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Friday 31 December 2004

Thai toll skyrockets

Prime Minister holds out little hope for most of the 6,000 who are still missing

Prime Minister Thak-sin Shinawatra yesterday held out little hope for the thousands of missing tsunami victims, saying as many as 80 per cent of them were expected to have perished.

More than 6,000 people re-mained unaccounted for yesterday as authorities worked against the clock to collect the decomposing bodies of victims.

“Many people are still missing. About 80 per cent of them are likely to have died,” the prime minister said.

The confirmed death toll from the disaster that hit six southern provinces rose to 2,394 yesterday – at least 710 of them foreigners.

So far 1,583 bodies have been found in Phang Nga, 367 in Krabi, and 282 in Phuket – the three worst-hit provinces.

As of yesterday, official records showed that were 9,810 people injured and another 6,130 were missing.

If Thaksin is right about the fate of those still missing, the total death toll could jump past 7,000.

Natural Resources and En-vironment Minister Suwit Khun-kitti said yesterday that as many as 4,000 people could have perished in the Khao Lak area of Phang Nga alone, where several resorts are located.

Speaking during an inspection of relief work in the province, Suwit said about 20 bodies were found in a bus buried in debris near Khao Lak.

Thaksin said he had received calls of condolence from many foreign leaders.

He said he was also concerned about the restoration of the natural tourist attractions damaged by the tsunami waves.

Thaksin said more than 5,000 soldiers have been sent to join 20,000 local officials and volunteers in rescue and relief operations in the affected provinces.

About 100 “well-behaved” convicts were sent to join the search for dead bodies yesterday, he said.

Thaksin advised those involved in the relief operations to be “diplomatic” in order to avoid disputes, particularly those arising over areas of command.

“Everybody has gone to the area with good intentions. But the surroundings now are not comfortable – no toilets and lots of stench. When you are there with good intentions, you should be diplomatic and avoid foul language,” he said.

At least 2,000 bodies had piled up at Wat Yan Yao in Phang Nga’s Takua Pa district yesterday as the locals objected to their burial.

The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation yesterday issued an appeal to individuals and organisations for help in retrieving victims’ bodies. Those interested can fax a response to (02) 697 9219 by noon today.

In addition to a shortage of manpower in the search and relief operations, yesterday’s work was marred by rumours of an earthquake and more tsunamis.

Source: The Nation, Bangkokg
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