Sinkhole in West Knoxville tearing a woman's house apart

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)--Frustration, hopelessness and sadness are all things one woman in West Knoxville feels as her house literally falls apart around her. We walked through her home and saw the destruction. It's a terrible situation no one wants to be stuck in.

Debbie Petersen's beautiful $200,000 home ripped apart by the ground underneath. Engineers tell her it's 84 feet of dirt that could cave in. Debbie says, "They opened it up and there's a huge crack that goes through the middle of the house."

It looks like a small crack in her 12 year-old house, but when you pull back the lenolium there is a big crack in the concrete foundation. Debbie Petersen says, "It seems like a never ending problem right now. For 3 years it's been getting worse and worse, and I don't know where to turn. Now I've lost value. I can't leave because who's going to buy a house like this?"

The house has terrible stress cracks, the insulation shoots out a hole above the toilet, the floor dropped two inches, and the wall is pulling away from the ceiling. Debbie's constantly finding new places where her house is breaking. Outside there's a huge hole in her backyard that she had covered it with a pallet, but that has fallen in the hole. Petersen says, "You can see more dirt fell and crumbled in, so it's caving more. I'd be kinda careful around here."

She's worried her grandsons playing in her backyard might fall in.
The more it rains, the bigger the hole gets. It's a problem that must get fixed, because she doesn't feel safe in her own home. Petersen says, "They don't know how they're going to fix under here at all. I'm trying to think what happened in Tampa isn't going to happen here because we have sand not clay. I dread coming home. I'm so tired and frustrated that I don't know what to anticipate."

Debbie's insurance only covers up to $10,000. Her neighbor had a sinkhole problem and it cost his insurance 200 thousand dollars to fix it.

So how can you make sure this doesn't happen to you?

Tennessee and Florida law says insurance companies must offer sinkhole insurance. Here's the key. You must ask for it. It's pretty cheap. It costs about 30 dollars a year, but make sure you have enough.

How do you make sure you don't buy a home on a sinkhole or already have a home sitting on a sinkhole?

We talked to house contractor Travis Hicks. He tells us a developer tests the land, but not everything can be tested. For example, when he tests a130 acre area, he may only drill 10 holes. Plus, he tells us there's no way to know if a sinkhole will develop there because they develop over years.

So bottom line? Make sure you have plenty of insurance.

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