Tourists from Switzerland have begun returning home from Thailand as the death toll from Sunday’s tidal waves in southeast Asia continues to rise.
Efforts are underway in the disaster region to boost aid and prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.
On Wednesday a chartered plane with more than 130 Swiss citizens on board arrived back in Zurich from the popular Thai island resort of Phuket.
The passengers included 35 wounded who were transported to hospitals.
Five more injured tourists returned to Switzerland later in the day on board an ambulance jet provided by the Swiss Air Rescue Service.
More flights are planned later in the week.
As the death-toll estimate rose to more than 80,000, international organisations warned of the risk of diseases spreading in the worst-hit region.
More Swiss victims
At least 11 Swiss are known to have perished following the undersea earthquake that hit the Bay of Bengal last weekend.
Peter Sutter, a senior foreign ministry official, said the death toll was likely to rise.
He added that about 1,200 Swiss citizens in southeast Asia were still unaccounted for.
The foreign ministry also announced on Wednesday that it was sending forensic experts to Phuket to help identify bodies.
A special care centre for traumatised victims of the tidal waves in Thailand is being set up.
The Swiss foreign ministry, the authorities in Thailand and the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have set up telephone hotlines and special internet sites for relatives of the missing (see Key Facts).
Around 2,200 tourists from Switzerland are believed to have been in the disaster region when giant waves struck the coastlines of several countries in southeast Asia.
According to an official at the Geneva-based World Health Organization, up to five million people in Asia have been left without water, food or basic sanitation.
Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, said on Thursday that it had already collected SFr11 million ($9.7 million) in donations.
A nationwide fundraising day for the victims of one of the world’s worst natural disasters is due to take place on January 5.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) said it would send a team of four experts to Indonesia.
“They will head for Aceh province and will be working in close cooperation with the Red Cross,” SDC spokesman Jean-Philippe Jutzi told swissinfo.
Another SDC team is on the ground in Sri Lanka, while two Swiss water-sanitation specialists are preparing to head for the Maldives.
“The SDC has already spent SFr1.5 million [in aid following the quake]... and if you include the team going to Indonesia this amount will quickly rise to SFr2 million,” said Jutzi.
swissinfo with agencies
At least 11 Swiss have died in the tidal waves in southeast Asia.
About 30 wounded Swiss tourists have been repatriated from Thailand.
Hundreds of Swiss citizens are still unaccounted for.
Swiss foreign ministry hotline: +41 31 325 33 33
Thai foreign ministry hotline:
+66 2 643 5000/5501/5502/5003/5055/5056
+66 2 644 7245/7249
ICRC website: www.familylinks.icrc.org
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