Video: Identifying tsunami victims

updated 1/1/2005 10:18:07 PM ET 2005-01-02T03:18:07

Sweden greeted the new year with a day of mourning Saturday to honor 59 Swedes confirmed dead and 3,559 missing, while Italy raised its death toll from the earthquake and tsunami disaster to 18 and said more than 600 Italians had not been found.

Dozens of countries lost citizens to the huge waves that hit southern Asia and eastern Africa a week ago Sunday, as several popular winter havens were devastated. But a definitive tally of foreigners killed or missing was difficult to determine as authorities sought to identify bodies and survivors contacted relatives or government agencies.

Thai authorities said more than 2,230 foreigners from dozens of nations were confirmed dead from Thailand’s southern resorts.

The official U.S. death toll stood at 15 on Saturday, with eight dead in Thailand and seven in Sri Lanka. The State Department declined to give an estimate for the number of missing Americans.

“We have been able to account for many hundreds of those whose families have contacted us, although new calls come in constantly,” State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said Saturday.

Thailand a popular destination
Sweden appeared to be the hardest-hit Western nation, with the government estimating that more than 20,000 Swedes were in Thailand when the tsunamis struck.

“It’s never felt so hard to welcome a new year,” Prime Minister Goeran Persson said in a New Year’s speech at Stockholm’s open air museum Skansen, where thousands gathered for a muted ceremony.

At least 34 Germans also were confirmed dead, 300 injured and “significantly” more than 1,000 still missing in the area, according to deputy foreign minister Klaus Scharioth.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Saturday that the country’s death toll from the tsunamis could surpass the 88 Australians killed in the 2002 Bali terrorist bombings.

On Sunday, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade increased the Australian death toll to 12 and said it has “grave concerns” for 107 Australians known to be missing. It also said 840 Australians who may have been in the affected areas had not yet been accounted for.

Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said at least 18 Italians were killed. He lowered the number of missing to 660, saying more than 6,000 others originally reported missing had been accounted for as of late Friday.

Fini said most of the missing Italians were on the popular seaside resort of Phuket, Thailand. But he appealed to Italians not to travel to the area to try to find loved ones, saying the his government would work with local authorities.

'A global catastrophe'
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on a family vacation in Egypt, told Britain’s Channel 4 News program that the effects of the disaster will likely be felt for years to come.

“At first it seemed a terrible disaster, a terrible tragedy, but I think as the days have gone on, people have recognized it as a global catastrophe,” Blair said Saturday.

At least 35 Britons were killed in the disaster, according to the British Foreign Ministry, which did not provide figures for the number missing.

The Belgian government reported five citizens killed but said 48 who had been missing in Sri Lanka and Thailand were found alive, cutting the number of Belgians missing after the Indian Ocean tsunami to 167.

Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry said the number of Swiss confirmed dead had risen to 16. A further 85 were presumed dead because they disappeared under circumstances that left no hope, Foreign Ministry official Peter Sutter said, adding that 550 others had not been accounted for.

Two New Zealanders were confirmed dead and 24 were missing in tourist resorts in Thailand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Sunday.

The Thai tourist resorts hit hardest by the tsunamis, such as Phuket and Khao Lak, were especially popular vacation destinations for thousands of Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns seeking to escape frigid temperatures at Christmas.

Seven Danes were confirmed dead and 397 reported missing, and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that hopes for finding them alive were fading.

In Finland, flags flew at half-staff and people lit candles outside churches, which held special services for the victims and their families. Officials confirmed that four Finns were killed but said they feared most of the 193 Finns still missing were dead.

Hundreds of churches across Sweden also held candlelight vigils Saturday, as hospitals called in extra personnel to care for hundreds of injured Swedes returning on specially chartered planes from Thailand.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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