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US immigrants gather aid for victims

By Charisse Jones, AP, Dec 28, 2004

Los Angeles, USA -- From Buddhist temples in the Northeast to commercial strips in California, Southeast Asian immigrants made frantic calls home, gathered bandages and food and offered prayers for loved ones devastated by the giant waves that killed tens of thousands of people on two continents.

Wije Kottahachchi, president of the Sri Lankan Medical Association of North America East, based in Stony Brook, N.Y., said Monday that his group is collecting antibiotics, syringes and other medical supplies to send to Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital.

Some members were trying to fly to Sri Lanka to give medical assistance. Many of the physicians were already there, because Sri Lankans often return home for Christmas and New Year's, Kottahachchi said.

"Some of our people who are there are helping treat the injured, and a couple called this morning trying to get a flight so they can go," he said. "Sri Lanka has not seen anything like this. Even though it's an island, it had been lucky in that we had never gotten this kind of natural disaster."

The physician's group also plans to collect tents and other materials that can be used to house some of the estimated 1 million people displaced by the disaster.

Throughout the USA, immigrants gathered in religious institutions for news as well as solace. Wat Thai D.C., a Buddhist temple with 4,000 members in Silver Spring, Md., outside Washington, invited people to come chant and meditate Friday and planned to help raise money and collect food for the tsunami victims.

The New Jersey Buddhist Vihara, a temple that serves 55 Sri Lankan families in Franklin Township, about 50 miles outside New York City, has held meetings and prayer vigils. It is also collecting clothing, food and cash that it hopes to send to Asia by Wednesday.

News from those back home has been hard to come by, said the temple's resident monk, Bulugammana Piyarathana.

"We don't have any information because they can't call to Sri Lanka," he says. "The phone lines are so busy."

Many who were unable to reach their family members spoke of their fears and frustrations.

Amid a cluster of Thai restaurants and shops in Los Angeles, Yanisa Ketwont, 27, told the Associated Press she had been unable to reach a friend who worked at a resort in southern Thailand. "I tried to call her, but the operator said I couldn't connect right now," she said. "I'm very worried."

In Westland, Mich., a Detroit suburb, Anu Gopalakrishnan, 29, was able to reach her mother and friends in Madras, India, a coastal city in the southeast.

"It's left all the people in Madras in a state of shock," she told AP, adding that she had been on the beach there. "I don't know if those families are still alive."

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