Two-month-old girl dies in collapsed house; twin sister survives tragedy
A firefighter carries the body of the two-month-old girl who was trapped under rubble after her house collapsed in Stony Hill, St Andrew on Tuesday. (Photo: Llewellyn Wynter)

The parents of a two-month-old girl are now left with the heart-rending task of having to tell her, when she gets older, that her twin sister was the only member of the family who did not survive when their house collapsed.

"As long as you're a parent you will feel this [type of] hurt. I really sympathise with the family," a policeman at the scene of the tragedy in Bowden Hill, St Andrew, said Tuesday morning.

The Jamaica Observer was told that the twins, a sibling, and their parents were inside the house when it collapsed about 6:00 am. The now-deceased baby was trapped under rubble. Hours later, she was eventually located after more than 30 firefighters used all the equipment available to them to search for her beneath the pile of concrete and steel.

One resident said she was shaken, especially due to the events leading up to when she learned of the tragedy.

Firefighters dig through rubble on Tuesday in Stony Hill where a housr collapsed, killing a two-month-old girl. (Photo: Llewellyn Wynter)

"I feel it to my heart! I woke up and was going to take my daughter to the doctor, because she said her heart was hurting her. I wanted to put on my clothes and it was a struggle. I heard the fire brigade and was wondering where it was going. It was when we came down in the car and reached [here] we saw what was happening," the woman told the Observer.

"I really, really feel it for the family. They said the babies were in an incubator after they were born two months ago. They just came home from hospital recently," she added.

One firefighter told the Observer that the search for the baby was very tedious.

"One of the times we heard something like a baby, so we stopped searching and started to listen, but the sound went away and so we continued searching," he said.

Firefighters searching for the two-month-old girl who was trapped under rubble after the house in which she lived in Stony Hill, St Andrew, collapsed on Tuesday morning. The baby did not survive. (Photo: Llewellyn Wynter)

"While the police didn't play a role in the physical search, they played their part because we were overrun by the crowd. They kept the people out of the space while we worked," the firefighter said, adding that residents assisted them during the process.

The Observer learned that the mother of the children is an employee of Bowden Hill Primary and Infant School located in the area. Senior teacher at the school, Orlene Gordon-Dennie, who was among onlookers at the scene, said that her principal will have to put grief counselling measures in place for the students and staff as soon as possible.

"For us, as teachers, we really could not function knowing that all of this was happening. We have students coming from this space so we just wanted to know they are okay. It is sad to know what happened. This will take a toll on our students. They are shaken up and asking what is happening, and if this can happen again," she said.

She claimed that the house collapsed because of the earthquake two weeks ago, coupled with heavy rains over recent weeks which saturated the soil.

The tragedy, meanwhile, has given rise to questions about current building practices in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston and St Andrew.

Officials, including Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams, who visited the scene said that the soil appeared to have failed to hold the structure up and reminded that all building constructions, whether private or commercial, must receive the proper approvals to protect the lives of citizens.

"This is indeed tragic. It seems as if the soil failed. We have been having heavy rainfall and the soil is obviously saturated. We always urge people to tender their applications for approval whenever they are constructing. You will be guided by the engineering department of the municipality, and the process we go through is rigid to make sure our buildings are sustainable," Williams said.

Xavier Chevannes, city engineer at Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, said he noticed that the house had improper reinforcement, and porous concrete helped to compromise the building.

Firefighters from Stony Hill, Half-Way-Tree and York Park stations were involved in the search.

Patrick Gordon, senior superintendent in the Kingston and St Andrew division of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, said the call alerting them to the incident came in at 6:23 am, and firefighters were immediately mobilised.

"The terrain was challenging. There are heavy boulders, as you would have seen, but we used the relevant equipment to breach the area. I must thank the residents who assisted. This is a tragic loss, very emotional. No parent would want to experience this kind of situation," he said.

BY JASON CROSS Observer staff reporter crossj@jamaicaobserver.com

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