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Financial donations needed to assist people in southern Asia
County residents reach out to help.
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Animation of the Dec. 26 tsunami. Click the picture to view the full-length version. Animation courtesy of Vasily V. Titov, associate director, Tsunami Inundation Mapping Efforts (TIME), NOAA/PMEL - UW/JISAO, USA.
PINELLAS COUNTY – As news reports came in about the disaster caused when tsunami waves crashed into southern Asia after a 9.0 earthquake on Dec. 26, people began searching for ways to help.

Emily Wester with the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross said a large number of phone calls had been coming in to the chapter from people wanting to donate and volunteer to help.

“Our phone has been ringing constantly with calls from people wanting to donate things like blankets, clothes and food,” she said.

But, at this time, Wester said, the Red Cross is not accepting donations of items because sources are available closer to the disaster for immediate necessities.

Wester said relief supplies, such as plastic sheeting, family size tents and hygiene kits were already being shipped to the area. She said collecting, sorting and shipping supplies in the United States to send to the victims was impractical because of the time and cost involved.

Wester said the best thing people can do to help is to donate money.

“I understand that when you give you want it to be more personal,” she said. “But right now the best thing to do is to give money.

“When tragedies happen that are this devastating, it takes some time to provide the help needed. Right now the biggest concern is getting food to the victims.”

Wester said people also have been calling wanting to volunteer to go to the area to help. She said the Red Cross is not seeking additional volunteers to go to southern Asia at this time. She said the organization currently has enough bilingual experts to send out in the “first wave” to respond to immediate needs.

Sam Hall, 67, of Belleair Shore, is an expert in responding to disasters. He left for Sri Lanka on Dec. 31, where he expected to be “burying bodies” soon after New Year’s Day.

“I always do things like this,” Hall said in a phone interview the day before he left.

Hall is not traveling to southern Asia as part of any one organization’s relief effort, although he said he had worked with many different agencies in the past, including working with the Red Cross since 1992.

“I’m going on my own,” Hall said. “Because of my background, I work with whoever, whenever they need me.”

Hall’s background includes working at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center after 9/11, working with a Salvation Army team on a reconstruction project in southern Iraq, working to help victims of Hurricane Andrew, collecting debris after the shuttle Columbia disaster, assisting with forest fires in the western United States, among others.

Most people don’t have Hall’s credentials when it comes to responding to major disasters all over the world. However, Wester said that everyone could help others in some way.

People who want to help victims in southern Asia should give money, she said. People who want to volunteer physically to help someone can help those in need locally.

“Anyone who wants to volunteer is welcome,” she said. “We have many local disasters, such as the many recent fires. There’s work to be done here at home.”

For information about volunteering at home, call the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross at (813) 348-4820 or visit www.redcrosstbc.org.

Another local source for information on ways to help the tsunami victims is 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares. Volunteers have a list of agencies that need assistance and their phone numbers available for people who call 2-1-1 or 562-1542 for cell phone users.

For information about family and friends

The American Red Cross has information on its Web site, www.redcross.org, about locating friends and family who are missing in southern Asia. Tips given include:

• Phone calls.

• Networking with other friends and relatives to see if they have received any news from a missing person.

• Registering on the Web site, www.familylinks.icrc.org.

People also can call the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at (888) 407-4747.

The Red Cross information also reminded people that after a disaster, phone lines and Web sites would be busy. People may have to try several times before getting through.

Good news for one Largo resident

When Dee Chastain heard the news of the tsunami that hit the Asia regions, she was not worried at all about her 24-year-old son, Nick Amheiser, an English teacher with the Japan Exchange Teacher Programme. After all, his itinerary didn’t call for him to be in Thailand for at least a few days.

Still, she sent an e-mail to her son, who was on vacation in Asia with his girlfriend, Sachi.

She didn’t even worry when her adventurous son didn’t respond immediately. But after talking with her son’s stepfather – a man she describes as a rock solid “white collar worker” – and two other friends, she started to get antsy.

Why hadn’t he e-mailed her, she wondered as she kept herself glued to her computer monitor. Chastain, a reading and English teacher at Tyrone Middle School in St. Petersburg, describes her relationship with her son as more than just a mother and son bond.

“It’s deeper than that,” said the 49-year-old teacher, who pursued her master’s degree at George Mason University while her son worked on his bachelor’s degree in history there.

“I knew that something happened to the love of my life,” she said.

But Saturday, almost a week after the tsunami struck the Asian coast, she received the best news she could get. Her son was alive.

He and Sachi decided to postpone the Thailand leg of their trip to visit Vietnam first. What’s more, it was his girlfriend’s decision.

Elated that her son was OK, she understands the agony that many families are going through, not knowing anything about the whereabouts or fate of their loved ones.

“If I don’t hear from him by the 11th, I’m one way to Japan,” Chastain said.

How to donate

Experts are reminding people to be aware of scams and to check out organizations before donating money. USAID, the U.S. government agency responsible for economic and humanitarian assistance around the world, is working with many agencies and organizations to provide help to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. For information about donating or a complete list of organizations taking donations, call USAID at (202) 712-4810, write Information Center, U.S. Agency for International Development, Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, D.C. 20523-1000 or visit www.usaid.gov.

Also, the USAID list, as of 01-05-2005, can be found at www.tbnweekly.com/special_section/2004tsunami/.

Jim Harrington, editor of the Largo Leader and Clearwater Citizen, contributed to this story.
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