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Students aid victims of Colombian volcano

[mk1]By Katie Schwarz

Colombian students at MIT are collecting donations to help victims of the volcano eruption and mudslide that killed over 20,000 and left up to 60,000 homeless in their country last week.

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The students are accepting contributions at a table on the second floor of the Student Center this week, and will probably set up a booth in Lobby 10 next week, according to Mauricio Ramirez G, one of the organizers of the relief effort. There is also a collection box at the Lobby 7 doughnut stand. The MIT International Students' Office (ISO) will turn over all money collected to the Red Cross, Ramirez said.

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Ramirez and other students initiated the relief effort, said Karen Zuffante of the ISO. They talked to her Monday and arranged for a meeting that night, which was attended by ten students and a staff member.

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At the meeting, students decided to set up a booth to collect donations. Lobby 10 was already booked for this week, so they set up their table in the Student Center, Zuffante said.

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Club Latino of MIT and the ISO are supervising the fund drive because there is no organization of Colombian students on campus, she added.

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Ramirez did not know of any students whose relatives were affected by the mudslide, but he said many know "at least one person" from Armero. There are about 17 Colombian students on campus, mostly graduate students, according to Zuffante.

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The Nov. 14 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz, one of the most devastating volcanoes in history, inundated the town of Armero in central Colombia with mudslides when heat from erupting magma melted part of the mountain's icecap. The floods and mudslides buried almost all of Armero and damaged several other towns, washing away houses and burying streets under mud, stones and ash.

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Destruction of bridges and roads is hindering the international rescue effort. Meanwhile, thousands of people are still fleeing the area around the peak amid fears of further eruptions.

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Geophysicists have accused the Colombian government of inaction on warnings that the volcano might erupt and of failing to drain excess water behind a natural dam upstream from Armero, exacerbating the disaster. Other experts claim there was not enough time to take action.

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Colombia is already facing an economic and political crisis. It is in the midst of a civil unrest and guerrilla attacks, and has an $11 billion foreign debt, a severe industrial and agricultural recession, and high unemployment.

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Aid is needed most urgently for those who lost their homes, Ramirez said. Most of the homeless were farmers whose crops were wiped out, he continued.

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The MIT fund drive will work with similar efforts at Harvard University and Boston University, Ramirez said. Zuffante said she would contact the Overseas Development Network Office at Harvard University.

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Ramirez and Zuffante were concerned that response to the fund drive may not be as great as it would have been last week, when the disaster was most publicized. "If we had started sooner ... the effectiveness might have been a little bit better," Zuffante said.

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Donations have been "kind of slow," Ramirez said. He estimated about $150 had been collected by Tuesday, the first day of the fund drive, at 1:30 pm. The exact amount will not be known until the ISO opens the box today, he said.

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