In a matter of seconds, the earth opened under Jeff Bush’s bedroom and swallowed him up like something from a horror film. About the only thing left was the TV cable running down into the hole.
Mr Bush, 37, is presumed dead, the victim of a sinkhole – a hazard so common in Florida that state law requires home insurers to provide coverage against the danger.
The sinkhole, estimated at 20ft across and 20ft deep, caused the home’s concrete floor to cave in as everyone in the house in Seffner, near Tampa, was going to bed for the night.
It gave way with a loud crash that sounded like a car hitting the house and brought Mr Bush’s brother running.
Jeremy Bush said he jumped into the hole but could not 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,” a distraught Mr Bush said in a neighbour’s garden. “But I just couldn’t do nothing.”
He added: “I could swear I heard him hollering my name to help him.”
Officials lowered equipment into the sinkhole and saw no sign of life, said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico.
A dresser and the TV set had vanished down the hole, along with most of Mr Bush’s bed.
“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 last night, county administrator Mike Merrill described the home as “seriously unstable” and no one could go in the home because experts were afraid of another collapse and losing more lives.
The soil around the home was very soft and the sinkhole was expected to grow, he said.
Engineers say 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.
Florida is highly prone to sinkholes because there are underground caverns of limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water.
A sinkhole near Orlando grew to 400ft across in 1981 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.
Jeremy Bush said someone came to the home a couple of months ago to check for sinkholes and other things, apparently for insurance purposes.
“He said there was nothing wrong with the house. Nothing. And a couple of months later, my brother dies. In a sinkhole,” Mr Bush said.
Six people were at the home at the time, including Jeremy Bush’s wife and his two-year-old daughter. The brothers had maintenance jobs, including picking up rubbish along highways.