Sinkhole threat dramatically lower in Columbus than Albany - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Sinkhole threat dramatically lower in Columbus than Albany

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

Sinkholes are natural disasters that don't announce themselves in the same way that hurricanes and tornadoes do, but the damage isn't any less expensive or deadly. 

Just ask the folks at a Florida hotel that recently collapsed when the ground shifted underneath. 

But there's some good news for residents of the Chattahoochee Valley when it comes to the threat of tragic cave-ins in times of heavy rain. 

"Here in this area, we don't have the type of rock under our feet that gives us sinkholes like we see in Florida or South Georgia near Albany and the Flint River Basin," said associate professor of geology, Clinton Barineau. "Most of the things we call sinkholes around here are more accurately called piping features." 

The professor explains that when there is a large amount of rainfall, sewer pipes will leak water due to the extra pressure they are receiving.  Water washes away finer substances from the soil, like clay, and creates open spaces.  Over time, the surface may collapse. 

Here in Columbus, we're lucky to live just north of the danger zone where limestone makes up a large part of the terrain. 

"The limestones, over a long period of time, can actually dissolve away, and create basically, a rock that looks like Swiss cheese," said Barineau. "Then intermittently, those large holes in the ground, which would of course be caves and caverns, the roof can cave in.  So for example, the hotel around Disney World that collapsed, that was actually a true sink hole."

While we may not see entire houses swallowed into the ground, the professor warns there is still danger to watch out for. 

"The bigger risk is that you cause damage to a road, and you literally have part of the road missing," said Barineau. "This can be complicated by heavy rainfall and the road may be under water.  Drivers may not recognize that they are not driving across pavement.  There's actually a large hole filled with water and they can then fall off into that."

Heavy rain flooding the roads and at the same time putting extra pressure on pipes underground creates the perfect storm for an innocent piping feature to become a major hazard on the road. 

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