Families warned some victims may not be indentified

 

It will take many months to identify thousands of bodies in tsunami-hit Thailand, but some may never be indentified, forensic experts coordinating the massive 19-nation effort said today.

As more bloated corpses were pulled from the shattered Andaman Sea coastline a week after the waves hit, officials announced an international task force headed by a Thai police general to oversee the gruesome task of identifying the victims.

Mr Karl Kent, leader of the Australian forensic team, said the process of taking dental x-rays, fingerprints, DNA samples and analysing and matching them to surviving families "will take many months to complete". But he conceded some may never know what happened to their missing loved ones.

Thailand's national disaster centre said nearly 5,000 bodies had been recovered from smashed luxury hotels and fishing villages along the Andaman Sea, a popular destination for foreigners. Nearly 4,000 people are still missing - a number which dropped from about 6,500 after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the list was being reviewed - including more than 1,600 foreigners, many of them Scandinavians.

Interior Minister Mr Bhokin Bhalakula said today the search for bodies would continue for at least another five days, when officials would then decide whether to continue.

He said Thai and Japanese navy vessels would begin a new search for bodies at the request of Sweden, the worst-affected European country. Authorities fear 1,000 Swedes may have died on Thailand's beaches. Some 300 forensic experts from 19 countries - including Sweden, France, the Netherlands, China and the United States - have begun work at temporary morgues set up on the grounds of Buddhist temples.

A US company, Kenyon International Emergency Services, is providing logistics, equipment and personnel for the task force. The Houston-based disaster management firm has had staff working in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombing, the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, and the September 11th attacks on the United States.

"This is the biggest we have been involved with," said Kenyon spokesman Mr John Bailey. The tsunami, triggered by a huge earthquake off Indonesia, slammed into the coasts around the Indian Ocean, killing nearly 130,000 people. The death toll is expected to rise.