Posted Nov 17 2010 8:00AM
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A couple of weeks have passed since a 5.6 magnitude earthquake devastated Nenad Krstic's hometown in Serbia. The plight of those back in Kraljevo is still on his mind.
But instead of constantly worrying about their safety, Krstic is focused on the rebuilding efforts and the difficult road ahead in the central Serbian town of about 100,000. The earthquake hit Nov. 3, damaging buildings across the city, including hospitals and schools, and hundreds of homes have been declared uninhabitable.
"Right now, it's calming down," Krstic said earlier this week. "I'm still sad about what happened, but at least not a lot of people were hurt. Unfortunately two people died and a couple of people were injured, but it could be worse because it was a big hit. Everything else you can fix it."
Krstic is a big deal in Kraljevo and throughout Serbia. Not only is the 27-year-old 7-footer the starting center of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he's also the captain of the national team.
There's a sense of responsibility running through Krstic's veins when it comes to his birthplace.
"I feel like I need to help," the former Partizan Belgrade star said. "Definitely, I'm trying to be an example for other people, other basketball players, soccer players. It's really good that a lot of sports people are trying to help and send donations.
"We have to stay together. It really hit hard in my hometown. Other cities are fine. My hometown is really bad right now, in bad shape. A lot of buildings are destroyed and need to be built again."
Krstic and the Thunder cooperated in a fundraiser at a recent OKC game that raised $10,000 for relief efforts. Other notable sports figures with Kraljevo ties include international soccer player Aleksandar Lukovic and former NBA center Vlade Divac, who started his career there.
Krstic learned of the earthquake during a dinner in Los Angeles through a friend's text. It took some time to make contract with his father back in Kraljevo and, naturally, Krstic began to worry. He began to read reports and watch video of the damage.
Krstic eventually made contact with his father and learned that he and other relatives weren't injured. At least not physically. Emotionally, everyone was hit.
The family home, an apartment, suffered damage that included a large hole being punched through the wall. Belongings were lost. All the furniture was ruined. The hole has been patched and new beds were bought. Krstic's mother and sister, who were visiting in Oklahoma City when the quake hit, have since returned home.
Life, though, still hasn't returned to normal, and it won't for some time. The economic challenges are vast, Krstic added. "Not a lot of rich people," he said. "It's just a hard-working town." Most workers make only a few hundred dollars a month. More than 200 smaller quakes have shaken Kraljevo since Nov. 3.
"Right now almost every day we have aftershocks," Krstic said. "It's not that strong, but still people are afraid. We're just trying to rebuild some stuff. It's really a bad situation right now because people don't have money. The whole country is trying to help. People outside Serbia and across Europe are sending donations to help those people because they really need it right now."
The Red Cross is providing aid. Krstic said people from across the country have come to Kraljevo to help. Families whose homes are still livable have taken in families without roofs over their head or a safe place to sleep.
"It's going to take a while, especially with the financing," he said. "But there's good will and people trying to help with money. People are coming from all over Serbia trying to fix things."
Krstic was looking forward to the NBA season after a difficult summer. He was involved a dangerous on-court fight during a game with Greece -- Krstic threw a chair at an opposing player -- as Serbia prepared for the World Championship.
The timing of the quake couldn't be worse being so early in the season. A long Thunder playoff run, which Krstic would welcome, only delays his return home. In the meantime, he'll watch and do all he can from afar. As much as the people of Kraljevo support Krstic, he believes in them.
"They know how to get through," he said. "They know how to get through the hard times. They're tough people."
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