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He "stepped out ... and saw this huge hole'

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Don Kirschner woke up Sunday morning looking forward to his afternoon golf game. He was going to play a round in preparation for an upcoming tournament.

He wasn't ready for the first hole: the sinkhole at his doorstep. The one threatening to swallow his house.

"My first feeling was shock," Kirschner said. "When I first stepped out, I saw the tree was gone, and I thought some kids had vandalized my yard. Then I came around the corner and saw this huge hole."

Had Kirschner stepped off his front porch, he would have stepped into the 14-foot-deep sinkhole that opened overnight under the house and continued into the yard of his home at 18421 Sterling Silver Circle in the Windmere subdivision. By midday Sunday, the hole was the length of a small swimming pool.

Two smaller sinkholes have been found in the neighborhood, but they are not near homes. No one knows what caused the newest sinkhole. Engineers said soil tests will be conducted today to determine why the limestone sank.

Susan Kirschner said she heard a loud noise about 3 a.m. Sunday but thought it was her son banging on the wall in a restless sleep.

"I heard this big boom, and I thought it was Jonathan rolling over," she said. "I was in such a drowsy state that I just went back to sleep."

The Kirschners' two sons, Donnie, 14, and Jonathan, 9, don't remember hearing anything strange in the night. The edge of the hole is just under Jonathan's bedroom window.

"I was surprised," Jonathan said. "It's ugly, but I think it's really cool and big."

Members of the Lutz Volunteer Fire Department helped the family move their valuables out of the house. There was some fear the house might begin to sink.

Ed Bowman, who lives next door, said he is concerned his home could be next.

"It gives you something to be concerned about when it happens in your neighbor's yard," he said. "Who's going to want to buy this house?"

Sam Moussly, a geotechnical engineer who told the Kirschners to fill the hole with dirt, said sinkholes are not uncommon in Florida.

They occur when water erodes the limestone underground. West- central Florida, for example, sits on an extremely porous limestone base. Experts say the closer the limestone is to the surface, the more likely sinkholes are to occur.

As two trucks dumped dirt into the hole in front of the Kirschners' house, a crowd of neighbors gathered to watch.

"It's scary because something like this could happen at any time," said Ann Capoccia, who lives several houses down. "To sleep through it knowing the whole thing could have collapsed. . . . They're lucky no one got hurt."

The Kirschners said they have no plans to move.