Camp Springs - Residents of a Prince George's County neighborhood were roused this morning by firefighters and told to leave their homes because of a sinkhole that developed overnight in the rain-soaked ground.

prince george sinkhole
This carport was damaged when a sinkhole formed behind a row of homes in Camp Springs, Md.

The sinkhole, more than 200 feet long and about 10 feet deep, affected the back yards of four houses on Yorkville Road in Camp Springs, an unincorporated community south of Andrews Air Force Base. In the back of one house, a carport with a late-1970s Mercury inside was perched at a precarious angle next to a large trough created by the sinking ground. On the house's front door, emergency officials placed an orange sign that said, "This building is unsafe," and forbade entry.

At the house next door, a roof over the rear patio collapsed, its support columns crumpled. Nearby, decades-old trees snapped and fell, their roots exposed to the driving rain.

Residents of the street, which lies on a slight incline, said gravity and the natural path of the water sent it cascading into the back yards of the houses on the east side of Yorkville Road, ultimately making the ground unstable.

Emergency officials said they would study the geological features area to determine the sinkhole's cause. Charles W. Wilson, director of the Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources, said in the late morning that residents of all but two houses had been allowed to return to their homes, but he left open the possibility that, if the sinkhole became deeper, they would be asked to leave again.

Twelve years ago, the same stretch of land dropped after heavy rain, but only by about a foot, residents said.