Copyright 2016 Spokane Spokesman-Review
Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
CHAPECO, Brazil - On a rainy Saturday that only accentuated the grief, 20,000 people filled a tiny stadium under umbrellas and plastic ponchos to say goodbye to members of the Chapecoense soccer club who died in a plane crash.
The accident Monday in the Colombian Andes claimed most of the team's players and staff as it headed to the finals of one of Latin America's most important club tournaments. Seventy-one of the 77 people on board died, including 19 players on the team.
Rain-soaked mourners jammed the modest stadium with four or five times that many outside to pay homage to a modest club that nearly reached the pinnacle of Latin American soccer. In total, about half the population of the southern Brazilian city of 210,000 gathered.
Thousands also lined the roads as the coffins were driven in a procession from the airport to the stadium memorial.
"I've been here since early morning," said 19-year-old Chaiane Lorenzetti, who said she worked at a local supermarket frequented by club players and officials. "I'll never see some of my clients again. It's a devastating day that will last forever."
Soldiers wearing berets carried the coffins into the stadium on their shoulders, sloshing through standing water and mud on a field filled with funeral wreaths, club and national flags, and other tributes.
A tent, with the coffins placed underneath, stretched across the width of the soccer field. On top of the white tent, a sentence from the club's anthem was written for all to read.
"In happiness and in the most difficult hours," it said. "You are always a winner."
Family members and friends wept under the tents. Many hunched over the coffins with photos of the deceased placed on top or alongside as almost everything got splattered by the nonstop rain.
Brazilian President Michel Temer, who had not planned to visit the stadium for fear of being jeered, showed up after greeting the arrival of the bodies at the airport. He was treated respectfully and was joined by Gianni Infantino, the head of FIFA - the world governing body of soccer.
"This is a time for pain and suffering, not for talking," Infantino said. "No words can diminish the suffering."
Chapeco Mayor Luciano Buligon, like several speakers, praised the aid Colombia provided - along with the club Atletico Nacional, the team Chapecoense was to play in the two-game final.
"Atletico Nacional summed it all up on its website," the mayor said. "Atletico said Chapecoense came to Medellin with a dream, and it leaves a legend. Legends don't die."
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter