They gathered under a tree and waited. And prayed. And waited some more.
But almost 48 hours after the partial collapse of a Miami-Dade College garage, there was still no official word about the fate of Robert Budhoo, a Tamarac electrician who had been working on the project. The massive 13-hour effort to rescue Budhoo had ended by about 1 a.m. Thursday, shifting to a mission of recovery.
Family members were not ready to let go.
“He is a fighter. If he is alive, he is going to stay alive, I know that much,” said Budhoo’s nephew, Ranjie Budhoo. “If he can find a way to stay alive, he will stay alive.”
Budhoo, 53, who worked for Stryker Electric, was among the casualties of a horrific midday accident at the college’s West Campus in Doral, that claimed the lives of three other workers, including Samuel Pérez, a devout anti-Castro activist whose legs were amputated some 12 hours after the accident, only for him to die a few hours after the excruciating extraction.
The family of victim Carlos Hurtado DeMendoza, 48 , a concrete setter, declined to comment. Jose Calderon, 60 , who also died, worked more than 30 years in construction and had two children, according to WSVN.
Members of Budhoo’s family — 17 adults and two children — were clustered under a tree near the accident site, frustrated at the slow pace of recovery.
In the hours after the collapse, they were kept about 200 feet away and spent much of the day pacing between a parking lot and a Hampton Inn, half a block away, which became a makeshift headquarters for worried loved ones.
Amid the agonizing wait for news, family members described Budhoo as a hard-working family man, a father of three children and a grandfather of five.
“In Christmas, we all get together as a family and we go from house to house,” said Ranjie Budho. “Thanksgiving, too, we are all together.”
Donovan Budhoo said his brother was working on the fifth floor of the west side of the building when it fell. He had worked with Stryker Electric for many years on similar projects but recently been laid off and went back home to Jamaica for awhile. He returned to South Florida and began working on this project in September.
Pérez, 53, a concrete truck manager for a project subcontractor, was born in New York City to a Cuban mother who moved the family back to the island when he was a small child. Although an American citizen by birth, he did not return to the United States to live until the mid-90s when he joined a brother, said his friend, Armando G. Aguilar.
“When I came to this country, I never thought that I would ever find a friendship like his that was equal to the ones I had in childhood,” Aguilar said. “It hurts to know how much he must have suffered.”
In Cuba, Pérez was a technician in the veterinary field. In Miami, he worked several odd jobs until he settled in the construction business. He leaves a son in Cuba, another who arrived in the United States recently, and his wife’s children who he raised. He and his wife, Migdalia López, have been together since 1996, according to Pérez’ Facebook page.
He lived a humble existence in a North Dade trailer park, where a neighbor said his only mode of transportation was a bicycle. On Thursday, the trailer was empty except for barking dogs; the window that was usually open remained shut.