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By Patrick Donachie

Hundreds turned out for a benefit Sunday afternoon that raised money for victims of the earthquake that hit Ecuador April 16.

The event at La Boom Restaurant in Woodside raised more than $10,000 for UNICEF to assist survivors. Members of a local union also flew to the battered country this week to offer assistance.

“Whatever we raise, Queens is going to send that message of hope, that we’re going to put our little grain of salt in to help our Ecuadorean brothers and sisters,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said. “The other day it was Ecuador, but tomorrow it could be any other country.”

The earthquake’s death toll has exceeded 650 people, and some 16,600 people were injured. Several attendees at the benefit said they had friends and family who still had loved ones missing in the South American nation. The earthquake measured a 7.8 on the Richter scale and it demolished nearly 7,000 buildings.

As Latin singers performed at the benefit, 20 members of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 78 were flying to Ecuador to assist in recovery efforts. Byron Silva, the union’s assistant business manager, later said the crew had set up camp at a university in Portoviejo, a city near the country’s western coast that was heavily damaged by the quake. According to Silva, the team was helping to set up tents for Ecuadoreans who had lost their homes and were also waiting for clearance from the Ecuadorean government to participate in the removal of bodies and whatever other services they could offer.

Silva said the group of 20 was well-experienced in dealing with hazardous materials from their work at Ground Zero after 9/11 and during the cleanup that followed Superstorm Sandy. The union represents employees who specialize in asbestos, lead and hazardous waste removal.

“With 9/11, there was complete destruction, and they were handling hazardous materials in the air. We imagine it’ll be the same in Ecuador,” he said, noting that he was worried about asbestos that had dispersed into the air in the aftermath of the quake. “In the United States, we have heavy regulations for asbestos, but we don’t have the same regulations in South America. So we really don’t know.”

During the event, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said he hoped Ecuadoreans could attain Temporary Protected Status in the United States, which would mean undocumented immigrants from Ecuador would not be required to leave the United States as they would under standard regulations.

“We want to give people there and here reprieve until it’s safer to go back home,” he said.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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