Friday, March 1, 2013

Sinkhole sucks Florida man from his bedroom into the earth

Florida authorities hold a news conference to discuss the latest in the sinkhole that appeared under a house near Tampa.

By Elizabeth Chuck and Ian Johnston, NBC News

Officials and engineers are searching an unstable area of land after a sinkhole enveloped a Florida man’s bedroom in the middle of the night, sucking him down into the earth.

The sinkhole swallowed part of the interior of the house but left the exterior remarkably intact.The victim, identified by local media as Jeffrey Bush, 36, has not been heard from since he screamed as a 20-foot-deep by 20-foot-wide hole opened underneath his family’s Hillsborough County home late Thursday.

“They heard a sound they described as a car crash emanating from the bedroom,” Hillsborough County Fire Chief Ron Rogers said at a Friday morning news conference outside the Seffner, Fla., house. “They rushed in. All they could see was part of a mattress sticking out of the hole. Essentially, the floor of the room had opened.”

Rescue personnel arrived on the scene and were able to free Jeremy, but not Jeffrey. They were forced to abandon the house as the ground continued shifting overnight. Once they came back with an engineering team and better equipment, they resumed their efforts.At that point, Jeremy Bush, the missing man's brother, jumped into the hole to try to rescue him, Rogers said.

On Friday morning, Rogers refused to discuss the possibility Jeffrey Bush was not alive. “The sooner we can locate the victim and determine his status, the better.”

However, he added, "We have to make sure we don't endanger other personnel or other people in the process. It doesn't help to compound the situation."

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Jeremy Bush, brother of Jeffrey Bush, breaks down while speaking to the media about attempting to rescue Jeffrey as he disappeared in a sinkhole.
According to The Tampa Bay Times, there were five adults, one child, and two dogs inside the house when the sinkhole tore through it; all the other members of the household escaped safely and returned on Friday, dazed, as rescue workers worked around the house, The Tampa Bay Times reported.
"I just wanted to get my brother back," Jeremy Bush told the newspaper of his efforts last night to rescue his brother. "That's all I wanted."
Standing with his aunt, Janell Wheeler, in front of the house, he added, "I couldn't do anything. Everything in the room was gone."
Wheeler, clad in her pajamas, said, "It's a dream, right?" 
Flanking the county's fire chief at Friday's news conference in front of the Bush home was Bill Bracken, president of Bracken Engineering, a Florida-based firm called in to assist with the rescue. Bracken told reporters that while the sinkhole itself was 20 feet wide, its “safety zone” – the land around it that was considered unstable – extended out 100 feet. 
“It started in the bedroom and has been expanding, taking the house with it,” he said.
Engineers are capturing three-dimensional photos of the soil and receiving other data to figure out the best way to stop the spread of the sinkhole, Bracken said.
Despite the home's instability, photos of the neighborhood showed little destruction.

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Engineers work in front of a home where sinkhole opened up underneath a bedroom and swallowed a man on Friday, March 1 in Seffner, Hillsborough County, Fla.
"Ultimately, it looks just like a normal neighborhood," Hillsborough County spokesman Willie Puz said. "The sinkhole is still under the footprint of the home itself. You can’t see anything from the exterior. There’s been a lot of helicopters that have been flying overhead, but if you look down, it just looks like a normal house and neighborhood.”

The Bush family and neighbors on both sides have been evacuated and are receiving assistance from The Red Cross. Officials did not know if the neighborhood, located near Tampa, has had problems with sinkholes in the past.

Sinkholes are relatively common in Florida, but do not always cause injury or major disruption.

"Florida is made out of limestone. There's a lot of groundwater that goes through the limestone and can erode the limestone away. As the water table rises and falls, sometimes those voids in the limestone can't support the weight that is on top of them, and they cave in," Puz said, adding that there are numerous other scenarios that can cause sinkholes.

Some sinkholes form depressions in the ground first; some collapse immediately. In this family's case, Puz said, "it happened very quickly," but officials don't know what processes were happening underground, and for how long, before the sinkhole ripped open their home.

Officials were not able to give an estimate of how much larger this particular sinkhole could grow to be.

"A lot of it just depends on what's going on way below us," Rogers said at Friday's news conference. "The question really is what's down there, and how much earth is it going to take to fill it? That's what we're trying to gather with the equipment we brought in."

Rescue efforts are underway in Florida to find a missing man who may be in a sinkhole that swallowed at least two bedrooms of the house.'s Dara Brown reports.
Related stories: 

Massive Louisiana sinkhole prompts drilling to find source

Sinkhole threatens to swallow house, forces family (and its pets) to flee
Florida home crumbles under sinkhole pressure
Videos: Sinkholes in the news

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