Seffner sinkhole that formed beneath home and swallowed man now filled in

SEFFNER, Fla. - Dirt now fills the sinkhole on a Seffner lot where a home once stood.

With it being sealed, it has effectively become a tomb for Jeff Bush, who was killed when the floor opened up last week.

Even with crews working to stabilize the ground, neighbor Rick Arey says he doesn't feel safe.

"There was supposed to be this huge cavern underneath this. They just drove a 30-ton dooley on this, how did they drive that 30-ton thing out there?" he asked.

But what comes next for the property? Owner Buddy Wicker says he want's nothing to do with it. He says he'd love a memorial placed there for Jeff Bush, but the whole sequence of events made for a bizarre occurrence.

Wicker says since he moved in in 1974, there were never signs of a hole lurking under his home.

"I never had any indication of nothing. I've dug holes in the backyard. I planted trees," he says.

Buddy Wicker has been taken care of by his homeowner's insurance, which he says covers sinkholes.

And while crews may never know what caused that specific concrete slab to give way, Wicker says he hopes today, the filling of the hole, gives closure.

Depending on the circumstances, past Florida sinkholes have been handled in varied ways.

In Maitland, Fla., a sinkhole 325 feet across was discovered in the 1960s as Interstate 4 was built. The highway was diverted around the area, but in 2008 workers began a $9 million project to fill and stabilize the sinkhole in preparation for a planned expansion of the roadway. Engineers say a road can be put over it now without any problems.

In Winter Park, Fla., a sinkhole in 1981 swallowed several sports cars, parts of two businesses, the deep end of an Olympic-size swimming pool and a three-bedroom house. It stretched about 350 feet across and caused $2 million in damages. The area became a temporary tourist attraction, but most of it was ultimately deserted, filled with water and became a lake.

And in 2002, a sinkhole about 150 feet across and 60 feet deep swallowed oak trees, sidewalk and park benches near an apartment complex in western Orange County, Fla. Two buildings with more than 100 residents were evacuated, but the structures were ultimately saved. Metal sheet piling was placed around the hole to stop the soil from sliding, and it was filled.

Often, homeowners find clues to a pending problem by cracks in the foundation or a shifting floor. When that happens, and a sinkhole threat has been established, crews can pump a thick grout - a mixture of sand and cement - into the ground to fill the holes. It is a costly process, though it is typically paid by insurance companies, and can save a home from being destroyed.

"You inject the grout under pressure and attempt to fill all the cavities you can find," said Anthony Randazzo, a former University of Florida geology professor who started the consulting firm Geohazards, which handles about 1,000 cases a year of sinkholes and other settlement issues.

Though the specifics of what will happen to the Seffner property remain unknown, Randazzo said the hole had to be filled to keep people from falling in it and to remove a potential neighborhood eyesore.

If the property owner decides to try to sell the property, there is a requirement to notify prospective buyers of the sinkhole issue.

For now, the focus in Seffner remains on a family mourning a loved one and trying to move on. Two large backhoes scraped and pulled at the house Monday afternoon, with one gently removing possessions including a flag, a jacket, family photographs, a bicycle and a china cabinet. The other machine loaded shattered pieces of furniture and construction material into a huge waste container.

The day's most solemn moment came at 4 p.m., when demolition stopped and workers joined family members for a brief ceremony. The many flowers and notes that had been left in front of the house were loaded into a tractor's bucket, which swung slowly toward the sinkhole and dropped the materials into the hole. There was applause from across the street.

Though the house's demolition was completed Monday, crews had not yet finished removing its foundation. Hillsborough County spokesman Willie Puz said workers would then "stabilize the hole."

"Every sinkhole is different," he said.

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