Missing Swedes Estimated at 3,500
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – The number of Swedish tourists missing in Thailand (search) jumped to 3,500 on Friday, and leaders in other Nordic countries predicted that hundreds of their citizens could have died in earthquake-propelled tsunamis in Southeast Asia.
Sweden appears likely to be the Western country hardest hit by the tsunamis that wrecked the southern Asian coastlines the day after Christmas and killed more than 120,000 people.
"We will be seeing coffins arriving at our airports in a way we've never seen before in our country," Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson (search) told a news conference Friday.
To date, 59 Swedes are confirmed killed, but Persson said Thursday that the final Swedish death toll would be in the hundreds, and could exceed 1,000.
The Danish victim count was still at seven, but as 466 were still missing, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (search) warned Friday that the Danish death toll will also increase dramatically.
"Now authorities and relatives haven't been able to make contact with those missing for such a long time that one must assume that several hundred Danes must have perished," Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference.
The Swedish and Danish governments have faced severe criticism for reacting too slowly to the disaster.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen on Friday said that 21 Norwegians were confirmed dead — unchanged from Thursday — and that 462 were missing. It was unclear whether another 980 had been in the areas hit by the tsunamis.
Finland's government confirmed four dead, but said 194 Finns are missing, mostly in Thailand.
Across the Nordics, citizens prepared for a solemn New Year's celebration in the wake of the tragedy. Traditional fireworks displays were canceled in many cities and Persson, the Swedish prime minister, urged Swedes to put a burning candle in their windows as a vigil.
"Never has the step into a new year felt heavier," Persson said. "We should have celebrated with fireworks and festivities. Now that feels completely wrong."
Jan. 1 has been declared a day of mourning across the Nordics, with flags flying half staff.
Denmark's Queen Margrethe canceled the annual New Year banquet on Jan. 1 "because of the tragic situation in southeastern Asia," the Royal Palace said in a statement.
"Let us not only just think of our losses but also of the many thousands of people who now must see their whole existence broken into pieces," Margrethe said in her New Year's speech aired live on major television and radio networks.
In Helsinki, health and emergency officials appealed to New Year partygoers to celebrate modestly because the Asian quake disaster had taxed health services in the Finnish capital, with more than 100 injured Finns flown in on air ambulances.
In Denmark, Stig Elling, the manager of tour operator Star Tour, urged Danes not to spend their money on buying fireworks for New Years celebrations, but to "walk past these shops and further down the street to donate the money to people who are really in need."