Car disappears into massive Tampa sinkhole
Tampa, Florida -- A car swallowed up by a sinkhole near the University of South Florida on Sunday has now disappeared underground as the sinkhole continues to grow, threatening a parking lot and nearby condominium complex.
The hole that opened up off 50th Street east of USF's main campus is now estimated around 25 feet wide. Code enforcement officials say they can see down about 17 feet, but can't be sure how deep the sinkhole actually is, since the car has already disappeared underground.
Photo Gallery: Sinkhole swallows car in Tampa condo complex
Database: Check for sinkholes in any Florida county
"It's somewhere beneath there, but we're not sure how far," said code enforcement employee Robin Caton.
Experts fear it may be too late to remove the car from the hole, saying further digging and vibration from machinery might only make the hole bigger and further threaten nearby structures.
The Department of Environmental Protection will be out to direct the property owner on what to do next. Some fear gasoline and oil from the car's tanks might leak out, polluting the local ground water.
"The car obviously has 10 or 15 gallons of gas, and the gas would be the biggest problem. That has a very good chance of ending up in the Florida Aquifer," said USF Geology professor Dr. Mark Stewart.
This isn't the first time cars have been swallowed up by the earth. Back in 1981, a 100-foot deep sinkhole opened up in Winter Park near Orlando, swallowing up a home and part of a import car dealership. A massive helicopter was called in to try and lift some of the expensive cars out of the hole, but the vehicles continued sinking and were never seen again.
Could it have something to do with pulling all of the oil out of the earth? (she asks, tongue in cheek) :)
Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that can naturally be dissolved by ground water circulating through them. As the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground. Sinkholes are dramatic because the land usually stays intact for a while until the underground spaces just get too big. If there is not enough support for the land above the spaces then a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur. These collapses can be small, as this picture shows, or they can be huge and can occur where a house or road is on top.
The most damage from sinkholes tends to occur in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. The picture to the left shows a sinkhole that quickly opened up in Florida, apparently eating a swimming pool, some roadway, and buildings.
The overburden sediments that cover buried cavities in the aquifer systems are delicately balanced by ground-water fluid pressure. The water below ground is actually helping to keep the surface soil in place. Groundwater pumping for urban water supply and for irrigation can produce new sinkholes In sinkhole-prone areas. If pumping results in a lowering of ground-water levels, then underground structural failure, and thus, sinkholes, can occur.