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Colombia Quake Victim Heads to NYC

February 27, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A month ago, Jenny Amaya was inside a bank with her mother in the western city of Pereira when the earth shook with a violence that sent a wall tumbling on top of them.

Her mother, Luz Dary, was killed almost instantly in the Jan. 25 earthquake, which would claim at least 1,171 lives and leave some 250,000 people homeless.

Jenny, 13, badly hurt and hospitalized, had to have her crushed right leg amputated below the knee. She wasn’t told until about a week later, after U.S. officials had come to take her passport photo, that her mother was gone.

Now she’s going back to the country of her birth.

``To our understanding Jenny is the only American citizen who was injured in the earthquake,″ said her congressman, Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y.

Jenny’s father, Emilio Amaya, is a textile factory worker living in New York City who emigrated to the United States in 1985 but sent his wife and five daughters back to his hometown of Pereira six years ago.

It’s a typical story: Colombian breadwinner toils in the United States to provide for a family living 2,000 miles away. His daughters grow up in their parents’ culture, but with an absentee father.

Emilio Amaya, 43, learned from a sister the night of the quake that he had lost his wife of 20 years, who was cashing a check from him when she died. The couple had last spoken the previous day.

Unable to fly to Colombia because he is an undocumented alien, Amaya was devastated. Spanish-language U.S. media quickly learned of his story, however, as did Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y.

``I met Mr. Amaya the night after the earthquake and was shocked to hear the story,″ she said. So Velazquez helped arrange a way to reunite him with Jenny and her 12-year-old sister, Maritza.

The two girls were to fly to New York on Sunday with Crowley and Velazquez, who were to pick them up on Saturday and tour the devastation of a quake that flattened two-thirds of Armenia, a city of 300,000 people just south of Pereira.

In New York, Jenny will be fitted with a prosthetic limb and receive medical treatment at Elmhurst and Mount Sinai hospitals, Velazquez said.

Emilio Amaya said he’d then find a school for the girls.

President Clinton announced $10 million in quake aid for Colombia last week and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a congressional hearing Thursday that it could receive up to $40 million.

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