(photo credit: AP)
Every year, Haitians by the hundreds set off in rickety boats hoping to escape poverty by sneaking into the US. The perils became gruesomely apparent Friday when a crowded boat capsized, flinging migrants into shark-infested waters.
Hours after the sailing vessel overturned in moonlit waters a half-mile (less than a kilometer) from shore, rescuers had recovered more than a dozen bodies - some with savage bite wounds - and were searching for more than 60 missing people.
The Turks and Caicos government said the boat was carrying some 160 people and that 78 survivors - 69 males and 9 females - were rescued. Police have recovered 16 bodies, those of 13 females and three males, the government announced.
Some survivors were spotted by a US Coast Guard helicopter clinging to the hull of their overturned vessel, said Petty Officer Third Class Barry Bena. The chopper guided in a boat to get them. A Coast Guard cutter and a C-130 plane also were dispatched to join the search.
"Five or six small boats of ours are out searching. The survivors are being fed," a harried Turks and Caicos official told The Associated Press as bodies were being delivered to South Dock, the main commercial port of this British territory.
Survivors were taken to a detention center on Providenciales, the island that is the urban center of the Turks and Caicos and features an 18-hole golf course, resort hotels, bars and restaurants, and will be sent back to Haiti.
Associated Press writers Vivian Tyson reported from South Dock, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Andrew Selsky from San Juan, Puerto Rico. AP writer Matt Sedensky in Miami contributed to this report.