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 12:35 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
The possibility of pockets of air remaining within the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry offers hope to rescuers -- and relatives -- say experts.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Despite hundreds still missing after the sinking of a South Korean ferry, reports of text messages keep hope alive that there may be survivors yet.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 5:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Russia's propaganda worse now than at height of Cold War, says Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI.
Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said.
updated 12:40 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
A lack of progress in the search for MH370 is angering the families of victims.
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The searches for the Titanic and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 share common techniques.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 11:35 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
This year's Pyongyang marathon was open to foreign amateurs.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
updated 5:26 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
updated 11:52 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT