Here's why sinkholes, ground collapses may become more common in Florida

'In areas with more human activity, we interfere with the subsurface more,' FIU professor Dr. Shimon Wdowinski says
Posted at 6:39 PM, Apr 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-10 18:41:40-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — A ruptured sewer line that caused a portion of Florida Mango Road to collapse in Palm Springs may become a more common sight across the state.

Dr. Shimon Wdowinski, an earth and environment professor at Florida International University, told WPTV that development and construction only increase the chances of both ground collapses and sinkholes.

The two events are slightly different, but the triggers for them can be similar.

Sinkholes are common in Florida, and if you've lived in the southeast area for a long time, you're likely familiar with the ground caving in.

Martin County crews responded to two separate sinkholes on Kanner Highway in Stuart last year that were a little over a mile apart. The first occurred on Feb. 22 while the second happened June 7.

Sinkhole in Stuart on Kanner Highway on Feb. 22, 2023.png


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A sinkhole opened off Northwest 27th Street in Boca Raton in June 2022. Then in 2017, a large hole destroyed one of the entrances to the Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Indiantown following Hurricane Irma.

"I just remember that man a few years back in Tampa, his house just sunk in the hole, gone in an instant," Martin County resident Maria Silva said

Across the state, there are several examples of sinkholes caving in, some have been horrifying while others awe-inspiring.

Authorities first called the incident in Palm Springs a sinkhole but later changed it to a "ground collapse," begging the question: what exactly is the difference?

A sinkhole at Florida Mango Road and Waterside Drive in Palm Springs on April 10, 2024.jpg

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"Sinkholes, we associate with nature," Wdowinski said. "Ground collapse is human-made."

Wdowinski said a sinkhole happens when underground water dissolves the terrain, whether soil, sediment or rock naturally over time, causing it to eventually collapse.

He said a ground collapse, on the other hand, happens when a manmade source triggers the ground to cave in instantly.

"In this case, the pipe, or the water eroding the subsurface and causing the cavity," Wdowinski said, referring to the AT&T contractor authorities said damaged a sewer main on Florida Mango Road between Waterside Drive and a nearby canal.

While Wdowinski said sinkholes aren't manmade, they can be triggered by more construction and more development.

"In areas with more human activity, we interfere with the subsurface more," Wdowinski said.

Dr. Shimon Wdowinski explains why Florida is susceptible to sinkholes and why the growth is only causing more problems.
Dr. Shimon Wdowinski explains why Florida is susceptible to sinkholes and why the growth is only causing more problems.

"The development has been a lot," Silva said. "The growth has been a lot."

"Now, it's just wall-to-wall traffic," Martin County resident, Ron Kropornicki, added.

So, unsurprisingly, the possibility of both sinkholes and ground collapses occurring seems to be increasing.

According to the State Office of Insurance Regulation, in 2006 more than 2,300 claims were filed for sinkhole damage in Florida. By 2010, that number nearly tripled to 6,700.

A site called tracks about 27,000 across the state. The website credits the data to reporting from local governments and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Ground collapses, however, are harder to track. Still, Wdowinski said whenever there's more human activity, the likelihood of accidents increases too.

"Situations like that happen, and we need to be aware of that," Wdowinski said.

Luckily for Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, Wdowinski said southeast Florida is one of the least susceptible areas in the state to sinkholes due to its geological makeup.

According to, of the 27,000 sinkholes it tracked across the state, only 16 came from WPTV's five-county area, which includes Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

Even though ground collapses are less common, Wdowinski said they do happen from time to time, and said cave-ins, like the one in Palm Springs, can perhaps teach us the most.

"We have to take care of the aging infrastructure and not just let it decay," Wdowinski said.