Brunilda Jimenez was making coffee yesterday morning when she got a frantic call from family in the Dominican Republic - her sister, Carmen Medina, was flying to Santo Domingo and no one was certain if her plane was the one that crashed minutes after take-off from New York.
As she watched the news on television, she got the call confirming her worst fears - her sister was on American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300, that had departed John F. Kennedy Airport bound for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
"I don't know what to say. It doesn't make sense. I don't know what to make of it," Jimenez, a custodian for the Palm Beach County School Board, said from her West Palm Beach home.
She spoke to her sister Sunday night.
"She was very happy because she loves to spend time there," Jimenez said. "She was always scared of flying, but she was even more scared after what happened on Sept. 11."
Medina, 54, would often flee the harsh winters of New York for the much warmer climate of the Dominican Republic. Medina's ex-husband, Alberto Angel Martinez, also was on the flight. Dominicans throughout South Florida reacted with horror and sadness yesterday as they worried about whether their relatives and friends were on the plane.
"I froze. I panicked," said accountant Gisela Sanchez, a Weston resident who lived in Manhattan for 13 years. News of the tragedy came to Sanchez at the office where she was spending the Veterans Day holiday catching up on work. "It is very, very sad."
An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Dominicans live in South Florida, many of them having relocated from New York City. In Broward County alone, there are about 11,200 Dominicans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Dominicans make up about 2.6 percent of the Hispanic population in Palm Beach County.
"Today, many fathers, mothers and children in the Dominican Republic are in mourning," said Tomas Otaqo, director of the Dominican Republic tourism office in Miami. "There's a sense of national pain in the face of this tragedy."
Inside Ideal Restaurant, a Dominican eatery in West Palm Beach, customers talked about the tragic event as they watched the Spanish-language news reports.
Cledia Izquierdo, who was born in Manhattan but raised in the Dominican Republic, said she had been trying to reach family members who live five minutes from John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens.
"The plane fell where they live," Izquierdo said. "I called all morning but couldn't get through.
"We are very concerned about everything, what's going on and what really happened," Izquierdo said. "We are not sure if the news is telling the truth or what is really happening."
"New York is the capital for Santo Domingo," said Dircia Solval, who manages Ana Cahona, a store that sells products from the Dominican Republic.
She said their love for New York is evident back home. Residents of one Santo Domingo neighborhood have dubbed it "Dominican York" because many people with New York ties live there.
"I've been crying all day," Solval said. "It hit me very hard. I haven't event been able to eat yet because of my nerves."
Solval said she didn't think anyone she knew was on the plane but she worried nonetheless about other families.
"This hurts all Dominicans," she said.