CLERMONT (CBSMiami/AP) – The sunshine state, due to a combination of factors including the fact that the peninsula is made up of porous carbonate rocks that store and help move groundwater, has more sinkholes than any other state in the nation. When the land beneath a resort near Disney World collapsed early Monday, all 105 guests managed to escape the sinking structure safely.
Summer Bay Resort President Paul Caldwell told reporters during a news conference Tuesday that engineers examined the 100-foot sinkhole and determined there’s no reason to believe it will grow.
Caldwell said the resort remains open, but with three buildings still unoccupied. The resort is taking claims from guests staying in the collapsed building. Guests from two adjacent buildings that also were evacuated are being allowed in with escorts to retrieve possessions.
The sinkhole, according to Lake County Fire Rescue officials, said that about 50-percent of the three-story villa at the Summer Bay Resort, about 10 miles of Disney World, collapsed around 3 a.m. Monday.
The three-story villa was reported as a total loss.
Guests Monday were rushed out of their rooms just before one of the three-story buildings partially collapsed.
“I started to hear this clank…metal on metal like someone was just hitting really hard. Right away my alerts were raised,” said Maggie Ghamry, a guest staying at the resort with her young son and some friends. Ghamry had checked-in late Sunday. “Windows were exploding. People were throwing their luggage out the windows.”
According to Geologist Scott Purcifull, sinkholes the size of the one under the resort are not common–and they are difficult to predict.
“Like sands through an hourglass almost, it slowly creeps in,” said Purcifull.
Sinkholes in Florida are due to the fact that the peninsula is made up of porous carbonate rocks such as limestone. The rock stores and helps move groundwater. Dirt, sand and clay sit on top of the rock and, over time, these rocks can dissolve from an acid created from oxygen in water, creating a void underneath the limestone roof. When the dirt, clay or sand gets too heavy for the limestone roof, in can collapse—forming a sinkhole.
Sinkholes are caused naturally but can be triggered by outside events. Heavy rainfall, drought followed by heavy rainfall, tropical storms and human activity are some of the outside influences.
“The cavities themselves form over thousands of millions of years. It’s just a point where … very suddenly that material can collapse into this cavity,” said Purcifull.
Security guard Richard Shanley had just started his night shift late Sunday when he heard what he thought was screaming from the building. He said he thought some sort of violence might be going on.
Guests credited him with saving lives by knocking on doors as pieces of the building began to break off.
“I come to find it was actually the building being pulled apart,” Shanley said.
He said the building seemed to sink by 10 to 20 inches and banisters began to fall off the building as he ran up and down three floors trying to wake guests. One couple with a baby on the third floor couldn’t get their door open and had to break a window to get out, he said.
“It’s a scary situation,” Shanley said.
Three counties in the Tampa region are known as “sinkhole alley.” Two-thirds of the sinkhole damage claims reported to the state Office of Insurance Regulation from 2006 to 2010 came from Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Sinkholes are less common in South Florida, home to the state’s two most populous counties — Broward and Miami-Dade.
The state Office of Insurance Regulation says sinkhole claims in Florida cost insurers $1.4 billion from 2006 to 2010.
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