Three 40-foot tractor-trailers were filled to the top. A box truck, minivan and an SUVwere all packed. And still, there were perhaps a thousand more boxes stacked up in a warehouse in Sterling yesterday, filled with medical supplies, clothes, blankets and other goods intended for earthquake victims in Pakistan.
Dozens of members of the region's Pakistani community gathered at the Loudoun County warehouse yesterday in their second attempt at sending badly needed relief to those left injured or homeless by the Oct. 8 earthquake. Last weekend, the group packed a 53-foot tractor-trailer with supplies and sent it to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, thinking its contents would be loaded onto a cargo plane for Pakistan.
But the airport, and various airlines, were overwhelmed by relief shipments and turned the massive container away. The trailer was driven back to the parking lot outside Inter Global Systems' offices, just off Sterling Boulevard, and yesterday, its contents were divided among three trailers -- along with another week's worth of donations from individuals, mosques, businesses, schools and Muslim groups from across the region. This time, the cargo is destined for ships leaving the Port of Baltimore.
"It really hurts to see the people suffering" in Pakistan, said volunteer Rashid Hanif, a physician from Hagerstown. "It's unbelievable, all the death and tragedy."
Hanif's interfaith community and mosque in Maryland sent an empty box truck to Sterling, with the express purpose of getting tents to Pakistan. Tents were the top priority because so many people are left without shelter as winter approaches in the mountainous area near the Indian border in the Kashmir region.
Hanif's group bought 250 tents, 100 sleeping bags and 20 boxes of medicine and other medical supplies. In fact, so many Pakistanis bought tents to donate to the relief effort that local department stores were running out, said Farah Chohan, one of the organizers of yesterday's drive. She estimated that about 1,500 tents were being shipped out of Sterling yesterday.
In addition to loading every truck they could find, volunteers separated items that couldn't be used for transfer to hurricane victims or the Salvation Army. Another 40-foot truck was scheduled to arrive Monday to be loaded, said Hussain Quettawala, who along with his wife, Maryum, donated their warehouse and lined up the trucks. More than $20,000 was also raised to cover the costs of shipping the trailers to Pakistan.
Hasan Ibrahim, a Leesburg Realtor, was part of a chain of men who were tossing boxes from one trailer to another. More than 50,000 people are believed dead from the quake, and Ibrahim noted that there are "212 villages that haven't even been contacted yet. They don't know who's alive and who's dead. . . . My uncle lost 25 people in his family."
Ibrahim and several friends had organized their own relief drive, purchasing high-end tents that would withstand the country's brutal wind and snow. He estimated they had bought and shipped about 400 large tents, which retailers discounted from $30,000 to about $10,000 because of the earthquake.
He and Hanif had arranged for planes to fly their tents directly to Pakistan. But the ship-bound supplies being packed up yesterday won't arrive in Pakistan for four to six weeks, compared with an estimated 21 hours by plane from New York.
"If we don't do something about it, people are going to die," said Zarrar Husain, another of the event's organizers. "We need to establish an air bridge between here and Pakistan and get a continuous supply of aid going."
He is part of a group of local Pakistani professionals that has established contact with relief groups in Pakistan and the United Nations, and Pakistani government officials.
"We've got volunteers ready and willing to help ship these items and people on the other end ready to take it. What we need is a plane," he said.