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Sinkhole Causes Resort Villa To Partially Collapse

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(credit: Lawrence Evans)

(credit: Lawrence Evans)

CLERMONT, Fla. (WWJ/AP) — A sinkhole caused a section of a central Florida resort villa to partially collapse early Monday, while another section of the villa was sinking, authorities said.

About 30 percent of the three-story structure collapsed around 3 a.m. Monday, Lake County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Tony Cuellar said. The villa at the Summer Bay Resort had already been evacuated and no injuries were reported. Cuellar said authorities were also concerned about another section of the villa, which was sinking.

Witnesses said they could hear a cracking sound as the villa began sinking. A large crack was visible at the building’s base.

The villa houses 24 units and about 20 people were staying in it at the time, according to Cuellar.

One of those people was Larry Evans of Saline, Michigan, who said he couldn’t get into their room when he arrived at the resort overnight.

“Last night we kinda could see from a distance — they had it all lit up— that it was kind of just off-kilter,” Evans said, speaking live on WWJ Newsradio 950 early Monday. “But this morning it’s just completely collapsed.”

(credit: Lawrence Evans)

(credit: Lawrence Evans)

While Evans, along with his wife and two sons, was not in harms way, he said another family made a narrow escape.

“I just spoke to a gentleman; he just checked into that building … he has a 10-month-old,” said Evans. “He was on the third floor and he woke up in the middle of the night — about 12 o’clock — and just grabbed his kid and his wife and left.

“He couldn’t even open the door, so he literally had to bust out a window in the hallway and then get out,” Evans said.

The sinkhole comes five months after one elsewhere in Florida killed a man.

Monday’s sinkhole, which is in the middle of the villa, is about 40 to 50 feet in diameter, Cuellar said. He said authorities think it was getting deeper but couldn’t tell early Monday if it was growing outward.

Authorities were called to the scene, about 10 miles west of Disney World, late Sunday where they found that the building was making popping sounds and windows were breaking.

A nearby villa was also evacuated as a precaution, Cuellar said.

Cuellar said there was a gas leak but the gas has since been shut off.

Luis Perez, who was staying at a villa near the sinking one, said he was in his room when the lights went off around 11:30 p.m. He said he was on his way to the front desk to report the outage when he saw firefighters and police outside.

“I started walking toward where they were at and you could see the building leaning and you could see a big crack at the base of the building,” said Perez, 54, of Berona, N.J.

In an interview aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Maggie Ghamry, a guest at the resort, said that when she first heard shaking and glass breaking, she thought it might be kids running down the hall.

“Next thing I know, people are yelling ‘get out of the building, get out of the building,’” she said.

(credit: Lawrence Evans)

(credit: Lawrence Evans)

Summer Bay is described on its website as a luxury resort with condominiums, two-bedroom villas and vacation houses in addition to standard rooms. The site touts a clubhouse, atrium and poolside bar, and says the resort is on a secluded 64-acre lake.

Florida has a long, ongoing problem with sinkholes, which cause millions of dollars in damage in the state annually. On March 1, a sinkhole underneath a house in Seffner, about 60 miles southwest of the Summer Bay Resort, swallowed a man who was in his bed. His body was never recovered.

But such fatalities and injuries are rare, and most sinkholes are small. Sinkholes can develop quickly or slowly over time.

They are caused by Florida’s geology — the state sits on limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water, with a layer of clay on top. The clay is thicker in some locations making them even more prone to sinkholes.

Other states sit atop limestone in a similar way, but Florida has additional factors like extreme weather, development, aquifer pumping and construction.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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