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Video: Fla. home is swallowed by sinkhole

The 25-foot-wide crater destroyed the home that Ellen and Gary Miller had lived in for 49 years

By Krista Torralva
Orlando Sentinel

APOPKA, Fla. — As Ellen Miller sat in a lawn chair Tuesday and watched her home of 49 years slip into a 15-foot-deep crater, her granddaughter handed her a black-and-white Polaroid.

Miller, 69, looked down at the picture.

“My original wedding rings,” she said. “They’re gone.”

They were now buried in the sinkhole that swallowed the home where she and her husband, Garry Miller, raised their two daughters.

Garry Miller, 71, said they saw cracks in the wall Monday night and hoped they’d be able to have them fixed the next day. Before dawn, the walls started cracking and falling apart as the couple lay in bed.

“We heard it before we felt anything,” Ellen Miller said.

Video taken by the Millers’ granddaugher, Elena Hale, captured the back of the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house caving in about 9 a.m. A toilet, stove and other furniture and appliances cracked and creaked as they sank into the 25-foot-wide crater.

Relatives rushed in and out of the house throughout the day to rescue the couple’s belongings, despite fire rescue crews’ warnings to stay out of the sinking home.

Friends and family sat in lawn chairs nearby, watching the drama. They made bets on how long the stove would hold on as it teetered on the edge of the abyss. Son-in-law Jason Driggers, who was rescuing kitchen items, pushed the stove off the edge just after 3 p.m. Then he shook his hips in a victory dance as the women called him a cheater. Relatives said they wanted to keep Ellen Miller smiling. They said they didn’t think her loss had quite settled in yet.

The Millers’ insurance providers said an adjuster would be sent to survey the damage. But the insurance company couldn’t give a timeline because they are still busy going to homes affected by Hurricane Irma.

The area where they live, near Rock Springs, is prone to sinkholes, because the limestone is especially porous and cavernous and the amount of dirt above the rock is shallow, said Orange County sinkhole consultant and engineer Devo Seereeram. Only about 25 feet of dirt pads the rock in the area near Rock Springs. Comparatively, downtown Orlando has about 100 feet or more of dirt above its rock, he said.

The biggest trigger, however, is the amount of rain from Hurricane Irma, he said.

“Because it provides the water to push that sand into the cavities and cause the collapse,” Seereeram said. “Water is a very big driving force.”

Though the area is at a higher risk of sinkholes, he said such natural disasters are still rare events.

The Millers’ daughter, Dawn Driggers, lives next door and worries about the land where her own home sits. As do their other neighbors. Last year, another nearby house had its foundation underpinned to secure it after finding cracks in the home. Brittanie McCall said her mother packed some belongings Tuesday in case they, too, needed to rush out of their house.

Ellen Miller said she doubted they’d rebuild on the land.

“Do you live here?” a stranger offering help asked Ellen Miller.

“I used to,” she responded.

Copyright 2017 Orlando Sentinel