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SEFFNER, Fla. Engineers worked gingerly Saturday to find out more about a slowly growing sinkhole that swallowed a Florida man in his bedroom, believing the entire house could eventually succumb to the unstable ground.
It could be days before officials decide whether they will attempt to recover Jeff Bush's body, and they were still trying Saturday to determine the extent of the sinkhole network and what kind of work might be safe. As the sinkhole grows, it may pose further risk to the subdivision and its homes.
Bush, 37, was in his bedroom Thursday night in Seffner a suburb of 8,000 people 15 miles east of downtown Tampa when the earth opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five others in the house escaped unharmed.
Man feared dead in sinkhole freak accident
On "CBS This Morning: Saturday," reporter Grayson Kamm of CBS affiliate WTSP-TV in Tampa, Fla., reported that Bush was not planning to stay in the house for long, just a few months. He was planning to move out Saturday, Kamm reports.
Because of Florida's unique geography, experts say sinkholes are common across the state, with thousands erupting each year. Most are small, though, and deaths rarely occur.
"There's hardly a place in Florida that's immune to sinkholes," said Sandy Nettles, a geologist. "There's no way of ever predicting where a sinkhole is going to occur."
Florida is prone because it sits on limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water. A layer of clay is on top of the limestone. The clay is thicker in some locations including the area where Bush became a victim making them even more prone to sinkholes.
Most are small, like one that was found Saturday morning in Largo, some 35 miles away from where the Seffner sinkhole. The Largo sinkhole, about 10 feet long and several feet wide, was discovered in a mall parking lot. Such discoveries are common throughout the year in Florida, though some factors such as drought and development can exacerbate the development, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Still, it's unclear what, if anything, caused the Seffner sinkhole.
"The condition that caused that sinkhole could have started a million years ago," Nettles said.
On Saturday, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Ronnie Rivera said one of the homes next door to the Bush house also was compromised by the sinkhole, as determined through testing. The family, which had evacuated Friday, was allowed to go inside for about a half-hour to gathering belongings, Rivera said. The family was outside, crying and organizing boxes.
Engineers had been testing since 7 a.m. Saturday. By 10 a.m., officials moved media crews farther away from the Bush house so experts could perform tests on the home across the street.
Experts spent the previous day on the property, taking soil samples and running tests while acknowledging that the entire lot where Bush lay entombed was dangerous. On Saturday, officials were still not allowing anyone in the Bush home.
Jeremy Bush, who tried to rescue his brother when the earth opened, lay flowers and a stuffed lamb near the house Saturday morning and wept.
He said someone came to his home in the Tampa suburb of about 8,000 people a couple of months ago to check for sinkholes and other issues, apparently for insurance purposes, but found nothing wrong. State law requires home insurers to provide coverage against sinkholes.
"And a couple of months later, my brother dies. In a sinkhole," Bush said Friday.
The sinkhole, estimated at 20 feet across and 20 feet deep, caused the home's concrete floor to cave in around 11 p.m. Thursday as everyone in the Tampa-area house was turning in for the night. It gave way with a loud crash that sounded like a car hitting the house and brought Jeremy Bush running.
Engineers said they may have to demolish the small house, even though from the outside there appeared to be nothing wrong with the four-bedroom, concrete-wall structure, built in 1974.
Rescuers early Saturday morning returned to the site where a sinkhole swallowed a Florida man in his bedroom after the home's foundation collapsed.
Jeff Bush was in his bedroom when a sinkhole opened up and trapped him underneath his home at 11 p.m. Thursday night.
While the sinkhole was initially estimated to be 15 feet deep on Thursday night, the chasm has continued to grow. Officials now estimate it measures 30 feet across and up to 100 feet deep.
MORE: How Sinkholes Can Develop
Rescue operations were halted Friday night after it became too dangerous to approach the home.
Bill Bracken, an engineer with Hillsborough County Urban Search and Rescue team said that the house "should have collapsed by now, so it's amazing that it hasn't."
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Using ground penetrating radar, rescuers have found a large amount of water beneath the house, making conditions even more dangerous for them to continue the search for Bush.
"I'm being told it's seriously unstable, so that's the dilemma," said Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrell. "A dilemma that is very painful to them and for everyone."
Hillsborough County lies in what is known as Florida's "Sinkhole Alley." Over 500 sinkholes have been reported in the area since 1954, according to the state's environmental agency.
