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Sinkhole in Florida: Tourists lose belongings when 100-foot wide sinkhole swallows up Orlando resort

9:18 AM, Aug 13, 2013   |    comments
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CLERMONT, Florida -- The massive sinkhole that stretches 100 feet across may now have swallowed its fill.

"It's hard to believe this could happen," said resort CEO Paul Caldwell as he stared into the hole that swallowed up 28 of his property's 900 timeshare units.

But Sunday night, it was chaos and confusion. "It was like from a movie, it's something you don't see every day," said security guard Richard Shanley.

MORE: Is Clermont sinkhole reason for theme park concern?

A sinkhole was the last thing he ever expected to see on his patrol of the Summer Bay Timeshare Resort near Disney Sunday night.

"I was hearing popping noises and I heard people screaming and windows shattering in the building itself, because the building had actually twisted."

Not knowing exactly WHAT was going on, Shanley said he jumped into action working to evacuate the 21 families inside.

SINKHOLE DATABASE: Look up your county

"I literally had to tell them two or three times, 'You have to get out.' They were asking why, so I had to tell them, 'Your building is literally falling apart. We need you to exit the building immediately.'"

"He knew he was going into the building with it cracking around him," said Summer Bay Resort guest Debbie Ward. "He was knocking on doors to make sure everyone got out."

Ward, on vacation with her family, was taking a shower just before bed.

"I was in the tub and the tub popped up and came down, and when I got out we started to try to gather stuff because we could hear the cracking and the ceiling and the glass breaking, and we decided we better try to get out as soon as possible," she said, calling the experience one she'll never forget.

See Also: FL geologists to map state for sinkholes

By 3:00 a.m., much of the three-story building had collapsed. Tonight, Ward said she and others are safe with a new place to stay, but many of their belongings are now gone, sinking into the ground along with the crumbling building.

"Red Cross came and they gave us some money so we could go out and buy clothes because we don't have anything. Our computers, everything, is in the unit, so we are literally without anything."

 

Below are some commonly asked questions and answers from the Florida DEP:

My yard is settling... Do I have a sinkhole?

Maybe. But a number of other factors can cause holes, depressions or subsidence of the ground surface. Expansive clay layers in the earth may shrink upon drying, buried organic material, poorly-compacted soil after excavation work, buried trash or logs and broken pipes all may cause depressions to form at the ground surface. These settling events, when not verified as true sinkholes by professionals, are collectively called "subsidence incidents." If the settling is affecting a dwelling, further testing by a licensed engineer with a licensed geologist on staff or a licensed geology firm may be in order. Property insurance may pay for testing, but in many cases insurance may not cover damage from settling due to causes other than sinkholes.

A sinkhole opened in my neighborhood... should I be concerned?

Although sinkholes in Florida sometimes occur in sets, most are isolated events. The bedrock underlying the state is honeycombed with cavities of varying size, most of which will not collapse in our lifetimes. A quick inspection of your property for any sinking or soft areas might be prudent. Unless the sinkhole is very large, and extends to your property, there's likely to be little reason for concern.

Should a sinkhole open in an area near you the hole should be immediately cordoned off and clearly marked to protect traffic. Contact local law enforcement to report the hazard and call your city or county road department to initiate repair work. If the road is private, repair of the hole is usually the responsibility of the landowner or property owners' association.

Is there a safe area of Florida where there is no chance of sinkholes?

Technically, no. Since the entire state is underlain by carbonate rocks, sinkholes could theoretically form anywhere. However, there are definite regions where sinkhole risk is considerably higher. In general, areas of the state where limestone is close to surface, or areas with deeper limestone but with a conducive configuration of water table elevation, stratigraphy, and aquifer characteristics have increased sinkhole activity.

Additionally, the Department announced Friday that the Florida Geological Survey, in conjunction with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, has received a $1.1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to address sinkhole vulnerability. Find more information here.

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