Sinkhole victim may never be found
By TAMARA LUSH
The Associated Press | March 03,2013
Hillsborough County, Fla., firefighters keep a safe distance from a home where a sinkhole opened up underneath a bedroom late Thursday evening and swallowed a 37-year-old man along with an entire bedroom in Seffner, Fla.
SEFFNER, Fla. — Engineers worked gingerly Saturday to find out more about a slowly growing sinkhole that swallowed a Florida man in his bedroom, believing the entire house could eventually succumb to the unstable ground.
It could be days before officials decide whether they will attempt to recover Jeff Bush’s body, and they were still trying Saturday to determine the extent of the sinkhole network and what kind of work might be safe. As the sinkhole grows, it may pose further risk to the subdivision and its homes.
Bush, 37, 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 escape unharmed.
Because of Florida’s unique geography, experts say sinkholes are common across the state, with thousands erupting each year. Most are small, though, and deaths rarely occur.
“There’s hardly a place in Florida that’s immune to sinkholes,” said Sandy Nettles, a geologist. “There’s no way of ever predicting where a sinkhole is going to occur.”
Florida is prone because it sits on limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water. A layer of clay is on top of the limestone. The clay is thicker in some locations — including the area where Bush became a victim — making them even more prone to sinkholes.
Most are small, like one that was found Saturday morning in Largo, some 35 miles away from the Seffner sinkhole. The Largo sinkhole, about 10 feet long and several feet wide, was discovered in a mall parking lot. Such discoveries are common throughout the year in Florida, though some factors — such as drought and development — can exacerbate the development, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Still, it’s unclear what, if anything, caused the Seffner sinkhole.
“The condition that caused that sinkhole could have started a million years ago,” Nettles said.
On Saturday, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Ronnie Rivera said one of the homes next door to the Bush house also was compromised by the sinkhole, as determined through testing. The family, which had evacuated Friday, was allowed to go inside for about a half-hour to gather belongings, Rivera said. The family was outside, crying and organizing boxes.
Engineers had been testing since 7 a.m. Saturday. By 10 a.m., officials moved media crews farther away from the Bush house so experts could perform tests on the home across the street.
Experts spent the previous day on the property, taking soil samples and running tests — while acknowledging that the entire lot where Bush lay entombed was dangerous. On Saturday, officials were still not allowing anyone in the Bush home.
Jeremy Bush, who tried to rescue his brother when the earth opened, lay flowers and a stuffed lamb near the house Saturday morning and wept.
He said someone came to his home in the Tampa suburb of about 8,000 people a couple of months ago to check for sinkholes and other issues, apparently for insurance purposes, but found nothing wrong. State law requires home insurers to provide coverage against sinkholes.
“And a couple of months later, my brother dies. In a sinkhole,” Bush said Friday.
The sinkhole, estimated at 20 feet across and 20 feet deep, caused the home’s concrete floor to cave in around 11 p.m. Thursday as everyone in the Tampa-area house was turning in for the night. It gave way with a loud crash that sounded like a car hitting the house and brought Jeremy Bush running.
Engineers said they may have to demolish the small house, even though from the outside there appeared to be nothing wrong with the four-bedroom, concrete-wall structure, built in 1974.