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Sinkholes pose insurance problems in local area

by 1st Lt. Erin Dorrance
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Graphic by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

The Fanellis were ecstatic when they received their orders to move to MacDill. They quickly purchased a beautiful four-bedroom house in Brandon with a gorgeous lake view. After only two weeks of living in their home, they were terrified to discover their kitchen was split in half from a sinkhole.

The Fanellis' experience is not uncommon to home owners in the Tampa Bay area. Sinkholes are a common, naturally occurring geologic feature and make up one of the predominant landforms in Florida. A sinkhole forms when the clay layer collapses into a vacant pocket in the limestone below, according to the United States Geological Survey.

In fact, Tampa Bay is believed to have formed as the result of coalescing sinkholes.

Although sinkholes may be naturally occurring, homeowners and buyers fear the wrath of their existence.

"Some insurance companies are not covering sinkhole damage," said Lynne McChristian, USAA executive director of corporate communications. "USAA, however, is covering sinkhole damage.

USAA is a financial services company specializing in covering military members.

Florida residents have seen an increase in sinkhole activity, which has completely wreaked havoc for residents trying to sell homes or insure homes.

"The most important step for home buyers to take is to call their insurance companies as soon as the purchasing process starts and schedule a home inspection," said Ms. McChristian. "The key is to call early and get the insurance company involved."

Florida home buyers can take some comfort in knowing that the Florida Legislature has been looking into this problem. In 2002 the state created the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which provides insurance to homeowners in high-risk areas and others who cannot find coverage in the open, private insurance market.

People flock to Florida to enjoy the sun, but coping with sinkholes is something Florida residents must learn to deal with.

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