Tampa suburb, have been condemned.

The sinkhole, which opened up July 14, is now about 260 feet (79 meters) wide at its widest point.

Officials aren't sure what caused the destabilization, but think seismic vibrations from trucks and construction equipment around the hole could be to blame.

Dump trucks are scheduled to bring in boulders Saturday to try to stabilize one side of the sinkhole so a small barge can be brought in. Authorities hope to create a boat ramp so they can work from the barge, which will float on water in the sinkhole.

However, Kevin Guthrie, assistant county administrator of public safety in Pasco, said widening was expected with increased activity and there's no reason to believe the hole is active.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that resuming sinkhole cleanup, contractors have begun dumping truckloads of crushed limestone and boulders into the hole to stabilize one side. On Sunday, workers will push a small platform barge equipped with an excavator into the void to begin removing debris from the middle.

Guthrie said when cleaning the sinkhole, the top priority is to be deliberate and methodical to ensure no one gets hurt.

"If we have to slow down, we slow down," he said. "Speed is not of the essence here."

Guthrie said the cleanup will take two to three weeks barring any more problems with the hole's edges.

The Pasco County Commission awarded Ceres Environmental Services the $640,000 contract early last week to clean the sinkhole. Contractors began picking debris off the surface Thursday before having to halt on Friday.

Officials are also still waiting on results from the Department of Health after testing area wells for contamination.

The sinkhole opened July 14, destroying two homes and forcing the evacuation of another nine people. Five of those homeowners were allowed to return two days later. Not all have, fearing more problems with the massive pit outside their homes.

Crews have brought in earth to stabilize the banks. Once the edges are stabilized, workers hope to remove debris.

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