Cyldana Sierra sat by the telephone all day Tuesday, anxiously waiting to learn whether her sister in Armenia, Colombia, was alive or dead.
But with most phone lines down after a 6.0 earthquake killed at least 500 people there Monday, many of the roughly 80,000 Colombians in Southern California could only hold their breath until information trickled in.
While rescue workers in Colombia combed through the rubble, Sierra and scores of others scrambled to find any hopeful news they could. Hundreds of nervous calls flooded the Colombian consul general's office in Beverly Hills, which had little information to offer before closing Tuesday afternoon.
Lacking specific details about the series of quakes that toppled most of Armenia and several other cities in the mountainous region of western Colombia, the consulate could only take the names of concerned relatives and promise to get back to them later with details.
"Nobody can tell me what is going on," Sierra complained from her Redondo Beach home. "I can't get in touch with my sister. She and her family live right in the epicenter. It's frustrating."
Consuelo Pedrazas, the Colombian consul general, said the country was still in shock Tuesday over the massive destruction caused by the earthquake and its aftershocks.
"There's a great sorrow among Colombia's people," she said.
In hopes of generating relief aid, Pedraza said her office is setting up an account for donations.
Meanwhile, the American Red Cross in Los Angeles, World Vision and UNICEF also began accepting monetary donations to wire to their Colombian offices.
So far, "we have received about 45 phone calls altogether with offers for help," said Red Cross spokesman Mike Powers. He added that the Red Cross has no plans yet to send clothes or food to the devastated area.
Janine Arbelaez, a member of the Colombian Chamber of Commerce, said her group will try to raise money at an event this weekend for what it anticipates to be a massive need for relief aid once damage assessments are complete.
Arbelaez has relatives in Colombia who live in Pereira, near the epicenter. One of the lucky few to get through to Colombia on Tuesday, she learned that they survived unscathed.
"Luckily, it happened during the lunch hour, when people were at home," she said. "My grandmother and aunt were here for the  Northridge earthquake and they said this one was far worse. They said it felt like it was the end of the world."
Diana Mejia's aunt in Colombia was also among the fortunate. An entire ceiling fell down on her in Pereira when the first temblor struck, Mejia said.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Mejia said she learned after several harried phone calls that her aunt was not severely injured.
At the Colombian Consulate on Tuesday to offer support to others whose families were injured, Mejia said that the helplessness of not knowing whether loved ones survived the quake can be overwhelming.
In a way, she said, "we feel this even more than if we were there, because all there is left for us to do is pray for them."
Times staff writer Michael Luo and researcher Stephanie Stassel contributed to this story.
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How to Help
These organizations are accepting monetary donations to help victims of Monday's earthquake in Colombia:
American Red Cross
(800) HELP-NOW (435-7669)
2700 Wilshire Blvd.
P.O. Box 57930
Los Angeles, CA 90057
P.O. Box 9716
Federal Way, WA 98063-9716
U.S. Committee for UNICEF
(800) FOR-KIDS (367-5437)
P.O. Box 97295
Washington, D.C. 200909-7295
Colombian Consul General
8383 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 420
Beverly Hills, CA 90211