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5 Family Members Drown

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This stretch of the Lumber River was the site of the drownings.
FAIR BLUFF — Extraordinary tragedy hit one family over the holiday weekend. Five members of a Columbus County family drownedSunday afternoon in the Lumber River. A mother and 13-year-old daughtersurvive.

Investigators said 6-year-old twin brothers were wading in the riverabout 75 feet from shore when one fell into a hole and went under. Theirdad, 35, drowned as he tried to pull them to safety. The family's13-year-old and 8-year-old sons drowned closer to shore, as they tried tohelp their father.

Divers have recovered all five bodies. They were identified as VincenteHernandez Bassara, 35, 6-year-old twins Jessie and Jason, 8-year-oldJoaquin, and 13-year-old Vincente Jr., according to county coroner LinwoodCartrette.

With his wife Clara watching helplessly from the shore, Bassara and his13-year-old daughter, Gloria, struggled to rescue the boys. Only GloriaBassara survives.

It was not immediately clear whether the victims knew how to swim.

Captain Chuck Powell of the Fair Bluff Fire and Rescue Department saysthe drownings occurred in a portion of the river with numerous dropoffs inthe muddy bottom.

The stricken family were apparently migrant workers living temporarilyin the county.

Locals say the stretch of river, just outside Fair Bluff's citylimits, is a popular hangout in the summer, despite its muddy bottom,submerged tree limbs, dropoffs and holes.

"The water ... goes from four feet, to seven feet, then to 10 feet, andback to about five feet, asyou go downstream," said Lt. Jimmy Hammond of the Conway, S.C. FireDepartment. "The boys were all together when they got into trouble."

Gloria Bassara, who was in the water when her brothers went under,tried to save them. By the time she reached them, she had been joined byher father.

Vincente Jr. managed to hand one of the twins to his sister, who gavethe child to her father. But the child was dead.

Bassara and two of his sons were swept downstream. Hours later, asClara and Gloria watched from a pier, rescue workers found the bodiestrapped under sunken tree limbs, Hammond said.

The two other bodies were found about two hours later at the bottom ofa 10-foot deep hole on the other side of the river, which is about 100feet across.

Richard Ward, 17, of Whiteville, was swimming nearby when he heardGloria's screams for help.

"I went over there and I was almost to one of the 6-year-olds and Istepped on a piece of glass," Ward said. "That slowed me down. I gotover there and I couldn't find them."

Officials said the drownings were the worst in the county's history.

"We've never had anything like this," said Fair Bluff Fire and Rescuechief Butch Meares.

The drownings were the first in that area of the river in about fiveyears, Powell said.

On Thursday, 22-year-old Felicia Cummings died while trying to learn toswim in the Lumber River near Pembroke.

The Fair Bluff Fire and Rescue team coordinated efforts with ColumbusCounty rescue squads and dive teams from Robeson County and Horry County,S.C.

The drownings occurred near the Columbus and Robeson county line nearthe South Carolina border.

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