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, Fla., 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 Monday, 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.
Inspectors remained on the scene Monday afternoon to determine whether the other two buildings near the sinkhole – a relatively common occurrence in Florida – would be safe to re-enter.
The first sign of trouble came about 10:30 p.m. Sunday. 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 banisters began to fall off the building as he ran up and down three floors trying to wake up 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 awaken 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.
In one of the adjacent buildings, firefighters and police officers knocking on doors woke up Maggie Moreno, of San Antonio. She couldn’t fully open the door to her unit.
“It sounded like popcorn,” said Moreno, who was visiting with her family. “The building was just snapping.”