Recovery efforts expected to take months
Efforts are beginning in a recovery process to address impacts from a massive sinkhole that swallowed two homes in the Lake Padgett community of Land O’ Lakes.
Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County’s assistant county administrator for public safety, said authorities received a 911 call at 7:21 a.m., on July 14, reporting a depression forming under a boat.
First responders from Pasco County Fire Rescue were on scene by 7:36 a.m., according to county officials.
“Very quickly, it (the sinkhole) started expanding toward the house, and then the house started falling in,” Guthrie said, estimated that happened within 30 to 40 minutes of them being on scene.
First responders rescued two dogs from one home and quickly evacuated other nearby homes, he said.
When Guthrie arrived, shortly after 9 a.m., the sinkhole was at the edge of the driveway of one of the destroyed homes.
“Within 45 minutes, the entire roadway was in,” he said.
In addition to the two homes — at 21825 Ocean Pines Drive and 21835 Ocean Pines Drive — that were destroyed, the county tagged nine other homes as being unsafe to enter.
Despite the extensive property damage, however, no one was injured.
The neighborhood was cordoned off on July 14 to keep people safe and keep curiosity seekers out.
Besides a heavy presence of public safety officials, scores of media outlets swarmed the neighborhood on July 14. News trucks straddled the normally quiet residential streets, and drones and helicopters buzzed overhead.
The story made the national news, received extensive coverage on local television stations and captured air time on NPR, too.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey visited the site on July 17, to see the devastation firsthand and to announce a relief effort established to help those affected.
“Seeing it on TV is very different from seeing it live,” Starkey said, of the sinkhole’s damage.
“This is just devastating for our community. I’m just very thankful we had no loss of life,” she added.
The commissioner also offered this reassurance: “I wanted our residents and our citizens to know that the Pasco County Commission is here for them.”
United Way of Pasco has partnered with the county to help the people who have been affected by the sinkhole, said Alice Delgardo, CEO of the organization.
A sinkhole relief fund has been set up by United Way of Pasco, and another one is being established by SunTrust Bank, Delgardo said.
Anyone wishing to contribute can be assured that those accounts are legitimate and will provide help to those affected, Guthrie said.
Immediately after the news conference with Starkey, water quality sampling began.
Water at the nine homes that were evacuated will be tested, as well as another 11 homes in the neighborhood, Guthrie said. Results were expected by the afternoon of July 18 (after The Laker/Lutz News went to press).
No other action by the county was expected on July 17.
“We are still in that 48-hour waiting period that the Department of Environmental Protection has asked us to do.
“The Department of Environmental Protection will be back today (July 17) to do another water level assessment to make sure that things are not growing,” Guthrie said.
Before it went dormant, the sinkhole grew to 225 feet in diameter and 50 feet deep, Guthrie said.
“I don’t recall any sinkhole of this size (in Pasco County), nor one that had water in it,” Starkey said.
“I believe this is the largest one in the state of Florida in recent history,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie is unsure when the residents who were evacuated will be able to return home.
“Engineers are telling us that it’s not safe, as we move that heavy equipment in and out of here, with the sinkhole. We don’t know exactly where that safe edge is at.
“We’re going to be working with building engineers, with civil engineers … We are going to do everything in our power to get those people back in their homes as soon as we possibly can,” he said.
Guthrie also wanted to assure area residents: “We’re going to communicate with them every step of the way. We’re going to walk this road, hand-in-hand. We’re going to keep them informed. Do not fear, we are not going to turn our back on you. We are not going to let you down. We are going to be with you, every step of the way.
“The full strength of the Board of County Commission, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, The United Way and Red Cross, Salvation Army and our community is all standing here with them, and we’re going to work it together,” Guthrie said.
Sinkhole relief efforts
Citizens who need help can reach out to the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army of Pasco County, Pasco County Human Services or United Way of Pasco County.
Want to help?
Those wanting to help can visit UnitedWayPasco.org and click on the sinkhole relief banner; text sinkhole41444 or check with SunTrust Bank, which also is setting up a relief fund account.
- Pasco Emergency Management has moved from a response phase to a recovery phase, which is expected to take months to repair the sinkhole.
- Pasco County is now treating this as a hazardous materials incident because of septic tank issues and building debris. The county began testing water quality of the nine evacuated homes on July 17 and planned to test it on 11 other homes in the neighborhood as well.
Additional residents wishing to have their water tested for E. coli ($7 fee) or other possible contaminants (additional fees apply) may do so through the Pasco County Environmental Lab. Go to PascoCountyFl.net/index.aspx?NID=1476.
- County officials will meet with homeowners and insurance companies to start discussing mitigation
- Residents who were evacuated will be allowed back into their homes as quickly as possible, but the county will be consulting with experts to be sure it is safe for them to return.
Published July 19, 2017