Immigrant Communities Wait for Word

Hari Chandran spent much of the weekend on the phone frantically trying to reach loved ones on opposite coasts of Sri Lanka (search) after monstrous tsunamis devastated his homeland.

He eventually learned that his in-laws to the south survived after climbing on the roof of their home, located only 150 feet from the beach in the capital of Colombo. He has had no luck finding his relatives to the north.

"We haven't been able to get through," said Chandran, who was planning a meeting to gather money and medical supplies from Sri Lankans in Southern California. "They had floods only about two weeks ago and were just coming through that when this happened."

Chandran is among thousands of South Asians across the United States who are making anxious phone calls home and collecting relief aid following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake (search) and ensuing tsunamis (search) that have killed more than 22,000 people in 10 countries.

Relief donations have begun trickling in to hospitals, temples and community centers. Web sites once used to link immigrants to one another locally have been transformed into pipelines for aid efforts and news about the disaster's toll.

In New Jersey, doctors planned to place notices in hospitals seeking donations of supplies and to solicit pharmaceutical representatives who visit their offices to donate drug samples to the relief effort.

"The devastation in Sri Lanka is the worst in the region," said Dr. Wije Kottachchi, who is helping in the effort. "A lot of people need a lot of help. Sri Lanka is not used to this kind of disaster, and the infrastructure is not there to help deal with the aftermath."

Kottachchi got through to Sri Lanka and found out that his wife's brother was able to escape the waves.

"He got on top of an iron gate 6 feet high and stood on it until the water receded," Kottachchi said. "He didn't think he was going to make it."

Even as many tourists canceled visits to the region, some immigrants are booking trips to their homelands to help and search for loved ones.

Abdul Zainuddin, who works for the Indonesian consulate in New York City and hopes to fly to the country in the next few days, said he heard his sister's home in Sigli had been destroyed; he fears she died.

"What can we say?" he asked.

Overloaded phone lines and communications systems disrupted by the tsunami have made it hard to say much at all.

Frightened for his mother in Colombo, Waruna Buwaneka called her home on Sunday. And called. And called.

"It took me all day to get through," said Buwaneka, a computer consultant and leader of the United Sri Lanka Society in New York City. "I was so relieved when I heard her voice. She and my sister are OK."

In Thai Town, a few square blocks of restaurants and stores in Los Angeles, shopkeepers worried about loved ones as they stocked groceries and prepared for the Monday's lunch rush.

Yanisa Ketwont, 27, stacked boxes of bean cakes and worried about her friend who works at a resort in southern Thailand. Ketwont said neither she nor her mother in Bangkok have been able to reach her.

"I tried to call her but the operator said I couldn't connect right now," Ketwont said. "I'm very worried."