Curious onlookers joined Faithway Drive residents and the relatives of a man swallowed in a yawning sinkhole under his home as county crews used a massive backhoe to destroy the house Sunday.
The body of Jeff Bush, 37, disappeared into the hole that opened up inside his bedroom Thursday night. His brother, Jeremy, tried to pull Bush out, but was unable. The sinkhole could not be seen from outside the structure, but Hillsborough County emergency workers said houses next door could be in danger of collapsing if the hole widens.
County officials confirmed Sunday that there was no way of recovering the body.
The backhoe with an extended hydraulic arm parked some 40 feet away and began tearing at the front of the small cinderblock and wood house Sunday morning as relatives of Bush, presumed dead, watched from across the street.
Little by little, the inside of the home was revealed to the family, which hugged each other and wept at times, and to the throng of onlookers bundled up against the cold across the street.
Glimpses included family pictures still hanging on the walls, clothes hung in closets and the tops of dressers covered with personal items.
The backhoe operator, Dan Darnell, alternately tore at the roof and sides of the building with splintering ferocity and gently gathered up small items he spotted with the huge bucket, once scooping up a purse left on a dresser.
The family cheered.
Some personal items were deposited in the front yard so firefighters could collect them and cart them in boxes across the street to the waiting family.
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said the Bush family appreciated the skill Darnell exhibited in extracting the personal items.
The family, he said, was experiencing a range of emotions, watching the home that was theirs for three generations ripped down and knowing that Bush was buried beneath it.
“This family is close-knit,” Merrill said.
John Lyons, director of the county’s public utilities department, said the demolition would continue into Monday, with contractors dragging debris a safe distance from the home to be collected and hauled away.
Geotechnical engineers were there on Sunday to see if the vibration caused by the demolition would widen the 20-foot-wide hole inside the home, and possibly endanger nearby structures.
“Surprisingly,” said Lyons, “everything is holding up.”
They will examine the cavern once the debris is removed and figure out how to stabilize the hole so that it doesn’t get any larger.
J.W. Carr, pastor of the nearby Faith Baptist Church, addressed the tragedy in his sermon Sunday morning, saying that out of this incident, there came some good. People who lived on the street didn’t all know each other, he said, but now, they have formed a close group offering support for one of their own.
“What a blessing it is that came out of such a tragedy,” he said. “There is a different spirit in that neighborhood.”
Carr, who has offered services in his 60-member church for 53 years, lives on Faithway Drive, but does not know the family who had lived in the home.
He wasn’t planning on talking about it, but got up at 2:30 a.m. Sunday and wrote a new sermon focusing on opportunities opened by tragedies.
He plans a collection to benefit the family and to offer up a “deacon’s fund” which is only about $200 and is kept for emergencies.
“It’s not much,” he said. “We’re just hoping to help the family financially and, I hope, spiritually if God permits.”
He said he went to the home Sunday morning before services and spoke with Jeremy Bush. “I prayed before I went over there,” he said, “hoping I was doing the right thing.”
He had never met Jeremy Bush, Carr said. The two talked and Carr told him about the collection for the family and Bush thanked him, hugged him.
“He thanked me so much, I almost came to tears,” the preacher said. “There is no human answer as to why these things happen.”