A survivor of the trip that left 53 migrants dead in a sweltering semi-trailer abandoned on the outskirts of San Antonio last week said she believes that the smugglers responsible for the trip covered the floor of the vehicle with powdered chicken bouillon to cover the human scent inside.
In an interview with The Associated Press, 20-year-old Yenifer Yulisa Cardona Tomás said that the smugglers also confiscated the migrants’ cell phones before the journey began.
Ms Cardona Tomás, who hails from Guatemala City, was intubated and is now recovering at a hospital in San Antonio. She said that the substance on the floor was meant to throw off dogs at checkpoints who might have raised alarms about the contents of the trailer.
Ms Tomás credited her luck in surviving the journey with the advice of a friend, who told her prior to her departure to stay near the door of the vehicle where the temperature — which reached 150 degrees — would be slightly cooler. Ms Cardona Tomás said she shared the advice with a friend she made during the journey. That friend also survived.
“I told a friend that we shouldn’t go to the back and should stay near (the entrance), in the same place without moving,” Ms Cardona Tomás told the AP.
Ms Cardona Tomás said that as the truck stopped to pick up more and more people, other passengers began to crowd around her position near the door. She said that the truck was moving, but slowly, when she passed out. She next woke up in the San Antonio hospital.
Mynor Cardona, Ms Cardona Tomás’ father, told the AP that he gave the smugglers $4,000 for her passage to the US. Ms Cardona Tomás still would have owed several thousand more dollars upon her arrival at her destination. The trailer she was headed for Houston, but Ms Cardona Tomás said that she was ultimately bound for North Carolina.
Ms Cardona Tomás had already been traveling for weeks, via a variety of modes of transportation, when her journey came to its horrific end in San Antonio. Mr Cardona said that the original plan was not for his daughter to travel in a trailer.
“I didn’t know that she would travel in a trailer,” Mr Cardona said. “She told us it would be by foot. It seems like at the last moment the smugglers decided to put (her) in the trailer, along with two more friends, who survived. One of them is still in critical condition.”
The Guatemalan government has said that 20 of its citizens died in the disaster, 16 of whom have been identified. Ms Cardona Tomás family did not know for two days whether she was alive following the news of the discovery of the trailer. The driver of the trailer and three others have been arrested and charged with crimes in connection to the smuggling operation.
Last year was the deadliest year on record for migrants crossing the US-Mexico border since the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration began tracking deaths in 2014.