Death of father, daughter leaves community devastated
Emotions were high among residents of Shooters Hill in East Rural St Andrew yesterday, as they tried to come to grips with the tragic death of 15-year-old Saneeka Leechman and her 42-year-old father, Romeo Leechman. On Friday, land slippages caused by heavy rainfall claimed the lives of the father and daughter after their board house collapsed.
Romeo’s mother, Beverly Binns, said her entire world has been crushed by the death of her only son and his only child.
“Mi naa nuh belly bottom, mi naa nuh heart! Everything tun upside dung right now, everything!” she lamented.
Binns told The Sunday Gleaner that she had been unable to reach Romeo for a month and was looking forward to the plans Saneeka was making to surprise him for his birthday in November.
Romeo’s body was retrieved on Friday, while the frenetic search continued for Saneeka into yesterday, with the faint hope for a miracle.
From as early as 5:30 a.m., residents resumed searching while awaiting the arrival of rescue crews from the army or fire service.
The bellowing of one neighbour – “Weh the soldier? Weh the police? Weh the fireman?” – was echoed by many, and amplified their collective grief.
The residents were angry that the Jamaica Fire Brigade left before finding and retrieving the body of Saneeka on Friday. Hours after members of the St Andrew community had toiled without success in their own rescue operation yesterday morning, a state response team arrived on the scene at around 10:45.
Acting deputy commissioner in charge of operations, Alrick Hacker, said that Friday’s search was called off at nightfall because of safety concerns about more land slippages caused by the evening rain.
“We were coordinating our operations to start with the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and all efforts were made. Because it’s the same group that was here yesterday afternoon (Friday), we had to make sure that they were refreshed and ready to work,” said Hacker.
Armed with shovels and wheelbarrows, firefighters teamed up with men from the community to remove the mud and rubble that covered the collapsed board house. Despair and resignation set in as they discovered the body of the teen lying among her books.
CRIES OF GRIEF
Heart-wrenching cries erupted from family members at the glimpse of Saneeka’s body. A pledge by Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie that the Government would assist with burial costs was little comfort amid the deluge of tears.
St Andrew East Rural Member of Parliament Juliet Holness said that the constituency had been affected by about 20 land slippages on Friday, as steady and sometimes torrential rain drenched Jamaica since last week.
“Where we had the incident, that is marl and clay, and so I would like to caution all my constituents, and Jamaicans in general, that we should take a look at where we build, even when we can’t afford the land that we want to settle on. We want to ensure that, above all, we protect life,” said Holness.
The MP’s caution was echoed by Hacker, who warned residents living in areas prone to landslides to evacuate until it was safe enough to conduct a proper assessment.
“They are being advised by the disaster coordinator from the ministry office, and they will be continuing their dialogue to move and relocate who they can,” said Hacker, who further urged the community to establish a watch team to make immediate reports to the fire brigade if similar tragedies occur.