Sinkholes: NE Tennessee more vulnerable than most of U.S. - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Sinkholes: NE Tennessee more vulnerable than most of U.S.

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Sinkholes can be devastating, destroying homes and even entire communities.

In August of 2012 in a neighborhood behind Love Chapel Elementary, a sinkhole opened up under one home's backyard, completely swallowing their pool. "It was scary, it was really scary. To look down in there and see a swimming pool 40 feet down, I have never seen that before," says Jay Roberts who lives directly across the street from the house.

That is not the only sinkhole in Unicoi County, a few others have surfaced, one even on Love Chapel Elementary School's campus, where in just a matter of a few hours the sinkhole grew from just a few feet to nearly thirty feet wide.  The sinkhole ended up forcing the school to shut down and relocate students to a safer building. Unicoi County's Emergency Management Director, Edward Herndon says it was the worst sinkhole he's seen in the county so far.

Love Chapel Elementary and the surrounding neighborhoods are susceptible to sinkholes because of the type of rock underground. Dr. Arpita Nandi, an Associate Professor of Geosciences at ETSU says it's the combination of the composition of the soil and the limestone that starts to dissolve every time it rains, and whenever the rain is absorbed into the soil the void in the ground grows over time and can eventually lead to a sinkhole.

For homeowners like Jay Roberts, a 17 year resident of the neighborhood Love Chapel is in and that's now being plagued by sinkholes, says he's not only concerned about the value of his house but also his life.

Dr. Nandi says residents and homeowners in Northeastern Tennessee are more vulnerable to sinkholes than other parts of the country because of the abundance of limestone, however the sinkholes here grow more gradually, allowing time for homeowners to act.

Some advice Dr. Nandi suggests for homeowners:

  • Find out if there's a history of sinkholes in your neighborhood because sinkholes are more prone to form in the same area as other ones.
  • Take a look to see if your home has any cracks in the doors or walls because this can suggest one side of your home is sinking lower than the other.
  • Look closely at your home's doors or windows and if they can open and close properly. This is a red flag that can warn a homeowner that there is a problem with the alignment of the house because part of the foundation may be sinking.
  • Check with your homeowner's insurance to find out if they offer coverage if a sinkhole appears on your property. Many insurance companies already include sinkhole coverage, however it's better to double check just in case.
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