Search continues for teen after landslide flattens house, kills father

Staff reporter

Saturday, October 24, 2020

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EFFORTS to find 15-year-old Sanique Leachman, who is suspected to have died after a major landslide in Shooter's Hill, Bull Bay, St Andrew, flattened the home she shared with her father, Romeo Leachman, continued up to press time last night.

The father-and-daughter duo was reported asleep inside the house when the landslide swept the wooden house in which they lived metres down a slope in a section of the community called Toby's Gully or Passion Gardens yesterday morning.

The father, a 42-year-old landscaper, perished in the mudslide. His body was found buried in the rubble by residents who were alerted when neighbours shouted for help.

“I don't even have words to say anything,” said Horace Recurd, Leachman's neighbour, who said he was busy sweeping silt and muddy water from his house when he heard the commotion outside.

“When the woman start call out, me and my family were paying attention to what we were doing, because water was coming into our house. When mi run outside and look, mi nuh see Romey house,” said Recurd.

A rescue team from the Jamaica Fire Brigade arrived on scene at approximately 8:30 am to find residents frantically digging through the mud trying to locate Sanique, but to no avail.

The teenager was a fourth-form student at The Queen's School in St Andrew.

Rosemarie Leachman, Romeo's sister, seemed gutted by her brother's gruesome passing as she spoke with the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

She described her niece as a “bright girl” whose dream was to become an accountant. “She didn't get her dream. Her dreams have closed in 2020,” the woman lamented, a look of dejection on her face.

“Romey was the only brother I have. Mi and him grow together. My niece is a student of Queen's high school. Very bright girl; she give a little trouble, but mi sorry I don't have her here anymore,” she continued.

The woman, who lives in the same yard as her brother, explained that he had previously complained about a stone wall perched on a slope behind his house, a section of which had torn away during a previous downpour, causing damage to her house.

“Him always a complain about the stone wall on the top side of him house. So people saying that is the stone wall take the house. I just moved here two months ago, and I am building a house here. During the rain that fall during the election, my house got damaged by landslide, but not as bad as my brother got it,” she recounted.

“We woke up this morning and water was coming inside the house, and me, my babyfather, and my son were trying to get the water out of the house. About 7:30 [am] I heard a noise, and then my neighbour came bawling that that my brother house gone. So mi run out and a look and couldn't find my brother house. The entire house was covered. I could see no part of the house. I went further down to a neighbour house, where I saw my brother's bed and his clothes.

“Citizens run come and start to dig until they find my brother, but my niece is still under there. The firefighters are saying that, because of the rain and the landslide coming further down, they don't know if they can find her today [yesterday],” Rosemarie explained.

Acting senior deputy superintendent in charge of operations at York Park Fire Department Joshua Davis told the Observer that their efforts to recover Sanique's body have proven difficult with the prolonged rainfall.

In fact, a forecast from the Jamaica Meteorological Service yesterday warned that a broad trough across the island is expected to linger throughout the weekend.

“We are going to continue searching for as long as we can, but the rain is going to be a bother,” said Davis, who added that there are concerns of further land slippage with continued rainfall.

“We have been digging from morning, trying to recover the body of the female, but to no avail at this moment. The problem is that there is a possibility that we might have more slippage, and that is what we want to avoid. We are working feverishly right now to get through the rubble as fast as we can, and as carefully as we can, so as not to have any injuries. Safety is paramount,” he said.

Early attempts by the Jamaica Fire Brigade team to enter the community were also hampered by roadblocks on the Bull Bay main road, as well as landslides in the Shooter's Hill community.

“We had some difficulty getting here because of landslides on the roadway, and there were some roadblocks along the main road at Harbour View near the St Benedict's Church, which slowed us down in responding. But we got here fairly on time,” said District Officer Bertram Taylor from Rollington Town Fire Station.

“We are still continuing the operation hoping to find this little girl. It might take days because there is a lot of mud around there, and we can't get heavy-duty equipment here. So we have to [be] using shovels, spades, cutlasses, saw, any hand tools we can find to remove the debris.

“The earth became saturated causing the soil to be loose and then it gave way. There was also a retaining wall above the house. It would seem as if most of the weight came from that wall to actually move the house, to push it to where it is now. And it was a board structure, which was totally demolished,” said Taylor.

Member of Parliament for St Andrew East Rural Juliet Holness has since expressed her sadness at the passing of the father.

“Sadly, this morning the heavy rainfall caused a landslide that swept away a father and daughter in their home. Unfortunately, Mr Romeo Leachman passed away in this terrible tragedy and his daughter is still missing.

“As firefighters continue the search for her, we are praying that she is found safe, and I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr Leachman,” said Holness in a Facebook post.

Joan Gordon Webley, who contested the St Andrew East Rural seat for the People's National Party in the recent general election, was moved to tears as she received news of the tragedy.

“Right now my heart is broken. I cannot believe that this little young girl is dead. I know the family very well. He was a single dad who tried so hard with this young girl. She did very well in school and I usually help her with school supplies.

“The entire community of Bull Bay is mourning and I am just broken this morning,” said Gordon Webley yesterday.

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