1. Archive

Uh-oh, where did that tree go?

Stephan Gilbert's wife, Rebecca, had just left for her job managing a Blockbuster store in East Lake, and their son, Michael, was off at school.

The 38-year-old restaurant manager had the day off and planned to relax Friday afternoon and watch some sports on ESPN.

But west central Florida's fluky, Swiss cheese terrain had other plans.

At about 1 p.m., Stephan looked out toward the lanai and noticed that it was a lot brighter out back than usual. He went out and found that a sinkhole had swallowed his large orange tree and brought down four eight-foot-wide sections of privacy fence.

"It was just this huge gaping hole," he said. "I had never seen anything like that in my life."

The Gilberts moved to the area from Kentucky about three years ago and have rented the single-story home at 1410 Sunset Road for just over a year.

Stephan Gilbert said he hopes the family can continue to rent the house, but that will depend on what safety inspectors find.

District Chief Scott Young of Tarpon Springs Fire Rescue said the hole, about 15 feet deep and 10 feet wide, did not appear to be growing, and there was no damage to the home.

That was little comfort to 10-year-old Michael. Stephan Gilbert said that when his son first saw his transformed back yard, he asked whether he could get his Christmas presents and stay with his grandparents in Hudson.

And that's where he slept Friday night.

The family has two dogs, Bandit and Chaplin, and a cat, Hyde, that just had kittens, so the couple ruled out a hotel stay.

They planned to sleep in the house, but in a room at the front, as far as possible from the cave-in.

"We're a little scared, of course," said Stephan Gilbert.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Will Van Sant can be reached at (727) 445-4166 or