By Daniel Massey
From barber shops to bodegas in Corona, Dominicans were glued to television sets tuned in to Spanish language news describing the horrific crash of American Airlines Flight 587 Monday morning in Belle Harbor on the Rockaway peninsula.
For residents of Corona, home to some 10,000 Dominicans, the disaster struck particularly close to the heart. Many of the 246 passengers aboard the doomed airliner had roots in the Dominican Republic. The flight, well-known to many New York-area Dominicans who use it as a link to their homeland, took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport for Santo Domingo.
In a crowded apartment on 103rd Street and 34th Avenue, more than 30 family members and friends gathered to mourn the loss of Dominga Matias, a mother of six who perished on board the flight. The factory worker was going home to visit family, said her son, who did not give his name.
At a bodega on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 103rd Street, Dionysio Abreau sadly recounted how his co-worker of four months, Maximo Valerio, was on the doomed flight. With one eye on a television report describing the scene in the Rockaways, he said, “he was traveling on that flight this morning.”
Junior Liriano, a barber at Los Hermanos Lucky Barber Shop on 37th Avenue, said reports had trickled into the shop all day about clients who perished on board Flight 587. By 2:30 p.m. he said he had heard of three people who were believed to be on the flight.
Victor Mercado, who owns Isabel’s Laundry up the block from the barber shop, said he knew somebody who lost a father and brother in the crash.
At Florquidiaz Confecciones, a bridal shop on 103rd Street, owners Abel and Floridas Mendoza told of averting disaster. Abel had bought a ticket for Flight 587 to visit his mother in Santo Domingo, but postponed his trip until Monday night because there was too much work to do in the shop.
“My wife is talking on the phone to my mother right now,” he said. “My six brothers all called from the Dominican Republic. The whole world called because they thought I was on the flight.”
Asked how she felt, Floridas Mendoza let out a deep sigh of relief.
Even those who were not directly affected by the crash were shaken up by news of the disaster. Like all Americans, Dominicans said they felt unsettled by the World Trade Center attack. As she waited for her lunch at Tipico Dominicano, a restaurant on 103rd Street, Angela Rodriguez said many parents had sent children back to the Dominican Republic because they feared for their safety in New York.
News of Monday’s crash rattled a community that was finally beginning to heal from the terrorism of Sept. 11.
Carlos Pena, who helps run MCA Service Agency on 39th Avenue, said he had sold countless tickets for Flight 587 over the years, but he expected bookings to drop significantly because of the crash. “I’ve had customers calling all day,” he said. “I’ve had clients come in crying.”
He said the crash will have a devastating effect on Corona. “If you live in this neighborhood, you will know somebody or know somebody who knew somebody who was on that airplane,” he said. “This is a very close-knit community.”
Dominicans, who make up nearly 22 percent of Corona’s population, said they frequently travel back and forth between New York and their homeland, and some said they had planned to take American Airlines flights home for the holidays. Mercado said he traveled to Santo Domingo last month to visit his ailing father.
Sylvia Pena, a manager at Dynamix Travel Corp. on Roosevelt Avenue, said she frequently sells airline tickets to Dominicans who travel home.
“We just started to recover from Sept. 11,” she said. “Now we’re going to go down again. A lot of people are scared to fly.”
In Tipico Dominicano, Rodriguez watched Spanish language news of the crash. “Dominicans were already scared,” she said. “Now, forget it. My sister was supposed to go back to Santo Domingo, but she’s not going now.”