Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Body found at flood collapse flats

A woman is missing after heavy rain led to floods and landslides

Rescuers searching for a woman who was trapped under a landslide at her property have found a body.

The woman, thought to be Susan Norman, was discovered after rescue teams spent the day sifting through the wreckage with specialist search dogs. Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service said they had recovered a body from the property, although formal identification had not yet taken place.

Ms Norman, who is in her 60s, had not been heard from since returning there on Thursday night. Specialist investigators from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service picked through the debris at the Veronica flats in Looe, south east Cornwall, after heavy rain triggered the landslide, which engulfed part of the property.

More than a dozen residents were evacuated early on Friday after most of the front-facing wall of the building crumbled away, with debris and mud crashing on to the back of the property from the road behind it. Emergency crews were called to the scene shortly before dawn on Friday after neighbours reported the front-facing part of the Veronica building falling away. Engineers were later called in to make the scene safe before the rescue operation could continue safely.

Retired Avon and Somerset Police officer, Pete Temlett, said: "I got a knock on the door at about 5am from the young man who lives in the top-floor flat (at Veronica). He was obviously in a state of shock and said his house had collapsed and he had to escape. I immediately got dressed and went down to the house with him, but I could see it could collapse at any moment. The windows were popping out and you could see the house was moving.

"My immediate thought was for the safety of the woman who lives in the bottom flat, but I couldn't go in there. I thought if I open a door it could collapse and cause her more injury."

Many of those evacuated were taken to the Guildhall in the town, although they have since found alternative accommodation. It is believed emergency services had to be called in to remove one elderly woman from her home, who a neighbour said was known as a recluse and did not want to leave the property.

Sandplace Road, which runs along the entrance to the properties, has been closed to traffic for months following a landslide nearby just before Christmas. It remains cordoned off, while police have also shut the other main road into Looe. But Mr Temlett, 59, said the tragedy could have been avoided if warnings about blocked drains had been heeded. He said he thought the problem - which he said resulted in the stone wall at the front of the property falling away - had been caused by a combination of a build-up of surface water and clogged drains.

Asked to comment on the possible causes for the landslip, a council spokesman said: "This is a very tragic incident and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the missing woman. The council is working with the emergency services and the Health and Safety Executive to carry out a thorough investigation into the cause of the landslip."

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Dave King said a body was recovered from the property at around 6pm, but was unable to say whether it was that of the missing woman.

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