After more than a month of uncertainty, Jeff Allen got the best possible news today: his home of 11 years is no longer safe to live in and has been condemned.
“I'm satisfied that now, in my heart, I know the direction I can take my family,” said Allen, 40. “It's just been nonstop, dealing with all the emotional ups and downs.”
Allen's home, along with neighbor Lisa Jaudon's, are next door to a property in Seffner where a sinkhole opened more than a month ago and killed a man while he slept. Both families were told to move out the morning after the sinkhole formed and haven't lived in the house since.
Today, county officials deemed that the soil on all three properties is still unstable, condemning Allen's house at 238 Faithway Drive and Jaudon's home at 242 Faithway Drive. The move means both homeowners can now turn to their insurance companies to compensate them for homes that have been declared permanently uninhabitable.
The house owned by Leland Wicker where the sinkhole formed at 240 Faithway Drive was demolished last month and the 50-foot deep cavity was filled.
The cost to repair Allen's and Jaudon's houses would exceed 50 percent of the homes' values, County Administrator Mike Merrill wrote in an April 1 memorandum to the Board of County Commissioners.
“Therefore … the criteria for condemnation have been met and the two remaining structures have been ordered condemned and unfit for human habitation,” Merrill wrote.
Engineers ran tests on the properties and discovered that “the subsurface soils were unstable,” Merrill wrote to commissioners.
The sinkhole formed suddenly in a bedroom of Wicker's home around 11 p.m. on Feb. 28. Jeff Bush, 37, was sleeping and was pulled underground along with his mattress, dresser and television, according to his relatives.
Emergency crews were not able to save Bush and his body could not be recovered.
A video released by the county today showed the depth and width of the sinkhole, which emergency officials had called a “chasm.”
The hole encompassed most of the bedroom where Bush had slept, its maw starting at one wall and stretching to the opposite wall. Only a small section of floor by the room's door was intact.
In the video, it appeared as if the bedroom floor had disappeared and was replaced by dark, empty space. The walls, which were intact, still had photographs and decorations hanging on them.
A flashlight on the camera showed the hole — at the time — went straight down at more than 20 feet. The video was recorded a few hours after the cavity formed, and the hole grew over the next several days.
Local charities chipped in to help the families affected by the sinkhole. The Wicker and Bush families received temporary housing elsewhere in Hillsborough County; the county paid for hotel rooms for Allen and Jaudon, which they have been living in for a month.
Jaudon picked up paperwork from county officials on Tuesday and said her next steps were calling her insurance company and finding a new place to live.
“We still have a long ways to go before we can officially move on,” Jaudon, 54, said. “Even though it's taken a little while, the county's done a great job for us.”
Jaudon's and Allen's houses are still standing. Jaudon said the county is not certain what will become of the houses.
“More than likely, they'll get demolished, but it will stay that way for now,” she said.
In his memo, Merrill said Allen and Jaudon can re-enter their home and retrieve more belongings if the families hire their own engineers to test if it is safe to do so.
Jaudon said when she first vacated her home the morning after the sinkhole formed, she took exactly what she needed although she was given only 30 minutes to stay inside.
“Maybe one day I'll think of things I didn't get,” she said. “But if we can't go in, we can't go in.”
She said the condemnation order brings closure.
The houses “are no use to anyone,” Jaudon said. “It's just a house. Yes, there's memories there, but there's memories with us, too.”
Allen said he, too, took just what he needed when he was told he probably would never step foot in his house again.
“We got the baby pictures and the family heirlooms,” he said. “Tools, furniture — all that can be replaced.”
Allen said he and his fiancÚ Crystal have plans to build a new home in another part of Hillsborough. The condemnation order, he said, was the first step toward that recovery.
“We're going to make the best of it,” Allen said. “Hopefully, we'll get there. It'll take some time, but we'll get there.”