Columbians, fearing loss of relatives, join tsunami relief efforts

Friday, December 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:52 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Columbia woman says her cousin in Sri Lanka is presumed dead and another relative has lost his wife and son.

Mihiri Udawatta said her cousin had gone for a swim in the sea with his friends when the tsunamis struck Sri Lanka, and he and the other swimmers were swept away.

Udawatta said a birthmark helped identify the body of one of her cousin’s friends. The body of Udawatta’s cousin might not be found anytime soon, however, because the bodies washing ashore are badly bloated.

Udawatta said she plans to raise money for the survivors.

“The only thing you can do is to pray and help the ones who survived,” she said.

She opened a savings account Tuesday for tsunami victims. Udawatta’s husband deposited $100, and her 9-year-old daughter donated $50, the entire contents of her piggy bank.

Other local residents are gearing up to collect money for the aid efforts in Sri Lanka and other affected countries.

The Boone County Chapter of the American Red Cross has received inquiries from local organizations about having a fund-raiser, said Jutta Hopkins, the chapter’s executive director.

Meanwhile, MU administrators, faculty and students and other community members interested in raising funds for the victims of the disaster met Thursday at MU’s International Center.

Jim McCartney, the center’s director, organized the meeting. McCartney said he had noticed an interest in fund raising and he was trying to figure out how to go about it.

“The purpose was trying to find a way to be helpful, and by pooling our knowledge, we might be able to have a more productive response,” McCartney said.

At the meeting, plans were made to help student organizations raise money. Those attending also decided to send money raised to an aid organization rather than distribute it themselves.

McCartney said that because some people don’t support particular organizations, the money will be sent to the groups to which the checks are made out.

“Contributors really are going to have full control over how they are going to donate,” he said.

Plans also were made to compile a list of the local and national organizations to which people can donate.

McCartney will work with MU’s chancellor’s office to send letters to students from the affected areas and their families.

MU has more than 350 students from the area affected by the tsunami, which includes much of Southeast Asia. McCartney said he was not sure if any of those students have been directly affected by the disaster.

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