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HEARTBREAK, RELIEF FOR RESIDENTS LEARNING FATE OF RELATIVES IN ASIA

The woman raised her outstretched palms to heaven.

"Oh God, oh God," Buffalo resident Annalukami Balasundram cried. "What do I do now? What do I do now?"

Only in the past few days have many Western New Yorkers been able to contact their native countries in south Asia and find out whether beloved friends and relatives survived the tsunami that hit early Sunday.

For some, the news was joyous. For some, it was heartbreaking.

On Tuesday, Balasundram, 74, got word that her oldest son and youngest daughter were dead. So were her four grandsons.

They lived in the coastal city of Mullativu, Sri Lanka, when the tsunami came. There are no bodies to bury -- none have been found.

They were all the family she had left in her homeland.

"All together, they died," she said through a translator. "I'm alone in the world."

Balasundram, a refugee who has been living at Vive la Casa for the past four months, has another daughter in Canada, but so far, has not been allowed to join her.

In West Seneca, Rajendran Velautham's prayers were answered.

After two days of searching, he found his family in Sri Lanka with the help of a friend.

Unlike Balasundram, whose family lived on Sri Lanka's east coast, Velautham's wife and three children live on the more-protected west coast.

For two days, Velautham got no word. Finally, he imposed on a friend living hours away to hunt for them. The friend found the family huddled in the town's main church, St. Peter's.

When Velautham finally spoke to his wife by cell phone, for the first 10 minutes, all he heard her do was weep.

Then the story of their escape took shape. The day the tsunami hit, huge waves crashed over their beachside home.

They ran for higher ground, finally boarding a local train headed inland. Eventually, the family was forced to turn back because all roads were blocked.

Their house destroyed, they went to the church.

Velautham, 43, said he didn't care about the house.

"Life first," said the father, who works as a housekeeper for an assisted-living facility.

For Paamalogini Alfred Soosainathar, 36, the news was a mixed blessing.

The Vive la Casa resident learned Wednesday that her parents and siblings are safe. But dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins were gone.

She counted 17 relatives lost on her father's side. On her mother's side, Soosainathar shook her head and swiped her hand across the metal table.

Too many too count, she said.

With many local families suffering direct losses in their homelands, , Western New Yorkers aretrying to raise money to support mammoth relief efforts.

Thursday night in Amherst, they came to The Palms Banquets on Transit Road with cash and checks to help victims of the disaster in India, one of 12 countries affected.

"I think people recognize this is one of the greatest natural disasters," said Vijay Chakravarthy, president of the Hindu Cultural Society, one of the sponsors. "Just the volume of people that died in this disaster is staggering."

Co-sponsors were the India Association of Buffalo and the American Indian Cultural Foundation.

Chakravarthy said that while he was setting up the account at a bank Thursday for the donations, "Immediately the employees said can we make a contribution. Straight away, someone came with a check.

"I am deeply moved by the compassion shown by the people," Chakravarthy said.

Representatives of the groups greeted guests at the door, shaking hands and thanking them for their support.

"I wish I could do more," one man responded.

"I'm not staying, but I wanted to make a contribution," said a woman who handed over something, then immediately left.

"It's just the utter devastation that you see when you watch the news reports," said Dr. Susan Baldassari of Kenmore. "I decided that I would like to do something about it."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com
e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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