MIAMI – Gibson Jean-Louis knew the risks of the perilous ocean crossing to the United States: His mother died trying it.
The young Haitian man's relatives waited to see if he survived the sinking of a boat laden with migrants off Florida's coast, but the chances for his rescue faded Friday after the Coast Guard suspended its search.
At least nine people died, including a 1-year-old girl, and 16 others were rescued about 15 miles off the coast of southern Florida when the boat was spotted early Wednesday.
Rescuers had continued searching through Thursday with hopes that some passengers wore life jackets and were carried north on the fast-moving Gulf Stream current.
But they suspended the search after criss-crossing 8,800 square miles of ocean for 31 hours by plane and boat.
Jean-Louis' anguished cousin, Geralden Lubin, said he was in his 20s and had traveled by sea to the U.S. once before as a teenager. He paid the price, too: He was deported more than a year ago, despite having a wife and a toddler living in Florida who are both U.S. citizens.
"Anybody who had the opportunity to get in a boat and try to come to the U.S. would try to do it because of the way things are in Haiti," Lubin said.
Jean-Louis and his wife spoke every day, including Tuesday, Lubin said. Their most recent conversation was cryptic.
His wife told Lubin that Jean-Louis was in a hurry to get off the phone. He couldn't tell his wife where he was, either.
"I'm not in the Bahamas anymore, I'm on a little island," he told his wife. "I'll call you back."
Lubin said she has stayed awake at night, wondering if her cousin might be adrift, in U.S. custody, in some hospital — or worse, possibly a morgue. None of the survivors' or victims' identities has been released.
"He's a father and a husband now. If he feels like he had to do it, then it's something that he had to do," Lubin said.
Federal authorities have said Caribbean migrants are increasingly trying to reach U.S. shores via the Bahamas. It's unknown how many perish.
Other Haitian families, some as far away as Washington, D.C., were equally anxious for word about relatives believed to be aboard, Haitian church and community leaders said.
Since October, the Coast Guard has stopped 1,377 Haitians from trying to get to the U.S., an increase from 972 during the same seven-month period last year.
Four tropical storms and hurricanes battered the Western Hemisphere's poorest country last year, killing 793 people, crippling agriculture and causing $1 billion in damage.
It was still too early to say whether survivors might be returned to Haiti, said Jorge Roig, the Port Everglades Port Director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"We are looking after their safeguarding first, to be sure that their health is taken care of," he said.