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Southland Indians Rally to Aid Victims of Quake


One man came from Upland, 60 miles away, to drop off his $150 check. Others came from Cerritos, Diamond Bar and Valencia. And when Ramesh Gandhi arrived at the offices of the Federation of Hindu Assns. in Artesia, his desk was littered with phone messages from others offering help for their countrymen in India half a world away.

Around Southern California, shaken Indian leaders were huddling anxiously with family and friends, planning prayer services and meeting at community centers, hoping to find a way to help those in their stricken homeland.

In Artesia's Little India, home to spice stores and sari boutiques, Gandhi was trying to arrange a phone bank so that volunteers could take the pledges that were pouring in from as far south as the Mexican border. In Chatsworth, the president of the Hindu Temple and Indian Cultural Center was planning a Sunday gathering where the faithful would plan their next move. And in Norwalk, the Gujarati Society temple scheduled a service for Monday evening in honor of the quake victims.

"At this time, Indians are one, no matter our differences," said Dr. Amrit Nehru, a dentist greeting people at the federation's Artesia headquarters, a nerve center of Southern California's 200,000-strong Indian community. "We are together for the greatness of India."

The earthquake that struck about 280 miles southeast of Bombay early Thursday morning reduced thousands of mud and brick houses to rubble, burying thousands of occupants alive.

Dheeraj Sulakhe of Diamond Bar spoke to a cousin living about 60 miles from the epicenter and was told not to send supplies because the area was too remote to reach.

"By the time the supplies get there, it will be too late, he told me," said Sulakhe, 31. "Money is the only thing that can go there in time."

But at stores in Little India, merchants and customers were apprehensive about their aid ever reaching quake victims. Even so, Jaswant Singh, whose family owns a food and gift store, said he was going to send about $600.

"I don't care if it goes in the right hands or not, I am sending the money," said Singh, 30, standing amid bags of wheat and rice.

Singh and others were not surprised at the extent of destruction in their homeland, noting that homes in areas around the epicenter, in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, are not built to withstand such shock.

"It's a terrible thing because people in my country never thought they had to fear such things as earthquakes," said Dinesh Lakhanpal, a Granada Hills insurance agent who held a fund-raiser at his home Friday night to appeal for clothing, money and volunteers for the relief effort. "Monsoons, yes. Disease, yes. But not earthquakes. There had not been one in 50 years before this."

Lakhanpal is lucky. While many fellow Indians have been unable to get through to their native land to speak with family and friends, he reached an older brother on Friday. It was his first contact with family since he had heard about the earthquake Thursday morning.

And he learned that, yes, his eight brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, nephews and uncles all were safe.

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