SEFFNER, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida man was missing and feared dead on Friday after a sinkhole suddenly opened up under the bedroom of his suburban Tampa home, police and fire officials said.
Rescuers responded to a 911 call late on Thursday after the family of Jeff Bush, 36, reported hearing a loud crash in the house and rushed to his bedroom.
“All they could see was a part of a mattress sticking out of the hole,” said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Ron Rogers. “Essentially the floor of that room had opened up.”
A sheriff’s deputy rescued Bush’s brother, Jeremy, who had jumped into the sinkhole to try to find him. Three other adults and a 2-year-old child were in the house at the time the sinkhole opened up.
“I feel in my heart he didn’t make it,” Jeremy Bush, 35, told Tampa TV station WFTS. “There were six of us in the house, five got out.”
The entire household except Jeff Bush went out to eat ice cream on Thursday night and when they got home, Jeff was in his room sleeping. They were getting ready for bed when they heard a huge crash and Jeff screaming.
“It sounded like a car ran into the back of the house,” said Norman Wicker, 48, the father of Jeremy’s fiancée who also lived in the house.
Jeremy jumped into the hole as Wicker ran to the shed for a shovel and flashlight. When he returned, Wicker said he yelled for Jeremy to get out but the brother furiously kept digging until a deputy arrived and pulled him out.
Authorities had not detected any signs of life after lowering listening devices and cameras into the hole and rescue efforts were suspended after the site was deemed too unsafe for emergency personnel to enter.
The evacuation of several nearby homes was ordered due to concerns the sinkhole was growing.
The Bush brothers worked together as landscapers, according to Leland Wicker, 48, one of the other residents of the house.
Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico said the sinkhole appeared to be as wide as 30 feet, 30-feet deep, and an estimated 100 feet wide down below.
“It started in the bedroom and it has been expanding outward and it’s taking the house with it as it opens up,” said Bill Bracken, the head of an engineering company assisting rescuers.
The risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state’s porous geological bedrock, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.
Florida suffered one of its worst sinkhole accidents in 1994 when a 15-story-deep chasm opened up east of Tampa at a phosphate mine. It created a hole 185 feet deep and as much as 160 feet wide. Locals dubbed it Disney World’s newest attraction - ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.’
In 1981 in Winter Park near Orlando, a sinkhole was measured as 320 feet wide and 90 feet deep, swallowing a two-story house, part of a Porsche dealership, and an Olympic-size swimming pool. The site is now an artificial lake in the city.
“Mortgage companies are more and more requiring Florida home buyers to have sinkhole coverage on their homeowners insurance policy,” said K.C. Williams a Tampa sinkhole and property damage claims lawyer who lives 2 miles away from the damaged home.
Additional reporting by David Adams and Tom Brown; Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Tom Brown, Marguerita Choy and Andrew Hay