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Florida sinkhole, not surprisingly, draws gawkers

Kim Russell, left, who lives nearby on Gibralter Street, and her mother, Betty Box, gaze upon the sinkhole on Eldridge Road in Spring Hill on Sunday. It measured 40 yards across and 30 feet deep. It opened up on Saturday night, near the intersection at Van Allen Way. A few residents were told to evacuate until further notice.
Kim Russell, left, who lives nearby on Gibralter Street, and her mother, Betty Box, gaze upon the sinkhole on Eldridge Road in Spring Hill on Sunday. It measured 40 yards across and 30 feet deep. It opened up on Saturday night, near the intersection at Van Allen Way. A few residents were told to evacuate until further notice.
Published Jul. 21, 2014

SPRING HILL — Sam Haneiwich said he wanted to start collecting tolls from all of the people walking by his house to take pictures.

The sinkhole in the road next to his home had become a Hernando County spectacle on Sunday afternoon. Neighbors from down the street, bikers out for a midday ride and families with strollers gawked at the 40-yard wide, 30-foot deep hole, some snapping photos from behind the yellow caution tape, others walking right up to where the pavement dropped off into the earth.

On Monday, county officials will investigate the hole, located at the intersection of Eldridge Road and Van Allen Way, to determine what action to take next, said county spokeswoman Virginia Singer. Until then, residents in three of the surrounding homes, including Haneiwich, are awaiting the results to see if it's safe to stay.

A fourth homeowner is planning to move out of her house, more than half of the driveway of which was swallowed by the hole.

"I didn't think I would have to move so soon," owner Linda Fisher said.

Fisher, 64, was out of town in Pinellas County when she got a call from her daughter, Michelle Parisik, that her house was on the television news. She returned home Sunday morning to save her white Persian longhair cat, Mr. Twiddles.

About a year and a half ago, Fisher bought the house to be closer to family, including Parisik, who lives in Weeki Wachee. She intended to renovate the kitchen and update the lanai to make it her own.

"She had plans for this place," Parisik, 33, said from the lanai on Sunday afternoon. "It's devastating."

Surrounding neighbors said they hadn't seen the hole grow since early Sunday morning.

But Peggy Helmick, who lives diagonally across the street from Fisher, is still concerned that the hole could spread to her property.

She, like many people in the area, dropped her sinkhole insurance because it was too expensive to justify. And now that a sinkhole opened up next to her, she guesses her house will be worth less if she wants to sell.

"I spend a lot of time taking care of this place," she said. "Now it's not worth c---. I'm going to be here for the rest of my life."

But next door, Pepper Daniels, 76, said she wasn't too worried, despite the fact that she lost about 10 feet of her lawn to the hole. She was told by authorities that the oak tree roots in her yard help solidify the ground.

Daniels and her husband, Lou, 86, called in the sinkhole to authorities on Saturday night after she spotted it in the road from her back patio. She watched with Helmick and other neighbors as it silently swallowed the road, then her yard, then Fisher's driveway.

"We were watching the Earth crumble," Helmick said.

The group of neighbors is optimistic but also concerned about the forecast for rain, which could expand the hole and force them out of their homes.

For Fisher, that time has passed. She's staying at a Microtel Inn & Suites before she figures out what to do next.

"There's worse things that are going on in this world," she said. "I'm focused on moving forward."

Contact Kathryn Varn at kvarn@tampabay.com or (352)754-6114. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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