SABANA DE LA MAR, Dominican Republic (AP) — Sixteen bodies have been recovered and 11 people have been rescued in waters off this coastal town after an overloaded boat carrying migrants from the Dominican Republic capsized, rescue officials said Sunday.
Adolfo Javier, regional deputy director for the country's Civil Defense Department, told The Associated Press that the bodies of 11 men and five women have been recovered so far. The migrants apparently were all Dominicans. Survivors say there were no children aboard the boat.
The numbers of the dead are expected to go up, as rescuers search by sea and air for at least 40 more migrants pitched overboard early Saturday when a crowded smuggler's boat capsized. Dozens of people plunged into the water, grabbing at anything that might help keep them afloat.
The illegal migrants were headed to the neighboring U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, a common destination for migrants from the Dominican Republic. Thousands of poor Dominicans try every year to reach Puerto Rico in open boats that are ill-suited to the treacherous journey.
Arismendy Manzueta, a 28-year-old farmer from the northern town of La Jagua who survived the doomed journey, said the hopes of better economic prospects on the U.S. Caribbean island made him risk his life.
"Thing are very bad here. A person works and works and never has nothing," Manzueta said in a public hospital in Sabana de la Mar.
Manzueta said he did not tell his wife, who sat by his hospital bed, that he would try to sneak into the relatively wealthy U.S. territory.
Maria Sobeida Guzman, a 28-year-old mother of three who also survived the journey, said she paid just over $1,000 for the illegal trip to Puerto Rico, where a cousin promised to get her a job giving manicures.
"What is one going going to do? A person wants to improve," said an exhausted Guzman from her hospital bed.
Guzman said there was no warning when the boat overturned and began to break apart in the pre-dawn darkness. She remembered swimming for the shore with every bit of strength she had.
Another survivor, Luis Cortorreal, a 31-year-old painter who swam for six hours until he made it to land, said there were at least 10 women on the overloaded boat, including a pregnant woman he is convinced sank beneath the waves.
Survivors told the northern region's public prosecutor Fremy Reyes that the boat overturned about four hours after setting sail Friday just before midnight.