Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

When sinkhole swallows Dunedin woman's world, community responds

“You don’t realize certain things until it happens — that feeling of not having any clothes to wear,” Elvira Oakes says.

Getty Images

“You don’t realize certain things until it happens — that feeling of not having any clothes to wear,” Elvira Oakes says.

DUNEDIN — Elvira Oakes does not like being in the spotlight. After a sinkhole, 90 feet across and 53 feet deep, opened up in her back yard last month, swallowing her home, speaking to the media was the last thing she wanted to do.

However, now that she has settled into a rental property not far from the home she lost on Robmar Road, Oakes agreed to talk to the Tampa Bay Times about her ordeal, and how she has continued on with her life.

A nursing instructor at Pinellas Technical Education Center, she had lived in the house in northwest Dunedin for almost twenty years. She raised her three children there, and about six years ago, her second husband, Steve Oakes, moved in so they could start their new life together there.

"We lost everything,'' said Elvira Oakes, 52. "But you know, the outpouring of generosity has gotten us through.''

It was her husband who first recognized that something strange was going on outside their home on that Thursday, Nov. 14. At about 4 a.m., he had gotten up to give his baby grandson, Lucas, a bottle. Lucas often stays with the Oakeses while his mother, Sarah Folk, works.

He heard thumping sounds on the roof. "He thought the noise was citrus rats, and he went back to bed,'' Elvira Oakes recalled.

But around 5:30 a.m., as she was getting ready for work, Steve Oakes rushed into the bedroom and handed her the baby. "He told me to take the baby because he was hearing these loud pops that sounded like the roof was on fire,'' she said.

Steve went outside, running across their patio. "At first, he didn't know it was a sinkhole, but he quickly realized the patio had shifted. He saw the pool at a strange angle. He was actually going down into the sinkhole,'' she said.

"He came back inside and told me not to panic, but to take the baby out of the house.''

As the couple began to grab what they could, including their three dogs, their neighbor, Ivy Dupre, 13, came to the door. "(Ivy) told us the sinkhole had opened and her family was already out of their house. Very quickly there were so many firemen, policemen on the street, so many rescue workers outside,'' Elvira Oakes said.

"I remember when we went outside, it was a very cold Thursday. A fireman came over to me, and he told me he was a grandpa and asked if he could take the baby to sit in the fire chief's car with the heat on,'' she said.

Although the family was able to collect a few items out of the house, including Lucas' playpen and high chair, it was quickly determined that it would be dangerous for anyone to spend any more time in the house.

The Oakeses' and Dupres' houses were demolished within days after the sinkhole opened.

"You don't realize certain things until it happens — that feeling of not having any clothes to wear, for example," Oakes said. "But the things I miss most are the things you get on Mother's Day. The things that your child made for you in fourth grade, my grandmother's jewelry from Germany . . . now it's all (buried) under ground.''

However, Oakes stressed that especially now, during the holiday season when friends have made sure her temporary home is filled with Christmas decorations, including a tree, she will not dwell on what was lost.

"If I did focus on what was lost, I don't think I'd be able to see all the love that is being sent to us.''

From the Greater Dunedin Community Foundation that gave them $500, to fellow parishioners at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, "who literally opened up their closets,'' the outpouring of generosity has been overwhelming, she said.

"Some things have been extra incredible,'' she said. "Like a day or so after it happened, we stopped by to look at the house, and a stranger came up to us and gave us $200. He said that he had been praying for us and believed he needed to give us the money.''

For New Year's Eve, the Oakeses will stay in. "All we want to do is have a game night and a quiet celebration at home, in our rental home,'' she said. "We're feeling very thankful, and we know we've survived very well and have felt so much love from our community.''

When sinkhole swallows Dunedin woman's world, community responds 12/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 6:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Duke Energy Florida president answers questions about utility's response to Irma

    Hurricanes

    ST. PETERSBURG — After more than a week since Hurricane Irma knocked out power to millions of Floridians, Duke Energy announced it will finish its restoration efforts Tuesday.

    Duke Energy Florida President Harry Sideris greets St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday at a news conference where both spoke about Hurricane Irma recovery. The event was held at a Florida Department of Transportation lot next to Maximo Park in St. Petersburg, where the city is collecting Irma yard debris which will be mulched and sold to a local tomato farmer. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. Leaves, mountains, ice cream and cheese: What's not to like in Burlington, Vt.?

    Travel

    If I loved Burlington, Vt., during a visit with my daughter when the high was 37 degrees, I feel completely comfortable recommending the city as a great destination for fall, when it's considered one of the top leaf-watching spots in the world.

    Founded in 1791, the University of Vermont is the sixth-oldest college established in New England.
  3. Puerto Ricans in Tampa Bay wait with dread as Hurricane Maria approaches island

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — As Hurricane Maria swirled in the Atlantic Ocean, Sarykarmen Rivera got a phone call from her parents in Puerto Rico. They had an ominous message.

    Sarykarmen Rivera sits for a portrait with a picture of herself and her family in her hometown of Guayama, Puerto Rico, while at the Univision studios in Tampa on Tuesday. Rivera's mother, father, and extended family are currently in Puerto Rico and she worries about their safety as Hurricane Maria approaches. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  4. Early estimates peg Hurricane Irma damage at as much as $65B

    Banking

    The damage totals from Hurricane Irma are still being tallied, but early numbers are in: As of Tuesday, the storm is estimated to have caused between $42.5 billion and $65 billion of damage. That's according to a Tuesday release by Irvine, Calif.-based analytics company CoreLogic.

    Hurricane Irma is estimated to have caused up to $65 billion in damage, said analytics company CoreLogic. Pictured is 
Hermilo Munoz Castillo as wades down a flooded street to check on his home in southern Collier County, Fla. after Hurricane Irma passed. | [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  5. Port Tampa Bay makes public/private commitment for $60 million expansion project

    Business

    TAMPA — Port Tampa Bay approved a public-private partnership agreement with four other entities to divvy up who will pay for a $60 million widening and extension of the Big Bend Channel.

    Port Tampa Bay approved a participation agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Transportation, Tampa Electric Company and Mosaic Company at the port's monthly board meeting on  Tuesday. Port Tampa Bay President & CEO Paul Anderson signs the agreement as Ram Kancharla; Port Tampa Bay's vice president of planning & development, Brandon Burch; project manager at United States Army Corps of Engineers, Lois Moore; of Alcalde and Fay and Charles Klug; Port Tampa Bay principal counsel, and Tim Murphy; deputy district engineer of the Army Corps., looks on. [Company handout]