Sweden woke to a grey New Year’s Day as last week’s catastrophe in South East Asia cast a heavy shadow across the country.
At the government’s request the flags flew at half mast. Church bells tolled for memorial services. Many people volunteered to help local aid agencies. Others numbly drifted through the day, struggling to come to terms with the hourly reports of Swedes dead or missing.
And for thousands, the first day of 2005 was spent frantically – but impotently – searching for family and friends, scouring Thai web sites, hospital lists and newspaper articles for the names that mattered most to them.
But even in the darkest circumstances New Year’s Day brings hope, and Saturday was no exception.
At lunchtime the government announced that the number of Swedes still missing stood at 3,559. But the foreign office also said that they had begun ringing all those who have reported that they are missing friends or family members. After the first 300 calls, 165 people who have already flown home have now been taken off the list.
“It is an indication that the numbers are hopefully going to fall,” said Christian Asp from the foreign office. “But even if they do so, we must brace ourselves for the total being very high.”
Cabinet secretary Hans Dahlgren, who led Saturday’s press conference, appealed to anyone who has information about friends or relatives who have been reported as missing to contact the foreign office.
Dahlgren once again assured the gathered media that all Swedish bodies which could be brought home would be brought home. But he warned that in many cases that would not be possible.
“It’s quite likely that many of those who will never be recovered are actually out at sea,” he said.
Saturday evening brought the first opportunity for Swedes to demonstrate their solidarity. In two television programmes, the first on SVT and the second broadcast simultaneously on TV3, TV4 and Channel 5, the royal family, prime minister and some of Sweden’s best known singers captured the mood of the nation while representatives from the Red Cross and Save the Children called for more assistance.
And the Swedish public responded in their millions. By the end of the two one-hour broadcasts, the amount donated stood at 333 million crowns, the highest ever raised by TV appeal in Scandinavia.