Central Florida sinkholes have stolen some of the serenity of living in The Villages, the world’s largest community of retirees.
At least 32 sinkholes cracked open last year in The Villages, according to Villages-News, an independent news site, which reported at least 11 more in the first three months of 2018.
Sinkholes happen more often in Florida than in any other state, and The Villages is in the middle of the region of Florida at greatest risk, known as “Sinkhole Alley.”
A severe drought hit Central Florida in early 2017, followed by heavy rain from Hurricane Irma later in the year, which produced conditions optimal for sinkholes to open. Too much water or too little are the primary triggers for sinkholes.
Florida has a carbonate bedrock composed mostly of limestone. Rainwater easily dissolves limestone and turns acidic as it seeps through soil, creating a honeycomb type of terrain with cavities called “karst.” If a cavity becomes too large, its ceiling can collapse, cracking open a deep hole at the surface.
While weather conditions are triggers for sinkholes, real estate development is “the most persistent factor” in the increased frequency of sinkholes in Central Florida, Smithsonian.com reported.
George Veni, executive director of the National Cave and Karst Institute, conducted a field study of Sinkhole Alley, and he says preliminary research shows that sinkhole risk is 11 times greater in developed areas than in undeveloped areas.
The Villages, which has more than 125,000 residents, was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the nation from 2013 through 2016, and still ranks among the 10 fastest-growing metro areas.
The Villages is located mainly in Sumter County, which ranks 62nd in violent crime among Florida’s 67 counties.
The average age of Sumter County residents is 66.6 years, making it the oldest county in the United States.
Usually, sinkholes are just a manageable property-maintenance problem, but the outbreak in Central Florida has rattled many of the elderly residents of The Villages.
“Everybody is worried,” a resident of the Village of Calumet Grove told Smithsonian.com, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s not a good time to sell.”
State records show six deaths from sinkholes in Florida history, including the 2013 death of Jeffrey Bush, who sleeping in his bedroom before a sinkhole dropped him 20 feet below ground. His body never was recovered. [SmithsonianMag.com] – Mike Seemuth