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Big hole near Winter Park, Fla., baffles, stabilizes after threatening homes

Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 8:36 a.m. CDT

(MCT) ORLANDO, Fla. — After celebrating her birthday dinner Monday night, Suzanne Blumenauer returned to her home near Winter Park to discover her pool had been fractured, empty and sinking into the ground.

“I must be dreaming,” Blumenauer said. “I didn’t know what to think.”

Orange County officials aren’t sure what to think either.

County building inspectors were at the home Tuesday investigating the hole that swallowed part of her back yard and cracked her swimming pool hours earlier.

The 30 to 40 foot deep hole apparently stabilized overnight.

“We don’t even know if it is a sinkhole,” Robert Amato, Orange County building inspector, said Tuesday. “It doesn’t look like it moved since yesterday.”

Orange County Fire Rescue arrived at 8:30 p.m. at the home, which is steps from Lake Killarney, to find the hole 40 to 50 feet wide, Battalion Chief Billy Richardson said.

Tuesday morning, the edge of the hole was 20 feet from the back door. Blumenauer opted to stay with a friend until county officials say it’s safe to remain in the house. Her daughter, Kelly Blumenauer, was handling media requests and calls to the insurance company Tuesday morning.

Another home at the rear of the property could be threatened, too, Richardson said. Building inspectors taped off additional areas on both properties in case additional ground fell.

“You wonder how big it will eventually get,” said Jim Frank, who moved into the neighborhood about a month ago.

Neighbors speculated that the hole could be related to a lengthy construction project on Lake Killarney. A pickup with a towering piece of equipment on the back was parked behind an orange construction fence at the edge of the lake.

The truck belongs to county contractor Henderson Wilder Contractor of Orange County, whose services include providing soil stabilization for sinkholes.

“My only role is to do what the geologist told me to do,” said Henderson Wilder, 79, owner of Henderson Wilder Contractor. “We are pulling our rod out and are on standby until they tell us what to do.”

The county called Wilder on Monday night and told him to remove his equipment Tuesday. His crews have been installing several drainage wells near the lake for a week for the county.

Neighbors said they feel vibrations in their homes when the equipment is running.

Manoj Chopra, a University of Central Florida civil-engineering professor, thinks the increased rainfall in the area may have caused the sinkhole.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Chopra said. “That area is very prone to sinkholes.”

The possible sinkhole is only one and a half miles away from the infamous 1981 Winter Park sinkhole that swallowed a car dealership and home in its 320-foot-wide and 90-foot-deep opening.

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Susan Jacobson contributed to this story.

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©2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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