Two Guatemalan families lose 7 in Friday’s floods
Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
June 6, 2013
In the past two weeks, tornadoes and flooding have hit the Oklahoma City area, from the deadly twister in Moore to the one in El Reno last Friday that also brought flooding to Oklahoma City. More than 40 have been killed, and among them are two Guatemalan families…
They had heard the warnings – conditions were ripe for tornadoes Friday. And the absolute best place to be is underground. Like most, Samuel Cifuentes didn’t have a basement in his Oklahoma City home, though. So when a tornado was initially on track to hit their neighborhood, he scurried with his wife Larinda, her cousin Yolanda Santos and four children into a nearby canal, hiding in a storm drain, with the road above their heads. But the tornado never came. Instead, water rushed down, and swept them away.
“He helped everyone…everyone. No matter who you are. If he had to help you, he would help. With anything, like he would go and pick up my kids from school when I couldn’t.”
Oquischie Oquendo knew Sam since he first arrived in the United States almost fifteen years ago. She never liked soccer, but Sam did – so much so he organized a bunch of teams, for both adults and kids.
“Sundays you can find him at Soccer City at 122nd playing soccer, he would play 2 or 3 games. He was dedicated to his family, he loved his wife and his son.”
Oquishchie says Sam was like a brother to her – she could share all her secrets and know that they wouldn’t go anywhere. And he only wanted the best for his family.
In northwest Oklahoma City, relatives greet a steady stream of friends and neighbors on a recent evening, as they come by to pay their respects, and reminisce about the good times they had with the seven who died. All came here illegally, and all shared the same hopes for America. Octavio Aguilar crossed the Mexican border with Sam nearly 15 years ago.
“We saw people building houses, big houses, tremendously. You can see like, our dream was to send money to Guatemala and build a house.”
Sam’s wife Larinda would often have dinner ready when he got home from his job in the kitchen at the local Charleston’s restaurant. Traditional Guatemalan food – like pollo encebollado – chicken simmered in onions. And Alex was in pre-K at Buchanan Elementary School – a blue ribbon recognizing him as Student of the Month lay across his picture. As Oquiche Oquendo points to the street corner, she shakes her head.
“If you ask any of the neighbors, you could always find him there, playing with his son. If he had to help you and he could help you, you bet he was going to help you.”
Ruben Aragon, President of the local Latino Community Development Agency, says that’s no surprise. He says the community is especially close here, where the economy relies on their help.
“Do a lot more socializing and relating before you get to the business part. It’s just close knit with respect and helping others is a huge part of the culture.”
Octavio also played soccer with Sam every Sunday night, and spent three days looking for the bodies along the banks of the canal. He says he can only move forward, remembering Sam and the six others killed…
“We going to try. We going to try to do that.”
“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be so hard.”
Yolanda Santos’s family was still saving up for their house, but in the past couple months, Sam’s had finished the one they dreamed of in Guatemala. A house they’ll never get to enjoy.