Xiao Xuemei received a phone call at 2 a.m. Monday from a friend in her home city of Chengdu telling her that a massive earthquake had struck Sichuan province, killing thousands.
Xiao, a waitress at a Sichuanese restaurant in Alhambra, panicked and immediately started calling family members there on their cellphones to make sure they were safe.
"I couldn't get through," said Xiao, 50. "There was no connection."
Luckily, Xiao received another call from Chengdu a few hours later. This time it was from her older sister, who said she had to evacuate her sixth-floor apartment and camp out on the street, but all their family members were fine.
"We are very nervous. We are very worried because we are so far away," said Xiao, who left China three years ago for Alhambra. "All my family is in Chengdu."
Such concerns were echoed across the San Gabriel Valley, home to one of the largest ethnic Chinese communities in the United States, as news of the magnitude 7.9 temblor dominated conversations and television sets. There was great concern about the death toll, which officials estimated to be at least 10,000.
At Xiao's workplace, Szechwan Best Restaurant on Main Street, flat-screen televisions were tuned to Chinese news stations showing earthquake coverage.
Xiao and her co-workers said they were trying to move the earthquake to the back of their minds so they could focus on the lunch rush -- but it was hard. Xiao said she planned to keep calling China to get updates from her family.
Sichuan immigrant Annie Wang didn't hear about the disaster until co-workers at her foot massage spa in San Gabriel switched on Chinese television and said, "Annie, your Sichuan had an earthquake."
Although all her immediate family has moved to the United States, Wang said, her stomach sank as she thought about friends and relatives.
"I'm not very positive about the location," said Wang, 44, as she rubbed the feet of a client. "I think it's in the poorer areas. If so, my cousin goes out there often for work. I'm worried about my friends and classmates. I can only call them once I'm off work."
Wang, who has been in the U.S. for a year, says Los Angeles is home to many Sichuan immigrants. It's a community that mostly reflects the working-class character of the province. Many came to Southern California to work in restaurants and, like Wang, found jobs in the dozens of foot massage parlors that dot the San Gabriel Valley.
Many leaders of the area's Chinese community scrambled to organize relief efforts as soon as word of the earthquake surfaced.
Sue Zhang, the chief organizer behind the Beijing Olympic Rose Parade float this year, said she had been on the phone with community leaders all morning to plan a fundraising event. She hopes to announce a weekend concert soon, with proceeds going to quake victims. She said the community has been galvanized in recent weeks by a string of rallies defending China's policies and promoting the Beijing Olympic Games.
"Everyone feels like they need to do something," Zhang said.
Mei Mei Zhou, president of the Southwest China Assn., said she was going to solicit donations for relief efforts soon and will contact officials in her home province of Sichuan to determine what they need.
"Even though we are overseas, we are from the same root," said Zhou. "Our hearts are together and we feel sorrow."
Chen Shijie, a spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles, said his office had been flooded with calls from mostly local Chinese asking how to donate money to aid the disaster victims. The consulate also received a call from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office expressing sympathy and an offer to help.
Chen suggested prospective donors either contact the Red Cross or send money to the consulate.
"We will ensure it gets to the disaster area," he said.
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How to help
These are some of the charities accepting donations to help victims of Monday's earthquake in China:
88 Hamilton Ave.
Stamford, CT 06902
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208
Save the Children
54 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880
P.O. Box 9716
Federal Way, WA 98063