Response to Mexico's need swift and from the heart

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.

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.

Similar efforts in Texas reflect that state's special relationship with Mexico and its sizable Hispanic population.

At the time of this writing, Gov. Mark White was set to name a 15-member task force to coordinate the state's relief effort, which he said would be based on private-sector, volunteer involvement.

On Friday, Governor White asked San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros to head the state's effort. Mr. Cisneros, whose city has the highest percentage of Hispanic residents of any major city in the US, visited Mexico Saturday.

Spanish-language radio stations in Dallas collected more than $60,000 by Monday morning in fund-raising efforts. And Operation Texas, a relief organization that provides emergency aid in Texas and throughout Central America, is coordinating collection and delivery of medical supplies, evacuation equipment, and temporary shelter materials.

White said representatives from various sectors of private industry -- such as utilities and energy -- would be called upon to coordinate delivery of supplies as needs arise. Reflecting an obvious desire not to come off as Big Brother from the North, Texas officials are being careful to emphasize that the state's relief efforts are meeting Mexico's needs as specifically expressed by Mexican officials.

Yesterday, Nancy Reagan made a personal visit to Mexico City. Her trip was viewed by some obervers an an unwarranted intrusion on the time and energy of Mexican officials. But the US State Department has made it clear that Mrs. Reagan's visit had the approval of the Mexican government and was made to express the sympathy of the American people and to gain a firsthand assessment of the situation for President Reagan.

In keeping with its pledge to respond to specific requests for support from the Mexican government, the US Agency for International Development sent experts to assess Mexico's needs for heavy equipment such as cranes and earthmovers. The survey team found that Mexico has sufficient heavy equipment but is short of jackhammers, concrete saws, cutting torches, bolt cutters, and wrecking bars.

According to Jerry Stephans of the Texas office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, these items are being assembled with the cooperation of Texas construction contractors and will be shipped as soon as possible.

Monitor staff writers Howard LaFranchi in Austin, Texas, and Warren Richey in Washington contributed to this story. Major agencies accepting donations for Mexican aid (Please mark donations for `` Mexican earthquake relief.'')

1. American Friends Service Committee, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19102

2. American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Mexico Relief, Room 1914, 60 East 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10165

3. American Jewish World Service, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 1276, New York, N.Y. 10104

4. American Red Cross, National Headquarters, 17th and D St. NW, Washington, DC 20006

5. CARE, Mexico Earthquake Fund, 660 First Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016

6. Catholic Relief Services, Box 2045, Church St. Station, New York, N.Y. 10008

7. Church World Service, Mexico Emergency, Box 968, Elkhart, Ind. 46515

8. Salvation Army, National Headquarters, 799 Bloomfield Ave., Verona, N.J. 07044

9. Save the Children, Box 980, Wesport, Conn. 06881

10. US Committee for UNICEF, 331 East 38th St., New York, N.Y. 10016

11. World Vision, Box 0, Pasadena, Calif. 91109

12. Operation Texas, P.O. Box 84444, Dallas, Texas 75284.

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