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Response to Mexico's need swift and from the heart

By Marshall IngwersonStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 24, 1985

Los Angeles

As survivors of the twin earthquakes in Mexico begin to rebuild their homes and lives, the impulse to help has been both widespread and personal. People as far away as the Swiss Alps and as close as the United States are mobilizing to lend a hand. Amateur radio operators, including US Sen. Barry Goldwater, have been relaying messages. At the same time, CARE, the international relief organization, is considering how to rebuild rural water service in the quake-torn region, based on its experience with similar incidents in Peru and Chile.

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Governments around the world are providing money and large-scale assistance, such as Japan's $1.25 million relief fund. But groups of skilled individuals such as avalanche rescue teams from Switzerland, with specially trained dogs, and medical teams from the Paris-based Doctors Without Frontiers are also responding. International corporations that have operations in Mexico, such as Johnson & Johnson, Ford, and General Motors, are active in relief efforts.

While the US prepares large-scale aid efforts -- government to government -- as Mexico determines what it needs, thousands of sympathetic Americans have not waited to be asked.

Concern and compassion are most visible in the Mexican-American communities of the American Southwest. ``I feel that Los Angeles has taken this as a personal disaster, just as if it had happened in East L.A.,'' says Red Cross spokesman Ralph White.

By the morning after the first Mexican earthquake last week, the lobby of Radio KALI in San Gabriel, Calif., was shoulder-high with boxes and bags of clothes, blankets, and medicines. A steady stream of people filtered into the Spanish-language station with checks, folded wads of greenbacks, and armfuls of goods.

A bearded young workman from Cuba brought $400 from a collection taken up at his company. ``It doesn't matter what part of the world you live in, we're all human,'' he explained in Spanish.

``We would do it for any country,'' said Julietta Mendoza, an elderly woman, who had come in with a friend to offer $25 each.

Relief organizations stress they need cash, not food and clothing. Shelters in the earthquake area are becoming clogged with food and clothing donated from within Mexico. Those bundles donated in the US, says Mr. White of the Red Cross, probably won't make it across the border. He appreciates, however, that many of the donations are made by people who are poor and have little money to give.

``The response has been beautiful,'' says spokewoman Barbara Haller for the local Red Cross, where the phones have been ringing all night. ``We've had a much higher proportion of people who are not directly connected with it than I would have thought,'' she says, noting that about half the callers had relatives in southern Mexico.

The Spanish-language television station KMEX here has organized a 24-hour live telethon which will connect Los Angeles; New York; Phoenix, Ariz.; San Antonio; San Francisco; Miami; Madrid; San Juan in Puerto Rico; and Lima, Peru. The telethon will broadcast from 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, to 9 a.m. Sunday, in an effort to raise at least a quarter-million dollars.

Meanwhile, Radio KALI continued to draw people like Aracely Ibarra from El Salvador, who came with three young children to donate an armload of clothing and $62. ``It's not much, because they need so much,'' she says in Spanish.