Make us your home page

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

  1. Woman killed in overnight Temple Terrace apartment fire, city says


    TEMPLE TERRACE — A woman died early Sunday as a result of a fire at an apartment complex, city officials said.

  2. Video: Indianapolis 500 drivers in fiery crash somehow walk away uninjured

    Auto racing

    Scott Dixon and Jay Howard avoided injury in a spectacular crash - or what Dixon labeled "a wild ride" afterward - during the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

  3. Homeland security chief defends Kushner's alleged proposal for 'back channel' to the Russians as 'a good thing"


    Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the lone administration official to speak out publicly about reports that Jared Kushner sought a back channel to communicate with the Russian government, defended the move, saying it was a "good thing" for the U.S. government.

    Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, listens during a meeting with small business leaders at the White House on Jan. 30. [Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford]
  4. After hard charging on health care in 2016, Marco Rubio is slow, careful


    As a presidential candidate, Marco Rubio pitched an Obamacare replacement and tore into Donald Trump for not having one. "What is your plan? What is your plan on health care? You don't have a plan," the Florida senator aggressively challenged in a February 2016 debate.

  5. Report: Florida counties part of liver disease cluster


    STUART — Four counties along Florida's Treasure Coast make up a cluster with high rates of both deaths from liver disease and algae blooms.