SEFFNER, Fla.— A Florida man was missing and feared dead on Friday after a large sinkhole suddenly swallowed the bedroom of his suburban Tampa home, police and fire officials said.
Jeff Bush, 36, was in his room sleeping and the other five members of the household were getting ready for bed on Thursday night when they heard a loud crash and Jeff screaming.
Jeff’s brother, 35-year-old Jeremy Bush, jumped into the hole and furiously kept digging to find his brother.
“I feel in my heart he didn’t make it,” Jeremy told Tampa TV station WFTS. “There were six of us in the house; five got out.”
Jeremy himself had to be rescued from the sinkhole by the first responder to the emergency call, Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. When Duvall entered Jeff Bush’s bedroom, all he saw was a widening chasm but no sign of Jeff.
“The hole took the entire bedroom,” said Duvall. “You could see the bedframe, the dresser, everything was sinking,” he said.
Norman Wicker, 48, the father of Jeremy’s fiancée who also lived in the house, ran to get a flashlight and shovel.
“It sounded like a car ran into the back of the house,” Wicker said.
Authorities had not detected any signs of life after lowering listening devices and cameras into the hole and rescue efforts were suspended after the site was deemed too unsafe for emergency personnel to enter.
“There is a very large, very fluid mass underneath this house rendering the entire house and the entire lot dangerous and unsafe,” Bill Bracken, the head of an engineering company assisting fire and rescue officials, told the news conference late on Friday.
“We are still trying to determine the extent and nature of what’s down there so we can best determine how to approach it and how to extricate,” Bracken said.
Several nearby homes were evacuated in case the 30-foot wide sinkhole got larger but officials said it only appeared to be getting deeper.
The Bush brothers worked together as landscapers, according to Leland Wicker, 48, one of the other residents of the house.
The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state’s porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.
Florida suffered one of its worst sinkhole accidents in 1994 when a 15-story-deep chasm opened up east of Tampa at a phosphate mine. It created a hole 185 feet deep and as much as 160 feet wide. Locals dubbed it Disney World’s newest attraction – ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.’
In 1981 in Winter Park near Orlando, a sinkhole was measured as 320 feet wide and 90 feet deep, swallowing a two-story house, part of a Porsche dealership, and an Olympic-size swimming pool. The site is now an artificial lake in the city.
“Mortgage companies are more and more requiring Florida home buyers to have sinkhole coverage on their homeowners insurance policy,” said K.C. Williams, a Tampa sinkhole and property damage claims lawyer who lives 2 miles away from the damaged home.