News Column

Fatal Sinkhole House Is Razed

March 4, 2013

Alan Gomez, USA TODAY

Friends and family of Jeff Bush could only watch Sunday as work crews slowly tore down the house where the 37-year-old Florida man apparently died last week.

Bush suffered a rare fate when a sinkhole estimated at 60 feet deep opened under the bedroom where he slept in his home in Seffner, about 15 miles east of Tampa. Five others in the house escaped harm. Bush's brother, Jeremy, and rescue workers tried unsuccessfully to save him.

Rescue operations were called off by Hillsborough County officials Saturday, forcing Bush's family to sift through pieces of debris Sunday to salvage whatever they could. They retrieved three carloads of clothes, computers, wallets and purses.

"We were able to get a couple family photos," county fire rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico said. "They pulled out the only photo they had of their grandmother."

The home was owned by Leland Wicker, the grandfather of Jeremy Bush's girlfriend, Rachel Wicker. On Sunday, Wicker's daughter, Wanda Carter, cradled the large family Bible where they stored baptism certificates, cards and photos.

"It means that God is still in control, and he knew we need this for closure," Wanda Carter said.

The Rev. John Martin Bell of Shoals Baptist Church said he prayed with the Bush family Sunday morning. He said the family needs support and prayers.

Damico said some relatives were staying in a hotel over the weekend using emergency funds from the Red Cross. That money would run out this weekend, Damico said, and county officials will try to help find them a more permanent place to live.

The recovery work Sunday was especially difficult because officials deemed the entire property unstable, forcing crews to use the long arm of a backhoe.

Damico said the two neighboring houses also have been vacated and could be condemned because of the sinkhole.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said engineers want to get a better look at the sinkhole today once more of the Bush house is torn away.

Demolition crews will work slowly through the week to finish razing the house and stabilize the now-shaky ground.

Florida is highly prone to sinkholes because of caverns below ground of limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water.

Thousands of sinkholes develop in Florida and other states each year -- many of them swallowing buildings and vehicles. What is unusual about the Seffner sinkhole is the loss of life.

Anthony Randazzo, a former University of Florida geology professor who now works for Geohazards Inc., a company that specializes in evaluating sinkholes, said he could recall only two people dying as a result of sinkholes in the four decades he has studied and worked on them. Both those cases occurred in Florida when people drilling water wells created the sinkholes.

"Usually, you have some time," Randazzo said. "These catastrophic sinkholes give you some warning over the course of hours. This is very unusual and very tragic."

A sinkhole near Orlando grew to 400 feet across in 1981 and devoured five sports cars, most of two businesses, a three-bedroom house and the deep end of an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Contributing: The Associated Press

(c) Copyright 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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