Heroes and Survivors of the Tragedy

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Excerpts from an interview by Taniz Ruiz, aired through La Invasora 1400AM from Minneapolis

It was almost 6:00PM and a small group of parents was gathering outside Waite House, in South Minneapolis, to pick up their children who went on a field trip north of the cities that day. Seven minutes later, the phones began ringing franticly; news of an accident involving the bus spread like fire and confusion was the strongest feeling among them. Some of them were receiving calls from their children and were having a hard time trying to understand what was going on. Tears began running and rumors of a serious accident moved mothers to desperation.

Excerpts from an interview by Taniz Ruiz, aired through La Invasora 1400AM from Minneapolis

News was arriving fast and confusion was the only feeling at Waite House. Nobody knew exactly what was going on until suddenly somebody said “The Bridge over the Mississipi River, on 35W collapsed a few minutes ago. It seems like our bus was there at the moment it collapsed.” People ran all over the place, some looking for the radio news, others tune in the TV news.

What parents were watching was the news of the Bridge collapse. A tragedy of major proportions in Minneapolis.

The scenes showed the debris of the Bridge and, at the bottom, a school bus, just beside a crushed semi burning on fire. The Waite House bus.

Those of us watching the news on the TV saw with horror the flames growing up and reaching at least ten feet over the semi. Reporters on TV were trying to explain what happened and what the situation was. The eyes of the whole world turned to that bus and the sixty children inside. Suddenly the news broke out, the children were ok and were being taken to hospitals and medical centers, where they were expected to meet with their anguished parents. All of us at La Prensa Newsroom felt the relief and breathe with ease thinking about those parents.

Authorities and the children began calling the parents. The news was good. Most of them were ok and won’t need to remain hospitalized, though some of them were not. Parents began meeting with their children and suddenly news of hero began spreading.

Jeremy Hernandez, a young Latino working as a volunteer at Waite House, who happened to be inside the bus at the moment of the tragedy, had saved them, risking his own life, despite his own injuries.

We had the chance to talk to one of the children that night and all he said was “Jeremy saved me. He is my friend, my brother!”

On the air talking about the tragedy through La Invasora 1400AM

Our newsroom looked like a war zone. Any outsider would have been impressed by the amount of papers running form hand to hand the incessant phone ringing and the ability of the members of our staff to surf from one phone call to another. It was the afternoon of Thursday, August 2, the day after the tragedy and we were the major connection and correspondents for dozens of radio stations and newspapers all over Latin America and the US. Calls from Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and Guatemala were being received every minute and we were on the air with reporters and analysts from Atlanta, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Arkansas and North Carolina, trying to hold the pieces together when Christian Martinez (12) and his sister Mariela Martinez (9) walked into our offices. They were two of the survivors of the tragedy and the scenes of Jeremy carrying Christian in his arms out of the bus had traveled all over the world.

Rosa Contreras, their mom was getting ready to talk to us, so we decided to drop everything we had going on and joined our friend and mate at LCN Media, Taniz Ruiz, who was on the air by the time. The following are some excerpts of the interview aired that afternoon through La Invasora 1400AM:

“I didn’t notice the bus falling down” said Christian “I thought it was a speed bump or a pothole, but I noticed when we were hitting the bottom and then I realized that the bridge had collapsed. I bruised my left eye, my legs, and my back.” He said while pointing to the stitches in his left eyebrow.

“I was sitting at the front of the bus” said Mariela with a smile, remembering the moment the bus fell into the river.

Asked about how they got out of the bus, Christian said: “It was my friend, Jeremy; he saved us. He broke the back door of the bus and carried me out. I wanted to go back into the bus and look for my sister but I couldn’t; the rest of the people in the bus were trying to get out and they were pushing me away.”

Jeremy Hernandez, the humble hero said in an interview to CNN, later that day, that he did what he did because he felt it was his duty.

“I wanted to go back inside the bus and save my sister” said Christian remembering the emotions he felt during the rescue. “I was calling for her and a few minutes later Jeremy showed up carrying her in his arms.” He said in tears. “Thank God I’m alive and nothing happened to us!” he finished.

They were both taken home that same night, after a couple of hours at the Hospital. They are both receiving help and therapy through Waite House, in an effort to recover from the psychological wounds of the tragedy.

But for Rosa Contreras, the mother of these two survivors, the tragedy has left a clear mark. She cried all the duration of the interview and, in tears, she gave us her recollection of the events in short and simple words: “My son called me and said “Mommy, please help me! Save me!” I was trying to understand what was going on but it was really hard to understand his words, there was a lot of noise and voices and I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. “Come save us!” he said again and the call was lost. I dialed him back and everything I could hear over the phone was children crying and people yelling. I was going crazy and thought that something bad had happened to my daughter Mariela.” She said and broke in tears. The children were ok. They had only a few bruises and they were taken to hospital were they were evaluated. “Thank God for Jeremy and Monica, for saving my children!” she said and broke into tears again.

61 people were inside the bus that evening. They are all alive and well though some of them suffered serious injuries. The children survived and told us a story of tragedy, heroes and survivors.