The Tampa-area home was condemned, leaving Bush's family unable to go back inside to gather their belongings. As a result, the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue set up a relief fund for Bush's family in light of the tragedy.
Officials evacuated the two houses adjacent to Bush's and are considering further evacuations, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, Bush's brother, Jeremy Bush, is still reeling from Thursday night.
Jeremy Bush had to be rescued by a first responder after jumping into the hole in an attempt to rescue his brother when the home's concrete floor collapsed, but said he couldn't find him.
"I just started digging and started digging and started digging, and the cops showed up and pulled me out of the hole and told me the floor's still falling in," he said.
"These are everyday working people, they're good people," said Deputy Douglas Duvall of the Hillsborough County sheriff's office, "And this was so unexpected, and they're still, you know, probably facing the reality that this is happening."
BAMAKO: Algeria was seeking Saturday to confirm the reported killing of Al-Qaeda's top commander in northern Mali, where French and African troops attempted to flush out Islamist fighters from desert and mountain hideouts.
Chad's president announced on Friday that his troops had killed Abou Zeid days earlier, in what would be one of the worst blows to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the seven-week-old French-led intervention.
Idriss Deby Itno claimed the AQIM commander in Mali was killed during a major battle that also left 26 Chadian soldiers dead on February 22. "Our soldiers killed two jihadist chiefs including Abou Zeid," he said.
Adding to the confusion over the jihadist supremo's fate, Mauritania's private news agency Sahara Medias on Saturday confirmed that Abou Zeid had been killed but had a different story.
It said Abou Zeid was killed "four days ago" in a French air strike during a clash between a jihadist unit he was leading and the group of Chadian soldiers that had suffered the 26 losses days earlier.
Sahara Medias said the strike occurred in the mountainous region of Tigharghar near the border with Algeria and added without naming them that "extremely well informed sources" had confirmed Abou Zeid's death.
However the Islamist organisation itself has not yet confirmed the jihadist leader's death and officials in his native Algeria were carrying out DNA tests in an effort to confirm the demise of one of Africa's most wanted men.
Analysts have suggested Abou Zeid's death could spell AQIM's doom with other jihadist groups now thriving in the region but while Washington described the report as "very credible" France has so far treated it with caution.
Algeria's El Khabar newspaper said Saturday that Algerian security services, who were the first to report Abou Zeid's death, had examined a body believed to be his.
"Algerian officers have examined a body said to be that of Abou Zeid in a military site in northern Mali and identified his personal weapon... but were unable to formally identify" the body as his, it said.
"Confirmation of Abou Zeid's death remains linked to the results of DNA tests done on Thursday by Algeria on two members of his family," said El Khabar.
Mauritanian expert Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Aboulmaali pointed out that Algeria had announced his death several times in the past and that Chad needed morale boosting news after suffering such heavy losses.
Matthieu Guidere, a French university professor and Al-Qaeda specialist, also voiced caution in the absence of any confirmation of Abou Zeid's death on jihadist forums.
"Experience shows that jihadists never try to hide their dead and immediately broadcast their martyrdom," he said.
Guidere explained that announcing the death of a wanted jihadist was a tactic that had been used in the past to force the operative to deny his death and reveal his location.
Abou Zeid, 46, whose real name is Mohamed Ghedir, was often seen in the cities of Timbuktu and Gao after the Islamists took control of northern Mali last year and sparked fears the region could become a haven for extremists.
An Algerian born near the border with Libya, Abou Zeid was a former smuggler who embraced radical Islam in the 1990s and became one of AQIM's key leaders.
He was suspected of being behind a series of kidnappings in the Sahel region, including of British national Edwin Dyer, who was abducted in Niger and killed in 2009, and of 78-year-old French aid worker Michel Germaneau, who was killed in 2010.
Abou Zeid was believed to be holding a number of Western hostages, including four French citizens kidnapped in Niger in 2010.
Guidere said Abou Zeid had adopted such a hard line since reaching the top of AQIM's operational command that many of his lieutenants left the group to join other organisations or launch their own.
One of the main splinters is the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which first emerged last year and was battling African forces near the main northern city of Gao as recently as Friday.
"We waged a tough battle against Malian troops and their French accomplices around 60 kilometres east of Gao on Friday," MUJAO spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui told AFP.
"We'll see later about the death toll," he said.
A Malian soldier who claimed he took part in the fighting said the operation had left a MUJAO base destroyed and "many dead" among the Islamists.