Monday, December 27, 2004
Dozens of European tourists dead or missing in Asian disaster
Mon Dec 27, 7:07 AM ET
Top Stories - AFP
BERLIN (AFP) - Shocked European sunseekers began to trickle home from Asian resorts hit by massive tidal waves, as travel companies began to compile information on dead, injured and missing among their clients, and to bring survivors home.
The known casualty toll was already in the dozens, and rising fast along with the overall toll, which was well over 22,000 in eight countries across Asia.
Most European tourists affected by the disaster had been on Christmas sun breaks in the palm tree-fringed beach resorts of southern Thailand or Sri Lanka.
Tourism officials in Scandinavia said several hundred tourists from Nordic regions were still unaccounted for, while the Italian foreign ministry said 11 Italian tourists were known to have died, and others could be missing.
Swedish operator Fritidsresor, which had flown 800 Swedes into the Khao Lak resort north of Phuket in Thailand, said it had information about the whereabouts of only around 200 of them.
Four Britons were confirmed dead across southern Asia and there were fears for a number of others, the Foreign Office said Monday.
In Moscow the Russian travel industry association said that four Russian tourists holidaying in Thailand were missing.
In Paris, the main travel agents' association said dozens of French tourists were unaccounted for, and the Accor group said there had been casualties in one of its big hotels on Phuket island in Thailand.
In Germany, Europe's leading travel agency, TUI, said four of its German holidaymakers were missing and presumed dead in Sri Lanka.
The company added that it feared there would also be deaths among TUI holidaymakers in Khao Lak, just north of the main southern Thai resort of Phuket. TUI said communications were stll largely cut off with Khao Lak.
And three Austrians died when they were carried away by tidal wave that devastated Phuket, the Austrian counsel in Bangkok, Edwin Ferner, said, according to the Austrian news agency APA.
APA said a fourth Austrian tourist was missing in southern Thailand.
Meanwhile, tour operators and airlines were struggling to fly people home to Europe.
On Monday morning, the first flight from Thailand carrying German holidaymakers from the affected areas touched down at Frankfurt airport.
One man on board broke down in tears as he described the desperate scene as people tried to escape the walls of water crashing into the coastline.
"We tried to climb on to roofs but there was no ladder," Uwe Straube told German television. "There were no teams of rescuers, nothing. There was just injured and dead people and a lot of screaming."
A flight returned to Duesseldorf airport overnight Sunday carrying 300 passengers who had been heading to the Maldives but had been diverted to Sri Lanka before returning to Germany.
One passenger, Ulrike Schmidt, said the effects of the devastation were clear at the airport in the Sri Lankan capital. "Colombo airport looked like a refugee camp," she said.
An LTU spokesman said a "tented city" had been set up at Colombo airport where he said some holidaymakers were growing frustrated and angry as they waited in vain for flights back to Europe.
"People want to go home," said spokesman Marco Dadomo, describing an aggressive scene at the airport.
TUI said it was doing everything it could to fly people home.
"Along with other German travel companies, we are sending as many planes as we can to repatriate holidaymakers as quickly as possible," TUI spokesman Mario Koepers said.
And travel operators were cancelling holidays to the affected areas.
TUI said it was suspending all its trips to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the Thai resort of Phuket until December 31.
And the low-cost German tour operator Rewe said it would give a free refund to anyone wishing to cancel holidays they had booked in Phuket, the Maldives or Sri Lanka.