Sinking Sensation: What Sinkholes Are and How to Avoid Falling in Financially

Fifty years ago, the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania caught fire. And it’s never gone out since.

What started as a small blaze at the local dump ignited a coal seam, and the mine located under the town quickly became engulfed. This was on May 27, 1962, and since that day, the size of the town has steadily decreased from a cozy 1,400 residents to fewer than 400, with more than 500 structures demolished. Of those

who are left, many are the elderly who have lived in Centralia all their lives and view their homes’ locations as safe from imminent danger of the burning. Even so, the government has been trying to relocate these survivors and has even resorted to legal action in the past–which was vehemently combated by Centralians who stood their ground.

Although Centralia is the story of a community-turned-ghost town due to an ever-burning fire, the biggest danger that the situation has created is the possibility of sinkholes. In fact, in 1981, a young boy and his cousin were playing in the backyard of his house when a sinkhole opened, capturing him in its growing crevice. The boy’s cousin was able to pull him to safety, but he narrowly avoided an early demise due to the intensely hot steam and poisonous gases that were trapped beneath the surface of his yard.

Sinkholes, like the ones common in Centralia, can happen almost anywhere. They may not seem like something Americans need to worry about but that’s not exactly the case. In Florida, sinkholes are a common–and incredibly inconvenient–problem. Because of the climate there, sinkholes have a tendency to open, cracking streets down the middle, even swallowing a structure, or a car or two. Just last month, “a sinkhole, about 100 feet wide and 50 feet deep, opened up in the backyard of a home in Windermere, Fla. May 3,” reported phys.org, a science-centered web site. “Almost one week later, another sinkhole that was 80 feet long and 40 feet wide opened in the backyard of a home in Jonesville, Fla.”

The official U.S. Geological Survey web site says that “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,” the web site adds, “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.”

The best way to combat sinkhole destruction is to live in places where they’re least common — but it’s highly unlikely that everyone in Florida is going to evacuate tomorrow to avoid this potential problem. As a result, the smartest thing to do is to be prepared. Keep track of the weather so that it’s never a surprise to be presented with sinkhole-friendly conditions. For homeowners in susceptible areas, it’s very important they have a comprehensive homeowners insurance policy. And when items do get damaged, (or in the case of a sinkhole, get swallowed up) you can always trust in the specialists at Enservio to provide accurate contents valuation. After all, it’s what we do – we help people get their stuff back.

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