With over 1,500 Swedes still missing in Thailand and 40-60 unaccounted for in Sri Lanka following Sunday’s massive tidal waves, Sweden’s foreign minister Laila Freivalds said on Tuesday afternoon that the country’s death toll will inevitably rise.
“We are afraid that many of them are not going to be found,” she said.
As she prepared to visit the region herself, Laila Freivalds confirmed that six Swedes are officially among the dead but said that “we must expect that there will be many more”.
Meanwhile, Göran Persson expressed his “deep sympathy for the many people who are still living with concern” for loved ones who are yet to be contacted.
In an article in Tuesday’s Aftonbladet, he said that for some people, “the uncertainty has been replaced by sorrow”. But the Prime Minister acknowledged that “for those who are seeking family members and friends, the uncertainty will remain for some time yet” due to the chaos in the area.
“Damage to roads and telecommunications is making it hard to get information. The temporary Swedish embassy office in Phuket is working round the clock to help Swedes in the area. Travel companies, the foreign office, the Red Cross and others are working to gather information, and to find and help people in distress.”
The Prime Minister confirmed that Swedish aid was already on its way – not least to Sri Lanka, the country hardest-hit by the tsunami caused by the earthquake on Sunday.
Nevertheless, the foreign office has been criticised for its lack of preparation for such a disaster.
Throughout Monday, the ministry’s telephone switchboard was jammed by callers desperately seeking information about relatives on holiday in the disaster zone. At one point, according to Svenska Dagbladet, 90 calls per second were measured – while only 13 people were on hand to answer them.
The department’s Lars Danielsson admitted on Monday evening that that wasn’t good enough and assured the public that steps were being taken to improve capacity.
News agency TT questioned the foreign minister Laila Freivalds about her department’s apparent inability to cope with this kind of crisis.
“There is preparation for catastrophes but this is quite simply on such a scale that we hadn’t foreseen,” she said.
The government was also criticised for not having enough people on the ground in Thailand, where the majority of Swedes are missing.
“It is clear that we don’t normally have people in place to deal with such a terrible situation,” said Freivalds.
“But we have transferred staff from embassies and consulates in nearby countries and we have sent people down from Sweden to strengthen our presence.”
For a list of Sweden’s emergency numbers and internet links concerning the Asian earthquake click here.