A constant, sinking feeling

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From the street, John and Tina Furlow’s house looks perfect.

But a crack in the sidewalk zigzags past the threshold and into the foyer. Support beams and walls are full of these signs the nearly-new home — built in 2007 — is slowly closing in on itself.

“This is everything my dad gave me,” said Tina Furlow, explaining that her “blue collar” family’s hard work and inheritance were used to fund the retirement home of their dreams.

John Furlow, a U.S. Marine veteran and master carpenter, has his fingerprints all over the house’s design, and built many of the wood shelves and cabinets. Tina designed the stained glass windows on the front door.

“We put all our love, everything into this house,” Tina Furlow said. “And we’ll probably lose it.”

The Furlows moved to Florida from Maryland, settling in a home on Mississippi Run Road in the Glen Lakes community off of U.S. 19 in Weeki Wachee. They didn’t know much about sinkholes until August 2011, when John fell into a 5-foot deep sinkhole that had opened up along the side of the house, right next to their bedroom window.

Since then, they’ve learned seven neighbors have sinkhole damage, too.

Tina Furlow sleeps on the living room couch; John Furlow sleeps in a spare bedroom in another corner of the house. The couple said they tried sleeping in their bedroom after the sinkhole opened, but the cracks in the ceiling and cracking sounds led to little rest.

The couple filed a claim with Citizens Property Insurance Corporation right after the accident, and their initial claim has progressed into an affair involving legal counsel, multiple adjustors and not a lot of answers.

Because their sinkhole isn’t “catastrophic” to the insurance company, it is in a long line of claims waiting to be assessed, Tina Furlow said, and the condition of the house has been getting worse over the past few years. Furlow has realized it would take about $3,000 to stabilize the sinkhole, but Citizens’ only sent a check for $900 — barely enough to cover the permits.

A Citizens’ representative said the Furlows could pay $120,000 to have the sinkhole repaired themselves, and then be reimbursed by the company — money the family doesn’t have up front.

When asked if he could go back to 2007, back to the time when he purchased the land and was designing the home, John Furlow said he would have had the ground tested, and the house built on a pillar foundation for more support.

The extra construction would have cost less than $10,000 if they would have known the option was available, Furlow said. “I think all Florida houses probably should have it done.”

There are “silver linings” though, Tina Furlow said. A Tampa contractor heard about the Furlows’ home and has offered to help with the basic repairs needed to keep the house stable.

They’re healthy; and their story is not as tragic as Jeff Bush’s of Seffner, who was swallowed by a Seffner sinkhole earlier this month.

But the Furlows think big changes need to happen, with the way insurance claims are prioritized, the need for ground testing guidelines and support from the county throughout the process.

“I’m just hoping ours gets fixed, and our story helps other people,” Tina Furlow said.