ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Weeks after a sinkhole swallowed two Florida homes, the displaced renters may be able to recover their lost property — if they are willing to sift through the mess left behind, a local official said Thursday.
Debris from the sinkhole will be taken to a special section of a landfill where the renters can go through the contents at their own risk. Some of the items may have been exposed to bio-contamination in the sinkhole located in the Tampa suburb, Land O'Lakes, said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County's assistant administrator for public safety.
"We are going to allow them to go through that and collect their valuables," Guthrie said.
The sinkhole, which opened up July 14, is now about 235 feet (72 meters) wide and 50 feet (15 meters) deep. The debris removal will start next week, and two options for removing the items are being considered. The first would use a backhoe to dig the debris out of the hole, and the second would drag the items out.
County officials are still deciding what to eventually do with the sinkhole. The possibilities range from doing nothing to connecting it to a nearby lake. Besides the two swallowed homes, residents in three other nearby homes were displaced because of the risk.
Of the three remaining homes, one homeowner has received a pay-out from an insurance company, while another is interested in making repairs. The third homeowners say they have no plans to do anything.
"The property owner is responsible for their property," Guthrie said.
The county's response cost is estimated to be between $600,000 and $1.2 million. County officials have sent out letters to insurance companies, homeowners and also companies that previously had done sinkhole repairs on the property, informing them that they may be financially liable for the county's costs of cleanup and debris removal.
"The county is going to seek as much reimbursement as possible," Guthrie said. "Are we going to file things in court? How's that going to look? I don't know how that's going to look."