By Daniel Arimborgo and Peter Sorkin
Members of the Indian community in Queens have mounted a boroughwide effort to raise funds and donate supplies to victims of a devastating earthquake that struck India Friday two weeks .
The earthquake, which hit the western Indian state of Gujarat, registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and is estimated to have caused $6 billion in damage. As of Tuesday, 6,300 bodies were recovered and more than 100,000 people were missing and feared dead, said Peter Bheddah, the president of Gujrati Samaj in Flushing. His organization is accepting clothing and supplies.
The Jackson Heights Merchants Association is also organizing efforts to assist India and has been collecting money, food and clothing since the quake.
The Indian community mobilized two weeks after many Queens residents began collecting supplies and funds for victims of an earthquake in El Salvador. That trembler registered 7.6 on the Richter scale and killed more than 780 people, according to estimates from the Hispanic Federation, one of the groups spearheading a Latin-American relief campaign.
Eamesh Navani, the owner of India Sari Palace at 37-07 74th St. in Jackson Heights, is president of the Jackson Heights Merchants Association. He said it is important to provide aid to his native country because Queens has a large Indian community and many still feel very close to the country.
“We are aiming to collect donations from merchants and customers,” said Navani. “Whatever we collect we will pass on to India in some sort of organized charity.”
Navani, who has lived in Woodside for 30 years, has been working with the borough president’s office to organize financial aid.
In a statement made the day after the earthquake, Borough President Claire Shulman said she would also work with the Gujrati Samaj in Flushing to send over clothing and supplies.
“The results of today’s devastating earthquake in India can be felt right here in Queens, where we have a large Indian population centered in Jackson Heights,” Shulman said. “We are working with local authorities now to find out what supplies are necessary and will designate Queens Borough Hall as a drop-off site” for donations.
“The emphasis is on cash because that can be more quickly utilized,” Navani said. “We are not making efforts to collect clothing, because we don’t have the resources to send clothes in bulk. Therefore, we intend to concentrate on money, because the cash can be more quickly utilized.”
Gujrati Samaj in Flushing is accepting donations as well. Its president, Peter Bheddah, said he was lucky because his wife and two children, who were staying in Bhuj in Gujarat, were spared.
“We started the fund-raising Saturday and so far we have pledges up to $25,000,” Bheddah said. “We are talking to sister organizations in Jackson Heights and they are giving us parts of their pledges also.”
Bheddah said he is now more inclined to give back to the community after hearing that his family is safe.
“I am lucky that my two children are alive. They are in Bombay now,” he said. “Some were not as lucky. I am very active in the community work and I think now I should do more for the community. It has re-enforced my values and balanced my life to give back to society.”
Some in western Queens were contributing directly from their own businesses.
Jitendra Patel, who has owned and operated Broadway Natural Groceries in Astoria since January 1999, moved from India 12 years ago. He said he is giving a month of profits back to India.
“It’s really terrible,” Patel said. “I spoke to a cousin (in Gujarat) who said that this is what the end of the world would look like. If all of New York collects one penny (from each person), that would be enough to bring a whole town back. This is really the time to give to charity.”
Bheddah said India now faces losses of up to $6 billion.
“It’s the worst catastrophe that has hit India in 53 years,” Bheddah said. “We are displaying posters in every shop to remind customers to give all they can, and in addition we are collecting from other merchants in the neighborhood.”
Checks or money orders for India’s relief efforts can be sent to:
• India Sari Palace
37-07 74th St.
Jackson Heights, N.Y. 11372
• Sam & Raj
37-08 74th St.
Jackson Heights, N.Y. 11372
Clothing and supplies can be sent or brought to:
• Gujrati Samaj
173-15 Horace Harding Expy.
Flushing, N.Y. 11365
Reach reporter Peter Sorkin by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-03?00, Ext. 138.