Jan 162012
Authors: Susan Miller, Degnan and Enrique Flor, The Associated Press

MIAMI — Connie Barron stepped through the glass doors of Concourse J at Miami International Airport on Monday afternoon and immediately saw an overwhelming sight: her three grown daughters and six grandchildren rushing to embrace her.

“We want Abuela! We want Abuela!” the children, ages 2 to 13, had just finished chanting when their grandmother, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., emerged with her boyfriend, Miamian Jesus “Jay’’ Garcia — both 62.

Tears erupted and hugs ensued. The next chapter of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster had arrived on U.S. soil.

“I’m very happy to be here again,” the weary Barron told a throng of reporters who enveloped the two survivors. “I love my daughters, my grandchildren. We are still in shock.”

Added Garcia: “Now I will rest and be with the family. I need to spend time with my family.”
The couple was among the more than 4,000 passengers and crew aboard the massive cruise ship that hit rocks Friday night off Italy’s Tuscan coast, rolled on its side, partially submerged in the Mediterranean Sea.

As of Monday evening, the death total had risen to six. At least 29 were still missing.
Two Americans were among the missing — Minnesota couple Jerry and Barbara Heil, devout Catholics and spent much of their time at church teaching religious classes or delivering sweets and baked goods to parishioners.

Diane Vorland, confined to a wheelchair, told The Associated Press that Jerry Heil, 69, of White Bear Lake, visited her every week for the past three years to give communion and recite the rosary. “On the Thursday before he left,” Vorland told the AP, “he said, ‘The next time you see me I’ll have been to Rome.’”

Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino remained in an Italian jail Monday night. According to Costa, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., he intentionally strayed from the ship’s programmed course into waters too close to shore.

“We are struck by the unscrupulousness of the reckless maneuver that the commander of the Costa Concordia made,” prosecutor Francesco Verusio told reporters. “It was inexcusable.”

The initially calm waters for the first days of the rescue turned angry Monday, causing the rescue operation to be halted for about four hours as the ship moved in shallow waters near the island of Giglio.

The drama escalated when Italy’s environmental minister, Corrado Clini, warned of a potential environmental catastrophe should any of the 500,000 gallons of fuel begin to leak. According to the Guardian newspaper of London, Clini said the ship had run aground in a maritime nature reserve, and was leaking some type of liquid, but it was not known if it was fuel.

Back in Miami, the scene was much more joyful, as family members initially fraught with fear, finally got to reunite with Baron and Garcia.

Two other South Floridians — Homestead residents Karen Camacho and Luis Manny Hernandez — did not arrive on the Alitalia flight from Rome. They told McClatchy Newspapers on Sunday that they were hoping to stay in Rome and enjoy the sights for as long as they were able.

Cruise survivor David Saba, on his honeymoon with wife Denise Saba, posted the following message on Facebook around 1 a.m. Tuesday from Rome:

“Thank you for all your concerns. We love you all very much!” He said the couple has been “very busy” working out travel arrangements.

“See you all back soon.”

Barron, however, said by telephone shortly after landing that she needed to be back in the United States. The owner of a consulting company for home health care, Barron is a native of Camaguey, Cuba.

Garcia also grew up in Cuba before coming to the United States.

“Oh my God, I look so awful,” said Barron, who lost all her belongings except for her cellphone, and wore black sweatpants, a black shirt and a sweatshirt tied around her neck. “But I’m so happy to be in the United States.

“Sometimes you don’t realize the important things in life. I’ll be in an elevator and people don’t say hello. But when we went through that ordeal, when we were in that boat. … At the end, after we disembarked and were on the island, everybody was hugging and kissing each other. We were alive and happy and safe. The important things in life are not material.”

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