And why does it always seem to happen in Florida?
Late last night, in the Tampa suburb of Seffner, the ground gave way beneath a house, and like that, a man was lost and a family bereaved.
As biblical as the story sounds, the collapsing Earth was no act of god. Florida's peninsula is unstable terrain by dint of its particular geology: a bed of limestone is slowly wasting away beneath the soil, taking trees, houses, and lives with it, collapse by collapse. What feels capricious to those above is the toll of an active planet, one of those improbable collisions of a human timescale and a geological one.
On this tailbone of our continent, those collisions become headlines: "Florida Sinkhole Swallows a Home" and "Sinkhole Horror: Family's Florida House About to Be Swallowed" and "Florida Sinkhole Swallows Toyota Camry."
The New York Times
Here's what's going on underground: The entirety of Florida sits on a bed of limestone, covered in varying degrees by composites of sand, clay, and soil. Limestone is soluble and porous, and over millions of years, acids in water have sculpted out a network of subsurface voids beneath the Floridian ground (think: Swiss cheese). Depending on how strong that top layer of clay and sand is, and how close to the surface any one of those voids is, the land can bear its own weight and that of the infrastructure we build on top of it. But as the holes grow, that surface layer can suddenly give way.