(CNN) — Unable to rescue a man devoured by a giant sinkhole, workers started demolishing his Florida home Sunday — three days after the ground under his bedroom opened up and swallowed him.
Crowds watched as a backhoe plunged its bucket into the home’s blue walls, leaving the wreckage of wood beams and cinder blocks where rooms once stood.
Some snapped photos with cell phone cameras, said John Gauntt, a reporter for CNN affiliate Bay News 9. Others turned toward the ground with tears in their eyes.
Demolition of the house lasted for about three hours on Sunday and was expected to continue on Monday morning, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told reporters.
It was a delicate process, officials said, as a county employee skillfully maneuvered a massive piece of construction equipment to scoop up the family’s valuables and carry them to safety.
The items salvaged included a Bible, military awards and an American flag that hung near the house’s front door.
One woman wept as an official handed her a framed family portrait. The demolition crew worked for only a few hours on Sunday to give the family time to sift through their belongings, Merrill said.
But authorities said they couldn’t recover Jeff Bush’s body from the massive hole that opened up under his bedroom. The sinkhole — about 20 feet wide and 50 to 60 feet deep — was still expanding, they said, and the suburban Tampa house could collapse at any time.
Authorities made the heartbreaking decision to stop the search for Bush after the odds against his survival became abundantly clear.
“We just have not been able to locate Mr. Bush, and so for that reason, the rescue effort is being discontinued,” Merrill told reporters Saturday evening. “At this point, it’s really not possible to recover the body.”