SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

August 13, 2013

Sinkhole swallows part of resort

CLERMONT, Fla. — It sounded like a thunderstorm as windows broke and the ground shook, but vacationers who were awakened from their rooms at a villa near Orlando soon realized that the building was starting to collapse — parts of it swallowed by a 100-foot sinkhole that also endangered two neighboring resort buildings.

By early yesterday, nearly a third of the structure at Summer Bay Resort had collapsed. All 105 guests staying in the villa were evacuated, as were those in the neighboring buildings. No injuries were reported. The villa, with 24 three-story units, was reported as a total loss, and inspectors remained on the scene yesterday afternoon to determine whether the other two buildings near the sinkhole — a common occurrence in Florida — would be safe to re-enter.

The first sign of trouble came about 10:30 Sunday night. Security guard Richard Shanley had just started his shift, and he heard what sounded like shouting from a building.

A guest flagged him down to report that a window had blown out. Shanley reported it to management, and another window popped. The resort’s staff decided to evacuate the villa.

Shanley said the building seemed to sink by 10 to 20 inches and bannisters 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, and guests credited him with saving lives by knocking on doors to wake them. Inside, they heard what sounded like thunder and then the storm of water, as if it were a storm. Evacuation took about 10 to 15 minutes, according to staff and witnesses.

Amy Jedele heard screams coming from one of adjacent buildings around 10:30 p.m., and several minutes later, the sounds of sirens. She and her fiance, Darren Gade, went outside. “That’s when you could hear the pops and the metal, the concrete and the glass breaking,” she said.

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