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Huge Florida sinkhole forces authorities to demolish two homes

Officials are assessing the danger of a huge sinkhole that opened up in a residential community in Dunedin, Florida. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

A 90-foot-wide sinkhole that opened up in Dunedin, Fla., early Thursday appears to have finally stopped growing — but not before it destroyed two homes beyond repair.

Authorities planned to start razing the two houses Friday morning after the 56-foot-deep sinkhole swallowed a screened-in porch and a 14-foot-long boat at one property and the master bedroom, a swimming pool and a garage at the second.

"They're going to start demolishing the houses. We're sending them to a recycling location where [the homeowners are] going to try to get some personal belongings out of the houses, anything they can salvage," said Dunedin Fire Chief Jeff Parks.

The sinkhole finally stopped expanding Friday morning, Parks said, but the entire area around it was unstable.

"It's all still pretty much in danger. There's still parts that are hanging over the hole that haven't fallen in on the first house," he said.

The gaping hole opened up between the two homes at about 5:40 a.m. Thursday, waking homeowner Michael Dupre and his family as it started tugging their porch into the ground.

"I don't think it's livable. I wouldn't want to live in that anymore," Dupre told TODAY.

His neighbor, Matthew Tegerdine, was in a state of shock. 

"It's surreal. It's huge," he told TODAY.

Both homes were condemned.

Six houses in Dunedin — a city near Tampa along central Florida's west coast — were evacuated as engineers waited for the ground to become stable enough to start filling the hole.

Dupre had filed a claim with his insurance company two years ago for damage to his home from sinkhole activity, according to Conestoga-Rovers and Associates, an engineering and environmental consulting company. No sinkholes were found at the time, but Dupre's insurance company recommended pumping grout into the ground, reported The Tampa Bay Times.

Due to a dispute with the insurance company, work didn't begin until this week, according to the Tampa Bay Times. John Marquardt, a geotechnical engineer with Conestoga-Rover sand Associates, confirmed engineers had been pouring grout into the house's foundation in the two days before the sinkhole opened up.

"Any time you start changing the subsurface, if there's anything that's going to collapse, you can trigger it," Marquardt said. "It may have occurred before we got there, it may have occurred a day after we got there, no matter what. It may have occurred next week if we hadn't doing anything. Either way, it was going to happen."

Sinkholes are relatively common in Florida because the soil sits atop clay and limestone. When groundwater erodes the limestone, it creates a cavity; when the heavy top layer caves in, it creates a sinkhole. 

The sinkholes do not always cause major disruption or injury, but in February, a Seffner, Fla., man was killed when a massive sinkhole opened up underneath his family's home.

NBC's Janet Shamlian contributed to this report.

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