Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Officials allow Dunedin sinkhole evacuees to return to homes

DUNEDIN — Evacuees began returning to their homes Monday, four days after a massive sinkhole opened in a northwest Dunedin neighborhood — swallowing portions of two homes and posing potential danger to five others.

Workers who spent most of Friday and the entire weekend filling in the hole with dirt from a city stockpile topped off the 56-foot-deep expanse with about 300 truckloads, or roughly 5,500 cubic yards, of soil.

Shortly before noon, city engineer Tom Burke and building official Joe May inspected the walls of the evacuated homes for cracks and movement before removing red "danger" tags from their exterior and giving residents the "all clear" to return.

Meanwhile, dump trucks and bulldozers continued compressing the soil where homes at 1112 and 1100 Robmar Road once stood before the parts not damaged by the sinkhole were razed. Crews put 2 extra feet of soil on top of the filled-in sinkhole to allow for settling, and the city also plans to put down grass seed to keep dust from kicking up.

Burke said chances that the hole will reappear are "pretty remote" and "there's no reason" the homeowners couldn't rebuild directly on the site.

"No question. It's safe now," Burke said. "This is a 60-year-old neighborhood, so it's unreasonable to think people couldn't live here for another 60 years."

The hole opened in the early hours of Thursday morning and quickly grew, stretching to 90 feet before it stabilized.

Two homes were condemned and two more were cordoned off with tape because their fences backed up to the unstable ground around the hole. A total of seven homes, two of which were vacant, were evacuated.

Dunedin fire Chief Jeff Parks noted that the incident likely stoked concerns about safety that could impact the larger neighborhood and home sales for years to come.

However, several neighbors — including Alisa Guo, who lives across the street from the sinkhole at 1131 Robmar, and evacuee Louise Shuart, whose home on Mary Jane Lane backs up to it — said they weren't afraid.

"It doesn't bother me one way or the other," said Shuart, 78, who has lived in her home since 1971. Within 30 minutes of receiving the okay, she was back home from the Oldsmar hotel where she had temporarily relocated.

"A hotel isn't nice when you're not on vacation. It's nice to be back," Shuart said. "Nobody got hurt — that's the main thing. Everything else can be replaced."

But Michael Dupre, whose property at 1112 Robmar was the focal point of the sinkhole activity, has no plans to rebuild.

Instead, he, his wife and 13-year-old daughter are temporarily staying at a home donated by a Dunedin Doggie Rescue volunteer who also found someone to foster the family's Labrador retriever for a week.

While his wife and daughter returned to work and school, Dupre was taking a few days off to find a furnished long-term rental in Dunedin. He praised the city, its residents and workers for rallying around the family.

"We're at the point now where the house is gone and we're just moving forward," said Dupre, 50. "We're not moving away from Dunedin.."

Times staff writer Claire Wiseman and photojournalist Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report.

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