Written by The Associated Press and Originally Published in The New York Times on March 2, 2013
The effort to find the body of a Florida man who was swallowed by a sinkhole under his home was called off Saturday while crews tried to learn how far the underground cavity reached and whether more homes were at risk.
Mike Merrill, the Hillsborough County administrator, said that rescuers were ending the effort to find the body of the man, Jeff Bush, 37, and that they planned to bring in heavy equipment on Sunday to begin demolishing the four-bedroom home. “At this point it’s really not possible to recover the body,” Mr. Merrill said, later adding “we’re dealing with a very unusual sinkhole.”
Mr. Bush was in his bedroom on Thursday night in Seffner, 15 miles east of Tampa, when the earth opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five other people were in the house but escaped unharmed. Mr. Bush’s brother Jeremy jumped into the hole to try to help, but he had to be rescued by a sheriff’s deputy.
Testing determined that the house next door to the Bushes also was compromised by the sinkhole, according to Ronnie Rivera, a spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.
Experts say thousands of sinkholes erupt yearly in Florida because of the state’s unique geography, though 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, about 35 miles from Seffner. The Largo sinkhole, about 10 feet long and several feet wide, is in a mall parking lot. Such discoveries are common throughout the year in Florida. A sinkhole near Orlando grew to 400 feet across in 1981 and swallowed five cars, most of two businesses, a three-bedroom house and the deep end of an Olympic-size swimming pool.
The state is prone because it 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, making them even more prone to sinkholes.
Jonathan Arthur, the state geologist, said other states sit atop limestone in a similar way, but Florida has additional factors — extreme weather, development, aquifer pumping and construction — that can cause sinkholes.
The sinkhole here caused the concrete floor of Mr. Bush’s home to cave in around 11 p.m. Thursday as everyone in the house was turning in. It gave way with a crash that sounded like a car hitting the house and brought Mr. Bush’s brother running.
Jeremy Bush said he jumped into the hole but could not see his brother before the ground crumbled around him. A sheriff’s deputy pulled him to safety.
“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 on Friday in a neighbor’s yard. “But I just couldn’t do nothing.”