Family Waits for Word of Man Swallowed by Sinkhole
By John Zarrella and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
SEFFNER, Florida (CNN) — All Jeremy Bush can do is wait — wait for word that Florida authorities have recovered the body of his brother from a sinkhole that opened beneath the bedroom of the family’s suburban Tampa home.
The effort to recover the body of Jeff Bush resumed early Saturday after authorities stopped operations overnight, saying the hole is still expanding and the house could collapse at any time.
Rescuers had not gone into the hole by late Friday. It’s too dangerous, Hillsborough County Fire Chief Ron Rogers said.
“Until we know where it’s safe to bring the equipment, we really are just handicapped and paralyzed, and can’t really do a whole lot more than sit and wait,” Rogers told reporters Friday. “It’s a tough situation. It’s even tougher for the family.”
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.
Then there a deafening noise. A sinkhole opened up beneath Jeff Bush’s bedroom, swallowing him up.
“I ran toward my brother’s bedroom because I heard my brother scream,” Jeremy Bush 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.
As the sinkhole continued to deepen Friday, nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution.
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.
Engineers hoped to use more sophisticated equipment to get a three-dimensional image of the sinkhole.
Family members stood outside their home Friday, waiting for news.
“I’m praying that there’s an air pocket in there … but I can’t see nobody surviving that long in a hole like that. There was too much dirt, too much stuff,” Jeremy Bush said. “He was my brother, man, I loved him.”
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 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.
But Mike Merrill, county administrator for Hillsborough County, said Friday the sinkhole that opened up under the Bush home was not “your typical sinkhole.”
“They still have not been able to find the boundaries of the underground chasm. For that reason, we’re being very deliberate, he said. “We’re very frustrated. But we’re pursuing it as quickly as we can, as safely as we can.”
John Zarrella reported from Seffner; CNN’s Jake Carpenter, Brian Carberry, Elwyn Lopez, Nick Valencia, Dana Ford and Tina Burnside also contributed to this report.