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March 5, 2013

Future remains uncertain for sinkhole site

SEFFNER, Fla. — A backhoe chipped away Monday at the remains of a house where a sinkhole opened up and swallowed a man, but there was little certainty as to what would come next for the site of the freak geological incident.

Though thousands of sinkholes erupt in Florida each year, most are small, few affect homes, and even fewer cause deaths. The sinkhole in the Tampa suburb of Seffner, however, was different.

Crews still were working to remove enough of the home to see more clearly inside the hole and determine what steps would come after the property is razed. There has been no definitive word as to whether the hole will be filled or whether the property could be built on again. But some experts say the fact that the sinkhole claimed a life — that of Jeff Bush, 37 — and that his body is expected to remain below the surface make rebuilding less likely.

“It’s kind of a bad omen,” said Dave Arnold, a hydrogeologist who has surveyed sinkholes for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “This is an even worse omen with someone buried under there.”

Arnold and other experts expect that once the house if destroyed, crews will work to fill in the hole and the lot will likely remain empty. 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.

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