Swiss unite in grief for tsunami victims

Candles were lit in Bern's cathedral in memory of the tsunami victims Keystone

President Samuel Schmid has urged the Swiss to “triumph over adversity” during a day of national mourning for the victims of the Asian tsunami disaster.

This content was published on January 5, 2005 - 19:59

His appeal at a memorial service in Bern on Wednesday came as donations for the tragedy reached record levels.

Speaking at the multi-faith service in Bern’s cathedral, Schmid said the Swiss people shared the grief of all those who had lost loved ones.

He offered his condolences to the families of the missing and the dead, and urged them not to give up hope.

“Let us not be overwhelmed by grief, life must go on,” he said.

But the Swiss president acknowledged that the loss would be harder to bear for those whose relatives would never be found.

More than 1,200 people, including tsunami survivors and victims’ families, attended the service.

Children lit candles in the cathedral – 11 symbolising the tsunami-hit nations and five representing the home continents of all the victims.

Death toll

So far 23 Swiss have been confirmed dead and 500 are still unaccounted for.

On Tuesday Schmid told the nation that the final death toll would run to several hundred.

“We won’t give up. We will continue searching. We haven’t lost hope,” said Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey at an emotional news conference in Bern on Wednesday.

At midday church bells rang out across the country to mark a Europe-wide silence for the dead. Flags hung at half-mast on federal buildings in the capital.

Swiss television broadcast special programmes on Wednesday night for Swiss Solidarity, which works with local organisations in disaster-hit areas.

By Thursday morning the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation had collected a record SFr114 million ($97.5 million).

Aid effort

The Swiss government has pledged SFr27 million in aid and has sent 24 forensic specialists to Thailand to help identify victims of the tsunami.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has sent relief teams to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives.

Up to 150,000 people are estimated to have died in the disaster. Indonesia is the worst affected country with around 95,000 deaths, followed by Sri Lanka with at least 30,000 dead.

Around 10,000 tourists, mostly Europeans, lost their lives in the tidal waves.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that donations for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami were arriving faster than they could be recorded, pushing the amount pledged toward $4 billion.

“We are recording pledges of between three and four billion dollars which shows that indeed the world is coming together in a manner we have never ever seen before,” said Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief coordinator.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Up to 150,000 people are believed to have died in the disaster.
The Swiss death toll is expected to run into the hundreds.
The government has pledged SFr27 million in aid.
Swiss relief teams have been dispatched across south Asia.

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In brief

The earthquake on December 26 off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra measured 9.0 on the Richter scale.

Tidal waves struck the coastlines of Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Maldives, Bangladesh and the east coast of Africa.

The death toll is estimated at up to 150,000, with more than 2 million people in need of aid.

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