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Japanese American groups in L.A. use Web to respond to quake

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Japanese American community groups in Los Angeles used a variety of social networking tools over the weekend to coordinate their efforts in response to Friday's monstrous earthquake that struck northwest Japan.

Several of the groups' websites are being used to help collect donations and connect Japanese Americans with friends and relatives in Japan. Organizers said they were using the Web extensively at this stage because it offered the fastest method to provide aid.

"We've been encouraging people to donate online or through text messages to the American Red Cross," said Douglas Erber, president of the Japan America Society of Southern California. "People can do it so quickly."

Photos: Scenes of earthquake destruction

The organization raised $1.7 million in response to the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Erber said, but the sum could be higher this time because donations can be made more easily online.

An e-mail was sent out to 5,000 contacts in the group's database Friday, and a second message was planned Sunday, Erber said. He said that thousands of dollars already had been donated through the society's website.

Erber's group, which has more than 2,000 members, has established its own relief fund and will help promote fundraising drives sponsored by local television stations Monday at the Rose Bowl and Angel Stadium, and Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.

At this point, though, Erber asked that money be sent to the Red Cross. "They need it now," he said.

The consulate-general of Japan in Los Angeles used its website home page to list links to relief funds, Japanese and American government announcements, and Google's "Person-Finder" website.

Katsumi Maruoka, a consulate spokesman, said the office had received hundreds of calls over the weekend from people offering help or contributions.

But Maruoka said the office isn't prepared to manage major donations on its own, and that it was deferring to other organizations such as the Red Cross. "At this moment, we are trying to provide information," he said.

Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese newspaper based in Little Tokyo, posted Twitter updates Friday and Saturday and created a page on its website to aggregate reports on the quake. In one post, the newspaper listed several Japanese telephone company websites that can be used to make international calls.

The Japanese American Community Cultural Center, another prominent local group, posted a message on its website announcing that it would work "to get involved in a relief effort and … keep our members and subscribers updated." Representatives from the center were not immediately available for comment Sunday.

Erber said the initial focus of the Japan America Society was to help Japanese Americans locate friends and family in Japan using Google and Yahoo search engines and networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. He said the sites were "amazingly critical" because it was difficult or impossible to communicate with relatives in Japan over the phone.

Photos: Scenes of earthquake destruction

Donations can be made at http://www.redcross.org, or people can text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to help those affected by the earthquake, Erber said.

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Earthquake shifted Earth on its axis

Japan faces toughest crisis since WWII, prime minister says

Japan's massive earthquake has little effect on culture's impeccable manners

sam.allen@latimes.com

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