Jul 18, 4:53 PM EDT

Officials worry about debris in water near Florida sinkhole


LAND O'LAKES, Fla. (AP) -- Even though a Florida sinkhole hasn't grown in several days, officials said that the debris-strewn site is still considered dangerous and that residents of five homes remained evacuated Tuesday due to the dangers.

"The sinkhole is not growing anymore ... but still dangerous conditions exist out here," said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County's assistant administrator for public safety. "It's basically moving like into a construction and demolition site."

The sinkhole opened up Friday and grew to 225 feet (68 meters) wide and 50 feet (15 meters) deep, taking with it two homes, septic tanks and a boat. No one was injured.

Guthrie said there was no toxic release into the air so the main environmental concern is the long-term effects, if any, of debris to the water supply in the neighborhood north of Tampa.

"It's going to be my goal to have all of that stuff taken out of the hole," Guthrie said at a news conference. "However, I know there have been some other practices across the state, and across the country, when you just fill it in and go from there."

Health and environmental officials will be conducting testing of to make sure water from wells is safe to drink since many residents in the neighborhood get their water from wells. Local officials were recommending homeowners living within 500 feet of the sinkhole to drink bottled water as a precaution.

Results from 20 initial well tests came back negative for E. Coli on Tuesday, health officials said.

"Where we get concerned is wells that are shallow and the casing isn't far enough to end up protecting the well," said Greg Crumpton, a local health official. "We're not sure of the effects the sinkhole can cause. We just know there is a possibility of a health effect and that's what we're out here to try gathering information."

Cleanup efforts, originally set for midweek, have been pushed back a day or two as county officials still need to contact homeowners' insurance companies. County cleanup crews can't do any work on much of the site without the homeowners and insurance companies' permission since they are private property, Guthrie said.

The water level in the sinkhole has dropped five feet since Friday, officials said.

Fencing was erected around the five evacuated homes and power has been shut off to the houses.

"As far as people moving back in, we're still at a point where they can't move back in," Guthrie said. "I'm still looking at several days before that can even happen."

Meanwhile, a small sinkhole opened up this week in the retirement community, The Villages. WFTV in Orlando reports that hole opened up between two homes. No damage to the homes has been reported, but a resident of one of the homes has decided to temporarily move out until engineers can evaluate the structure.

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Information from: WFTV-TV, http://www.wftv.com/index.html

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