Woman who was in a trailer where 53 migrants died says friend’s advice saved her life: ‘They couldn’t breathe’

Simple advice from a friend to stay by the door may have saved Yenifer Yulisa Cardona Tomás from the fatal fate that befell 53 other migrants when they were trapped in a blistering trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio last week.

The 20-year-old from the capital of Guatemala, who spoke by phone from her hospital bed on Monday, said it was already warm on June 27 when she stepped out of the warehouse on the Texan side of the border with Mexico where she had been waiting and climbed into the rear of the trailer.

Guatemala American migrants dead
Mynor Cardona shows a photo on his cellphone of her daughter, Yenifer Yulisa Cardona Tomas, in hospital during a visit, in Guatemala City, Monday, July 4, 2022.

Oliver de Ros/AP

She said the smugglers confiscated their cell phones and covered the floor of the trailer with what she said was powdered chicken broth, apparently to drop dogs off checkpoints. As she sat in the suffocating caravan with dozens of others, the powder stung her skin.

Cardona Tomás remembered her friend’s warning to stay by the door where it would be cooler, and shared the advice with another friend she’d made on the trip.

“I told a friend not to go back and stay near (the entrance), in the same place without moving,” said Cardona Tomás, who is being treated at the Metropolitan Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. That friend survived too.

As the truck moved on, making additional stops to pick up more migrants, people began to gather at the door like Cardona Tomás. She couldn’t keep up with time.

“People were screaming, some were crying. Mostly women were shouting to stop and open the doors because it was hot, they couldn’t breathe,” she said, still talking a bit after being intubated in the hospital.

She said the driver or someone else in the taxi yelled back that “we were about to arrive, that we had 20 minutes left, six minutes.”

“People asked for water, some ran out, others were carrying some,” she said.

The truck stopped occasionally, but just before she lost consciousness, it drove slowly. She woke up in the hospital.

The driver and three others were arrested and charged by US prosecutors.

Guatemala’s foreign ministry has said 20 Guatemalans were killed in the incident, 16 of whom have been positively identified. Foreign Minister Mario Búcaro said he hoped the first bodies would be repatriated this week.

Cardona Tomás said the truck’s destination that day was Houston, though she ended up going to North Carolina.

“She didn’t have a job and asked me to support her” in migrating to the US, her father, Mynor Cardona, said Monday in Guatemala City, where the family lives. He said he knew of other cases of children who simply left without telling their families and ended up disappearing or dying, so he decided to support her.

He paid $4,000 for a smuggler – less than half the total cost – to bring her to the US. She left Guatemala on May 30, traveling in cars, buses and finally the trailer in Texas.

“I didn’t know she would be traveling in a trailer,” he said. “She told us it would be on foot. It seems the smugglers decided at the last minute to put (her) in the trailer, along with two more friends, who survived. One of them is still in critical condition. status.”

Cardona had kept in touch with his daughter in the morning until June 27. Her last message to him on Monday was at 10:28 a.m. in Guatemala, or 11:28 a.m. in Texas. “We’re leaving in an hour,” she wrote.

It was not until late in the evening that Cardona Tomás’ family heard of the abandoned caravan. It took two more days for relatives in the United States to confirm that she was alive and in the hospital.

“We cried so much,” Cardona said. “I was even thinking where we would hold the wake and bury her. She’s a miracle.’

Guatemala American migrants dead
Mynor Cardona, father of Yenifer Yulisa Cardona Tomas, listens to a question during an interview in Guatemala City, Monday, July 4, 2022.

Oliver de Ros/AP

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