While India celebrated one of its biggest holidays, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9 ripped through the country’s Western Coast, killing what experts estimate to be more than 20,000 people.

India’s strongest quake in 50 years struck Friday, Jan. 26, at 8:46 a.m., as many awoke to celebrations and parades. It was Republic Day – the holiday that marks the adoption of India’s Constitution in 1950. By Wednesday, the confirmed death count reached 12,000, and some officials believe 13,000 additional people were buried alive. A collapsing building killed 350 school children who were marching in a parade in a town near Bhuj, the earthquake’s epicenter.

“I feel this earthquake is very tragic. So many have died and are still dying,” said Nari Soundarrajan, president of the India Association of Santa Barbara (IASB).

With this tragedy in mind, the IASB launched a relief effort to raise money and awareness at UCSB for the 500,000 survivors, some injured, who were left without water, power or shelter. The IASB is jointly cooperating with the India Development and Relief Fund – a global effort created by the Indian government – to coordinate relief activities.

“An earthquake of this magnitude – India is not prepared to deal with this,” IASB member and UCSB graduate student Shankar Regunathan said. “That’s why help is very critical. India is getting help from around the world, but there is still much to be done.”

“I think by being generous and donating some money that students could spare would help. And spreading awareness that it is a really big earthquake, and if they know anybody who could make a significant contribution, that would be a great thing,” said Ashish Aggarwal, a former IASB president and graduate student.

Within two days, the IASB has raised about $7,000 on campus, and the group hopes to raise $15,000 by the week’s end.

IASB members have set up collection desks in front of the UCen and Arbor from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will continue through Friday, Feb. 2. During the weekend, the organization will also set up desks on State Street and the Camino Real Plaza.

Relief aid from around the world has been sent to India. Volunteers were sent from Germany, Finland, Belgium, India and the United States, who aided in setting up the Red Cross’ largest field hospital ever. Despite a long history of violent conflict with India, Pakistan sent a military plane loaded with tents and blankets.

“This is an international incident. The people of [Pakistan and India] have been affected by this earthquake – India having an overwhelming number,” IASB member and UCSB alumnus Ajit Rao said. “It will take $1.5 billion for reconstruction, and a lot of this money will be raised by Indians around the world.”
– The Associated Press also contributed to this article.