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Family waits for news of Cuban who survived voyage on boat made out of Styrofoam and rebar

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – Juan Ruiz said his cousin spent his 46th birthday on Thursday away from family and friends. He said they were all grateful that he had survived a treacherous voyage from Cuba to Florida’s east coast in a boat made out of blocks of Styrofoam and rusty rebar.

Ruiz said Luis Quiñónez was among the group of eight Cubans who held on to the makeshift boat at sea after it capsized on Sunday, just south of Waveland Beach in St. Lucie County.

A Martin County Sheriff’s Office helicopter crew found them and saw when the force of a large wave flipped over the vessel. Civilians helped St. Lucie County authorities with the rescue.

“I have not been able to have contact with him at all,” Ruiz said in Spanish.

Records show Quiñónez is in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach. Ruiz may be able to visit him soon. Officials allow one-hour visitations for detainees on Saturday and Sunday.

Relatives in South Florida believe Luis Quinonez survived a 16-day voyage from Cuba in a makeshift vessel and was in ICE custody at a detention center in Broward. (Courtesy family photo)

Ruiz said he was worried about Quiñónez, who was hospitalized after the rescue. He was likely treated for a kidney infection due to dehydration, he said.

The group of migrants — including two Cuban pregnant women — told deputies that they had been at sea for 16 days before their vessel capsized. According to immigration authorities, two of the eight survivors had been released by Thursday. They are all making their case for asylum in the U.S.

Ruiz said Quiñónez has family from South Florida to Cardenas, Cuba, where he is from, who are worried. They are all waiting for updates on his fate. Cubans on the island have been experiencing food shortages during the coronavirus pandemic.


About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.