Sinkhole keeps Winter Haven businesses closed

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Three businesses between a Publix and Kmart remain closed Friday morning after a sinkhole opened Thursday morning in a parking lot across from Legoland.

The hole first appeared around 8 a.m. in the lot at 6031 Cypress Gardens Blvd.

Earlier Thursday morning, the hole measured approximately 30 feet wide by 5 feet deep. By 2 p.m., it had grown to 70 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep.

Photos from the scene show sections of the parking lot buckling outward away from the hole.

Late Thursday afternoon, geologists reported that the sinkhole's rate of growth appears to be slowing.

"The recommendation from the geologist is to keep them closed at least through the weekend to give the hole time to fully establish itself," said Brian Swain, who manages the property.

The geologist used ground penetrating radar to determine that most of the ground surrounded the hole was stable.

So far, no structural damage is reported. Publix and Kmart plan to remain open.

All day Thursday as the sinkhole grew larger, so did the crowds.

"This is remarkable. I can not believe this," said Julie Hecmanczuk, who heard about the sinkhole and turned around to get a glimpse. "This to me is a little bit scarier than an earthquake."

The hole started as a small depression in a single parking space before eight o'clock Thursday morning.

Clare Barroso unknowingly parked her jeep right next to the depression early in the morning.

"I got here at 5:45, and no there was no damage," she said. "I went into the store and about 7:30 my boss said grab your keys there's a sinkhole behind your car."

She moved her car just in time. No more than three hours later the hole grew so large you could fit at least one school bus inside of it.

The property manager said a representative from the geologist firm will be on site along with police officers around the clock to monitor the sinkhole to make sure it doesn't grow.

"We have to let this hole stabilize before we can repair. So when that happens is really up to the geologist," Swain said.

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