Orlando residents are struggling to deal with the tragedy after a gunman killed dozens of people. Many are contributing money or donating blood to help the injured. Miodrag Soric reports from Florida.
The heat is oppressive: 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade, with high humidity and no breeze. Hundreds of people wait patiently in a line. Some of them have been here for more than four hours, and all of them are here for one reason: to donate blood.
The volunteers are answering a call from Orlando authorities. Dozens of victims, some severely injured, are being treated in the surrounding hospitals. Doctors have been doing what they can, but none of the hospitals was prepared for amassacre
like the one thatrocked Orlando early Sunday.
That's why officials appealed to locals to donate blood for the injured.
From here, it's only a five-minute walk to Pulse, where the gunman killed 49 people and injured many more before he was shot dead by police. The strike was the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
Local residents like Scarlett Phillips are still in shock. Phillips moved to Orlando with her husband only recently. "I have children myself," she said. "The idea of waiting all day for news about whether your child has been killed or not, breaks my heart."
Many are willing to help
Lulu Freeman is also devastated. She lives close to the club, which is frequented bymembers of the LGBT community.
The acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. "Many of my friends go there and so does my wife," Freeman says.
She finds it horrible that something so awful has happened in a place where people go to have fun.
Dozens of volunteers supply those in line at the blood bank with water, sandwiches and fruit. Members of the Muslim community in Orlando are also among them. Several families with children have come to help.
One of the volunteers is 32-year-old Shehnaz Ali. Originally from Kenya, Ali moved to Orlando with her family one year ago. "I feel sorry for those who have to suffer through all this," she said. "Islam is a peaceful religion."
Her friend Zainab Ali shares that opinion. She's from Somalia and has been living in Orlando since 2000. "I was shocked when I heard about the shooting," the 30-year-old said. "I have small children and I want them to grow up in a safe environment." She added that Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, had recently begun and that this was a time where Muslims should be especially merciful.
Sadek Eltabba is also baffled about what happened in his new home. He fled Syria two years ago and came to the US to escape terrorism in the Middle East. "And now terrorism has hit Orlando," he says, shaking his head. Eltabba has also come to the blood bank to help, saying he wants to do what he can.
The Zebra Coalition's headquarters is just a ten-minute drive away. The group coordinates the work of 27 aid organizations. Telephones have been ringing nonstop in the nondescript white family home since the attack. Survivors of the shooting or victims' relatives call in. They're put in touch with psychologists or social workers.
"Many volunteers are calling to offer their help," Heather Wilkie, director of the "Zebra Coalition," says, adding that she was floored by the large number of people who wanted to help.
Rob Domenico's experience has been similar. Domenico volunteers at The Center, an NGO that mainly helps members of the LGBT-community. Water bottles, pies and cookies are piling up in the organization's storage. They have also received warm meals wrapped in aluminum foil.
"Restaurants from all over Florida, not just Orlando, are bringing those in," Domenico says. Since the shooting, he has been spending less time at his job as a software expert and has focused more on helping the NGO. He says that Orlando is a melting pot. "That's what makes us vulnerable, because we're an example of how well heterosexuals and homosexuals can live together."
Domenico says he was shocked when he first heard about what happened. But then he pushed his feelings aside. This was the time to help people; grieving would have to come later.