Site of Florida Sinkhole Cleared Away [SLIDE SHOW]

By: CBS Web Copy; Associated Press Email
By: CBS Web Copy; Associated Press Email

SEFFNER, Fla. The gaping sinkhole that swallowed a man from his Florida home last week could be revealed later Monday when demolition crews finish knocking down the remaining walls and clearing away the debris.

Crews on Sunday razed more than half the home, managing to salvage some keepsakes for family members who lived there, and continued their work early Monday morning.

A cousin of the family who lived there described watching them tear the home down as "terrifying," reports CBS affiliate WTSP in Tampa.

"I just don't even know what to think sometimes. All those memories, childhood, down the drain," said Jordan Wheeler, adding that he was "heartbroken" by the situation.

The opening of the sinkhole has been covered by the home, but once emergency officials and engineers can see inside it more clearly, they could begin planning how to deal with it. They also need to decide what will happen to the two homes on either side of the affected house. Experts say the sinkhole has "compromised" those homes, but it's unclear whether steps can be taken to save them.

Jeremy Bush, 35, tried to save his brother, Jeff, when the earth opened up and swallowed him Thursday night.

On Sunday morning, Bush and relatives prayed with a pastor as most of the home -- where he lived with his girlfriend, Rachel Wicker; their daughter, Hannah, 2; and others -- was demolished and waited for firefighters to salvage anything possible from inside. The home was owned by Leland Wicker, Rachel's grandfather, since the 1970s.

The operator of the heavy equipment worked gingerly, first taking off a front wall. Family belongings were scooped onto the lawn gently in hopes of salvaging parts of the family's 40-year history in the home.

As of Sunday afternoon -- when demolition had stopped for the day and only a few walls remained -- a Bible, family photos, a jewelry box and a pink teddy bear for Hannah were among the items saved. Firefighters also were able to pick out the purse of one of the women in the home.

Cheers went up from family, friends and neighbors each time something valuable was salvaged.

Wanda Carter, the daughter of Leland Wicker, cradled the large family Bible in her arms. She said her mother and father had stored baptism certificates, cards and photos between the pages of that Bible over the years.

"It means that God is still in control, and He knew we needed this for closure," she said, crying.

Carter said she spent from age 11 to 20 in the home, and she had to close her eyes as the home was knocked down.

"Thank you for all of the memories and life it gave us," she said.

The Rev. John Martin Bell of Shoals Baptist Church said he had been with the family all morning. "We just prayed with them," he said. He added that all five who lived in the house -- Bush, Wicker, Hannah and two others ages 50 and 45 -- were in need of support and prayers from the community.

Several generations of family members lived in the home at the time of the ground collapse, including Jeff Bush, the man now presumed dead.

Jeremy Bush tried to save his brother by jumping into the sinking dirt hole. He had to be pulled out of the still-shifting hole by a Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy, who was visibly shaken when talking about the incident more than a day later.

"I've never seen anything move so fast and do so much destruction," Deputy Douglas Duvall said.

The search for Jeff Bush, 37, was called off Saturday. He was in his bedroom Thursday night in Seffner, a suburb of 8,000 people 15 miles east of downtown Tampa, when the ground opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five others in the house at the time escape unharmed as the earth crumbled.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is conducting the investigation. Detective Larry McKinnon said the sheriff's office and the county medical examiner cannot declare Bush dead if his body is still missing. Under Florida law, Bush's family must petition a court to declare him deceased.

"Based on the circumstances, he's presumed dead; however the official death certificate can only be issued by a judge and the family has to petition the court," McKinnon said.

The area around Seffner is known for sinkholes due to the geography of the terrain, but they are rarely deadly. No one, from longtime public safety officials to geologists, could remember an incident where a person was sucked into the earth without warning.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Associated Press Release

SEFFNER, Fla. (AP) — The effort to find the body of a Florida man who was swallowed by sinkhole under his home is being called off while crews try to learn how far the underground cavity reaches and whether more homes are at risk.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill says rescuers are ending the effort to find Jeff Bush's body because it's just too dangerous. He says officials plan to bring in heavy equipment tomorrow to begin demolishing the four-bedroom home.

Merrill says "At this point it's really not possible to recover the body." Merrill also says they're dealing with what he describes as "a very unusual sinkhole."

Bush was in his bedroom Thursday night in Seffner -- a suburb of 8,000 people 15 miles east of downtown Tampa -- when the earth opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five others in the house escape unharmed.


Associated Press Release

SEFFNER, Fla. (AP) --Engineers are headed back to the site of Florida sinkhole to do more tests on the unstable and dangerous ground that swallowed a man in his bedroom.

The engineers are expected to resume their work after sunrise Saturday on what they have described as a slowly growing sinkhole.

They have already determined that the soil around the home is very soft and they believe the entire house could eventually be devoured by the sinkhole.

Thirty-seven-year-old Jeff Bush was in his bedroom Thursday night when the earth opened and swallowed him and everything else in his room. Five other family were in the house but escaped unharmed. Bush's brother jumped into the hole to try to help, but he had to be rescued himself by a sheriff's deputy.


Associated Press Release

SEFFNER, Fla. (AP) -- A man is missing after a large sinkhole opened under the bedroom of a house near Tampa and his brother says the man screamed for help as the collapse happened.

The 36-year-old man's brother told rescue crews he heard a loud crash around 11 p.m. Thursday, then heard his brother screaming for help.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico says when the brother got there, the bedroom was gone and all he saw was part of a mattress sticking up.

There's been no contact with the man since then. Neighbors on both sides of the Seffner home have been evacuated.

Code enforcement deemed it unsafe for rescue workers to continue until engineers can determine the borders of the sinkhole. Damico says the sinkhole is estimated at about 100 feet across.


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