published Friday, March 1st, 2013

Sinkhole that swallowed Fla. man ‘unstable’

An engineer surveys in front of a home where sinkhole opened up on Friday in Seffner, Fla. A man screamed for help and disappeared as a large sinkhole opened under the bedroom of the house, his brother said. The brother told rescue crews he heard a loud crash near midnight Thursday, then heard his brother screaming. The brother called police and frantically tried to help. An arriving deputy pulled him from the still-collapsing house. There's been no contact with the man since then, and neighbors on both sides of the home have been evacuated.
An engineer surveys in front of a home where sinkhole opened up on Friday in Seffner, Fla. A man screamed for help and disappeared as a large sinkhole opened under the bedroom of the house, his brother said. The brother told rescue crews he heard a loud crash near midnight Thursday, then heard his brother screaming. The brother called police and frantically tried to help. An arriving deputy pulled him from the still-collapsing house. There's been no contact with the man since then, and neighbors on both sides of the home have been evacuated.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Family members console each other near the home where Jeff Bush disappeared as a large sinkhole opened under the bedroom of his house on Friday in Seffner, Fla. Jeremy Bush told rescue crews he heard a loud crash near midnight Thursday, then heard his brother screaming. There's been no contact with Jeff Bush since then, and neighbors on both sides of the home have been evacuated.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SEFFNER, Fla. — In a matter of seconds, the earth opened under Jeff Bush’s bedroom and swallowed him up like something out of a horror movie. About the only thing left was the TV cable running down into the hole.

Bush, 37, was presumed dead Friday, the victim of a sinkhole — a hazard so common in Florida that state law requires home insurers to provide coverage against the danger.

The sinkhole, estimated at 20 feet across and 20 feet deep, caused the home’s concrete floor to cave in around 11 p.m. Thursday as everyone in the Tampa-area house was turning in for the night. It gave way with a loud crash that sounded like a car hitting the house and brought Bush’s brother running.

Jeremy Bush said he jumped into the hole but couldn’t see his brother and had to be rescued himself by a sheriff’s deputy who reached out and pulled him to safety as the ground crumbled around him.

“The floor was still giving in and the dirt was still going down, but I didn’t care. I wanted to save my brother,” Jeremy Bush said through tears Friday in a neighbor’s yard. “But I just couldn’t do nothing.”

He added: “I could swear I heard him hollering my name to help him.”

Officials lowered equipment into the sinkhole and saw no signs of life, said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico.

A dresser and the TV set had vanished down the hole, along with most of Bush’s bed.

“All I could see was the cable wire running from the TV going down into the hole. I saw a corner of the bed and a corner of the box spring and the frame of the bed,” Jeremy Bush said.

At a news conference Friday night, county administrator Mike Merrill described the home as “seriously unstable.” He said no one can go in the home because officials were afraid of another collapse and losing more lives. The soil around the home was very soft and the sinkhole was expected to grow.

Engineers said they may have to demolish the small, sky-blue house, even though from the outside there appeared to be nothing wrong with the four-bedroom, concrete-wall structure, built in 1974.

Florida is highly prone to sinkholes because there are caverns below ground of limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water. A sinkhole near Orlando grew to 400 feet across in 1981 and devoured five sports cars, most of two businesses, a three-bedroom house and the deep end of an Olympic-size swimming pool.

More than 500 sinkholes have been reported in Hillsborough County alone since the government started keeping track in 1954, according to the state’s environmental agency.

Jeremy Bush said someone came out to the home a couple of months ago to check for sinkholes and other things, apparently for insurance purposes.

“He said there was nothing wrong with the house. Nothing. And a couple of months later, my brother dies. In a sinkhole,” Bush said.

Six people were at the home at the time, including Jeremy Bush’s wife and his 2-year-old daughter. The brothers worked maintenance jobs, including picking up trash along highways.

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