WILDWOOD, Mo. -- The millions of gallons of water in a suburban St. Louis lake has vanished, swallowed up by a sinkhole.
"It's real creepy," Donna Ripp, who lives near what had been Lake Chesterfield, said a couple of days after the disappearing act. "That lake was 23 acres -- no small lake. And to wake up one morning, drive by and it's gone? That was freaky."
What had been a manmade oasis for waterfowl and boaters by Friday was nothing but a muddy, crackled pit outlined by dead fish, already rotting in the swelter. At one end of the crater, there's a crack, tens of feet wide.
Some residents say they noticed the lake's water levels, after being swelled by torrential rains weeks earlier, began falling noticeably last weekend. By Wednesday, the lake had been reduced to a mucky mess and a lot of stench.
David Taylor, a geologist who inspected the lake bed, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the sinkhole probably was caused by water built up from recent thunderstorms.
"It held for all this time, and finally it broke loose," with the water ultimately flowing underground to a spring about four miles north of the lake.
Taylor said limestone in Missouri's topography cracks and dissolves when saturated with water, and underground pockets are carved when water breaks down the limestone bedrock over time. The spaces can lead to the bedrock's collapse -- and a sinkhole.