Sinkhole Insurance: If You Need It, You Probably Don't Know

The map above shows areas of the U.S. with bedrock types that are prone to sinkholes. It's not just Florida that needs to worry about them.

Think sinkholes like the one that opened up under a Florida home last week -- and swallowed a man into the Earth -- are just freak accidents that could never happen to you? Think again. About 35 to 40 percent of the entire United States is susceptible to dangerous sinkholes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Particularly vulnerable, as you might guess, is Florida.

Last week's sinkhole, which tore apart a home just outside of Tampa, is a rare and extreme case. Jeff Bush died when he fell into the hole (pictured below) that opened up under his bedroom, and officials said that his body could not be recovered. The Bush family's home was razed Tuesday after suffering too much damage to repair, CNN reported. "My mom and dad are going through hell right now," Bush's brother, Jeremy, told USA Today, adding that at least some family photos were able to be saved before demolition.

Sinkhole killed Jeff BushAnyone who lives in Florida should take this as a cautionary tale: Virtually the entire state -- but particularly Central Florida -- is prone to sinkholes as potentially dangerous as the one that took Jeff Bush's life. (Just last year, a Florida woman came home to find that half her house had fallen into a sinkhole.) Sinkholes form when rainwater dissolves limestone, salt, gypsum and similar types of bedrock under the soil. Florida's bedrock is mostly limestone, making it a prime area of the country for sinkholes.

But if you live in Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee or anywhere in the Northern Plains, you're at risk from sinkholes, too. All of those areas lie on top of the types of bedrock that sinkholes affect. But not all sinkholes are quite as dramatic as the one near Tampa last week. Some are hardly noticeable, causing the ground to sag only slightly. And it doesn't have to swallow you to be life-threatening: In 2011, a young girl died in a car crash after a sinkhole destroyed part of a Utah road.

So is there any way to protect yourself against the possibility of sinkhole damage to your home? In Florida and Tennessee -- the most active states for sinkholes -- insurers are required to offer sinkhole coverage with home policies, reports the Christian Science Monitor. But although sinkhole insurance will cover the same things as a typical homeowners insurance policy -- when it comes to damage -- many homeowners have opted out as premiums have skyrocketed. Rate hikes of more than 2,000 percent were proposed in some parts of Tampa Bay in 2011, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Homeowners in other states, though, may not know that sinkhole insurance even exists -- and that they must ask for it to get it. In many states, coverage against sinkholes requires a separate policy. When homes were damaged recently in an area of Pennsylvania that's prone to sinkholes, The Morning Call newspaper reported that homeowners there were surprised to find that their insurance wouldn't cover them. As a result, as least one state senator was pushing to have local insurers inform policy holders that sinkhole coverage was available. The best thing any homeowner can do, though, is ask an insurer about a sinkhole coverage policy.

ABC News put together a slideshow of some of the most shocking sinkholes around the world. See some of those in the gallery below.

Incredible Sinkholes Around the World
See Gallery
Sinkhole Insurance: If You Need It, You Probably Don't Know

A sinkhole covers a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City on May 31, 2010. A day earlier, authorities blamed the heavy rains caused by Tropical Storm Agatha as the cause of the crater that swallowed a three-story building.

A man inspects a sinkhole in a house on July 19, 2011, in Guatemala City. When neighbors heard the loud boom overnight, they thought a cooking gas canister had detonated. Instead, they found a deep sinkhole inside a home that was 40 feet deep and 32 inches in diameter. Guatemala City, built on volcanic deposits, is especially prone to sinkholes, often blamed on a leaky sewer system or on heavy rain.

An aerial view shows a giant landslide under a residential street that took a car with it and left another car hanging over the edge in Schmalkalden, Germany, on Nov. 1, 2010. The cause of the landslide was unclear. Residents were evacuated from 23 buildings. Nobody was injured.

Workers use excavators to fill in a sinkhole, which occurred overnight on in Beijing on April 26, 2011. A section of the road collapsed beneath a truck, slightly injuring the driver and a passenger, who both jumped out the vehicle before it sank into the hole.

A car sits in a sinkhole caused by a broken water main, which collapsed part of a road on Dec. 3, 2010, in Chevy Chase, Md. No one was reported injured in the accident.

A massive 200-by-240-foot sinkhole opened up and tore apart the pavement of a road in La Jolla, Calif., on Oct. 3, 2007. The landslide damaged or destroyed six homes and forced the evacuation of at least 20 others.

This picture taken on Jan. 28, 2013, shows workers using machinery to fill in a sinkhole that buildings collapsed into near a subway construction site in Guangzhou, China. The hole measured about 1,000 square feet across and was around 30 feet deep, but no one was killed, according to a state media report.

A house collapsed into a huge hole in the small town of Waihi, New Zealand, on Dec. 13, 2001. Three children had to be rescued from the ruins, but were not injured. The town of Waihi sits on a network of disused mine shafts.

Workers cordon off a leaning building in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on March 4, 2013. A vehicular road traffic tunnel being constructed for the 2014 Winter Olympics collapsed nearby, the local media said. There were no casualties reported.

A huge crater at the collapsed Pinheiros subway station in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Jan. 15, 2007. Rescuers have dug through tons of rubble in search of seven people believed buried inside a giant sinkhole that opened at a construction site in South America's biggest city.

A fireman looks under a fire truck stuck in a sinkhole in Los Angeles on Sept. 8, 2009. Four firefighters escaped injury after their fire engine sunk into a large hole caused by a burst water main in the San Fernando Valley, authorities said.


See also:
Homeowners Insurance: What's Covered, What's Not

Homeowners Insurance 101: What You Need to Know

Natural Disasters and Terror Plots: What Home Insurance Covers

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