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City Mourns Dead, Investigation Continues Into Building Collapse

July 11, 1988

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ At least 2,000 people gathered at the swept-clean site of a collapsed department store to mourn the 14 dead and hear the disaster and rescue described as ″our finest hour as well as our greatest tragedy.″

″The disaster is now over. The rubble is cleared away. The victims are taken care of and now we are expected to return to life as usual,″ Rabbi Arthur Rutberg said Sunday, a day after the last of the bodies was recovered.

The three-story Amigo Store collapsed Thursday during a torrential rain that prompted numerous passersby to duck inside for cover.

Fourteen people were killed and six were pulled alive from the rubble. At least 47 people were injured. Dozens crawled to safety.

The disaster drew hundreds of volunteers from thoughout the Rio Grande Valley, many of of whom worked with little rest for three days straight, searching for the living and the dead.

″The greatest lesson of this disaster is that Brownsville, Texas, is a great community that can work together as one unified and cooperative entity,″ Rutberg told victims’ relatives, friends and others.

″Our lives and our community can never be the same again not only for those who suffered great losses, but (for) all of us. This has been our finest hour as well as our greatest tragedy.″

The service was intended as an emotional release for the community, said the Rev. Tom Pincelli, another speaker.

″I don’t think we can just walk away. We want to give a psychological conclusion to what transpired,″ he said.

Those at the ceremony included 8-year-old Denise Carerra, who was pulled from the rubble virtually unscathed while her mother and 4-year-old brother perished, and Bernard Levin, the store owner, who did not speak or make himself available to reporters.

Denise’s aunt, Guillermina Silva de Carerra, thanked the crowd tearfully. ″I wish I knew everyone’s names so that we knew who to thank by name. Thank you ... we felt the spiritual and moral support.″

A Brownsville woman at the service said she had watched the rescuers after the accident. ″Inside I feel sad,″ said Martha Mancilla Meyers. ″Nothing like this has ever happened in Brownsville before.″

Officials have said the weight of an estimated 2 inches of rainfall from a 45-minute downpour may have caused the flat roof to give way. Others speculated that the roof’s drainage holes were clogged.

Investigators began examining debris placed in the border city’s dump. Representatives from every agency that participated in the rescue were to gather this week to review the accident and rescue efforts, said Mayor Ygnacio Garza.

A team from the Southern Building Codes Congress International, based in Birmingham, Ala., arrived to assist in the investigation.

Glenn Winslow, an investigator for the organization, said that because the building was destroyed and much of its debris hauled away, a thorough investigation may be impossible.

A damage assessment team of officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency also was in Brownsville to determine whether the city is eligible for disaster assistance.

Meanwhile, Charter Palms Hospital, a mental health center, offered free counseling to everyone involved, including onlookers.

The mayor said city officials are considering building a memorial plaza on the department store site.

″It’s now time to bring this chapter to an end. A little more than three days ago I stood in the street in front of a collapsed building and declared a state of emergency for the city of Brownsville,″ Garza said.

″Tonight I stand here on this spot with all of us and all of you to state that this emergency is now over. Let us go and pray. Let us go in peace. Let us go forth.″

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