Florida calls off search for man swallowed by sinkhole

Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 9:02pm

Authorities in Florida ended the search Saturday for a man presumed dead after a sinkhole opened beneath the bedroom of his family's suburban Tampa home, swallowing him up.

The effort to recover the body of Jeff Bush had resumed earlier in the day after authorities stopped operations overnight, saying the hole was still expanding and the house could collapse at any time.

"We just have not been able to locate Mr. Bush and so for that reason the rescue effort is being discontinued," Mike Merrill, county administrator for Hillsborough County, told reporters Saturday evening. "At this point, it's really not possible to recover the body."

Merrill said the next phase in the effort would be demolition of the family's home, which would likely begin Sunday morning. He stressed that workers were dealing with a "very unusual sinkhole" -- very deep, wide and extremely unstable.

"We've done everything we believe that we can. We wish we could have done more," Merrill said.

The terror for the Bush family began Thursday night, as everybody in the blue, one-story, 1970s-era home in Seffner was going to bed.

There was a deafening noise.

"I ran toward my brother's bedroom because I heard my brother scream," Jeremy Bush, Jeff Bush's brother, told CNN's "AC360."

"Everything was gone. My brother's bed, my brother's dresser, my brother's TV. My brother was gone."

Bush frantically tried to rescue his brother, by standing in the hole and digging at the rubble with a shovel until police arrived and pulled him out, saying the floor was still collapsing.

"I couldn't get him out. I tried so hard. I tried everything I could," he said through tears. "I could swear I heard him calling out."

The terror of those moments can be heard in a recording of the 911 call in the moments after the sinkhole opened up.

"The house just fell through," a female voice says on the recording released Friday by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

The woman asks for an ambulance and the police.

"The bedroom floor just collapsed, and my brother-in-law is in there. He's underneath the house," she says.

Jeremy Bush and four other people, including a 2-year-old child, were uninjured.

After officials called off the search for his brother Saturday, Jeremy Bush spoke to Bay News 9.

"It's very hard. It's not just I lost my brother. They're so many memories in this house," he told the CNN affiliate. "I don't know what we're going to do."

As the sinkhole continued to deepen Friday, nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution.

The sinkhole compromised a house next door to the Bush home, fire department spokesman Ronnie Rivera said. That home wasn't damaged as of Saturday morning, but the family that lives there was given up to 30 minutes to remove some belongs before abandoning the premises, he said.

The sinkhole is about 20 feet to 30 feet across and may be 30 feet deep, said Bill Bracken, president of an engineering company assisting emergency workers. The hole was originally reported to be 100 feet across, but that is the diameter of the safety zone surrounding it, Bracken said.

"It started in the bedroom, and it has been expanding outward and it's taking the house with it as it opens up," he said.

Sinkholes are common in the state, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The state lies on bedrock made of limestone or other carbonate rock that can be eaten away by acidic groundwater, forming voids that collapse when the rock can no longer support the weight of what's above it.

Hillsborough County, on Florida's west coast, is part of an area known as "sinkhole alley" that accounts for two-thirds of the sinkhole-related insurance claims in the state, according to a Florida state Senate Insurance and Banking Committee report.
 

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