It seems like stuff of Hollywood films – the ground opens up and swallows whole buildings, cars, roads and even people. But that is exactly what happened on Monday when a sinkhole 100ft wide opened up in Florida, causing the Summer Bay Resort ay Clermont, near Disney World, to collapse into the pit.
A sinkhole typically occurs naturally in the Earth’s surface. In Florida, much of the land straddles limestone caverns that are weakened by water erosion, sometimes causing them to cave in. The phenomenon is not uncommon, as this worldwide selection shows. For example, in 2007, a sinkhole 150m deep and 20m wide swallowed 20 homes in Guatemala City. In 2011, a huge sinkhole appeared overnight on a road in Beijing, swallowing a truck just after its driver and passenger escaped – though that was believed to have been caused by the digging of a tunnel for an underground railway.
But natural sinkholes are particularly common in Florida, where insurance claims for sinkhole damages submitted between 2006 and 2010 totalled $1.4bn (£900m). Florida and Tennessee are the only two US states which offer insurance to protect and cover home owners for sinkholes. Despite being very destructive, sinkholes rarely kill.