Massive sinkhole opens up behind Windermere home

By John W. Davis, Amanda Evans and Chief Meteorologist Jeff Day, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Thursday, May 03, 2012
County Sinkhole Maps

Crews in Orange County are working to stop a large sinkhole from growing behind a Windermere home.

The sinkhole opened up Thursday morning in the backyard of a home on Indian Deer Road, in a subdivision off County Road 535 at Tilden Road.

The hole has grown from 34 feet wide to about 100 feet wide. That's about the length of a basketball court, and officials said it's still growing.

Crews said the hole is about 50 feet deep, and has swallowed up three oak trees, which look like bushes in the bottom of the massive hole.

“You know it's just part of life in Central Florida. We're in that drought right now and so they can continue to happen. They can happen at any time,” said Orange County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Billy Richardson.

Only a few feet separate the sinkhole from the back of the home. The family renting the home has been safely evacuated, including four children, a cat and a dog.

Lou Lambros said he and his family had only been living in the home for two months.

"The ground was just falling into the hole, and the trees were gone," Lambros said. "It was happening very rapidly, too. So I immediately ran back in and said, 'Get the kids out of the house.'"

Firefighters and professional movers helped the family move their belongings.

Lambros said if the sinkhole would have collapsed about 12 hours earlier, his son could have been injured.

"Last night before sunset, my son was out there on the hammock so that's all I care about is that my kids are OK and nobody got hurt. Completely scary. My brain has a hard time comprehending things like this. Only God knows how they happen but just thankful that we're all OK," explained Lambros.

Officials said a geologist is investigating the sinkhole.

Experts marked several rings with white spray paint from the original center of the sinkhole, so it's expected to continue collapsing for several more hours.

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Recent sinkholes in Central Florida

  • December 2011, Polk County
    The last significant sinkhole in Central Florida opened up Polk City, near the Osceola County line. The hole swallowed up a car at a rest stop off I-4.
     
  • August 2011, Orange County
    Another sinkhole last summer opened up in the parking lot at the Highland Lakes Shopping Center, off West Colonial Drive and Hiawassee Road, in Orlando.
     
  • June 2011, Lake County
    A portion of a shop in downtown Leesburg was swallowed up by a sinkhole there. That hole was eventually filled, but not before taking much of the building with it.

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Sinkhole signs and causes

Sinkholes are depressions or a collapse of the land surface as the limestone below cracks and develops fractures. Acidic waters seeping through the soil lead to the breakdown over long periods of time.

While these types of events often occur after a high accumulation of rainfall in a brief period of time, they can also take place in extremely dry conditions, as the water table below the surface drops or dries out.

There are several signs you can watch for that may lead to the formation of a sinkhole:

  • Fresh exposure on fence posts, foundations and trees that result when the ground sinks
  • Slumping, sagging or slanting fence posts, trees or other objects
  • Doors and windows that fail to close properly
  • Ponding: Small ponds of rainfall forming where water has not collected before
  • Wilting of small, circular areas of vegetation, because the moisture that normally supports vegetation in the area is draining into a developing sinkhole below the surface
  • Turbidity in water in nearby wells
  • Structural cracks in walls, floors and pavement
  • Cracks in the ground surface.

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Top 10 sinkhole prone counties

In an alarming report from March 2011, all 10 of Florida's most sinkhole prone counties are either in Central Florida or the Tampa Bay area.

  1. Pasco
  2. Hernando
  3. Hillsborough
  4. Marion
  5. Pinellas
  6. Citrus
  7. Polk
  8. Orange
  9. Seminole
  10. Lake

Source: RiskMeter Online