'I Heard About Ebola On The News, But I Didn't Know It Was Right Here'

10/02/2014 07:00am ET | Updated December 2, 2014

(Adds details from neighborhood, quotes)

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS, Oct 2 (Reuters) - In the Dallas community of Vickery Meadow, a cultural polyglot where about three dozen languages are spoken, the one word on everyone's lips is "Ebola."

On Sunday, a group of blighted apartments in a section of the neighborhood favored by West African immigrants was shaken by screams as one family saw a recently arrived relative being carted away in an ambulance.

The man, identified by Liberian authorities as Thomas Eric Duncan, was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. He was last seen by neighbors in the parking lot vomiting on the street.

"I heard about Ebola on the news, but I didn't know it was right here," said Juan Pablo Escalante, 43, who is from Mexico.

There is little indication a visitor to the community had been infected with a disease that has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa, in the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

"There's no notes on the doors. No one came to talk to us. I picked up my kids from school down the street and found out it was this close," Escalante said on Wednesday.

On Thursday, maintenance workers using high-pressure water were scrubbing the parking lot in front of the building where the patient had been carted off by ambulance. The scent of bleach could be detected in the air.

Dallas County said it would put "boots on the ground" to monitor those who may have been exposed. In Vickery Meadow, residents worried if that would be enough to prevent an outbreak at what has been dubbed "ground zero" for Ebola in the United States.

Vickery Meadow is home to about 25,000 people and more than 30 languages are spoken among immigrants who have come to Dallas because it has one of the country's better job markets and relatively inexpensive property.

Despite an image as the home of oil barons where men wear big hats and women have big hair, as shown around the world in the highly popular TV drama "Dallas" that first aired in the late 1970s, the city is one of the more diverse in the United States.

Nepali native Yak Tamang is typical of the type of people who settle in Vickery Meadow, living in a small apartment with his family. His sister speaks little English, but her eyes widen when she hears Tamang using the word "Ebola" in conversation, he said.

"A lot of people live here. How come no one told us?" Tamang said on Thursday.

The community's schools have also been touched by Ebola, with five children coming into contact with the patient. The children went to the four different schools they attend after being exposed. They are now home and showing no symptoms, but parents are worried.

Dozens of comments from parents posted on the Dallas Independent School District's Facebook page said more information was needed, including the names of the potentially exposed children.

"Right now, I'm not sure to take my daughter to school tomorrow," wrote Gabriela Mendoza Villa. "I'm getting so nervous."

(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)