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Formosa victims' families gather in support at Houston hospital

By Elena Watts
Sept. 13, 2013 at 4:13 a.m.
Updated Sept. 14, 2013 at 4:14 a.m.

Jean Downs, 69, of Port Lavaca, left, and JoAnna Flores, 58, right, of Port Lavaca, sit together in the waiting room at the burn unit at Memorial Hermann in Houston. Downs is the mother of Jeffery Downs, 42, and Flores is his mother-in-law. Jeffery Downs was one of the injured in the incident at Formosa Plastics plant in Point Comfort. "He had second-degree burns, but I don't think he was one of the worst injured," Downs said.

HOUSTON - On Friday, more than a dozen members of Bernard Mendoza's family gathered in the waiting room of Memorial Hermann Health System's burn unit.

Mendoza, 37, of Inez, was one of five Formosa employees burned in a flash fire at the plant earlier that morning. Four victims were flown to the Houston hospital by medical helicopter, and the fifth was taken by ambulance to Citizens Medical Center in Victoria.

"They're all worried about each other," said Mendoza's aunt, Sandy Valle, of Houston.

Mendoza's entire face was burned, and his lungs might have absorbed some of the damage, too, said Valle.

"He got the impact of the fire," Valle said. "But he's strong, and he's doing good."

The father of five was sedated but talking, said Valle. Doctors made him as comfortable as possible.

Mendoza was in good spirits and teased his uncle, Regino Valle, about his hair - or lack of it.

His mother, Theresa Mendoza, also of Inez, fainted before she saw him. They rolled her out of the burn unit in a wheelchair.

"As a mother, you can't see your child like that," she said.

As of 7:30 p.m. Friday, doctors had not yet talked to the family, she said.

Mendoza is a Houston Texans fan, an avid fisherman and a skilled mechanic.

"We are thankful that they are all OK," said Valle.

Allen Bowman, 50, of Bay City, received second-degree burns to his wrists, head and back, said his sister-in-law, Melissa Smith, also of Bay City.

"He's a trooper," Smith said. "Burns have to be the worst - you know how much a little burn from the stove hurts."

She accompanied her sister, Jennifer Bowman, the wife of the patient, to Memorial Hermann with their mother, Carolyn Smith.

"His face is swollen, and he has a black eye, but he's talking and in good spirits," said Smith.

The father of three has one grandchild. His in-laws believed the hospital could release him in a couple of days.

"We're praying for all the families," Smith said.

Jeffrey Downs, 42, of Port Lavaca, was burned on his face, ears and neck.

"It's worst around his lips," said his mother, Jean Downs, also of Port Lavaca. "He's in pain - I think they'll have to clean his gums."

His wife, Veronica Downs, is seven months into a high-risk pregnancy, said her mother, JoAnna Flores, who sat with Downs' mother in the waiting room of the burn unit.

Her daughter called her crying early Friday, and Flores' first thought was that something had happened to the baby.

The doctor told Downs' family that he was very lucky.

"He didn't want to take any medication until he saw his friends," his mother said. "He was worried about them."

None of the family members wanted to talk about what the men were doing when the fire occurred.

Information about the fourth patient at Memorial Hermann and the fifth patient at Citizens Medical Center was not available Friday.

Read more about Formosa here and here.

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