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Man's Death a Reminder of Hidden Dangers of Sinkholes

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A sinkhole appears to be the cause of a hunter's death in Pulaski County, renewing a focus on sinkhole safety.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A sinkhole appears to be the cause of a hunter's death in Pulaski County, renewing a focus on sinkhole safety.

Monday night, 31-year-old Curtis S. Powelson told his wife he had killed a deer and was going back into the woods to get it. When he didn't return, a search team started looking and eventually found him in the 70-foot deep sinkhole.

The sheriff thinks the sinkhole may have opened up after last months rains.

The City of Springfield gets calls about sinkholes opening up nearly every week. It's all about geology, and the type of rock we have below the surface here in the Ozarks.
The same reason Missouri is the "cave state," unfortunately makes it a prime area for dangerous sinkholes. Sinkholes are unpredictable and they open up all the time in the Ozarks.

"They're a cave passage where underground water is flowing and it's eroding some of the soil away," says Doug Gouzie, associate professor of geology at Missouri State University.

Watch our full interview with Gouzie above

Gouzie says the ground in Missouri is composed of rock that erodes very easily. That's why we have so many caves, but also many possible sink holes. So the big question is, can we tell where they are?

"There are some things that engineering firms do called geophysical testing. I don't recommend it for homeowners. They are usually several thousand dollars to start."

Another device housed at the university tests the ground with radar waves. A penetrating radar is one of the technologies available to detect sinkholes, but it's not practical for your everyday homeowner to use because it's expensive and it only sees 10 feet under the ground.

"In Florida, where you have sandy soil, the radar waves can penetrate enough that you might see the rock around here. We just don't get that, so it's not used very often."

So testing is difficult and expensive, but there are ways people can watch for possible tell-tale signs of sinkholes. One way, he recommends, is looking for low spots in the ground where water drains underground quickly.

"The other way people can find a sinkhole is if they find a patch of their yard that clearly drains differently dries out differently."

However, Gouzie says finding a potential sinkhole is truly up to luck and timing. "It is a complete gamble," until the technology to test the ground can catch up to the danger.
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