Skip to main content

A loud crash, then nothing: Sinkhole swallows Florida man

By Michael Pearson and John Zarrella CNN
updated 6:03 AM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Man's brother talks to CNN's "AC360" about trying to save his brother
  • Site remains unstable, complicating recovery efforts
  • "It's a tough situation. It's even tougher for the family," says a fire chief
  • Authorities release the audio of a 911 call: "The house just fell through"

Seffner, Florida (CNN) -- The ground just swallowed him up.

A Florida man fell into a sinkhole that opened suddenly Thursday night beneath the bedroom of his suburban Tampa home, calling out to his brother for help as he fell, the brother said Friday.

"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, Jeff Bush, 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.

Go inside a sinkhole
Family mourns man who fell in sinkhole
Florida man swallowed by giant sinkhole
What causes sinkholes?

"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."

Jeremy Bush and four other people, including a 2-year-old child, escaped from the blue, one-story 1970s-era home in Seffner, a Tampa suburb.

Sinkholes: Common, costly and sometimes deadly

What began with hopes of rescue turned into a body recovery operation after monitoring equipment failed to detect any signs that Jeff Bush survived the fall into the hole, according the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Rescuers still hadn't gone into the hole -- it's too dangerous, Fire Chief Ron Rogers told reporters. Authorities say they worry the hole is still spreading and the house could collapse at any time.

"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. It's a tough situation. It's even tougher for the family," Rogers said.

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.

As the sinkhole continued to deepen, nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution.

Check out images of the sinkhole house

On Friday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office released a 911 call from the night before.

"The house just fell through," a female voice says on the recording. She 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.

Jessica Damico, Hillsborough County Fire Department spokeswoman, said about 40 police and firefighters were standing by at the scene Friday morning. Meanwhile, engineers hoped to use more sophisticated equipment to get a three-dimensional image of the sinkhole.

Family members were also on hand, waiting out what they feared would be a devastating day.

"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 Florida, 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, stressed Friday that the sinkhole in question 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; Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Jake Carpenter, Brian Carberry, Elwyn Lopez, Nick Valencia, Dana Ford and Tina Burnside also contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:44 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
updated 2:13 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
updated 7:32 PM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
updated 8:49 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
updated 4:10 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
updated 11:03 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
updated 9:54 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
updated 11:29 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT