Sinkhole causes Central Florida resort to collapse

Families forced from villa at Summer Bay Resort in Clermont

CLERMONT, Fla. - A sinkhole has destroyed a building housing vacationers at a Central Florida resort, while another section of the villa is collapsing.

[PHOTOS: Sinkhole swallowing resort | VIDEO: Building crumbles]

Fire officials said about 50 percent of a three-story villa at the Summer Bay Resort, located about 10 miles west of Disney World, collapsed around 3 am. Monday. The building had been evacuated a few hours earlier.  No injuries were reported.

Officials said the sinkhole is in the middle of the villa and is about 100 feet in diameter and at least 15 feet deep. Authorities think the hole has stabilized but are monitoring it in case it grows.

"The geologist initially surveyed here, they've indicated it's what they describe as a classic Florida sinkhole," said resort owner Paul Caldwell.

Authorities were initially called to the resort late Sunday and found windows breaking while the building was making popping sounds.

"I was just hearing all these noises banging and people screaming.  The walkway was like this," said resort guest Alec Gobeo, motioning with his hands.   "It's about to just fall. The whole corner of the building was falling."

Caldwell said security guard Richard Shanley went door-to-door telling everyone to get out of the building.

"People were like 'is this really happening?'" Shanley said. "I said you gotta get out! And they said why? And I said the building's collapsing."

Firefighters quickly evacuated families staying at building 104, according to resort workers.  There were 36 guests inside the villa at the time, officials said.

"The ceiling was coming down," Shanley said. "I had to run end to end and pieces of the building are literally falling down behind you."

The villa is comprised of three buildings, a tower on each side joined by a breezeway and with an elevator shaft in the middle. The elevator shaft is where officials said the collapsing began.

"You see (sinkholes) in Florida all the time.  You just don't think it's going to happen where you are," resort guest Jeff Briank said.

The development's president says the resort underwent geological testing when it was built about 15 years ago and there were no signs that a sinkhole was developing. He says all affected guests have been given other rooms.

Video shot early Monday morning by Local 6 showed the building slightly tilted before it collapsed hours later. The video also showed multiple large cracks and debris falling from the building, while water leaked from the structure.

Cellphone video showed parents rushing children into the parking lot as deputies and firefighters set up a perimeter.

Families staying at the resort told Local 6 some of the buildings, as well as a hotel down the road, had lost power.

The Summer Bay Resort, located on U.S. Highway 192 in Clermont just east of U.S. Highway 27, features condominiums, villas and vacation houses, according to the resort's web site.

Meanwhile, a new mapping system by the Florida Geological Survey may help identify where sinkholes are likely to form. The $1.1 million program will begin next month, according to Professional Geologist Clint Kromhout, and is partially funded by  a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Earlier this year, a Florida man was swallowed and killed when a sinkhole suddenly opened beneath his house.

Jeff Bush, 36, died in March when the sinkhole, described by his family as a a "black hole," destroyed his Seffner home.  Bush had been asleep in his bed when he plummeted into the hole.  Jeremy Bush tried to save his brother but couldn't dig him out.

Stay with and watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

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