Updated: 4:42 p.m. ET June 11, 2004
WILDWOOD, Mo. - To folks around Wildwood, it is nothing but freaky: an entire 23-acre lake vanished in a matter of days, as if someone pulled the plug on a bathtub.
Lake Chesterfield went down a sinkhole this week, leaving homeowners in this affluent St. Louis suburb wondering if their property values disappeared along with their lakeside views.
"It's real creepy," said Donna Ripp, who lives near what had been Lake Chesterfield. "That lake was 23 acres — no small lake. And to wake up one morning, drive by and it's gone?"
What once was an oasis for waterfowl and sailboats was nothing but a muddy, cracked pit outlined by rotting fish.
The sight had 74-year-old George English scratching his head.
"It's disheartening, getting out on your deck and seeing this," he said as he stood next to wife, Betty, and the "lakeside" condominium they bought in 1996 for its view. "One day it's a beautiful lake, and now, bingo, it's gone."
Some residents said they noticed that the lake, after being swelled by torrential rains weeks earlier, began falling last weekend. The Englishes said they noticed the drop-off Monday.
By Wednesday, the manmade lake — normally seven to 10 feet deep in spots — had been reduced to a mucky, stinky mess.
David Taylor, a geologist who inspected the lakebed Wednesday, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the sinkhole was formed when water eroded the limestone deep underground and created pockets in the rock. The sinkhole was "like a ticking time bomb."
The lake and surrounding housing development date to the late 1980s. The development now includes more than 670 condominiums and houses, about one-tenth of them bordering the lake.
Because the lake is private property, the subdivision's residents will have to cover the cost of fixing it, probably through special property assessments. George English expects it to cost $1,000 a household.
It is a price English said he is willing to pay. He just wants the unsightly pit gone, either by refilling it with water or dumping enormous amounts of dirt into it to create green space or usable land.
"I think it'll come back again," he said. "You have to hope they can fix it."
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