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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 16:58 GMT
New York's Dominican community grieves
Mayra Jimenez, right, sister of Sobeira Cedeno who died in the crash
NYC Dominicans even had a song for their favourite flight
Megan Lane

Almost all the passengers who perished when American Airlines Flight 587 spiralled to earth on Monday were of Dominican descent, creating yet more new widows, widowers and orphans in Manhattan.

A makeshift memorial for crash victims in Washington Heights
Makeshift memorials have been set up in Washington Heights

Manuel, Rosa, Hipolito, Carmen. Just a few names from the list of those killed when Flight 587 crashed within minutes of take-off.

Most of the victims from that first flight of the day to Santo Domingo had Dominican roots. And at least half had made their home in Washington Heights in north Manhattan, New York's largest Dominican community.

It is a heavy loss, and a loss borne by a community already grieving for friends and family members killed in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center.

Forty-one Dominicans lost their lives in that tragedy just two months before this latest affront.

Five-fold grief

Some have lost up to five family members in one fell swoop. Others have finally reunited with far-flung relatives - some of whom they have never met before - under the gravest of circumstances, to bury a loved one snatched so unexpectedly.

Votive candles and messages to the dead dot the pavements of Washington Heights and, in an echo of 11 September, friends and relatives have posted photos of lost loved ones in makeshift memorials.

Black, purple and white mourning banners are strung along a park fence on Amsterdam Ave. Now the list of dead is complete, each person's name will be written on a ribbon pinned to the banner.

Mourning banners on park fence in Amsterdam Ave, Manhattan
Mourning banners in a park in Manhattan
On Wednesday night, the community began nine days of candle-lit walks and novenas, or devotions, dedicated to the victims.

Under the glare of television lights as the vigil was relayed live to the Dominican Republic, mourners passed around candles and held hands for comfort.

Although this ritual is traditionally carried out in the homes of the bereaved, community leaders felt there was a need to come together to mark the passing of so many.

Tearful reunions

This is a community which retains strong links with those many miles away in the Caribbean. Many of the victims were flying back to visit relatives, to get married, to buy property with dollars earned in hair salons, boutiques and taxi cabs in New York.

Several had escaped death when the twin towers collapsed, and had hoped for a break from the grief and anxiety in New York.

And Flight 587 is the one that Dominicans here traditionally take. The morning flight to Santo Domingo is so popular, there is a merengue song about a plane-load of happy and hopeful people heading south for the holidays.

Now the singer-songwriter Kinito Mendez plans to rework the number as a tribute to his dead country folk; and the flight, renumbered as 619, has resumed the three-and-a-half-hour trip south.

"It is the flight we all take," says Ivan Dominguez, who teaches Dominican culture at the Alianza Dominicana community centre. "If you can only go for a little while, a morning flight gives you a whole day to do what you want."

Losing the breadwinner

Alianza Dominicana has become a focal point for those in need of support and assistance, be it practical, emotional or financial. More than 60 families have so far contacted the centre.

Iris Mercedes Joshua before boarding a flight to New York in Santo Domingo
This woman's relative cheated death in the WTC disaster but died in the plane crash
Some need a counsellor, others a translator to help with the bureaucracy of death - and those who lost a breadwinner sometimes need food. In this community, unemployment is high and wages can often be low.

"So many people that were sustaining the homes died. This is really a crisis for the Dominican community in New York," says the centre's deputy director, Miriam Mejia.

Among them was one of her dear friends, Ruben Rodriguez, a marine who had returned to New York on Sunday after seven months in Afghanistan. Having sent his family on holiday to the Dominican Republic, Ruben was en route to be reunited with his wife and three young sons.

His brother, Felipe, had driven him to the airport that fateful day. "He was so happy he was going to see his family, his sons, after being so long overseas," Felipe said.

But the man who had survived the war zones of Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia and Afghanistan never made it, perishing instead on a routine commercial flight.


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15 Nov 01 | Americas
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