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11 Cuban rafters saved near Turkey Point; 2 more sought

11 Cuban rafters saved near Turkey Point; 2 more sought
BY CHARLES RABINCRABIN@MIAMIHERALD.COM
10/27/2014 11:06 AM 10/28/2014 7:54 AM

A large rescue operation continued into Monday night for two men missing
after their ramshackle, handmade vessel, which left Cuba about a week
ago, broke apart four miles east of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant
in South Miami-Dade.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard and civilians in pleasure
crafts, searching the still-warm waters between Sands Key and Turkey
Point with boats, helicopters and airplanes, plucked nine men from the
water Monday morning.

Two others swam to Elliott Key.

The group, all adult men, told law enforcement officers that they left
Cuba between five and 10 days ago on a makeshift raft made of wood and
inner tubes, and that it broke into pieces about 10 Sunday night.
Several of the men were found clinging to inner tubes.

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By late Monday, five of the men were aboard the Coast Guard Cutter
Robert Yered, three others who were pulled from the water by Miami-Dade
Fire Rescue — two by helicopter hoists — were in area hospitals, one was
rescued near Fowey Rocks Light, and two more were in the custody of
immigration authorities on Elliott Key.

Coast Guard officials said the search for the two missing men would
continue through Monday night, and then the situation would be
reevaluated. They believe there is a good chance the missing men can
survive through the night because water temperatures remain in the low
80s, with relatively light waves of two or three feet.

“It broke apart, and we’re not sure why it broke apart. Probably because
it’s a small craft and a large sea,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Richard
Hartley. “Water temperatures are pretty warm. There’s a good chance
they’re still clinging to some debris.”

Hartley said authorities recovered several inner tubes, which the
rescued men said they used as flotation devices for their vessel during
the 90-mile trip from Cuba.

“That’s why we don’t believe it was a smuggling operation,” said Coast
Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss.

Several of the men, if Cuban, will probably be able to remain in the
United States because of a 1996 revision to the Cuban Adjustment Act
that expedites the legal permanent residency status of Cubans who reach
the American shore.

According to Hartley, the Coast Guard was informed of the men in the
water shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, then quickly informed Miami and
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, which both sent watercraft. They also contacted
national parks officials and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission, which was also helping in the search.

A signal was also sent out to pleasure craft in the area whose operators
quickly spotted two of the men swimming without any flotation devices,
and pulled them aboard.

The men seemed to be in good condition considering the lengthy, rough
voyage through the Florida Straits, said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Lt. Eric
Lowd.

“I don’t know how long they were in the water,” Lowd said, “but they
looked pretty good. One of the men said it was long and hot and he was
thirsty and cold.”

Officials, still trying to determine where the men began their voyage,
said a steady stream of migrants has reached shore this year.

In September, a group of nine rafters came ashore behind the Mar-Azul
condominium complex in Key Biscayne.

According to U.S. Border Patrol, 2,059 Cubans were intercepted at sea in
the year ending Sept. 30, which was 702 more than the year before. Only
814 Cubans reached shore during the same time period, an increase from
the 359 who made it to the United States the previous year.

Most of the Cubans who make it to the United States cross over from
Mexico, according to Border Patrol. So far this year, 16,247 Cubans have
migrated to the United States through Mexico.

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Alfonso Chardy contributed to this report.

Source: 11 Cuban rafters saved near Turkey Point; 2 more sought | The
Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/deadline-miami/article3400848.html

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