Florida sinkholes have devoured cars, driveways and houses, driven up insurance rates and caused lakes to drain like a cracked bathtub.
But no one can remember anything this bizarre and horrifying.
A Tampa-area man is presumed dead after a 20-foot-deep sinkhole opened under his bedroom while he slept, swallowing him and everything in the room. Officials have declared the area “seriously unstable” and predict that the sinkhole will continue to grow.
It appeared late Thursday night under a one-story, four-bedroom home in Seffner.
Jeffrey Bush, 36, screamed for help as his bedroom collapsed through the hole. Bush’s brother, Jeremy, rushed to help, but was unable to pull his brother to safety, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Authorities arrived soon after and rescued Jeremy, but Jeffrey remained trapped somewhere under the rubble.
“I couldn’t do anything,” Jeremy told The Times on Friday. “Everything in the room was gone.”
By late Friday, workers shifted their focus to a recovery mission.
Hillsborough Fire Rescue reportedly said there were no signs of life inside the abyss, which was 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep.
Could it happen in South Florida? Probably not.
“Over here, the geology is different,” said Don McNeill, a licensed geologist and professor of geology at the University of Miami. “We do have sinkholes, but they’re different styles of sinkholes.”
South Florida sinkholes, unlike the Central Florida variety, are called dissolution sinkholes and occur as sand and sediment dissolves through dissolution holes in limestone rock.
When one opens up, it’s generally shallow and broad, developing over several days and settling like the sand in an hourglass, McNeill said.
There has been an uptick in sinkhole activity in South Florida, concentrated in the Hialeah and Miami Springs areas, but “nothing that residents should be distressed about,” according to Nancy Dominguez, managing director of the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.
Although the shallower, less dangerous type of sinkhole has the potential to damage property, insurance claims in South Florida are extremely few.
Occasionally, small sinkholes will even open up when water mains break, Dominguez said. But they’re “not that kind of catastrophic sinkhole collapse.”
Because South Florida’s dissolution holes move so slowly, McNeill added, “You usually have time to get away from these things.”
The Seffner sinkhole, on the other hand, is more of a “classic” sinkhole, caused by erosion of underground caverns.
Cavernous sinkholes are such a problem in Central Florida that insurance adjusters refer to the area, and Hillsborough and Pasco counties in particular, as “sinkhole alley,” Dominguez said.
Florida is highly prone to sinkholes because there are caverns below ground of limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water. In 1981, a sinkhole near Orlando grew to 400 feet across and devoured five sports cars, most of two businesses, a three-bedroom house and the deep end of an Olympic-size swimming pool.
More than 500 sinkholes have been reported in Hillsborough County alone since the government started keeping track in 1954, according to the state’s environmental agency.