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Lyle Poteet stands in the sinkhole on his land. Above are Ace Tree Service and Stump Grinding employees Ronnie Frazier and Michael Taylor.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Lyle Poteet stands in the sinkhole on his land. Above are Ace Tree Service and Stump Grinding employees Ronnie Frazier and Michael Taylor.

Drought blamed for growing sinkhole
'Hear the earth tearing'
Large sinkhole draws sightseers to Morgan farm

By Ronnie Thomas 340-2438

SOMERVILLE — Lyle Poteet said his first thought Friday afternoon when he saw the gaping and growing sinkhole on his 120-acre farm was a front-page story in that morning's Daily about house foundations failing.

"The one about how drought conditions are damaging homes," he said. "Then I thought, 'How timely. The world is caving in.' Stand over here, and you can hear the earth tearing."

Watching ridges appear

Poteet and passersby watched as a series of dips and ridges appeared near the sinkhole, about 600 feet east of his house at 3364 East Upper River Road. And sure enough, sounds began emanating as if someone were ripping apart heavy canvas, and occasionally there were popping noises.

"That's the soil and the grass coming apart," he said. "It looks as if there's going to be more cave-ins. And the big one has grown since we've been standing here. It's about two-thirds larger now than when I arrived at 1:30 p.m."

He said the hole, which looks like a miniature opening of Cathedral Caverns, is about 14 feet deep. He stepped it off and estimated the hole to measure about 36 feet by 42 feet.

Poteet, who owns Ace Tree Service and Stump Grinding, said the saga began as he turned into the driveway of his home and noticed a strange red pickup down the road parked along a fence line.

"Someone was standing there observing, and then I saw the red bank of the hole," he said. "I couldn't believe what I saw when I drove on down. At that point, I said, 'Gol-ol-ol-ly!' as if I were auditioning as a stand-in for Gomer Pyle on the 'Andy Griffith Show.' How else could I react, really. I believe I also uttered a 'Wow' or two."

More people gathered at about 3 p.m., and two more pickups pulled onto the property near the fence line. The ground on that end of the hole had already eroded underneath the fence posts, and Poteet warned them to pull away.

"And talk about timely," he said in a sigh of relief. "It looks like I'm losing the farm now, but we had two tractors out here last week in a haying operation. They drove right over this whole area, right over that hole. But the loss of several rows of hay would have been more critical than losing tractors, as long as no one were hurt."

Poteet said no one has to reinforce that the culprit is the 100-year-drought.

"We've had no significant rainfall since October 2005," he said. "I have not heard of any geological issues, other than the drought. I have six ponds on this property and another one on our property on Cain Road. All are useless."

Todd Fentress, who wanted a closer look, went down into the hole and came up with grit in his hand.

"This looks like coal," he said. "I'm wondering if there isn't an old mine down there."

As Poteet continued to listen to the earth shift and wonder how many more holes might develop, he said he doesn't believe his home is in danger.

"This is a low area, and our house is on a small rise. It might be safe," he said. "That's certainly my prayer."

Poteet added, "After this morning's story, and now this, people will be out checking their houses tomorrow for sure. I want this to stop. And I sure wish it would rain."

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