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Swiss provide emergency aid for quake victims

Tourists help evacuate their injured friend off of Phi Phi Island near southern Thailand Keystone

The Swiss government has released SFr1 million ($873,000) in emergency aid for the victims of Sunday’s disastrous earthquake in southeast Asia.

The death toll has reached more than 17,000 and is continuing to climb following a massive earthquake and tsunami tidal waves in the region.

Tourists, fishermen, hotels, homes and cars were swept away by walls of water unleashed by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, centred off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand, the Maldives, Malaysia and Myanmar were all hit by the tsunami waves.

Swiss solidarity

The Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, sent his condolences to the families of the victims on Sunday, as charities and development agencies worked to mobilise emergency aid and personnel.

The Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit – a militia corps made up of relief experts – has sent three people to Sri Lanka to evaluate conditions in the country, where a state of emergency has been declared.

The Swiss Red Cross and Caritas have also released SFr400,000 in emergency funds while the charitable arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, Swiss Solidarity, launched a nationwide appeal for the victims of the disaster.

Donations can be made over the internet (see “related links”) and at post offices in Switzerland (account: 10-15000-6).

Meanwhile, the Geneva-based Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is calling for an initial SFr7.5 million to assist around 500,000 people.

“The biggest health challenge we are facing is the spread of waterborne diseases, particularly malaria and diarrhea, as well as respiratory tract infections,” explained Hakan Sandbladh, a senior health officer at the Federation’s secretariat in Geneva.

Swiss tourists

A crisis unit and emergency number were also set up at the foreign ministry on Sunday to track down Swiss citizens living or travelling in southeast Asia.

Concerned relatives are encouraged to call +41 31 325 33 33 for help in locating their loved ones.

At least 2,000 Swiss tourists were thought to have been in the disaster-hit region over the weekend. As of Monday no figures about the number of possible Swiss casualties were available.

Some 300 Swiss tourists arrived back in Zurich on Monday morning from the Maldives, and tour operator Hotelplan said more would be flown home from Sri Lanka and the Maldives during the day.

In Thailand, Swiss operators have sent a fleet of seven buses to collect holidaymakers stranded in Phuket.

A spokesman for travel insurer Elvira said efforts to contact Swiss tourists in the region were ongoing, but that it was proving difficult to locate many of them.

“It is impossible to get through to the worst affected areas,” said Jürg Wittwer.

Kuoni said on Sunday that it had roughly 450 clients travelling in the Maldives, 150 in Sri Lanka and 400 in Thailand.

Meanwhile, Hotelplan, which owns three islands in the Maldives, said it had around 400 clients staying there and an additional 300 on the Thai resort island of Phuket.

“The infrastructure of the three sites in the Maldives was badly damaged,” said a Hotelplan spokesman, Hans-Peter Nehmer, who was unable to comment on the tourists’ health or whereabouts.

The Swiss branch of the TUI travel agency said it had about 500 clients staying in Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

swissinfo with agencies

An earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale unleased tsunami waves across southeastern Asia on Sunday, killing and injuring thousands.
According to the United States Geological Survey, it was world’s fifth largest quake since 1900 and the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska earthquake.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR