Fears at Fla. sinkhole halt efforts to find body

Jeremy Bush waits outside the house with family and friends after trying to save his brother. Officials were trying to assess the situation after the sinkhole opened up.
Jeremy Bush waits outside the house with family and friends after trying to save his brother. Officials were trying to assess the situation after the sinkhole opened up. (SKIP O'ROURKE / Tampa Bay Times, MCT)

With a danger of collapse, officials decided to raze the house from which a man had fallen underground.

Posted: March 04, 2013

SEFFNER, Fla. - The effort to find the body of a Florida man who was swallowed by a sinkhole under his Florida home was called off Saturday and crews planned to begin demolishing the four-bedroom house.

The 20-foot-wide opening of the sinkhole is almost completely covered by the house, and rescuers feared it would collapse on them if they tried to search for Jeff Bush, 37. Crews were testing the ground surrounding the home and evacuated two neighboring homes as a precaution.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said heavy equipment would be brought in to begin the demolition Sunday morning.

"At this point it's really not possible to recover the body," Merrill said, later adding "we're dealing with a very unusual sinkhole."

Jessica Damico, spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, said the demolition equipment would be placed on what they believe is solid ground and reach onto the property to pull apart the house. The crew will try pulling part of the house away from the sinkhole intact so some heirlooms and mementos can be retrieved.

Bush was in his bedroom Thursday night in Seffner - a suburb of 8,000 people 15 miles east of downtown Tampa - when the earth opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five others in the house escaped unharmed.

On Saturday, the normally quiet neighborhood of concrete block homes painted in Florida pastels was jammed with cars as engineers, reporters, and curious onlookers came to the scene.

At the home next door to the Bushes, a family cried and organized boxes. Testing determined that their house and another was compromised by the sinkhole. The families were allowed to go inside for about a half-hour to gather belongings.

Experts say thousands of sinkholes form yearly in Florida because of the state's unique geography, though most are small and deaths rarely occur.

"There's hardly a place in Florida that's immune to sinkholes," said Sandy Nettles, who owns a geology consulting company in the Tampa area. "There's no way of ever predicting where a sinkhole is going to occur."

Most sinkholes are small, like one found Saturday morning in Largo, 35 miles away from Seffner. The Largo sinkhole, about 10 feet long and several feet wide, is in a mall parking lot.

The state sits on limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water, with a layer of clay on top. The clay is thicker in some locations - including the area where Bush became a victim - making them even more prone to sinkholes.

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