HOUSTON — Benito Juarez Cavazos had come to Texas illegally from Mexico on his own as a young teen and was in the process 28 years later of getting his green card when he was swept away in the flood waters left by Hurricane Harvey.
Cavazos, 42, had recently received a work permit and social security card and was scheduled for an appointment toward getting permanent residency the day after he apparently drowned, his cousins said Friday at a memorial service for the auto body shop worker.
“When he received the social security card, he was so excited,” Maria Cavazos said because he felt it would prevent him from being deported. “That was his sense of protection.”
His close-knit family in the U.S. and friends mourned his loss and remembered him as a happy-go-lucky guy who was always smiling, never missed a party where beer was served and would give a friend his last dollar.
The service for Cavazos is one of the first for Harvey’s 39 known victims, though that number is expected to rise with at least 19 others believed missing and the search for them becoming more desperate.
It’s been four days since volunteer rescuers Ben Vizueth and Gustavo Rodriguez went missing in Harvey’s murky floodwaters when their boat hit submerged power lines and everyone was pitched overboard.
The bodies of two other men on the boat at the time — Vizueth’s brother, 45-year-old Yahir Rubio-Vizuet, and 33-year-old Jorge Perez — were found dead floating in the water soon after. Two journalists for the British newspaper The Daily Mail were aboard and survived.
Vizueth’s wife, Perla Jaquez, trudged through a wooded area filled with downed trees and debris Thursday with other volunteers looking for the missing men.
“There’s still a lot of faith and a lot of hope that we can recover them,” she said in a Facebook Live video.
The funeral of 82-year-old Ola Mae Winfrey-Crooks was scheduled Saturday. She drowned when her car was swept off a farm-to-market road at the San Jacinto River near her home north of Houston. Authorities say it appears Crooks was trying to cross the bridge and the swift water carried her vehicle off the road and into the flood waters.
A memorial also was being held Saturday for 58-year-old Ruben Jordan, a former football and track coach at Clear Creek High School who disappeared while driving during the storm.
Al and JoDell Pasek want to scatter the ashes of their son, 25-year-old Andrew Pasek, at Mount Rushmore, where they had long planned to take a family trip.
Andrew was on a mission to check on his beloved big sister’s cat when he stepped on the wire, then fell into a lamp post attached to the live wire. Pasek’s friend moved closer to help, but Pasek warned him away.
“He said, ‘Don’t touch me. I’m dying,”’ said JoDell Pasek.
When news of Cavazos’s death spread through the small, tightknit and mostly Mexican neighbourhood of Port Houston, friends were devastated, said childhood friend Rene Velez.
In a funeral home Friday night, two singers and a guitarist sang hymns in Spanish as Cavazos’ body lay in a dark blue coffin. He was dressed in a red, white and blue plaid shirt and blue jeans.
His cousin, Olga Cavazos, commented while viewing his body and that his ever-present smile was discernable.
Mourners sang along in the small chapel while dozens of others gathered in a nearby kitchen eating food and swapping stories.
Maria Cavazos said her cousin was dedicated to his job and insisted on going to work Tuesday despite warnings from his roommate and the blessings of his boss not to show up that day. His car got stuck in a ditch and his family thinks he tried to walk home and was swept away by waters while crossing Interstate-10 on foot.
Cavazos was found dead in a parking lot after floodwaters receded Tuesday near a Houston freeway. His death was listed by police as a drowning or accident.
The car was found the next day. It was locked and dry inside.
Cavazos, one of eight children, had not been home to visit his parents in the city of Montemorelos in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon since he arrived in the U.S. because of fears he wouldn’t be able to get back in the country.
“It’s very unfortunate that right when he finally had hopes of being able to maybe go to Mexico soon to go see his family it all went downhill,” Maria Cavazos said. “Sadly, he’s going back to Mexico, but in an unfortunate way.”
Associated Press writers Brian Melley in Houston, Frank Eltman in Garden City, New York, Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio, and AP News Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.