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Los Angeles Officials, Pakistani Community Leaders Appeal for Quake Relief

Los Angeles officials have joined the city's Pakistani community in appealing for funds for relief work in Kashmir, which was rocked by a major earthquake October 8. Consular officials in Los Angeles say the cost of the reconstruction in the earthquake-ravaged region could approach $5 billion.

Southern California is home to more than 50,000 Pakistani Americans, and they are at the forefront of the relief effort.

Waqar Ali Khan, chairman of the Council of Pakistan American Chambers of Commerce, says Pakistani American businesses have contributed half a million dollars for the relief work. Now they are turning to their fellow Americans.

"We are trying to reach out to the American community to come forward and support us because we need blankets, we need lifesaving drugs," pleaded Mr. Khan.

As the weather turns cold in Pakistan, Noor Muhammad Jadmani, the nation's consul general in Los Angeles, says the most immediate need is for winterized tents for people whose homes were destroyed.

"Three-point-three million shelterless people, in the harsh conditions of winter, you can imagine the first priority for us right now is to send the tents," said Mr. Jadmani. "And we are airlifting those from our three outlets, from New York, Chicago, and Houston."

Arif Mansuri, also of the Council of Pakistan American Chambers of Commerce, says the outpouring of support from all parts of the community has been generous.

"There have been several fundraisers, and more to come. We are now currently involved in some multi-cultural fundraising. We are holding a charity concert with a Hindu temple and then we are holding also a multicultural, multi-faith rally to help drum up support. So there has been support pouring in from all over," said Mr. Mansuri.

On the steps of Los Angeles city hall, city councilwoman Jan Perry organized an appeal for more assistance.

"I hope that today will spark an effort by the people of Los Angeles to open their hearts and their pocketbooks, and to help," noted Ms. Perry.

Consular officials say rebuilding towns and cities in the devastated area could cost nearly $5 billion. The massive earthquake ravaged an area of 26,000 square kilometers, mostly in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

The Pakistan embassy in Washington and the country's U.S. consulates are accepting donations, as are major relief groups, including the American Red Cross.

H. T. Linke of the Red Cross Los Angeles office says the quake came at a difficult time - on the heels of other disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"Over 2,000 families from New Orleans and Louisiana and Mississippi and the affected Gulf area have come to Los Angeles seeking help. Honestly, that stretched us thin, our personnel, our volunteers, and our financial resources. But, you cannot turn your back on several million people who are now suddenly homeless, possibly destitute, and really do not know how they are going to rebuild their future," said Mr. Linke.

He says that as of Wednesday, the American Red Cross had collected $1 million for the Pakistan relief effort. After the earthquake struck, the U.S. government pledged $ 50 million for relief work. Other countries have also offered help, but United Nations officials say the pledges fall far short of the need.