Relief organizations flooded with donations OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING

April 29, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

OKLAHOMA CITY -- When a bomb pulverized the federal building a few blocks from the branch office of Southwestern Bell, the company quickly offered the building as a rescue command post. Within a couple of days, the company decided that wasn't good enough. It followed up with a $1 million donation.

In California's Silicon Valley, a financial analyst pledged his entire $53,000 salary to a college fund for the children who lost parents in the blast. New York financier Henry Kravis kicked in $200,000. And a seamstress from Oklahoma City prepared to sew burial clothes for any of the preschool victims who needed them.

Large and small, grand and homey, contributions to those stricken by the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history have flowed into this city at an unprecedented rate.

Local relief agencies have been scrambling to keep up with the calls and checks. The American Red Cross has already received more than it can spend here and has begun diverting donors to their local branches' causes.

For a number of reasons, Americans have responded differently to this calamity than to others that periodically bring vivid images of death and suffering to their television screens.

The riveting pictures of bleeding children from the building's day-care center made an impact. But more significant, perhaps, was the source of the horror.

"This was not an act of God, this was an act of man, and good people are sick at heart that this was done by the forces of evil," said Salvation Army Capt. Will Cundiff, a veteran of numerous natural disasters in the South and Midwest. "People want to show that they can right the wrong."

Yesterday, people from around the country continued to come forward, almost begging to be allowed to help.

Donations to the American Red Cross topped $5 million nationwide within five days of the tragedy before givers were directed elsewhere.

Representatives from several major disaster relief organizations agreed that the responses to recent hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes were generous, but nothing quite like this.

"Sometimes Oklahoma thinks the nation looks down on it," said one stunned local volunteer, Jim Arthur. "Now we know that's not true."

Thom Hunter, spokesman for Southwestern Bell, said his company felt it had to do something that would make a real difference and send a strong message. "It's important to show that there is still more right in the world than bad," he said. "These contributions are meant to show that good can triumph over evil."

Carol Miller, spokesman for the American Red Cross, said the fact that this disaster was man-made also helped increase cooperation among various public and private agencies, as well as increasing public giving.

"We have some bad floods where no one gives," she said.

Barney Lehmbeck, senior vice president at Liberty Bank & Trust Co. in Oklahoma City, which is handling the relief fund established by Gov. Frank Keating, said Americans seem to feel the bombing struck directly at them, even those who live thousands of miles away.

L "It just happened to happen in Oklahoma," Mr. Lehmbeck said.

June Reins, a Red Cross worker in Guthrie, Okla., said the national effort was probably boosted by the spectacle of the huge effort by Oklahomans themselves. "People like to help people who are trying to help themselves," she said.

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