Confusion, bitterness lie in Ismael's wake

The Associated Press

TOPOLOBAMPO, Mexico At a waterfront community center in this modest fishing village, Alma Libertad and dozens like her wait for news any news of their relatives, missing at sea now for a week.

They share the confusion and bitterness left in the wake of Ismael, the season's deadliest hurricane, which swept through Baja California and across the Gulf of California to surprise scores of fishermen and sink at least 50 boats.

The storms arrived hours before the fishermen expected it. So far, 91 deaths have been reported here and at other ports in the region.

''Why didn't the army and the navy comb the whole area immediately?' asked Mrs. Libertad. ''There were people out there, the helicopters saw them. Put me in one of those boats and I'll go find my brother.''

She claimed the military didn't act faster because the fishermen were poor, working-class people.

The navy contends it had to delay the search until high winds and blinding rains from the hurricane subsided.

Her brother, Jose Angel Ramos Gaspar, had been a fisherman for 28 years. One member of his eight-man crew has been confirmed dead, but she still had hopes he is alive.

''Dead? Nooooo,'' she said. ''We still don't know about him.''

All of the missing boats and identified dead had come from other ports to Los Mochis, in the northern state of Sinaloa, to harvest the rich shrimp beds at the beginning of the season.

Rosa Maria Valdez, a volunteer worker, said that 230 boats had taken refuge in Topolobampo, and 85 more went to ports to the north.

''As long as the (search) boats go out, and the helicopters keep flying, (the relatives) will keep waiting here,'' she said ''They want the missing to appear, as ugly as it may be.''

One boat that took refuge was the Iliana, a 70-foot shrimper on the north Pacific coast of Mexico.

Joaquin Quiros Mayon, 31, one of three of the eight-man crew to survive, recalled the ordeal.

''There was a lot of wind. We came into the port looking for safety but there was no room to dock, there were boats in here from all over,'' Quiros said. ''The wind was like a pressure hose on the boat, and it rolled over. We went into the water without life jackets; there was no time.''

He and two others swam to shore. Three are known to have drowned and two, including the captain, are missing.

''I kept thinking to myself 'I'm going to save myself, calm, calm,''' he said in an interview on a launch that ferried him and two visitors to the overturned hull of the Iliana.

Quiros says he will return to sea.

''I am a fisherman by heritage, my grandfather and great-grandfather were tuna fishermen, shrimpers, sardine fishermen. I have two brothers on tuna boats.''

Nine new bodies were found on Monday, but none yesterday. Mexican navy helicopters crisscrossed the Gulf again yesterday, but they spotted only a whale, a school of porpoises and dozens of shrimpers that had put back out to sea.

Read Next Article