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Friends, family seek news

For some, there was good news. For others, there was bad news. And for many, there was no news at all.

BY P.J. HELLER | LOS ANGELES, CA | December 28, 2004


"We all know we going to have a call coming anytime that is going to be bad news."

—Arosha Samarasena


For some, there was good news. For others, there was bad news. And for many, there was no news at all.

That continued to be the situation Tuesday as people in the United States — as well as throughout the world — sought word on friends, family and loved ones throughout southern Asia where a 9.0 earthquake and massive tidal waves killed tens of thousands and left at least one million homeless.

“For me to get all the details just takes hours and hours,” said Arosha Samarasena of Santa Barbara, Calif., who reported most of his family in Sri Lanka was fine. But he said that he still had not heard from a neighbor who was visiting Sri Lanka when the tsunamis struck on Sunday.

“I’ve been e-mailing him but haven’t heard back,” said Samarasena, who was born and raised in Colombo and still has family there. “I’m totally concerned.”

Samarasena said that there has been little word from his “extended family members” living in the south of the island, which was one of the hardest hit areas.

“That area is very hard to get through (by telephone),” Samarasena said, adding that he and others feared the worst.

“We all know we going to have a call coming anytime that’s going to be bad news,” he said. “We have a lot of friends and relatives in that area. It’s an island, so everybody is almost like a relative.”

Samarasena is among an untold number of individuals, organizations and churches in the U.S. and elsewhere that have launched efforts to collect food, money, medical supplies and other items for those in the devastated areas.

Web sites with message boards carried urgent pleas for information about family and friends in the hard-hit areas and suggested places where people could contribute relief funds.

The death toll across 11 countries stood at more than 30,000 but unofficial predictions were that the figure could more than double. The 9.0 quake in the Indian Ocean off Indonesia spawned massive tidal waves that washed away entire towns.

At VeAhavta, a California-based non-profit that runs the Sri Lanka Orphans and Widows Project, efforts continued to learn the fate of 72 children in its Grace Care Center who were away when the tsunamis struck. Thirty others at the center were reported to be alive and well.

“We are still not able to account for our 72 other children of the Care Center who were with relatives on holiday when the disaster struck,” it reported. “Efforts to locate the children will, of course, continue until each and every child is found.

“Unfortunately,” it added, “we still do not have a reliable report as to the status of our neighbors in the Alles Gardens IDP (internally displaced persons) camp, and we have no report at all as to the whereabouts of Brenda Barrett, our friend with the USAID office in Trincomalee.”

Pandit Dhammarama, the chief monk at the Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara Temple in Pasadena, told a newspaper that he has been unable to reach his brother and sister in Sri Lanka.

"It's so, so sad,“ he said. “A terrible situation.”

For some, the news coming out of southeast Asia wasn’t all bad.

Thushari Hultman said she cried for a day and a half before finally learning, through a friend, that her brother in Sri Lanka was alive.

Communicating with the stricken areas was difficult throughout the world.

In New Zealand, for example, John Croft was among those unable to reach family members in southeast Asia.

Croft said he has been unable to reach his daughter and son-in-law who were vacationing at Khao Lak, a beach resort in southern Thailand. He last spoke to his daughter, Belinda Welch, on Christmas Eve.

Welch and her husband had hoped to establish an orphanage in Thailand. Croft said he was optimistic that the couple was well.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had received more than 800 telephone calls in 24 hours from people seeking information about friends or family in the stricken areas.


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