Torrential rains leave sinkhole, major flooding in Ocala

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State News: A radar estimate of rainfall in the area of the sinkhole was 6.7 inches Saturday

By Austin L. Miller | Ocala Star-Banner

Flash flooding along Southwest College Road in Ocala on Saturday afternoon caused waist-deep flooding in the Shady Oaks Shopping Center parking lot.

At the same time a sinkhole swallowed a car across the highway in the parking lot of the Checkers restaurant.

The sinkhole ruptured a gas line, and Gaitway Plaza, at 2701 SW College Road, had to be evacuated. By 7 p.m., officials with TECO Peoples Gas had clamped the line.

Star-Banner photographer Doug Engle was in Earth Fare at the time of the heavy rainfall between 4:45 and 5 p.m.

At about 5 p.m., he said, everybody was standing near the doorway looking at the flooded parking lot. One young woman walked out to her car near the CVS pharmacy. When she started across, he said, the water was up to her ankles, but when she reached the car it was waist deep.

Engle estimated that about a dozen cars had water above the floor boards.

He left the store sometime after 5:20 p.m., after Ocala Fire Rescue crews had arrived. The water, however, was not receding quickly.

Across Southwest College Road — also known as State Road 200 — Vincent and Janet Coyne, of Ocala, had just gotten their food from the drive-through at Checkers. They were about to leave the parking lot when the front end of their 2014 Kia Optima hybrid suddenly dropped.

Janet Coyne, 79, said she was screaming and jumped out of the car as quickly as she could. Her 81-year-old husband also got out fast.

Officials described the sinkhole as about 25 feet deep and 25 feet wide. The gaping hole attracted multiple onlookers and those driving by who snapped scores of pictures using their cellphones.

During the gas leak, several roads in the area were closed off by Ocala Police officers who diverted traffic. But after the line was clamped, the roads and the plaza were reopened.

An official with TECO said they would have to wait until the car was removed to see what repairs were needed and make sure there were no more leaks.

National Weather Service meteorologist Phil Peterson in Jacksonville said a small frontal boundary and the East Coast sea breeze came together to cause the heavy rains.

A radar estimate of rainfall in the area of the sinkhole was 6.7 inches Saturday, he said. That area was from southwest Ocala toward Santos, especially closer to Santos.

A gauge in the Bellechase neighborhood showed 4.85 inches, Peterson said. The rain fell between 4 and 5:30 p.m.

As to what may have caused the sinkhole, an Ocala city official said it appeared the limerock that is underneath the drainage system eroded, causing it to collapse and form a hole. The official said since the hole is on private property, city officials and the vehicle’s owner would meet to discuss how they are going to remove the car from the large deep ditch. Then, they will have to get a contractor to assess the damage and fix the hole.

The official said no utilities were in danger and a Department of Transportation official told them that the nearby roadway is safe.

Until the repairs can be done and the vehicle removed, the official said barricades set up around the hole and the restaurant would remain to keep people from entering the area.

Fire officials said with the parking lot flooding across the street, it appears the drainage was overwhelmed by the rain and therefore could not hold the amount of water that was gushing into the system.

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