Earth opens up, swallows man underground in his sleep
A wrecking crew has partly razed a Florida house where a sinkhole swallowed up a man as he slept on Thursday, but the demolition team said it went about its job as carefully as possible to preserve the home's contents for survivors.
Rescue workers had given up the search for Jeff Bush, a 37-year-old landscaper, on Saturday. He was officially declared "presumed dead" by county officials after disappearing into the hole, which suddenly opened up under his bedroom.
Five other people in the house, owned by the family of the girl engaged to Jeff's brother Jeremy, had been preparing for bed Thursday night when they heard a loud crash and Jeff screaming.
With a crowd of a few dozen family members and others watching, a boom crane clawed at the one-story home in suburban Tampa for about two hours, demolishing about half of it. The job was due to be completed on Monday.
Jeremy, who had jumped into the sinkhole in a futile attempt to save his brother, said the family was discussing plans for a memorial service and a possible marker at the site.
Asked how he was feeling, Jeremy, 36, told Reuters: "Just sad, sad that they couldn't get my brother out. He was a good guy. He would give you the shirt off his back."
Once the house is torn down, efforts will begin to stabilise the sinkhole, said Hillsborough County spokesman William Puz. The hole was about 9m wide and 18m deep and filled with clay and debris. Officials said it's unlikely that Jeff's body will ever be retrieved.
The crane's bucket first removed the garage eaves from the house and a US flag there, carrying it to the pavement. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue workers folded the flag and handed it to family members.
The crane then probed through the master bedroom and swept family memorabilia, boxes, luggage, dresser drawers, framed photos, a woman's purse and other items out of the house and placed them near the pavement.
Crane operator Dan Darnell had an "emotional meeting" with family members after the work was halted. Before the demolition started, Jeremy, a landscaper like his brother, was escorted to the entrance of the driveway where he knelt and put flowers on the ground, bowing his head for a few minutes.
Wanda Carter, 49, who grew up in the house, said she couldn't watch as it was being torn down. "We have each other and that's all that matters," she told reporters as she clutched a large family Bible, its cover torn off and bearing marks from the crane's bucket.
Sinkholes—a hole in the earth's surface caused by a geological phenomenon—are common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock and they're virtually impossible to predict, according to the Florida Department Of Environmental Protection.
As acidic rainwater filters into the ground, it dissolves the rock, causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns which collapse causing sinkholes.
Two nearby houses have been evacuated because the sinkhole has weakened the ground underneath them, and their residents probably will never be allowed inside again, said Jessica Damico of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. They were allowed 20 to 30 minutes in their homes to gather belongings.
Published: 5th March 2013