By Bernie Woodall
(Reuters) - An expanding sinkhole near a lake north of Tampa has already swallowed two homes and was threatening others on Friday, but no one has been injured, authorities said.
Eleven homes were evacuated as a precaution and two pets were rescued from one of the houses that fell into the sinkhole, the Pasco County Sheriff's Department said.
When it was first reported to authorities on Friday morning, the sinkhole was a small depression under a boat in the lakeside neighborhood in Land O' Lakes, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Tampa.
It had already sucked in the boat by the time firefighters arrived 15 minutes later, said Kevin Guthrie, assistant Pasco County administrator for public safety.
Within two hours, the sinkhole was 200 feet wide (61 meters) and 50 feet deep, said Guthrie, who spoke with reporters late Friday morning. At that time, he said the expansion of the hole was slowing.
But there was concern that the hole could expand to the lake near the homes, he said. If that happens, geologists fear it could widen significantly in a matter of minutes.
"We're now at a situation where we're trying to conserve property, but Mother Nature is going to take what Mother Nature is going to take,” Guthrie said.
Geologists at the University of Florida have defined a sinkhole as typically being a natural depression or hole in the Earth's surface caused when rock, often limestone in Florida, is dissolved over time.
Guthrie said a 50-foot-deep sinkhole occurred at the site of one of the swallowed homes five years ago.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)