Vacationers staying in a luxury villa in central Florida awoke to creaking and crashing sounds Sunday night, as the three-story building they were staying in began to collapse. A large portion of the structure was pulled into a sinkhole at the Summer Bay Resort near Disney World. It seems the process was slow enough that it allowed everyone in the building to get out safely.
Striking images from the scene show a building that appears to have crumbled toward its center. Perched next to a pond, the villa's edifice sheared off Sunday night in a way that left the remaining wall and windows largely intact.
After the villa's supports began to crack and tear apart, the windows began to blow out, twisted by the forces pulling it downward. Guests had 10 or 15 minutes to get out of the building, The Orlando Sentinel reports. The newspaper says about 20 people, including children, had been staying in the villa's rental apartments at the resort in Clermont.
"One person had to break out of a window because the door frame collapsed. He, his wife and an infant — he had to break the window so they could escape," Maggie Ghamry tells Florida's WFTV. "There were windows breaking everywhere. One woman was sitting in the tub and the tub levitated and that's when she just grabbed a pair of shorts and came out with nothing. So it was the most surreal experience I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams."
The evacuation was completed moments before the building's foundation buckled and it began to settle into the sinkhole, reports the Sentinel, which also says guests left behind nearly all their belongings. Officials say those who had to evacuate are being moved into another villa on the same property.
Luis Perez, who was staying at a nearby villa, tells The Associated Press that he was walking to the front desk to report a power outage around 11:30 p.m. Sunday when he saw the commotion outside.
"I started walking toward where they were at, and you could see the building leaning and you could see a big crack at the base of the building," Perez, of Berona, N.J., tells the news agency.
Officials say the sinkhole measures more than 40 feet wide; some reports describe it as being up to 60 feet in diameter. It sucked in about one-third of the villa where guests had been staying.
"My heart sunk. I was sick to my stomach," resort president Paul Caldwell tells the Sentinel of the emergency phone call he received Sunday night.
As a precaution, a neighboring building was also evacuated.
As the AP reports, sinkholes "are caused by Florida's geology — the state sits on limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water, with a layer of clay on top. The clay is thicker in some locations making them even more prone to sinkholes."
Earlier this year, a man died near Tampa, Fla., after a sinkhole opened beneath his house, as the Two-Way reported.