A sinkhole near Walt Disney World in Florida collapsed two condos and forced dozens of guests to rush to safety this week as the structure was pulled into a 15-foot-deep pit.
The incident was the latest in a string of sinkhole disasters in Florida, which included a man in Tampa being killed earlier this year when a giant sinkhole emerged beneath his bedroom. Behind the headlines a pattern appears to have emerged of shifting soil in the Sunshine State, and officials say there is a good reason.
Florida’s peninsula is composed of carbonate rocks like limestone that store and move groundwater, and above that are dirt, clay, and sand. Water stored in the rocks can create acids that break down the carbonate rocks, leaving a void that allows the heavier dirt on the surface to collapse and form a sinkhole.
These sinkholes can be triggered by heavy Florida rainfalls or when humans disturb the soil by drilling wells or pumping groundwater for farming.
Insurance officials said there were more than 2,000 sinkhole claims in Florida in 2010, with much of the action centered on a three-county area near Tampa that’s been dubbed “sinkhole alley.”
The Disney World sinkhole opened suddenly on Sunday, as guests in the Summer Bay Resort heard popping noises and saw windows shatter. This led to a quick evacuation, as within 15 minutes the structure had sunk into the earth and began to crumble.
“My heart sunk. I was sick to my stomach,” said Paul Caldwell, owner of the resort that’s a few miles from Walt Disney World. “Everybody was cleared out of the buildings, so nobody got hurt.”
The Walt Disney World sinkhole is far from the only headline-grabbing soil shift in Florida. There have been reports this week that there may be a sinkhole under the $60 million mansion golfer Tiger Woods recently built in Jupiter Island.