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Brother questions rescue efforts in sinkhole death

12:00 PM, Mar 4, 2013   |    comments
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The distraught brother of Jeff Bush, the man presumed dead after part of his home collapsed into a gaping Florida sinkhole last week, on Monday questioned whether rescue teams did enough initially to try to reach his brother beneath the mud and debris.

"You see all this heavy equipment?" Jeremy Bush told a group of reporters."They could have tried harder to get my brother out."They could have tried harder to get my brother out of there."

Jeremy had gone into the hole when it opened up Thursday night in a vain attempt to rescue Jeff, but couldn't find him. A deputy summoned by a 911 call had to pull Jeremy out from the unstable sinkhole, which was still caving in.

With demolition crews prepared for second day of work to knock down the remaining walls of the house, Jeremy anguished over the loss of his brother, whose body has not been recovered.

"My mom and dad are going through hell right now," he said.

Jeff Bush, 37, suffered a rare fate when the sinkhole, estimated at 60 feet deep, opened Thursday night under his bedroom in the home in Seffner, about 15 miles east of Tampa.

Five others in the house escaped harm, including Jeremy, who ran to the room after hearing his brother screaming for help.

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 remainder of the house and its contents will be dragged toward the street so crews can recover items inside and keep debris from falling into the hole, Hillsborough County spokesman Willie Puz said Monday. He said authorities were still not certain exactly how big the sinkhole is.

The crews demolishing the house are using cranes and other equipment from a distance because of the unstable ground.

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 using emergency funds from the Red Cross. That money would run out soon, 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 Monday after 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."

Contributing: John Bacon; The Associated Press

Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

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