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Southland Feels Impact of Recent Mexico Disasters : Community: Hurricane, quake combine with political calamities to unnerve many Latinos living in California.

October 12, 1995|PATRICK J. McDONNELL and LEILA COBO-HANLON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

From Eastside taquerias to the Mexican Consulate across from MacArthur Park, the topic of discussion has been the same. Disaster has again battered a reeling Mexico, this time in the form of a powerful earthquake that rocked the nation's Pacific Coast on Monday, followed on Wednesday by the fury of Hurricane Roxanne lashing the Yucatan Peninsula.

"What's been happening in Mexico is incredible," said Carmen Gamiz, a recent arrival from Guadalajara who was working at a South Gate insurance office. "It's as if we've been jinxed."

A succession of natural disasters has combined with assassinations, currency devaluations, guerrilla war and other man-made calamities to unnerve people with connections to Mexico.

The tremors have reached Southern California, where economic, cultural and social bonds with Mexico are strong.

Whenever tragedy strikes to the south, the fallout here follows a now-familiar pattern: Close monitoring of news broadcasts for any clues to families' conditions, frantic attempts to reach loved ones back in Mexico, mobilization to aid in relief efforts.

Typically, local residents trying to reach loved ones cannot get through on the telephone. Worried callers soon contact Mexican consulates, which, in the aftermath of tragedy, function as information clearing-houses.

The Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles has received about 300 earthquake-related calls in the wake of Monday's temblor.

For at least two Los Angeles-area families, the news was bad: Their loved ones were among those confirmed dead in Monday's quake, which measured a magnitude 7.6 and killed at least 50 people.

In most cases, however, the sense of alarm was unwarranted.

Ana Ramos, unable to telephone her family in the hard-hit state of Colima, finally heard from relatives late Tuesday. All is well.

"They've all been helping each other out down there," said Ramos, who was among the patrons at a Boyle Heights nail salon on Wednesday discussing the quake.

Yet the nagging uncertainty continues to trouble many others.

Hugo Gomez reckons that he has more than 100 relatives about 30 miles south of Manzanillo in badly damaged Cihuatlan.

While the town was hardly mentioned in early news reports--providing a false sense of relief to Gomez and others with relatives there--later accounts have documented considerable destruction and casualties.

"You really have no way of finding out for sure, so all you can do is throw some prayers out and say, 'I hope everything's OK,' " said Gomez, a collection officer who lives in South Gate.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

INFORMATION:

To obtain information about family and friends in Mexico, call the American Red Cross at (213) 739-4543 or the Consulate General of Mexico at (213) 351-6800. . . . The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Red Cross is accepting donations for earthquake victims at P.O. Box 57930, Los Angeles 90057. Pledges also can be made by contacting the Red Cross at (213) 739-5200.

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