A central Florida man was still missing and feared dead early today after a sinkhole opened under his home Thursday night, swallowing him in his bed.
As hours passed overnight and rescuers and family lost hope of seeing 36-year-old Jeff Bush pulled from the ground alive, the sinkhole continued to grow, officials said.
“The hole has gotten deeper,” geotechnical engineer Larry Madrid said at a news conference Friday evening. “We can’t get into the building because of the potential for sudden collapse.”
The continued instability of the ground slowed engineers and kept evacuees in the Tampa-area neighborhood from returning to their homes.
“We’re really handicapped and paralyzed, and we really can’t do a whole lot more than wait,” Madrid said.
“I know in my heart he's dead,” Bush’s brother Jeremy told reporters Friday.
Authorities condemned the concrete-block home, determining the ground was unstable. Surrounding homes were evacuated, but the hole is isolated to the house, authorities said.
Hillsborough Fire Rescue officials lowered a camera and listening device into the 20-foot-deep hole to try to find Jeffrey Bush. But the ground kept moving and they lost the equipment.
"He's down there, but we can't hear here anything and we can't see anything," said Ronnie Rivera, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman. "We just can't do anything."
Structural engineers brought in equipment to determine if rescuers can enter the house. But with each hour that passed, the hope for rescue faded and despair set in.
Late Thursday night, Jeremy Bush heard something that sounded like a car crash, then heard a scream. He ran to his brother’s room, but all he could see was a mattress. He tried to save him and ended up getting stuck himself.
When Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy Douglas Duvall arrived at the home, he yanked Jeremy Bush from the hole and the two were able to escape.
At the news conference Friday evening, Duvall said he couldn’t sleep Thursday night, thinking about the what he’d seen and about Bush's family.
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.
From the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and the Orlando Sentinel