Florida sinkhole points to the state's greater risks. But the disappearance of a Tampa man, whose bedroom fell into a sinkhole, is extremely rare. Most sinkholes develop slowly enough for people to walk away.
In an unusually dramatic and likely fatal start to Florida's annual sinkhole season, a Tampa man remains missing underground Friday after a massive sinkhole swallowed part of a house, including the man's bedroom, late Thursday night.
Five adults, a child, and two dogs were in the house when witnesses said it felt like a car hit the building. The victim's brother scrambled toward the bedroom to save his kin, but he himself had to be rescued by rescue workers.
A search was underway for the missing man Friday, but authorities said camera scopes inserted into the rubble-filled subterranean cavern showed nothing "compatible with life." The 30-foot-wide hole is part of a 100-foot-wide cavern. Search-and-rescue efforts were hampered by fears that a larger area around the house could collapse and potentially trap firefighters searching for the man.
Hundreds of sinkholes appear across Florida's sand-and-clay surface a year as underground limestone caverns collapse. Injuries and deaths, however, are exceedingly rare. Florida usually endures a "sinkhole season" in spring and early summer as heavy, rain-soaked surface soils press down on the roofs of limestone caves emptied of water by the winter dry season.
"This is the first time I've heard about somebody being hurt by a sinkhole," says Jonathan Martin, a geologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. At the same time, he says, a collapse can happen "in minutes, and you can have a collapse that happens quickly and then stops for a while and continues."
Reports suggest the missing man was sleeping when the sinkhole opened.