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Local monk steers tsunami aid effort

BY BRYAN VIRASAMI, News Day, Dec 29, 2004

New York, USA -- The chief monk of a Queens Buddhist temple returned from tsunami-wrecked Sri Lanka Wednesday and immediately appealed for medicine, financial help and construction tools for his native country.

The Ven. Pandit Kurunegoda Piyatissa, the head of the New York Buddhist Vihara in Queens Village, was visiting Sri Lanka when the tsunami wiped out several seaside cities and towns, killing thousands.

He spoke shortly after he returned to the temple where a dozen worshippers were working tirelessly to pack large boxes of medicine, food and clothes destined for Sri Lanka.

Piyatissa attended a seminar for Buddhist monks in Burma and was visiting a Buddhist temple and relatives in central Sri Lanka when enormous waves slammed into the island.

Piyatissa, who was not near the dangerous waves, said Tuesday that Sunday's disaster was the second of that magnitude to strike Sri Lanka. The first major flood was in the Second Century B.C., he said.

"Such a disaster never took place, only two or three hundred dead sometimes in floods, but not this type of disaster," he said.

Piyatissa said after learning of the disaster, he wanted to survey damage but was warned not to travel because similar waves could hit the area. A well-known monk was killed while inside a vehicle during the tsunami, he said.

"All the homes that were there were destroyed, nobody has a house," he said. "The majority of the victims are getting shelter in the temple."

Piyatissa arrived back at his temple in time to oversee a large shipment of food, clothes, medicine and other items.

A shipping container was expected to arrive last night so the items could be transported. A second one is expected to be ready for shipment by the middle of next week, temple officials said.

Malkanthi Goonewardena, a temple worshipper from Glen Oaks, assumed the role of coordinator yesterday as she helped volunteers stack nearly 250 boxes in the basement of the temple at 214-22 Spencer Ave.

Goonewardena nearly came to tears while speaking of the overwhelming support from outside the Sri Lankan immigrant community. And yesterday she saw deliveries made by Christians, Catholics, Jews and Chinese.

"They are really Buddhist," she said, during a short break from packing. "I regard them as Buddhist. They're Buddhist because of their generosity."

A notice on the front door asked donors to avoid bringing clothes because the temple has all it can handle. Instead, the temple was seeking financial donations, as well as batteries, generators, tools, flashlights, candles, medicines, toothpaste, toothbrushes, wheel chairs and hospitals supplies.

"We have to assist with money and building materials because following this disaster we do expect an epidemic will come," said Piyatissa.

A special prayer is planned for 3:30 p.m. Saturday for the victims, he said. Call 718-468-4262 for information.

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