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Man swallowed by sinkhole in his sleep

  • sinkhole1.jpg

    March 1, 2013: An engineer surveys in front of a home where sinkhole opened up in Seffner, Fla. A man screamed for help and disappeared as a large sinkhole opened under the bedroom of the house, his brother said.AP2013

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    March 1, 2013: An engineer stands in front of a home where sinkhole opened up in Seffner, Fla.AP

A man was missing early Friday after a large sinkhole opened under the bedroom of a house near Tampa and his brother says the man screamed for help before he disappeared.

The 36-year-old man's brother told rescue crews he heard a loud crash around 11 p.m. Thursday, then heard his brother screaming for help.

"When he got there, there was no bedroom left," Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jessica Damico said. "There was no furniture. All he saw was a piece of the mattress sticking up."

The brother called 911 and frantically tried to help his brother. An arriving deputy pulled the brother from the still-collapsing house.

There's been no contact with the man since then and neighbors on both sides of the Seffner home have been evacuated.

"We put engineering equipment into the sinkhole and didn't see anything compatible with life," Damico said. But Damico would not say that the man is presumed dead.

Damico said that at the surface, she estimates the sinkhole is about 30 feet across but officials say the sinkhole spreads to about 100 feet across below the surface.

"The entire house is on the sinkhole," Damico said.

Engineers arrived at the scene later in the morning and began working to get measurements of how wide and deep the sinkhole is. From the outside, there were no cracks or visible signs of damage to the home. The front door was open, but taped off.

Janell Wheeler told the Tampa Bay Times she was inside the house with four other adults, a child and two dogs when the sinkhole opened.

"It sounded like a car hit my house," she said.

It was dark. She remembered screams and one of her nephews rushing to rescue his brother, trapped in the debris.

Wheeler's house was condemned. The rest of the family went to a hotel but she stayed behind with her dog, sleeping in her car.

"I just want my nephew," she said through tears.

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