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Efforts to retrieve man from Florida sinkhole are stopped

The sinkhole is too deep and dangerous to keep looking for Jeff Bush's body, officials say.

March 02, 2013|By Marisa Gerber
  • Jeremy Bush lays flowers in front of the home in Seffner, Fla., where his brother Jeffrey was swallowed by a sinkhole that opened underneath a bedroom Thursday night.
Jeremy Bush lays flowers in front of the home in Seffner, Fla., where his… (Chris O'Meara, Associated…)

Florida officials said Saturday evening they hadn't found the body of the man swallowed by a sinkhole two days earlier, and planned to stop looking.

A somber-faced county administrator told reporters in Seffner, Fla., that the now-60-foot-deep sinkhole, which forced other families in the Tampa-area neighborhood to evacuate, was simply too deep and too dangerous for efforts to continue.

"At this point it's really not possible to recover the body," Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said after extending his condolences to the family of 37-year-old Jeff Bush.

PHOTOS: Sinkhole swallows man

Even before officials called off the rescue efforts, Bush's brother Jeremy had begun to have a painful realization: The last thing he would ever hear from his brother were screams — and the muffled cries for help that came from the chasm that claimed him.

"I really don't think they are going to be able to find him," Jeremy told Reuters on Saturday. He "will be there forever."

Jeremy told reporters he woke up Thursday night to something that sounded like a car crash. Then came a scream. By the time he got to his brother's room, the sinkhole had already swallowed Jeff's bed and dresser. Jeremy jumped into the giant opening.

"The hole was still caving in, but I didn't care," he said. "I just wanted my brother, man."

Jeremy was stuck in the debris when Sheriff's Deputy Douglas Duvall arrived at the home. Duvall yanked him from the hole, and the two were able to escape.

"I saw that something needed to happen, and I just did it," Duvall said in a video posted on the Sheriff's Office website.

The two residences flanking the pale blue home where Jeff Bush lived are at risk, officials said, and the families had to evacuate Friday. The family members, accompanied by firefighters, were allowed to return for about 20 minutes Saturday to gather some belongings.

As rescuers, engineers and reporters swarmed the street for the second full day, tensions ran high among residents.

"I've had nightmares," Soliris Gonzalez told the Associated Press. "In my dreams, I keep checking for cracks in the house."

A memorial with stuffed animals and flowers had cropped up near the home by Saturday. A sheriff's deputy escorted Brenda Bush as she dropped off another bouquet of flowers and a balloon in honor of her son.

Geotechnical engineer Ross McGillivray examined the area near the sinkhole and told reporters he thought it had been growing for "years and maybe decades." He likened the porous limestone beneath the home to Swiss cheese.

In most cases, homes near sinkholes show some signs of distress, such as cracks on the walls, he said, adding that this was an "incredibly unusual" case because the entire sinkhole was located beneath the home's foundation.

Officials plan to bring in large equipment and begin demolishing the home Sunday morning, Merrill said.

A few minutes later, he shook his head slightly and spoke into the camera: "It was hidden until it became catastrophic."

At a briefing staged near the home, a fire rescue official urged people to keep the family in their thoughts and mentioned a website through which people could donate to those affected by the sinkhole.

"A sinkhole opened under the home of Jeff Bush, taking his life," reads a note posted on the site, at "The home has been condemned and the family is unable to retrieve any of their personal property. They have virtually lost everything."

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