The presence of sinkholes is increasingly putting homeowners in the area into an insurance predicament.
Currently, Dominguez said, Florida homeowners have a hard time collecting on sinkhole damage until the house is basically swallowed by the sinkhole.
“It takes a long time for that kind of catastrophic loss to occur,” Dominguez said.
In some cases, there are warning signs, such as cracks in walls or movement in the foundation of the house.
But, Dominguez said, policyholders almost never receive insurance money for proactive measures to keep the home from collapsing into a sinkhole. The hapless homeowners must either foot the bill for stabilizing repair work, or move out.
“It’s a very disturbing situation,” she said.
The situation was made worse in 2011, when Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill that gave state-run Citizens Property Insurance the autonomy to increase sinkhole insurance premiums as much as necessary to cover losses. In the past, annual rate hikes were capped at 10 percent.
The law also disallows homeowners from paying public insurance adjusters to help them with sinkhole claims, Dominguez said.
When the sinkhole opened up Thursday night, six people were at the home at the time, including Jeremy Bush’s wife and his 2-year-old daughter.
He said he jumped into it, but couldn’t see his brother and had to be rescued himself by a sheriff’s deputy who reached out and pulled him to safety as the ground crumbled around him.
“The floor was still giving in and the dirt was still going down, but I didn’t care. I wanted to save my brother,” Jeremy Bush said through tears Friday in a neighbor’s yard. “But I just couldn’t do nothing.”
He added: “I could swear I heard him hollering my name to help him.”
A dresser and the TV set had vanished down the hole, along with most of Bush’s bed.
Officials lowered equipment into the sinkhole and saw no signs of life, said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico.
“All I could see was the cable wire running from the TV going down into the hole. I saw a corner of the bed and a corner of the box spring and the frame of the bed,” Jeremy Bush said.
At a news conference Friday night, county administrator Mike Merrill said no one can go into the home because officials were afraid of another collapse and losing more lives. The soil around the home was very soft and the sinkhole was expected to grow.
Engineers said they may have to demolish the small, sky-blue house, even though from the outside there appeared to be nothing wrong with the four-bedroom, concrete-wall structure, built in 1974.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.