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Jamaicans Gather in L.A.--to Give Donations and Get Word

Times Staff Writer

Among the 80,000 native Jamaicans who live in Los Angeles, Stone Market is a cultural and culinary outpost. It is to the hectic, little store at 6700 S. Crenshaw Blvd. in the Hyde Park area that many come to buy mango nectar, peppery spices and other imported Caribbean foods.

On Wednesday, the market’s owner, Noel Diaz, was shipping those items and other staples back to Jamaica in the wake of Hurricane Gilbert, which tore through the island Monday and left homeless an estimated one-fourth of its 2 million residents.

“We must do something,” Diaz said. “It may not be a lot, but it is something.”

Throughout the day, Jamaicans living in Los Angeles dropped off sacks of rice, bags of flour and boxes of clothing in a grass-roots relief effort to aid their ravaged homeland.

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They also came to Stone Market to commiserate, to find out if anyone had word of family and friends or of the damages wrought by Gilbert’s gusting 179-m.p.h. winds. But with telephones knocked out, news was scant.

As Jamaicans dropped off their donations, they reminisced about Charlie, the devastating storm that hit Jamaica in 1951.

Lewin Harrison was among those who remembered. He was 6 years old, living in Kingston, when Charlie came ashore with 130-m.p.h. winds. That storm killed 162 people and injured hundreds.

“We locked all the windows and doors and I remember there was an inch or two of water on the floor,” said Harrison, who runs a temporary nursing agency and owns a restaurant in Venice. “For a boy, it was almost a lark. But this hurricane, this is much, much more powerful. I am afraid it is much more devastating.”

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The food and other items collected at Stone Market on Wednesday were taken to Los Angeles International Airport, to be loaded aboard an Air Jamaica A-300 Airbus. Normally, the jetliner would have been filled with vacationers bound for the island’s beaches. But there were no tourists headed for Jamaica on Flight 055 Wednesday night.

“We’re going to fly into Miami, refuel and await word,” said Dawn Davy, the flight’s purser. “We don’t even known if the runways are passable--or if there are runways.”

Also placed aboard the plane were about 200,000 doses of antibiotics and vitamins and 80,000 square feet of plastic sheeting to help cover homes with ripped-away roofs.

Officials recommended that donations for hurricane victims be sent to Operation California, 7615 1/2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 90046; the American Red Cross, 2700 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 90057, or the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, 331 E. 38th St., New York City, 10016.

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