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Sinkhole destroys two Florida homes, forces people to evacuate

(Reuters) - A sinkhole swallowed parts of two houses on Florida's west coast on Thursday and seven nearby homes were evacuated as it continued to expand more than six hours after being discovered, a local official said.

The hole in Dunedin, Florida, near Tampa, was about 60 feet wide and 50 feet deep by midday, after it pulled down a 14-foot boat and a pool, said Jeff Parks, chief of the city's fire department.

Parks said the hole measured about 25 feet wide when firefighters received an initial call at around 5:40 a.m. EST.

One of the affected homeowners "originally thought someone was breaking in his house," Parks said.

Florida is prone to sinkholes because of its porous limestone foundation and the cavities that are the result are a common feature of the state's landscape - such as springs, lakes and portions of rivers.

Sinkholes mostly occur as naturally acidic underground water flows through and dissolves the underlying limestone. North and central Florida, particularly in the Tampa area, generally are more vulnerable than south Florida.

The sinkhole affecting residents in Dunedin on Thursday was located about 40 miles from one that opened in February under a house and swallowed a man who was sleeping in his bedroom. His body was never recovered.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Maureen Bavdek)

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