No one was injured, but the hole continues to grow, said Chief Jeff Parks of the Dunedin Fire Department. By nightfall, it had increased to about 90 feet wide and more than 50 feet deep.
“I thought someone was trying to break in,” said Ivy Dupre, 13, who woke up a little after 5:30 a.m. ET when the sinkhole began to collapse. “I heard really loud banging.”
She went to tell her parents, and the protective instincts of her father, Michael Dupre, quickly kicked in.
“I grabbed a rifle and start walking through the house so I could see what was going on,” he said. “And I hear the banging. … As I approach the back of the house and I see our back screen room just sticking out 3 feet off the ground, I knew instantly it opened up.”
So far, the family’s enclosed porch, a bedroom, their boat and a neighbor’s pool are damaged and likely lost. They were able to rescue their truck attached to the boat.
Crews monitoring the sinkhole used a backhoe to retrieve the Dupres’ boat because they were worried that fuel in the boat could contaminate groundwater. Otherwise, the crews are in a holding pattern until the hole stabilizes.
“I thought someone was trying to break in. … I heard really loud banging.”
— Ivy Dupre, Dunedin, Fla.The ground there is so unstable that both homes likely will have to be demolished, Parks told the Tampa Bay Times.
One home is already condemned, the second is on the verge of it and a third is showing signs of cracks and damage, he said.
“After the Seffner sinkhole, we were scared,” homeowner Michael Dupre said. That suburb about 15 miles east of Tampa had two sinkholes appear earlier this year, one that swallowed a man, killing him.
Homes in the Dunedin area have been plagued with their own damage from unstable ground, neighbors say. A house on a street adjoining this sinkhole is getting major repairs because of cracks to the structure, and an owner has abandoned another house.
The city keeps a list of subsidence areas and sinkhole locations, officials say.
Sinkholes are common in Florida because the peninsula is made up of porous carbonate rocks such as limestone that store and help move water underground. Over time, the rocks can dissolve, creating a void under the limestone roof. When dirt, clay or sand gets too heavy for the limestone roof, it can collapse, creating a sinkhole.
“We’ve been dealing with our insurance company, and finally two days ago they started working on our house,” said Dupre, who bought the ranch-style home five years ago. “Now it looks like our house is gone.”
The family has been able to salvage some belongings before getting out of their house.
On Feb. 28, Jeffrey Bush died when a sinkhole opened under his bedroom in Seffner, Fla. His body was never recovered. In August, sections of a building at a resort near Orlando collapsed into a sinkhole; no one was injured there.
Three counties in the Tampa area are known as “sinkhole alley,” state officials say. Two-thirds of the sinkhole damage claims reported to the state Office of Insurance Regulation between 2006 and 2010 came from Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
Dunedin is in neighboring Pinellas County but also has reported several sinkholes in recent years. The county is in the top 5 for sinkholes in the state, according to a 2011 report from insurance data analysts RiskMeter Online.
Contributing: The Associated Press