Sinkholes on the rise in Missouri

BOONE COUNTY, Mo. - After another high-profile incident, sinkhole experts believe Missouri could be experiencing an upswing of sinkhole activity. A dump truck in north St. Louis was just swallowed by a new sinkhole Tuesday morning.

Missouri is among the top seven states nationwide most prone to sinkholes.

Earlier this month, a U.S. Marine at Fort Leonard Wood died in south central Missouri, after falling into an unseen sinkhole in Pulaski County while hunting.

Authorities believe it is connected to a larger underground cave system.

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, there are 15,981 sinkholes statewide. Some are over 100 feet deep, and officials expect a lot more go undocumented.

The largest one covers around 700 acres in Boone County, just southeast of where I-70 crosses the Missouri River.

Experts told ABC 17 News it has been dry recently and that is a recipe disaster. There are several areas in Mid-Missouri where clusters of sinkholes have been documented. Experts said they are trying to figure out what exactly is going on.

"We could be in one of those modes where we've hit the time of year when there might be a slight uptick, but not necessarily a giant change in the numbers that we normally would have on an annual basis," sinkhole expert Doug Gouzie explained.

Gouzie said most sinkholes are created when rain gets underground and starts to erode away the soil. Eventually the weight is too much for the surface to handle.

Several people that live near Pierpont said they notice sinkholes developing on their land all the time. They said no buildings have been lost, but some have gotten close to their driveways.

"I watched the land, and it's not such a dynamic process that you watch it overnight or within one hour; it took probably two years, and I was seeing some caving in and some collapsing," Pierpont resident Virginia Gardner said.

Gouzie said they are still unsure if more people are reporting sinkholes because of recent events, or if more are actually occurring.

"If sinkholes happened everyday, I'd need more than 30 in a month, or 60 in a month before I thought the numbers really had changed. It is possible, but we just don't know," Gouzie said.

Obviously these are not just happening in rural areas. Experts said when sinkholes occur in urban areas, it is mainly due to things like water main breaks or recent maintenance.

Experts said sinkholes can not be prevented, but the best thing you can do is be aware they can happen anywhere, anytime.

Experts said sinkholes in Missouri usually take time to open up rather than happen immediately.

To find out if a sinkhole is near you, check with the current state records.

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