For the first time Friday, the neighborhood around a sinkhole that opened up under a Seffner home, trapping a 36-year-old man, was completely quiet.
Around 8 p.m., investigators said it was too dangerous for search and rescue crews to continue searching for the boundaries of the very large sinkhole, so they went home.
Almost all of the neighbors that were out here have gone inside their homes.
The site is considered "extremely unstable," Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said at a press conference Friday night.
Engineers for Hillsborough Fire Rescue have stopped drilling holes for their ground penetrating radar for the night. A county spokesman says they'll resume that operation around 7 a.m.
Jeffrey Bush became trapped in a sinkhole overnight when the bedroom of his house collapsed into the ground. Bush is presumed dead.
"My heart goes out to the family whose had a terrible loss in this tragedy. And my heart goes out to the neighbors," Merrill said. "And on behalf of Hillsborough County I want everyone to know we are doing everything we can to find the man, Mr. Bush but we want to do it safely."
Investigators also say they're shocked that the home is still standing.
"Given the size of the hole I cannot tell you why it has not collapsed yet. We don't have an explanation for that. The hole beneath there and the instability of the soil, it should've collapsed by now. So, it's amazing that it hasn't," said Bill Bracken with Hillsborough Urban Search & Rescue.
Merrill said the sinkhole is "not typical" and continues to evolve. Crews with Bracken Engineering said the sinkhole has grown to 20- to 30-feet wide and 20-feet deep.
According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the sinkhole opened inside the home in the 200 block of Faithway Drive in Seffner.
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials had to halt rescue attempts earlier Friday due to the dangerous nature of the sinkhole.
"There is a very large fluid mass under this house rendering the entire house and the entire lot unsafe," said Bill Bracken, with Bracken Engineering. "So at this time we're still trying to determine the exact nature of what's down there."
Merrill said that could take some time.
"For this reason, we're being very deliberate," he said, "and I understand that being very deliberate is very painful for the family. They want us to go in fast. But as I've told the families the only thing that would be more tragic is to send people in and have more loss of life. So that's the dilemma, and it's a very painful dilemma. We're doing everything we possibly can."
Neighboring homes have been evacuated by authorities although the hole is only under the one home.
Officials said the damage is contained to the inside of the home at this point. Family members say the home has never had an issue with sinkholes.
Officials said five people, including a 2-year-old child were in the home when the sinkhole opened up.
Man tried to help his brother when the sinkhole opened
Jeremy Bush said he ran into his brother Jeffrey's room at about 11 p.m. when he heard screams.
"I heard a loud crash and ran into the room," Jeremy said. "All I could see was the top of the bed. He (Jeffrey) was hollering for me to help him. I jumped in the hole, I tried to help him but I couldn't do nothing."
Jeremy and Jeffrey's aunt, Janell Wheeler also was inside the home. She said she saw Jeremy and Jeffrey in the hole, although Jeremy was able to crawl out with help from a responding deputy, the neighbor said.
That deputy, Douglas Duvall, spoke at a press conference Friday night. He said he was the first responder on the scene and didn't really know what was going on until he went inside.
"I entered I went into the bedroom and all I could see was a hole," he said. "I looked down and I saw Jeremy Bush in the hole trying to get out. I saw the bed and dresser everything was sinking. I reached down and got Mr. (Jeremy) Bush by the hand and got him out. I looked and I saw no one else in the hole."
I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen anything move this fast and do this much devastation."
By the time more help arrived, Jeffrey was still in the hole that was growing rapidly, an official said.
911 call: 'The house just fell through'
Bush's sister-in-law placed a call for help to 911 shortly after 11 p.m.
Caller: “We need an ambulance (inaudible) the house just fell through.”
911: OK and what happened the house?”
Caller: “The bedroom floor just collapsed and my brother-in-law was in there and he’s beneath the house.”
Cousin describes room: 'Nothing but dirt and big ol' hole'
Bush’s cousin Jordan Wheeler, who does not live at the home but arrived there after getting a phone call, described the scene.
“When I walked into the room I saw a big ol’ hole and there was nothing there. I just heard my cousin yelling and screaming,” he said.
Wheeler said his other cousin Jeremy was also in the hole. He said he was going to jump in to and try to help but “I didn’t know what to," he said.
“Right when I walked in there all I smelled was fresh dirt,” he said. “All I saw was nothing but dirt and a big ol’ hole. And you can’t even walk in the room because if you walk in the room you’re dropping into a hole. You only had a foot to go in.”
Wheeler is still holding out hope his cousin will be okay.
“I’m praying that he’s still alive,” he said.
Crews assessed the situation
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Code Enforcement officials, the sheriff's office and Bracken Engineering remained at the scene.
Bracken Engineering officials are taking pictures of the soil using radio waves. Bill Bracken, the president and principle engineer with the company, said officials are testing the soil stability. A 100-foot safety zone has been established around the home due to the unknown status of the soil was later expanded. Engineering officials pushed members of the media farther away as their soil tests continued.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Ron Rogers said everything that can be done to keep the situation safe is being done. He also said a search will continue as soon as it is safe.
"We will do everything we can to make sure the area is safe," Rogers said. "But we won't risk anyone else until we know it's safe. We don't know how much bigger the hole can get, if at all. We won't leave until the area is safe."
Sinkhole danger signs & causes
Sinkholes are depressions or a collapse of the land surface as the limestone below cracks and develops fractures. Acidic waters seeping through the soil lead to the breakdown over long periods of time.
While these types of events often occur after a high accumulation of rainfall in a brief period of time, they can also take place in extremely dry conditions, as the water table below the surface drops or dries out.
There are several signs you can watch for that may lead to the formation of a sinkhole:
- Fresh exposure on fence posts, foundations and trees that result when the ground sinks
- Slumping, sagging or slanting fence posts, trees or other objects
- Doors and windows that fail to close properly
- Ponding: Small ponds of rainfall forming where water has not collected before
- Wilting of small, circular areas of vegetation, because the moisture that normally supports vegetation in the area is draining into a developing sinkhole below the surface
- Turbidity in water in nearby wells
- Structural cracks in walls, floors and pavement
- Cracks in the ground surface.
Top 10 sinkhole prone counties in Florida
In an alarming report from March 2011, all 10 of Florida's most sinkhole prone counties are either in Central Florida or the Tampa Bay area. Hillsborough, where Friday's sinkhole opened up, ranked third.
Source: RiskMeter Online
Recent sinkholes in the Bay area:
- Sinkhole strikes USF Tampa campus (February 15)
- Sinkholes swallow front yard of home flooded by Tropical Storm Debby (July 18, 2012)
- Dozens of sinkholes plague Hernando County (July 3, 2012)
- Large sinkhole swallows back of Hudson home (June 20, 2012)
- Interstate 4 rest stop sinkhole (January 6, 2012)
- Plant City woman pulled from backyard sinkhole (March 29, 2011)