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Relatives Wait, Hope With PM-Roof Collapses, Bjt

July 8, 1988

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Dr. Jose Carrera could only utter the names of his missing wife and children before burying his face in his hands and crying.

The physician from Matamoros, Mexico, sat outside the Brownsville Civic Center late Thursday, praying that his wife and two children had survived the collapse of the Amigo Store.

A third child, daughter Charlene, 7, was waiting at the store’s entrance when the roof caved in, said Ruth Garcia, a family friend.

The girl was treated in a San Benito hospital and released early today. She told her father that her mother, Letty, 37, sister Denise, 8, brother Israel, 4, and her aunt, Rosalinda Carrera, were at a cash register paying when the disaster hit.

Carrera was riding a roller-coaster of emotion, as at one point this morning it appeared his family had survived.

″We believe there is a possibility they are not dead, because they were in the center, very close to the street, under something metal,″ said Ms. Garcia, who accompanied Carrera from Matamoros, just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville.

″I feel very happy that they are alive and I hope they can get them out soon,″ Carrera said this morning.

But it was not clear, as rescue workers rescued some of those trapped alive in the wreckage, whether any of the survivors were members of Carrera’s family.

About 200 people, most from Mexico, had traveled to the quickly organized Civic Center information area by midnight to learn what they could about loved ones who might have been caught in the rubble, said Diana T. Lerma, a Red Cross volunteer.

″They’ve been pretty calm. We are trying to be very cautious,″ Ms. Lerma said.

For those who were told their families and friends did not survive, a social worker, nurse and priest were standing by to help, said the Rev. Mike Scifert, a Catholic priest.

″At this point, there is nothing you can say. You just listen,″ he said. ″One guy was there to fix a leak in the roof, and the roof fell in on him.″

The chaos of the accident was worsened by the difficulty authorities had in getting information to relatives,″ Scifert said.

″A lot of people are confused. Many people live in Matamoros and don’t have phones, so there is no way to get in touch with them,″ he said.

Selma Torres thought it was a sick joke when a caller telephoned her lab at Brownsville Medical Center to say the roof had collapsed at the store, where her mother is a cashier.

But minutes later, the same woman called again, in tears.

″I just took off from the lab,″ Ms. Torres said. ″We drove all the way as close as we could get until we were four blocks from there. I ran the rest of the way,″ she said.

″Everything was fine until I saw the building and said, ’Oh my God, no one’s survived.″

Ms. Torres and her family were lucky.

Her mother, Juanita Torres, had escaped with apparently minor injuries and was back at Brownsville Medical Center being X-rayed.

Arnold Torres had a chance to talk to his wife briefly before doctors began examining her.

″There were a lot of people shopping at that time because it was raining. They were shopping, buying umbrellas,″ Torres said his wife told him.

Torres heard about the building collapse on the radio and drove 25 minutes to reach the hospital. After phone calls to his daughter at the medical center, he determined his wife was well. Later, he saw the rubble.

″I’m just glad someone else had told me she was all right before I saw the building,″ he said. ″Truthfully, I didn’t think there were any survivors.″

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