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Florida sinkhole 2013: What causes these massive, catastrophic holes?

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Investigators near Orlando are still trying to figure out what caused a 60-foot-wide sinkhole to form under a resort near Walt Disney World early Monday morning.

The sinkhole in Clermont destroyed a resort, but no one was injured. Photo: Associated Press

The massive sinkhole, which forced guests to frantically get out of their rooms at the Clermont, Fla. resort overnight, has already swallowed one three-story building and is forcing another one to sink into the ground.

No one was injured, but the incident is the latest in a long string of sinkholes that, in other cases, have taken the lives of people nationwide.

What causes these sinkholes, though, that have destroyed property and killed people on multiple occasions?

Typically, a cavity will slowly develop in a layer of limestone bedrock that sits deep underground, especially in Florida. Over time, water seeps through and weakens the limestone, opening a large opening.

As that happens, the chasm widens and begins to eat away at layers of both sand and clay that sit above the bedrock. When that begins to collapse into the hole, it swallows everything in its path.

Florida has a long history of sinkhole problems. Most recently, a 36-year-old man was killed in suburban Tampa when a sinkhole suddenly opened and swallowed both him and his home.

The body of Jeff Bush was never recovered.

The District of Columbia is not immune to the sinkhole problem. In one notorious case, a hole opened up in the heart of downtown Washington in late May.

That hole, which opened at 14th and F streets Northwest, caused major traffic problems in the area for several days.

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