Man swallowed by a sinkhole is presumed dead

1:32 PM, Mar 1, 2013   |    comments
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SEFFNER, Fla.  --   A Florida man is presumed dead Friday after the bedroom in which he was sleeping suddenly collapsed into a 30-foot wide sinkhole and swallowed up the entire room, including furniture, local emergency officials said.


The victim, Jeffrey Bush, 37, screamed for help when the house began to collapse around 11 p.m. EST on Thursday.


His brother, Jeremy, rushed into the room and tried to locate his brother but had to be rescued himself by a Hillsborough deputy summoned by 911.


"It swallowed his whole bedroom, his dresser -- everything in his room is gone," a distraught Jeremy said.


"All I could see was the tops of his bed," he said. "So I jumped in the hole and tried digging him out. I thought I could hear him screaming for me and hollering for me, but they couldn't do nothing."


Deputy Douglas Duvall said "the sinkhole was taking the whole bedroom" when he arrived and saw Jeffrey down in the hole struggling to find his brother.


"I reached him and actually got him by his hand and pulled him out of the hole," Duvall told WTSP. "The hole was collapsing."


Rescue teams, unable to stay inside the unstable structure, lowered a microphone and video equipment into the hole but have not heard from the victim.


"We put engineering equipment into the sinkhole and didn't see anything compatible with life," Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico said.

Houses on both sides of the damaged structure have also been evacuated.


Damico said that at the surface the sinkhole is about 30 feet across, but officials say the sinkhole spreads to about 100 feet across below the surface.


Authorities were waiting for an engineering crew to bring monitoring equipment to determine the borders of the sinkhole, she said.


Janell Wheeler told the Tampa Bay Times she was inside the house with four other adults, a child and two dogs when the sinkhole opened.


"It sounded like a car hit my house," she said.


It was dark. She remembered screams and one of her nephews rushing to rescue his brother, trapped in the debris.


Wheeler's house was condemned. The rest of the family went to a hotel, but she stayed behind with her dog, sleeping in her car.


"I just want my nephew," she said through tears.


By Doug Stanglin


Contributing: Grayson Kamm, WTSP; Associated Press


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