Sinkholes very common in the Heartland

Karst topography describes a terrain that forms where limestone and other rock easily dissolves in water.
Karst topography describes a terrain that forms where limestone and other rock easily dissolves in water.

PERRY COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - A giant sinkhole swallows a man in his Florida home. Could that scene happen here?

We take a look at the interesting, and actually common Heartland obstacle you don't always see.

Geologists and the representatives with the Department of Natural Resources say you may not realize what's beneath your feet in Missouri is actually very similar to Florida.

It's called Karst topography and describes a terrain that forms where limestone and other rock easily dissolves in water. The result is caves below the surface, and sinkholes visible at the surface. Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and parts of California also share features similar to Missouri and Florida.

So could what happened in Florida happen in the Heartland? Experts say it's possible, but unlikely. To try and prevent a situation where a home or person ends up getting swallowed by a sinkhole that opens suddenly, some communities go to extensive efforts to monitor new and existing formations and educate the public.

Take Perry County for instance. There, geologists say they believe there are at least 7000 sinkholes. In fact, we discovered you can drive down just about any road and easily spot several.

"They dot the landscape," said Dianna Koenig, a Perry County resident. She and her husband Brian say they are used to dealing with sinkholes on their farm.

"We deal with it our neighbors deal with it," said Brian Koenig. "Usually they open slowly."

"Everybody has sinkholes," said Dianna. "We fence around them and we manage them," she said. "We know how big they are we fence around them if it we need to protect cattle."

City administrator Brent Buerck says they work to educate people how to deal with the unique terrain.

"The incident in Florida certainly raised our awareness," said Buerck. "In the city of Perryville we know we have around 600. We want people to report them if they see them so that we can do what we need to do to maintain them."

City leaders say people need to understand sinkholes are more than just visual formations. Water and substances that go into them can end up affecting people and land far away because of our underground cave system that goes on for miles. Buerck and others say they are thankful to have come a long way from the days when it was common practice to throw trash in the sinkholes, or try to fill them up with dirt.

"We want to let people know that is what you should never do. What you do certainly affects your neighbor," said Buerck. "What goes into those sinkholes has an impact on the water supply."

Over all, Perry County feels they have to be proactive where sinkholes are concerned to protect residents, farmers, and the industrial community.

"We are a lot more conscientious and aware than we were say 80 or 100 years ago," said Scott Sattler, executive director of Economic Development. "When businesses come in we have to make sure we know if there are sinkholes in the area and make plans for mitigation. It's something some communities may not have to think about as much, but we know we do here."

When mitigation becomes necessary, that's when engineers like Tim Baer step in to stabilize the formations and protect the water supply.

"They are a part of our environment and we have to treat them right. We've learned how to handle it with experience and awareness is a big part of that," Baer said.

"We always have people come in and ask questions about them," said Dianna Koenig. "To us they're just a part of everyday living and one of the things that make Perry County special. To other people they are really surprised to learn how many we have here and how well we've learned to deal with them."

City and county leaders ask that people let them know where they spot or suspect sinkholes they can monitor and maintain them.

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