December 29, 2004, Wednesday Late Edition - Final

Section A Page 9 Column 1 Desk: Foreign Desk Length:825 words




ASIA'S DEADLY WAVES: AFTER THE TSUNAMIS; In California, a PainedWait for Word of Relatives


By JOHN M. BRODER; Carolyn Marshall contributed reporting from SanFrancisco for this article, and Chris Dixon from Norwalk, Calif.




Farida Lestari Tio has tried for three days now to reach herbrother and sister in Medan, her hometown near the northern end ofSumatra, the Indonesian island literally lifted up and moved bySunday's earthquake.


''No one picks up the phone,'' Ms. Tio said, her eyes puddlingwith tears. ''It just rings and rings. I really don't know where theyare or what happened.''





Having lived through the Northridge earthquake here in 1994, Ms.Tio said she could only imagine the devastation wrought by the9.0-magnitude quake that struck Indonesia and generated the deadlytsunamis that washed away coastlines across the Indian Ocean andkilled tens of thousands.


Ms. Tio, 44, who runs the popular Indo Café on the WestSide of Los Angeles, said she had been unable to sleep, her mindreplaying the pictures she has seen of bodies wedged in tree branchesand of wailing parents bent over their dead children.


''I cannot bear to hear the people suffer,'' she said. ''How arethey going to eat? How are they going to cook? Where are they goingto sleep? I hear the screaming over and over again, and then I cryagain.''


The Los Angeles area is home to tens of thousands of immigrantsfrom the countries hit hardest by the quake and the tsunamis --India, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia andMyanmar. Thousands more Indians and Sri Lankans live in the SanFrancisco Bay Area, many of them employed in the software andhigh-technology industries.


The California residents from the affected areas have no centralplace to post messages or share their worry and grief, as thefamilies of many of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks did. So theycommunicate by telephone and e-mail, read Internet blogs and listento radio programs in their native languages. At temples andgovernment offices, the first relief efforts have begun, but thescope of the tragedy dwarfs the contributions that the Californiaémigré population could possibly gather.


Sumana Varua, a resident monk at the Wat Thai Temple in NorthHollywood, said that the temple would sponsor a fund-raiser on Jan. 9and was collecting money and new clothing to send to Thailand.


Mr. Sumana said the temple would also conduct a special prayerservice on New Year's Eve for the victims of the disaster.


Government representatives from Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lankajoined with Los Angeles city officials and representatives of theAmerican Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles on Tuesday to appeal fordonations for the stricken. They are hoping to collect as much as $5million for relief efforts.


Hanggiro Setiabudi, the economic counselor at the Indonesianconsulate in Los Angeles, said the consulate had received a fewinquires from Indonesians living in this area about the fate of theirrelatives or home villages. But Mr. Setiabudi said that even theIndonesian government was having trouble learning of conditions inthe remote northern part of Sumatra that was hardest hit by the quakeand the walls of water.


''The situation is very grave,'' he said. ''These are poorfishermen villages, and the infrastructure is not very welldeveloped. Telephone and electricity are cut off. Transport is cutoff, buildings are destroyed. It is very hard for us to send aid tothe affected area.''


Sharmini de Alwis of San Jose was at a Christmas party Saturdaynight when she heard about the disaster that had just struck hernative Sri Lanka. A relative called to say that her brother, his wifeand their three boys, aged 7, 10 and 12, who were vacationing at abeach resort near Hambantota, Sri Lanka, were missing.


Mrs. de Alwis later heard the near-miraculous tale of theirsurvival. The family was eating breakfast at the hotel when someonescreamed for all to run. They took off in different directions andwere all washed out to sea. When the water receded, one son wasclinging to the top of a 15-foot-tall tree, another was in thehospital with an injured leg, and the third escaped without a scratchand had saved the life of another child. The parents escaped withonly minor injuries. All around them was death and destruction, butall five members of the family had survived, Mrs. de Alwis said.


''A lot of people we know are missing,'' she said. ''We aregetting calls almost every minute. I cannot imagine the horror. Mycountry, my people. The suffering. It's horrible, horrible. I don'tknow when they will recover.''



Images: Photos: Farida Lestari Tio and Hanggiro Setiabudi aremonitoring the situation in Asia after the tsunamis. (Photographs byJ. Emilio Flores)