Sunday, January 21, 2018
Public safety

Neighbors worry as Dunedin homes damaged by sinkhole are demolished

DUNEDIN — Matthew Tegerdine and his family burst out of their Robmar Road home Thursday morning when a deputy banged on the door and ordered them to leave.

An enormous sinkhole, at 90 feet wide and 56 feet deep the largest ever reported in Dunedin, had just opened in their next-door neighbor's back yard and was swallowing parts of the homes on either side of it.

Tegerdine, his wife, and their 11-year-old son are staying at a hotel in Dunedin. Their home at 1120 Robmar — the one with a blue basketball hoop in the driveway — is not damaged.

But still, Tegerdine is worried. So is his wife. She's not sure she wants to move back in.

On a neighbor's front porch Friday morning, Tegerdine, 40, sipped from a Dunkin' Donuts cup and intently watched his house.

"If something happens," he said, "I want to be here."

Heavy machinery was used Friday to demolish the condemned home of Michael Dupre at 1112 Robmar Road. At the same time, crews began dumping dirt into the hole. They estimate that 600 dump truck loads will be needed.

Today, they will demolish the second condemned home, 1100 Robmar Road, and continue filling the sinkhole. Dunedin fire Chief Jeff Parks said the work should be completed by Sunday or Monday.

Once the ground is stabilized, neighbors evacuated from four other houses along Robmar Road and Mary Jane Lane will be allowed to return.

The sinkhole opened on Thursday before dawn. Dupre, his wife and 13-year-old daughter rushed out of their house when the sinkhole opened in their back yard, soon swallowing their 14-foot boat, part of their house and the swimming pool and garage of the house next door.

The yawning sinkhole brought an end to a years-long battle between Dupre and state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. He filed a claim for cracks in his walls two years ago. Citizens sent engineers to inspect the house and they confirmed sinkhole activity. Citizens recommended pumping grout into the ground at a cost of $90,000 to $110,000, but Dupre thought more work was needed, with costs estimated at $230,000. His lawyers eventually sued Citizens.

After a sinkhole in Seffner in February killed a man, Dupre, 50, feared his home could be next. He accepted Citizens' repair.

Earlier this week, workers had begun pumping grout into the ground around his home. On Friday, the pipes they drilled remained in the ground as two cranes and a bulldozer leveled his house.

Workers will truck the debris from both demolished homes to Angelo's Recycled Materials in Largo, where the families will recover anything salvageable.

Firefighters were able to save a few items for the displaced families. A firefighter tethered to a cable crawled into a back window of Dupre's house and pulled out photo albums, a shotgun and several white boxes. Next door at 1100 Robmar, they recovered baby bottles from the crumbling home, which belongs to a couple with a baby. Fire officials did not release their names Friday.

Another firefighter later salvaged a U.S. flag that poked through the dust and debris.

Times staff writer Claire Wiseman contributed to this report.

     
   
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