Fire waterline fixed after break causes hole between condos in Iona, prompts evacuations

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A water line break for fire service caused a hole to open up and prompted the evacuation of two buildings in the Iona area of south Fort Myers. The line has since been fixed; everything has been restored; and residents of both buildings have returned to their homes.

The hole is in a condo building driveway near Portside Drive in Harbour Isle Yacht & Racquet Club.

According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the buildings were evacuated. A fire marshal determined the broken fire waterline caused the hole but is still in service. Building inspectors, contractors and engineers are working to repair the line itself. They will also determine when it is safe for everyone to return to their homes. Experts are not exactly sure what could have caused this large hole to open up.

As of 2 p.m. on Tuesday, one of the evacuated buildings was allowed by the building inspector to let residents back inside. Then, just before 5 p.m., residents of the other building were allowed to go back home.

From above, Harbour Isle Estates looks the way it would on any normal day. But, if you look a little closer, you’ll see a hole. Bob Henley lives in Harbour Isle. “I’m just thinking. I have no idea, the danger involved, they won’t let me go around there I’m thinking it must be so severe,” said Henley.

Gary Haas lives in the neighborhood as well. “I’m thinking ‘oh my God I hope there’s not sinkholes all over the place,'” Haas said.

Barbara Curcio lives in the neighborhood got a text about the hole. “I actually got a text,” Curcio said. “Holy sinkhole” so I called him and said don’t do that to me? What do you mean “holy sinkhole?”

As it turns out, that hole that partially swallowed the little white car was not a sinkhole. Instead, a fire line break caused the road to crumble and forced firefighters to evacuate those two buildings.

Bob says he was worried about the other residents because of their age. “They evacuated everyone from both buildings. I saw friends in wheelchairs and so forth because it’s kind of an old group of people,” Henley said. It was difficult for them to evacuate in the first place.

The WINK News drone was able to spot the empty, watery, and sandy hole from the air.

For experts, they say there’s no need to rush. The building inspector wants to be sure that the condo is absolutely safe before letting neighbors back in.

WINK News spoke to Eddie Web with CT Fire Protection and asked what could have caused this hole to appear. “Depending on how old the underground piping system is underground, it could be a shift of the dirt or something like that. Usually happens as the ground gets saturated with water from a leak that’s been occurring for some time and it just causes the dirt to get washed away and all dissolved into the water table,” said Webb.

Webb says in Florida, the pipes are built close to the water table because of shallow ground. He believes the repair will be simple but not cheap.

Some may wonder how long it has been there. “It would take a bit of time for water and that much dirt to be able to have a car to sit inside of it,” Webb said. “It doesn’t happen a lot. Usually, the systems that get installed underground, they last for a very long time and rarely have failure that would cause a sinkhole.”

A Lee Tran bus was provided for air-conditioned shelter for those who are displaced. That bus has since left the premises.

No injuries have been reported.

The white Toyota has been towed since the morning.

People in the neighborhood say they immediately think back to what happened in Surfside earlier this year. But nothing on that scale is happening in Harbour Isle Estates.

After Surfside, though, many many are worried about the structural safety of their condo buildings. Unfortunately, there are no state or local rules that require periodic structural inspections for residential buildings.

Shawn Anderson is a structural engineer with 35 years of experience and is president of Selec Structural. “It could turn out to be a big problem if it’s undermining the foundations of a building,” Anderson said.

Anderson also talks about the process of evaluating buildings. “Well, we can do it as an initial, as a visual review of the building structure looking around the building, look for signs of settlement cracking movement that’s occurred in the structure to try to determine any problems might be in the… in the building structure itself,” said Anderson.

“If it’s something like this, where the water undermines the foundation, we can see if the column Foundation was settling, and then that would be lead to other cracks in the building that we would be taking a look at,” he said.

Anderson told WINK News that if you’re worried about your building to pay attention to your surroundings. If you drive into the parking garage or walk into the building, ask yourself if you see something like cracks or leaks. If so, reach out to your building manager, code enforcement, or the fire department.

One neighbor says his friends who remain displaced have made plans to stay with their friends or family as they wait.

The building inspector, other experts and even Webb want to encourage everyone who lives in the building not to worry. Webb says he’s been working on fir lines for 25 years and this is only the second one he’s ever seen fail.

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