Seffner sinkhole update: Half of home over deadly Fla. sinkhole demolished

Updated 1:17 p.m. ET

SEFFNER, Fla. Crews on Sunday razed more than half of the Tampa-area home over a huge sinkhole that swallowed a man three days ago, managing to salvage some keepsakes for family members who lived there.

Jeremy Bush, 35, tried to save his brother, Jeff, when the earth opened up and swallowed him Thursday night. On Sunday morning, he and relatives prayed with a pastor as the home — where he lived with his girlfriend, Rachel Wicker, and their daughter, Hannah, 2, and others — was demolished and waited for firefighters to salvage anything possible from inside.

"I knew it. I just didn't want to believe it. I wanted them to get him out," said the man's brother, Jeremy Bush, according to CBS affiliate WTSP in Tampa. "I'm so sorry they can't get him out of the hole and that's the last place he's going to be."

Jeremy Bush jumped into the sinkhole shortly after it opened and tried to save his brother but failed, and eventually needed rescue himself. He was escorted with a woman by a deputy to the front of the house early Sunday before equipment moved into position. He repositioned some flowers from a makeshift memorial to a safer location, where Bush and a women knelt in prayer.

The firefighters stood just outside the home, gesturing to the family across the street as they sorted items into boxes. As of Sunday afternoon — when demolition had stopped for the day and only a few walls of the home remained — a Bible, a jewelry box and a pink teddy bear for Hannah were among the items saved.

The Rev. John Martin Bell of Shoals Baptist Church said he had been with the family all morning. "We just prayed with them," he said. He added that all five who lived in the house — Bush, Wicker, Hannah and two others ages 50 and 45 — were in need of support and prayers from the community.

People gathered on lawn chairs, bundled up with blankets against unusually chilly weather. Several dozen milled about within view, including officials and reporters.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said officials had talked to Bush family Sunday.

"We don't know, in fact, whether (the house) will collapse or whether it will hold up," he said.

He said crews' goal for Sunday is to knock down the house, and on Monday they will clear the debris as much as possible to allow officials and engineers to see the sinkhole in the open.

Bush was in his bedroom Thursday night in Seffner — a suburb of 8,000 people 15 miles east of downtown Tampa — when the ground opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five others in the house escape unharmed as the earth crumbled.

Jeremy Bush's girlfriend's grandfather, the man who has owned the house for 40 years, expressed remorse and surprise at the situation.

"There's a purpose for this, but we won't ever know," Buddy Wicker told WTSP. "This is a good example right here of how fast life is gone."

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is conducting the investigation. Detective Larry McKinnon said that sheriff's office and the county medical examiner cannot declare Bush dead if his body is still missing. Under Florida law, Bush's family must petition a court to declare him deceased.

"Based on the circumstances, he's presumed dead, however the official death certificate can only be issued by a judge and the family has to petition the court," McKinnon said.