SYDNEY, Australia – At least 79 Australians were still missing and feared dead in tsunami-affected (search) areas, the country's foreign minister said Monday.
Alexander Downer (search) said the number was revised from 107 missing after several families were able to contact their loved ones. The list includes only names of individuals reported missing by family and friends.
Officials said they were concerned about another 650 Australians who were in the hardest hit areas at the time of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunamis but had so far failed to check in with family or authorities.
"It's good that some of the people for whom the department was gravely concerned about have now been found," Downer told reporters. "That is encouraging, of course."
Twelve Australians have been confirmed dead — nine in Thailand and three in Sri La (search)nka.
Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said Australian forensic experts in Thailand were helping local police to identify as many as 5,000 bodies in Phuket.
"We're not just about identifying Australians, we're about helping the royal Thai police through the entire process whether they be Thais, whether they be foreigners," he said.
Keelty confirmed, however, that the process of identification was growing more difficult by the day.
"The large bulk of these bodies have been left unrefrigerated for almost a week which makes physical, visible identification really out of our reach," Keelty said.
Downer and Keelty plan to leave Australia on Tuesday for a tour of the tsunami-stricken regions of Thailand and Indonesia ahead of an emergency tsunami summit in Jakarta on Thursday.
Downer said he plans to talk to Indonesian officials about the creation of a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean.
"It's going to be a big job," he said. "It's going to require a multinational effort."
Downer also said Australia would increase its aid to the tsunami-affected countries substantially above the 60 million Australian dollars (US$47 million, euro35 million) already committed, but he declined to say by how much.