Sinkhole still growing; Homes on edge

Authorities tape off area in Orange County neighborhood

WINDERMERE, Fla. - More families left their Windermere homes after a sinkhole estimated to be more than 100 feet wide and 50 feet deep opened in their neighbor's back yard.

The sinkhole, the bottom of which is filled with ground water, is located about 3 feet from a home at 4926 Indian Deer Road.  The Orange County Building Department was called to the house around 7 a.m. Thursday and deemed the home unsafe.

Firefighters assisted one family -- two adults and four children -- with removing as many personal items as possible. They had moved into the home they were renting about two months ago. Relatives are helping the family with temporary housing, authorities said.

"We just moved in, we just got all the decorations on the wall and my wife woke me up and said there was a hole in the backyard," Lou Lambros said.  "My wife said she was hearing little pops, and when we went downstairs she could actually hear the grass tearing apart and falling into the hole."

A crack can be seen on the corner of the house below a window, but it's not known if it was caused by the sinkhole.

A neighboring family also left their home, and the hole continues to grow.  It has swallowed four trees and a hammock.  A fifth tree is on the edge of the hole.

The Lambros said they're thankful it wasn't worse.

"You know, my kids played back there, their friends come over and they play back there," Lou Lambros said. "The kids don't want to be here.  They were kind of scared this morning. They were like, 'Is our house going to fall into the hole? Grab the Xbox and the PlayStation.'"

The homeowner is currently in California, but a representative from the management company is at the home and told Local 6 the owner is watching coverage on TV and is in shock. The owner has sinkhole insurance coverage, according to the representative.

The Jacobson family, unfortunately does not have sinkhole insurance and Kristin Jacobson is hoping the experts are right when they said they hole does not appear to be growing.

"I probably won't sleep well again tonight," Jacobson said. She said she spent the night looking out her window at the sinkhole creeping closer to her house. "I only bought this house a month ago, so I wasn't really expecting anything to happen the first month of the being here."

Dirt continues to fall in as the hole shallows out, but since it does not appear to be getting any deeper, she hopes this is the end of it. Now, she's worried about how the ground beneath her behaves in the future.

"I'm really worried about my house as well that it's stable and secure and that I won't have anything to worry about in the future," she said.

Two doors down, Brian Denis took no chances. He moved his family out to a hotel, even though his house is not condemned like the one in front of the sinkhole. He's renting and hopes to get out of his lease early because he's worried about his young boys.

"The bigger it got, and it started taking out trees, we started saying, 'This is getting too big for the kids to be around,'" said Denis.

It's not known what caused the sinkhole to form, but dry weather conditions have lingered over the region and are expected to continue in the near future.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs met with the residents at the home to see the sinkhole firsthand.

"I think it's important that they know that this community cares, from the mayor all the way down, and that the neighborhood is coming together," Jacobs said.

Sinkhole expert Tom Wilson of Certified Foundations said the type of sinkhole is rare.

"This type of sinkhole is called a cover collapse and they're quite rare," Wilson said.

A law that went into affect about two years ago, changes how Florida homeowners are covered. The Florida legislature decided there is a difference between a sinkhole and what they call a "catastrophic ground cover collapse."

Florida law requires every homeowner's policy to cover sinkholes with four criteria.

  • There must be an abrupt collapse of ground cover.
  • It must make a depression in the ground, clearly visible to the naked eye.
  • There must be structural damage to the building and its foundation.
  • The structure must be condemned.

The home is covered under standard homeowner's policy because it's condemned, but the neighboring homes wouldn't be covered. For coverage on cracks caused by sinkholes, you would need a separate, stand-alone sinkhole policy, something that typically runs about $3,000 a year or twice the cost of your regular homeowner's insurance policy.

[PHOTOS: Sinkhole threatens home]

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