The individual wave, known as a tsunami (Japanese for "harbor wave"), is one that is generated as the result of a submarine earthquake, volcano or landslide. In the case of the Dec. 26 tsunamis, they were a result of an earthquake centered 100 miles off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale.
The tsunamis that crashed upon the shorelines of 52 countries from Indonesia to Kenya caused massive damage to homes and villages and have been responsible for an estimated 150,000 deaths as of Friday (a total that continues to rise). Millions of survivors are homeless and trying to cope with the loss of loved ones.
There has been an outpouring of emotional and financial support from all over the world. Jersey City is doing its part with a relief fund started by Mayor Jerramiah Healy and by members of the city's Indian community.
Despair and relief
Raj Patel, the owner of the Travel World travel agency on Newark Avenue and current president of the Jersey City Asian Merchants Association, said last week that the disaster still has him watching hours of news.
"I have a TV in my office that always has on CNN. The tragedy is always on my mind," said Patel.
Patel along with fellow merchants, local Indian religious leaders and members of the larger Indian community in the section of Journal Square known as Little India have established a relief fund to help with the tsunami relief effort.
Patel also said that he would cut a check for $20,000 that would go to the India-based non-governmental organization Shri Santram Janseva Trust.
"If this money went to the Indian government, I think you would be lucky if five cents out of a dollar went to the people," Patel said. "With the Shri Santram Janseva Trust, at least seventy cents would get to the people."
Patel was also critical of how the governments of the countries hit by the tsunamis failed to have warning systems in place, saying the Sri Lanka and India were "asleep."
Several local doctors are also planning to make a trip to southern India and Sri Lanka to help other doctors from around the world in treating those survivors at risk from the unsanitary conditions created by the dying bodies.
One of them is Dr. Vijaya Desai, a pediatrician with a private practice in Jersey City who announced at a press conference held at City Hall on Dec. 30 that she would travel to the affected areas in India and Sri Lanka as a part of a contingent of five local doctors.
"We are planning to leave on Jan. 15. First, we have to take care of our itinerary," she said. "We are trying to get in place a Toyota SUV that helps us travel around Sri Lanka since it is difficult especially after the disaster."
According to Desai, the local doctors will then meet in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo with other doctors from across the United States who are working with the International Medical Health Organization (IMHO), formerly called the Tamil Health Organization, which was founded in October 2003 to improve medical conditions for residents who lived through two decades of civil war in Sri Lanka.
They will make their way across Sri Lanka, where 30,513 people were confirmed killed and 3,870 people were listed as missing as of Friday.
Desai also started the Jersey City Physicians & Healthcare Workers' Coalition for 2004 Tsunami Disaster Relief, which was formed to collect medicine, medical supplies and financial aid. Desai said last week that already $10,000 has been collected as of last week, with more to come and that
At the same press conference, Healy announced that he is setting up a tsunami relief fund in Jersey City and money would go to several organizations that need it the monies immediately.
At of the end of last week, the mayor's spokesperson, Maria Pignataro, said that the city's Law Department had to study the legalities of setting up such a fund before it was put in place.
Sara Kahn, director of the Cross Cultural Counseling Center at the International Institute of New Jersey based in Jersey City, said the pain is just as palpable for victims' loved ones in the United States.
"For these immigrants, life is very difficult. Many people are struggling," she said. "Then they are hit with the loss of their loved ones and it just compounds the trauma."
Kahn said that a number of counselors based at the Cross Cultural Center who speak the native dialects of those in the U.S. whose countries were hit went to their homes to comfort them.
"We as a country have a responsibility to help those secondary victims so they don't have to deal with the layers of bureaucracy and allow them to go back to their countries," she said.
Deepak Virmani, a recent transplant to Jersey City, is also one of the founders of SEEDS (Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society) that was formed in 1994 in New Delhi, India.
SEEDS is a non-profit organization that has been working toward community based environmental and disaster management for over 10 years and is comprised of members with architecture, planning, engineering, management, and social work backgrounds.
Virmani is one of several U.S.-based coordinators for SEEDS who is working with US organizations in the relief effort. He said the organization is taking part in the tsunami relief effort, centering on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
A group of 570 islands located 750-800 miles off the coast of India, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have a population of approximately 356,000 inhabitants spread across the islands. The major industries on the islands include coconut harvesting and fishing.
"SEEDS recently started some mitigation work on the islands to prepare people for a natural disaster and then this thing happened," said Virmani.
Virmani said that one of the major concerns for SEEDS is many of the islands' citizens are from various tribes that he says "have shunned the outside world."
According to a Jan. 6 field report done by SEEDS, there were reported 7,000 dead from two of the 570 islands and information from the Web site of the California-based Geohazards International notes that over 30,000 are unaccounted for. The Indian government, which has taken over relief operations on the islands, reported that a total of 712 are confirmed dead in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Also, aftershocks have continued to plague the island.
Virmani who said that the reason that his organization was started was in his past experience, the Indian government did not have preparedness plans for individual villages and cities but rather on a national level.
But while there's an emphasis to help rebuild the affected countries, what if the rebuilding process is not enough?
Jose Camilo, director of the Immigration Law Center at the International Institute of New Jersey, said that in past years, people have been able to come to the United States due to some type of natural disaster.
"People came from El Salvador after Hurricane Mitch hit that country," he said. "Many were able to come here because they were able to receive temporary protected status." The 1998 hurricane left 200 dead and over 30,000 homeless in that country.
Temporary protected status (TPS) was established under the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990. It is granted to eligible nationals of designated countries if conditions in that country pose a danger to personal safety due to ongoing armed conflict or an environmental disaster.
Those eligible for TPS may be granted a stay from six to 18 months and may be extended depending on the situation.
Camilo, however, said that he wasn't sure if those persons from the countries affected could apply since the countries would have to be designated. Based on information about the TPS program posted on the Web site of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, only eight countries are designated at the present time. One of them is the East African country of Somalia, which suffered hundreds of deaths and thousands displaced as a result of the tsunami.
There are other matters to consider, according to Camilo.
"There has to be a significant amount of population from those countries, and it's also about politics of the moment and the nationality," he said. "When Cubans came by boat and landed in Florida, they became citizens. Haitians tried to do the same thing and were sent back."
Those who want to donate money, items and/or services can contact the following local and international organizations taking part in the tsunami relief effort - The Govinda Sanskar Center, 783 Newark Ave., Jersey City, N.J. 07306 at (201) 659-7600; Jersey City Physicians & Healthcare Workers' Coalition for 2004 Tsunami Disaster Relief c/o Dr. Vijaya Desai, 145 St. Paul's Ave., Jersey City, NJ 07306, (201) 792-4286; SEEDS c/o Geohazards International, 200 Town and Country Village, Palo Alto, CA 94301 or call Deepak Virmani at (201) 536-1116 and visit www.seedsindia.org; International Medical Health Organization, P.O. Box 901, Bel Air, MD 21014-0901 or www.imhousa.org and Oxfam at www.oxfam.org.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.