The wife of the Portuguese man who survived Sunday’s horrific crash near Newry has spoken out for the first time to criticise the authorities over the delay in releasing the bodies of the four men who died.
The men perished in a head-on crash near Newry on Sunday night — but their bodies were not released until late on Thursday, causing what Ortelia Branco described as “untold grief with their families in a country where the tradition is to bury their dead the following day”.
It is understood that the bodies are still in Northern Ireland although the funerals had been planned for this weekend.
Speaking from her home in Portadown, Mrs Branco said she thanked God that Paulo (38) had somehow survived the head-on crash with a lorry, adding through an interpreter: “It is the tradition in our country that the deceased are laid to rest the following day.
“I have been kept in touch with the families of the bereaved in Portugal and they cannot continue their lives until their loved ones are laid to rest. It has caused them so much trauma and heartache.”
Mrs Branco, who was being comforted by her daughter Adrina (13) and Hetty Smith, a Christian worker and interpreter among Portadown’s migrant population, said the families could not comprehend the delay in releasing the bodies.
Mrs Branco said that she heard about the accident on the media and knew in her heart that Paulo was involved. Soon after police arrived to tell her the terrible news of the four deaths, and that Paulo had survived but was seriously injured.
The father-of-two — their son Ricardo (6) is in Portugal with his grandmother — sustained broken ribs, a pierced liver, punctured lung and other injuries in the crash. The car was reduced to a mangled wreck. The driver of the lorry was unhurt but deeply shocked.
The five men, aged from their early 30s to mid 40s, worked for construction firm Martifer who were carrying out work at Dublin Airport and were on their way to Portadown to visit Mrs Branco.
The deceased are all from towns in Northern Portugal — Pedro Taveres (34) from Sever do Vouga; Ricardo Alves from Aveiro; Martinho de Almedia (45) from Castro Daire; and Luis Miguel Lopes (33) from Olivera do Hospital. The Branco family home is in Agueda.
Paulo was rushed to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry and transferred to the Mater in Belfast where he remains in intensive care, his condition is serious but stable and the signs are that he will pull through.
“It has been so difficult for us all,” said Mrs Branco, adding that the Portuguese community in Portadown, of which there are around 600, and the indigenous population had been a wonderful support to her.
The Brancos moved to Portadown to help pay off the mortgage of their home in Portugal and love living in Northern Ireland.