Expectation turns to tears for those waiting at airport

Dominican Republic
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The Independent US

Shock and anguish swept through the Dominican Republic as word spread that 150 people from this impoverished Caribbean nation were on board the American Airlines flight that crashed in New York yesterday.

Relatives and friends arriving at Santo Domingo's Las Americas international airport to meet passengers on flight 587 were convulsed with grief after news of the crash reached them.

"Oh, my God," said Miriam Fajardo, crying after being told that her sister, Norma Lilian Baloi, and three nephews were aboard the flight, which was due to land at midday. "I hadn't seen them in eight years. Now they're gone."

"Not the child, please not the child," said Germania Brito, who was waiting for her sister Mariana Flores, her sister's husband, John, and their two-year-old son, Isaias. "May God help us all."

Some people waiting for the flight to arrive collapsed with shock at the news. Authorities escorted relatives into a separate area of the airport.

The Dominican President, Hipolito Mejia, said that he was full of "grief and shock" over the crash of the plane, which was carrying 255 passengers and crew.

Mr Mejia, speaking from the presidential palace, added that he was in constant contact with the Dominican consulate in New York. The consulate had informed him that about 150 Dominicans were on board, the President said.

Some time before midday, relatives began arriving at the airport; by noon, more than 100 had gathered there. Many had travelled to the capital from the countryside. Most were unaware that the airliner had already crashed, and broke down in anguished cries when they were told.

One man, Jose Paveras, was weeping as his hoped-for reunion with his wife and daughter turned into an anguished wait.

Maria Flores said that she was waiting for news of her sister, who was meant to be travelling on the flight.

Authorities in Santo Domingo said that they could not yet release the names of those on board flight 587.

Flights from Santo Domingo to New York were cancelled, but aircraft to Miami were still running. An American Airlines spokeswoman in Santo Domingo said that some people had cancelled reservations for flights to Miami after hearing of the crash.

The Dominican Republic is a country of some 8 million people that shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti. One of the poorest nations in the Caribbean, it is also the most popular tourist destination in the region. Many Dominicans have emigrated over the years to the United States, with as many as one million people of Dominican origin living in the country.

Home visits by migrants are eagerly awaited by their families, not just because of the reunions but because people save up money to bring home consumer goods that are cheaper or more readily available in the United States such as televisions, clothes and shoes.

President Mejia travelled to New York last month to show solidarity with the city's Dominican community after the terrorist attacks of 11 September. He attended a mass at a church in upper Manhattan that forms a centre for the community, and urged people to make their usual trips home to be with their families for a while at a time of anxiety in New York.

The last serious plane crash involving the Dominican Republic was in February 1996, when a Dominican Alas Nacionales Boeing 757 carrying 189 people plunged into waters off the Dominican Republic, killing everyone on board.

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