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Sinkhole causes guest housing collapse at resort near Disney World

August 12, 2013|By Matt Pearce

Officials on Monday were dealing with the aftermath of an overnight sinkhole at a resort near Disney World that partially swallowed one residential villa and forced guests to flee for their lives.

None of the guests reported injuries late Sunday night, but Summer Bay Resort in Clermont, Fla., offered a dramatic sight come daylight: A guest villa partially crumbled into a sinkhole about 60 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep.

"First it was just cracking. Then it was just boom. It was done," Nael Said, of Milwaukee, who was staying in the unit next door, told the Orlando Sentinel.

At a Monday news conference, resort president Paul Caldwell said a guest alerted the resort's security team to a possible problem around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, after a window mysteriously blew out.

While the security officer was at the scene, another window then blew out, and officials decided to quickly clear the building, Caldwell said. About half an hour later, the building began to sink.

"It was scary. You don't know what to do. But you do what you can do to get people out," Richard Shanley, the security guard, told the Sentinel.

Shanley ran to one of the collapsing buildings and heard guests saying that the building might cave in. "Kids were crying. They were saying, 'We don't want to get trapped here. Mommy, we're on vacation. We're here to have fun. This is not what we expected. We don't want to get trapped here.' "

Some guests ran out without their bags, car keys or medication, Caldwell said. The collapsed building was likely a "total loss," Caldwell said, and that after evacuation, "virtually all" of the guests were relocated into other rooms at the resort. The Sentinel reported that about 20 guests left behind all their belongings.

“No one’s hurt, thank God for that," Caldwell told reporters.

He said the buildings in the resort were about 15 years old and that the resort had never experienced problems with sinkholes. Geotechnic engineers were expected to survey the site Monday, Caldwell said.

Sinkholes are common in the state of Florida, where a thick geological layer of soft limestone is also covered by a fine layer of karst, which is similar to the material chalk is made from.

In February, a deep sinkhole swallowed the home that 36-year-old Jeff Bush was in, killing him, in the Tampa suburb of Brandon.


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