Florida calls off search for man swallowed by sinkhole

Updated 9:20 PM EST, Sat March 2, 2013
01:28 - Source: CNN
Sinkhole search suspended

Story highlights

NEW: Demolition work is set to begin Sunday, could take a couple of days

NEW: Sinkhole now believed to be up to 60 feet deep

Jeff Bush is presumed dead after a sinkhole opened beneath his room

"We've done everything we believe that we can," says an official

Authorities in Florida gave up the search Saturday for a man presumed dead after a sinkhole opened beneath the bedroom of his family’s suburban Tampa home, swallowing him up.

The effort to recover the body of Jeff Bush had resumed earlier in the day after authorities stopped operations overnight, saying the hole was still expanding and the house could collapse at any time.

“We just have not been able to locate Mr. Bush and so for that reason the rescue effort is being discontinued,” Mike Merrill, county administrator for Hillsborough County, told reporters Saturday evening. “At this point, it’s really not possible to recover the body.”

Merrill said the next phase in the effort would be demolition of the family’s home, which is scheduled to begin Sunday and could take a couple of days. He stressed that workers were dealing with a “very unusual sinkhole” – deep, wide and extremely unstable.

“We’ve done everything we believe that we can. We wish we could have done more,” Merrill said. The sinkhole was between 50 and 60 feet deep, he said.

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.

There was a deafening noise.

“I ran toward my brother’s bedroom,” he told CNN’s “AC360.”

Sinkholes common, costly, sometimes deadly

“Everything was gone. My brother’s bed, my brother’s dresser, my brother’s TV. My brother was gone.”

Jeremy Bush jumped in the hole and frantically shoveled away rubble. But as the house’s floor collapsed, a sheriff’s deputy pulled him to safety, while his brother remained trapped below.

“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.”

Sinkholes: Common, costly and sometimes deadly

“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 others, including a 2-year-old child, were uninjured.

After officials called off the search for his brother’s body Saturday, Jeremy Bush told Bay News 9 the family was devastated.

“It’s not just I lost my brother. There are so many memories in this house,” he told the CNN affiliate. “My wife and her brother and the whole family. … Every holiday, we gathered at this house. Her grandmother passed away. All the stuff to remember her by is in this house, and we’re losing it all. You can’t replace that. You can’t replace a life being gone.”

Nearby homes were evacuated Friday as a precaution.

The sinkhole compromised a house next door to the Bush home, fire department spokesman Ronnie Rivera said. That home wasn’t damaged as of Saturday morning, but the family that lives there was given up to 30 minutes to remove some belongings before abandoning the premises, he said.

Merrill said residents on either side of the Bush home were allowed to go into their houses a short time to retrieve what they could.

Sinkholes are common in the state, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Florida 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, on Florida’s west coast, 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.

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.