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Woman dies after carport collapses in Weymouth

WEYMOUTH — A 29-year-old mother was killed Thursday afternoon when a carport collapsed on her, stunning neighbors and prompting the mayor to urge constituents to remove snow and ice from their roofs.

The 16-foot-by-20-foot wood frame carport at 18 Harlem Road fell onto Jenna Flaherty shortly before 2 p.m., according to the Weymouth Fire Department and law enforcement officials. She was pronounced dead at South Shore Hospital.

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“The carport appeared to have collapsed pancake style,” said a Fire Department statement, adding that Flaherty “was found on the ground in the area of the steps and entry to the house.”

Authorities were alerted to the accident by a 911 call from a neighbor.

Officials are investigating what caused the carport to come down, but a spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey’s office said in an e-mail that the snow load on the roof was “clearly a factor being looked at.”

Mayor Susan M. Kay said in a phone interview that the snow “certainly compounded whatever other issues might have been there to have it collapse.”

The flat roof remained visible on the ground next to the home throughout the afternoon, as a State Police investigator took photos of the debris and Weymouth police were posted in front of the driveway.

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A thin sheet of ice and snow covered the roof.

Jeffrey E. Richards, chief building inspector for the city, said it appeared that between 4 and 6 inches of heavy snow was on the roof when it fell.

“It was a combination of rain and snow that caused the loading of the roof, which was a contributing factor to the collapse,” he said.

Kay urged the public to ensure that snow and ice were removed from roofs to help prevent similar accidents during the remainder of what has been a punishing winter with frequent snowfall.

“All of that weight is going to do some damage, and in this case it was fatal damage,” Kay said. “It was just a terrible, terrible accident.”

Flaherty’s relatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.

James Coull, 56, who lives in Weymouth, told reporters at the scene that Flaherty was “like a daughter” to him and that she lost her own mother at a young age. Coull said he acted as a father figure in Flaherty’s life.

“She was doing the right thing,” Coull said. “She was a good kid.”

Jenna Flaherty

Jenna Flaherty

He added that Flaherty’s 10-year-old son, Anthony, is living with an aunt in Braintree, and that Flaherty had lived in the Weymouth home with her grandfather, William Flaherty.

Neighbors said the two shared the red, one-story residence with the homeowner, identified as Bill Hearn, who uses a wheelchair.

“I wasn’t much surprised that it collapsed because they’re not too sturdy,” said neighbor Paul Horigan, 75, a retired Weymouth firefighter. “We’ve had such a tremendous amount of snow, and you try to get off what you can reach with a snow rake, but it can be very dangerous.”

Another neighbor, Rose Lanahan, 77, said, “We have piles of snow that are 4 feet high.’’

She said she “heard a large bang and that must have been the roof caving in.”

Flaherty’s death came on the same day that the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency advised homeowners to clear roofs of snow and ice to avoid damage.

In a statement, the agency said that fluffy snow on top of homes can act as a sponge and absorb falling sleet and rain, which adds weight and stress to structures that do not drain properly.

Flat commercial roofs are the most at risk, because the slush has nowhere to run off, according to the statement.

“This is something to be aware of,” agency spokesman Travis Hengen said in a telephone interview.

Matthew J. Lee of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jacqueline Tempera contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Catalina Gaitan can be reached at catalina.gaitan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @catalina_gaitan.

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