Sinkholes: A deadly threat from Florida’s ‘underworld’

_72704622_72704620“It’s like this thing was alive…it was churning, moving around…making noises, you know…like a growl.” It’s an image that still haunts police officer Deputy Douglas Duvall who, on the evening of 28 February 2013, responded to an emergency call in the suburban calm of Tampa, and found himself face to face with the Florida underworld. Inside a detached bungalow, the ground had opened and swallowed the sleeping body and the bed of 37 year-old Jeff Bush. His brother Jeremy was frantically trying to dig him out, but Jeff’s body was sucked into the depths and never found. Only the efforts of first responder Douglas Duvall hauling Jeremy out of the churning pit prevented a second tragedy. The natural trapdoor that opened up and claimed the life of Jeff Bush is called a “sinkhole”. It is far from the only case. In the last few years, vast sinkholes have appeared overnight from as far afield as China and Guatemala, but it’s Florida where the fear is greatest. Just last August, a resort complex near Disney World collapsed into a huge 20m hole. It was to investigate this devastating phenomenon that I travelled to Florida to try to understand what caused the sinkhole that killed Jeff, and why the geology of this state makes it the sinkhole capital of the world. It’s possible to explore some of these natural shafts and descend within the voids beneath, at places like Ladder Cave in Citrus County. Here you can see how acid-tinged rain and ground water slowly eats away at limestone bedrock below, producing cavities in the subsurface. More


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