WJTV News Channel 12 - Southwest Virginia becoming more susceptible to sinkholes

Southwest Virginia becoming more susceptible to sinkholes

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BLACKSBURG -

Heavy rain and flooding throughout Southwest Virginia is bringing a familiar problem back to the forefront, sinkholes.

"I would say it is probably more likely that they are increasing in number," said regional geologist Bill Henika.

He studies sinkholes for different groups including the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech.

Henika said the impact of heavy rain, like what we've seen over the last two weeks, is making sinkholes more likely.

"It's just like how the trees are more likely to fall over because the soil loses its strength," he said.

They can be man-made, like when a water pipe bursts or in a lot of cases natural.

Limestone is very susceptible, meaning it's more likely to absorb water and eventually crack.

That stone can be found from Rockbridge County all the way down to the New River Valley.

Add in all the rain and it's a recipe for more sinkholes.

"We know the features are under there," Henika said. "It's just a matter of the more water in the system, then the weaker the soil archers are and you will have more collapse."

Henika and his team have developed dozens of geological maps measuring the likelihood of sinkholes, especially on major highways like Interstate 81.

CLICK HERE for interactive geological map

He said a lot of that information is used by agencies like Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to assess potential risks.

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