N.J. community grieves for Chile tourists

By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press Writer
Last updated: March 23rd, 2006 11:04 AM (PST)
MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - They grew up together, and grew old together. Then, while on a typically adventurous vacation trip, they died together.

As many as 10 residents of a retirement community near Princeton were among the dozen people who lost their lives Wednesday when their tour bus plunged off a mountain road in Chile. Twelve Americans died, Chilean officials said.

The victims - all in their 60s and 70s - were part of a 64-member B'nai B'rith group on vacation on the cruise ship Millennium, according to Celebrity Cruises President Dan Hanrahan.

A list of victims was provided by the hospital in Chile. No hometowns were given, and spellings of the names could not immediately be confirmed.

Eileen Marcus, an administrator at The Ponds retirement development in Monroe Township, said several of those killed were residents of the community, but she had not yet confirmed who had died.

A leader of the Monroe Township Jewish congregation where some of the victims worshipped said he felt "horror, horror and misfortune" for the victims.

"My heart goes out to everyone. My heart goes out to everyone on that bus, the survivors and their families. Sometimes one thinks of fairness or about whether there is even a God. But for everything that happens, there is a purpose and a reason. That is the judgment of God," said Morty Schneider, vice president of the Jewish Congregation of Concordia in Monroe Township.

Cantor Eli Perlman said many of the victims had been friends their entire lives and retired together at The Ponds. "They were very close and knew each other extremely well and wanted to spend their retirement years together," Perlman said.

It is not the first tragedy for the temple. Six members lost children in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Perlman said. "This is going to be another one of those times," he said.

Rhoda Katz, 73, said she was friends with several of the victims. "It's a terrible tragedy. I have no words," said Katz, who lives in The Ponds. "They looked forward to it so. Everyone that was going on the trip was very upbeat."

The tourists were returning to the ship from an excursion to Lauca National Park when the bus plunged off the rugged highway near Arica, 1,250 miles north of Santiago, Juan Carlos Poli, an Arica city spokesman. Poli said the bus, which had a capacity of 16 passengers, was destroyed.

Two surviving Americans were in stable condition Thursday, said U.S. Embassy spokesman John Vance. Two Chileans - the driver and the tour guide - also were hospitalized, Poli said.

A Connecticut rabbi said a Stamford couple - Ira and Linda Greenfield - were among those killed and their relatives were headed to Chile.

"Everyone is in a tremendous state of shock and sadness," said Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Congregation Agudath Sholom.

The Greenfields were longtime members of the synagogue. Linda Greenfield, 63, was a mentor at a high school and an active volunteer in the congregation, Cohen said. Ira Greenfield, 68, was a sales clerk at a television store.

The cruise line said it was flying relatives of the victims to Chile.

The ship, carrying approximately 1,500 guests and 920 crew members, was on a 14-night South American cruise. It left Valparaiso, Chile, on Sunday and was scheduled to arrive in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on April 2.

Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises, said the bus tour was not affiliated with the cruise line.

Originally published: March 23rd, 2006 11:04 AM (PST)