Dozens of sinkholes, some up to 12 feet deep, are dotting the landscape in the small southeastern Missouri city of Caruthersville, forcing road detours, swallowing sections of people's yards and leaving city leaders scrambling to make repairs.
Months of flooding along the Mississippi River are to blame for the problems in the city of 6,000 people, which was "built on a swamp," according to Mayor Sue Grantham. The nearly four dozen sinkholes have caused an estimated $4.5 million in damage, and things may get worse.
"It's probably going to continue and we may find more," Grantham said Friday.
The holes range wildly in size, but the largest are up to 10 feet (3 meters) wide and up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) deep, Grantham estimated.
Federal and state money will help with about 90 percent of the repair costs, but the city, which is near the Tennessee border and in one of Missouri's poorest counties, will be hard-pressed to cover its approximately $450,000 share.
"We're looking for help from other places as well," Grantham said.
So far, no verified damage has been confirmed at homes or businesses, though holes are showing up in yards.
Homeowner Melvin Pipkins is convinced his house sits atop an emerging sinkhole. The home is surrounded by sinkholes in the yard, and Pipkins told KFVS-TV that that his new kitchen floor is coming apart at the seams and feels "soft."
At another home, a woman walking on her brick patio could feel the ground sinking beneath her feet, Grantham said.
Several streets have been affected, including Ward Avenue, one of the busiest in town. Barricades surround a sinkhole on Ward Avenue that isn't far from the police station.
Caruthersville sits deep within the region known as the Missouri Bootheel, where the terrain is flat delta.
"We were built on a swamp so we have a lot of sandy soil," Grantham said. "So it'll move on you."
The problem was worsened by the months of severe flooding along the Mississippi River earlier this year, which left the ground saturated and soggy. Even now, at a time of year when the river traditionally runs low, the Mississippi is just a foot below flood stage in Caruthersville.
The city is especially vulnerable because the river makes a meandering turn around the town that essentially circles it on three sides.
Pemiscot County received a disaster declaration, which opened the way for federal and state help to pay for some repairs. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been assessing the damage, FEMA spokeswoman Crystal Payton said. Some state funds may also be available.
City leaders expect to learn in about a month how much federal and state money they'll get.