Cleanup efforts at the site of a sinkhole that swallowed two Florida homes and jeopardized a third house will begin in earnest on Wednesday, as county officials, geologists and insurance adjusters begin the process of figuring out what to do with the properties, local officials said Monday.
Heavy equipment will be brought in Wednesday to the neighborhood in Pasco County, north of Tampa, to clean up debris left over from the damage caused by the sinkhole. It opened up Friday morning and grew to 225 feet in diameter and 50 feet deep, taking with it the two homes and a boat. No one was injured.
In all, 11 homes were affected. Residents of four homes that were initially evacuated were allowed to return over the weekend, and five homes remained evacuated Monday morning.
Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County's assistant administrator for public safety, said engineers were still trying to determine "where the safe edge is at."
"We are doing everything in our power to get those folks back in these homes as fast as we can," Guthrie said at a news conference Monday morning.
All of the homeowners had some kind of insurance. Occupants of two of the destroyed homes were renters and they didn't have renters' insurance "so the contents of the renters are not covered at all," Guthrie said.
Utility workers will be removing overhead obstructions for the heavy equipment, insurance adjusters are visiting the neighborhood and water samples are being taken. Guthrie said the water sample results would be known by Tuesday for the neighborhood where many residents use wells.
The United Way is starting a fund to help homeowners affected by the sinkhole.
Alex Delgado of the United Way of Pasco County said the agency is raising money to help the families who lived in the two homes that were destroyed and nearby homes.
Local officials also are discussing what to do with the properties. There is nothing the county can legally do if the homeowners want to rebuild on the site, as long as they follow code, Guthrie said.
Another option under discussion is having the county purchase the properties and then connecting the sinkhole area to a nearby lake.
"We're going to take a look at all the options and then we will come up with the best option that works for the community, the homeowners and all those involved," Guthrie said.