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In Aftermath of Fire, 87 Sad Stories Unfold

March 27, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ One played soccer. One sewed clothes. One never saw the infant son he left behind in Honduras. The Happy Land Social Club fire was not a single catastrophe but 87 - one for each victim.

The stories unfold, one after another, as families of the victims arrange funerals here and in Central America. At a makeshift clearinghouse at a school near the burned-out club, they seek help from government and relief organizations even as they mourn.

Herman Gamoneda remembered his cousins, 23-year-old Marco Gamoneda and 18- year-old Leni, as brothers who were also inseparable friends.

″They did everything together. They were always together. They worked together, they were going to school together. A couple of nice guys,″ he said.

Their brother, Jose, showed four photographs of Marco and Leni in their soccer uniforms - they played together on the Falcons club in the Bronx - and relaxing at home. In one, Marco clowned with another teammate.

They had arrived in the United States from Honduras two years ago and both attended at Bronx Community College. Herman Gamoneda said they had never gone out together at night - until Saturday.

Their bodies will return, together, to Honduras for burial.

So will the body of Naomi Luque DeGarcia, 43. She had been a school teacher in Honduras for 21 years and had taken a six-month leave. She had come to New York two months ago to visit a cousin; her husband and four children, ranging from age 2 1/2 to 17, were grieving back in Puerta Tela.

There were so many others.

Minerva Ramos Duprey, 51, was a bartender at the club who worked days as a seamstress. ″She was full of life,″ said a niece, Alicia Bocachica. Nicholas Zapata Guadron, 22, was a construction worker who dreamed of buying a house and running a little store in Honduras.

Lester Orlando Cruz, in his early 20s, had come to New York 14 months ago, leaving behind his pregnant wife in Potrerillo Cortes, Honduras. She subsequently gave birth, but ″he never saw his baby son. Only in pictures. He wanted to send for his wife and kid,″ said Carmen Rodriguez, a friend.

Juan Carlos Colon had been in New York since 1983. He was 18, a senior at a Manhattan high school, a good soccer player.

He wanted to be a video producer, and he used the video art to fight drug abuse. He was ″a good, gentle boy. You’d often hear him warning young people to stay away from drugs,″ said his stepmother, Miriam Colon.

He was at Happy Land that Saturday night with his girlfriend, Alba Romero Escoto. She, too, perished; she, too, was an 18-year-old immigrant from Honduras, a high-school senior who worked weekends as a home attendant.

There was Israel Laurino, a Vietnam veteran who rarely went out; Francisco Romero, 33, a janitor who left behind six kids and a pregnant wife; Elias Colon, owner of the club, a 20-year veteran of the Merchant Marine.

Each left behind a legion of mourners. Lester McNab, 24, stood across the street from the social club on Tuesday and stared - he lost a dozen friends in the fire, and had planned to be there that night.

″I don’t know how it could happen. I can’t explain it. It’s not rational. I’m just here standing in shock,″ he said.

A young woman shouted out that her cousin was among the dead. ″I was here at 12:30 ( the night of the fire). I left here at 12:30. When I woke up, my mother told me she was gone,″ she said.

Screaming and crying, she collapsed steps away from where her cousin died.

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