Niagara Falls physician Dhiraj H. Shah feared the worst when he searched for his parents, brothers and sisters amidst the rubble in Bhuj, India, the epicenter of last month's massive earthquake.
"I was scared to death," said Shah, a Bhuj native who lives on Grand Island and has been practicing medicine locally for 30 years. "Fortunately, they survived. I had to go from tent to tent until I finally found them."
Now, Shah is back in Western New York raising money to help rebuild Indian communities like Bhuj. Jaina, a North American Jain association boasting 100,000 members including 800 doctors, has raised about $100,000 through donations, said Shah, who is the group's president. He hopes to raise at least another $100,000 before he returns to India in March.
Contributions for the group's earthquake relief fund can be sent to Jaina, P.O. Box 700, Getzville, 14068. "Every penny we raise goes for the benefit of the victims," Shah said. "We have no paid staff. It's all a volunteer organization."
The India Association of Buffalo also continues to accept donations for earthquake relief.
"We have collected close to $45,000 so far," said Raj Mehta, president of the India Association of Buffalo.
Shah was in Bhuj last month as part of a medical clinic Jaina sponsors, then flew to Bombay when it was over. The next day, the most powerful earthquake to hit India in more than a half-century shook the western Indian state of Gujaret. Death toll estimates are as high as 100,000.
Shah returned to Bhuj to look for his family, while the organization helped put about 600 homeless in a shelter and provide another 2,000 with tents, food and medical attention, Shah said.
But Shah estimates about 300 to 400 of his friends, neighbors and extended family were killed in the earthquake. "I did lose a lot of uncles, aunts, cousins and distant relatives," Shah said.