Friday, May 23, 2008

Myanmar disaster hits home for Bethesda firm

Architect reaches out to help after projects there are put on hold

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One Maryland business feeling the impact of tropical cyclone Nargis half a world away is a small architectural firm in Bethesda.

Soe Lin & Associates Architects has about five projects in Myanmar, said Douglas Soe Lin, president of the company and a native of the nation formerly called Burma.

The projects range from a hospital and government buildings to hotel resorts in the devastated nation, where tens of thousands of people are reported dead or missing in the wake of the storm early this month.

‘‘All of our projects there are on hold,” said Soe Lin, who was born in Yangon — formerly Rangoon — and immigrated as a boy to the United States in 1965 with his parents.

‘‘A number of the structures are damaged,” he said. ‘‘But it’s not as bad as it could have been. Most of our work is in [Yangon], and the city was spared the brunt of the storm. We didn’t get completely wiped out.”

Soe Lin plans to visit Myanmar next month for a few weeks to survey the damage and see how he can help with relief efforts. ‘‘We can help rebuild schools and other buildings,” he said.

His mother still lives in Myanmar, but is doing fine. ‘‘She has electricity now but doesn’t have phone service,” he said. ‘‘She does have a cell phone she can use.”

Soe Lin said he doesn’t know of any other Maryland companies that do work in Myanmar. His firm has done work in Montgomery County, including some of the interior designs for the Montgomery County Conference Center in North Bethesda.

The company has also worked on the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., and has projects in Thailand and other nations. The business, which Soe Lin formed in 1991, has nine employees at its Bethesda headquarters and a handful of workers overseas.

Numerous Maryland companies are providing aid. For example, Cera Products of Columbia, which manufactures hydration products, is sending 13 pallets, or 12,480 liters valued at more than $66,500, of electrolyte drinks to Myanmar.

Lending a hand

Several Maryland organizations are collecting donations for disaster relief in Myanmar.

Adventist Development and Relief Agency Myanmar Cyclone Fund, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904. 800-424-2372,

American Red Cross Myanmar Relief and Development, 800-435-7669 or 800-257-7575 in Spanish.

Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team, 6810 Tilden Lane, Rockville, MD 20852. 301-984-0217,

Burma-America Buddhist Association, 1708 Powder Mill Road, Silver Spring, MD 20903. 301-439-4035.

CHF International, 8601 Georgia Ave., No. 800, Silver Spring, MD 20910. 301-587-4700,