Among the 18 dead from last week’s powerful storms in the Midwest were nine Guatemalans who were members of three separate families.
One of the families is believed to have left their Oklahoma City home when the storms rolled through the area and then walked to a nearby drainage ditch where they thought they would be safe. While the family was not affected by the high winds, a surge of powerful water from the accompanying rains hurled them through the dark, concrete tunnel where they were taking shelter.
Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard said that the bodies were swept five miles downstream. Among those killed were four children, said the brother of one of the victims, according to a local ABC affiliate.
"I have an emptiness in my heart because I've lost my sister," said the brother, who did not give his name.
While Oklahoma medical examiner’s office has not released the names of the dead, Guatemalan newspaper La Prensa Libre reported that among those killed were 37-year old Yolanda Santos Solís and her three children, 8-year old Brandon Sarat Santos, 6-year old Leslie Sarat Santos, and 4-year old Christopher Sarat Santos.
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Another family – Samuel Cifuentes, Floridalma Santos Cucúm y Alexander Cifuentes Santos – were killed when the vehicle they were driving in through the storm crashed.
A third Guatemalan family, María Paul Martín and a 5-month-old infant, Rey Xicaj Paul, were also killed in the storm – though the circumstance of their death is unclear.
Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina sent out a message on his Facebook account mourning the loss of life and offering assistance to the families through the Central American nation’s consulate in Houston.
"My heartfelt condolences to the families," Pérez Molina wrote on the social media site."The government is assisting the families of the deceased via the Guatemalan consulate staff."
The consulate in Guatemala confirmed that four Guatemalans were still missing in the wake of the storm and others were injured.
Oklahoma officials continued searching for the missing bodies earlier this week near Oklahoma’s Deep Fork Creek and in the vicinity of Interstate 44. On Monday, rescuers found the body of a yet to be identified little girl, but she is believed to be Leslie Sarat Santos.
"Almost like a toy, she was on the water like floating," Susano Cifuentes, a friend of the family, told Oklahoma’s News9.com.
A spokeswoman for Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office, Amy Elliott, said the dead included 12 adults and 6 children. Seven remained unidentified.
Oklahoma City has the 18th largest Guatemalan population in the U.S., with over 4,200 Guatemalans in the city of over half a million.