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Snags Hamper Mission of Mercy

As they drove, Mowlana worked the new cell phone he'd purchased, calling the network of Sri Lankan officials that he had developed through his well-connected family and through his annual visits to the country in the past two decades.

He made some calls about land promised by a Sri Lankan provincial office on which Asia Relief could build a hospital. And he phoned a relative, a Sri Lankan member of parliament, who had told him he knew of a company in Pakistan that could quickly ship 3,500 10-person tents and had promised to get him contact information.

Mowlana hands 3,000 rupees (about $30) to an injured vendor who cannot support her family. God bless, she replied. (Jacqueline L. Salmon -- The Washington Post)

Mowlana had been told that family-size tents were desperately needed in the disaster zones. He had posted an appeal for tent donations on the Asia Relief Web site. Unfortunately, his eager American supporters had sent two-person pup tents -- useless for a populace that would have to live in them for weeks or months.

But the politician didn't have the Pakistani contact information yet.

Mowlana hung up and threw up his hands in disgust.

"These guys are so bloody slow, I tell you."

Along the south coast, the wreckage began to appear -- blown-out buildings, twisted coconut trees, people picking through the wreckage. There were some signs of life -- white-uniformed schoolchildren, stacks of new bricks for rebuilding. But even Mowlana, who was prepared for the devastation, was stunned. "It's like war," he said. "Like a bombing."

The car passed a rusting red train draped along the train tracks a few hundred feet from the beach, surrounded by wrecked trees. More than 800 people had died on it when the waves roared over it.

"I lost family on that train," he said. An aunt and her children.

They stopped at a rural hospital close to the ocean -- a whitewashed brick building with grimy cement floors and a goat grazing in the inner courtyard.

After the tsunami, many people who had been injured and more than 200 of the dead were brought to the facility. But the hospital staff had rushed out to check on their own families, and some of the injured died while waiting for treatment, the staff told Mowlana.

The chief medical officer told Mowlana that he was running out of medicine that he received after the tsunami. He gave Mowlana a list of medicines he needed, and Mowlana promised to return with supplies when his containers of medicine came in. He also offered to fund an emergency room needed by the hospital. The doctor gratefully accepted, and they shook hands.

In the car, Mowlana sighed with satisfaction. "The meeting was excellent," he told his wife.

The emergency room project would cost about $260,000. Mowlana said he would give the hospital $50,000 from Asia Relief funds and raise the rest himself from supporters.

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