Hillandale sinkholes plaguing Adelphi neighborhood, causing safety hazards

The hole on Carlton Powell's front lawn reaches depths of 15 feet. (Photo: Juan Guirola)

Residents of a Prince George's County neighborhood are facing a problem they never could have imagined - their neighborhood is sinking.


The families who live in the Adelphi community of Hillandale, a community just outside the Capital Beltway and a few miles from the University of Maryland, say sinkholes that are opening up in their yards. They're putting people and property in danger, they say, and they've had enough.

One of them, Carlton Powell, says he almost fell into a 15-foot-deep hole - the second one on his property - that opened in his front yard.

"I'm very worried for the safety of the kids and for people's houses in the area," Powell said.

A sinking mystery

For Adolph Sims, the work continues to patch up holes near his home continue as he and other residents have been left to wonder what exactly is going on.

"I've had at least three that I filled in...holes are forming on the back of our property and on the front," Sims said.

The news gets even worse for Hillandale residents, too. It's not just sinkholes that are plaguing the area - it's a flow of water that doesn't stop. At Juanita Smart's house, the water flowing into her basement never stops, which has caused nearly $30,000 worth of damage.

"I have a lot of water coming from up the hill," Smart said. "We don't know exactly where the water is coming from."

Smart has three sump pumps that haven't stopped running for five years. Two doors down, at Colleen Langdon's house, a retaining wall she put up hasn't been enough to stop the water runoff from a neighbor's yard.

What's the reason for the holes?

ABC 7 asked the Prince George's County Department of Natural Resources to examine both the sinkholes and the running water, and it turns out that the neighborhood, which sprang up in the 1960's, was likely built on an old farm and before today's strict regulations.

"There could have been any number of drainage fields or irrigation systems," engineer Jeff DeHan said. "It looks like it could be an abandoned well."

A high-water table could also be the cause of the problems, another geo-technical engineer tells ABC 7.

"This may have been, in the past, an old run-off ditch or an old stream that wasn't properly addressed at the times the homes were constructed here at the time," engineer Marwan Mustafa said.

Prince George's County officials say that the Hillandale issues are on private property, but regardless, they've promised to help homeowners with inspections and recommendations on how to mitigate the problems.

"I hope our houses hold up"

County officials say that the drainage and sinkhole problems in Hillandale aren't unique. They're plaguing other local neighborhoods as well, and all the rain the D.C. area got over the past year has made the situation worse.

For Powell and his neighbors, all they can do is hope their homes stay standing and that everyone stays safe.

"I hope our houses hold up and nobody gets hurt until we get it taken care of," he said.