Swedish Tsunami Dead Head Home
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Coffins carrying the remains of the first of 52 Swedes so far confirmed killed in the Asian tsunami (search) were loaded aboard a Swedish military plane Tuesday to be returned to their waiting families.
The Hercules transport plane carrying the six flag-draped coffins took off from Phuket, Thailand, headed for Arlanda Airport, just a few kilometers from the Swedish capital. Newspapers carried images of the coffins being loaded aboard the plane with headlines "The final trip."
The plane was scheduled to arrive after 11 p.m. (2200 GMT) and will be met by Prime Minister Goeran Persson (search) and Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf (search) and Queen Silvia.
The government said Tuesday that 827 Swedes were confirmed missing, and that it lacked information on the whereabouts of 1,495 others believed to have been vacationing in the region.
Efforts to track down the missing and check bodies in Thailand were continuing, but officials said it could take months to recover bodies from underbrush, analyze dental records and perform the other tests needed to fully identify the victims.
Persson has warned that Sweden's death toll could exceed 1,000, a catastrophe the country hasn't experienced since the ferry Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea in 1994, killing 892 people, including 551 Swedes.
The Swedish government has been harshly criticized for its handling of the tragedy. Some say it reacted too slowly in evacuating Swedes and dispatching Foreign Ministry officials to the affected areas.
The Norwegian government also has been criticized for its record-keeping, which at one point listed more than 1,400 Norwegians as missing or dead. Those numbers have since been cut to 16 dead and 91 missing.
The roughly 4,000 schools in Norway, some with empty desks because 26 children are among the missing, began classes Tuesday after the Christmas break with various memorials to help children cope with the aftermath of the disaster.
"The tidal wave disaster is something that effects us all, even if each individual school has not lost any of its students or staff," said Minister of Education Kristin Clemet. "A memorial gives children in Norway a chance to show compassion and concern together."
The Thai tourist resorts hit hardest by the tsunamis, such as Phuket and Khao Lak, were warm havens for tens of thousands of Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns, and other Europeans escaping the winter cold.
In Denmark, the number of missing Danes has fallen to 60, though the National Police warned that another 100 were not accounted for. Seven Danes have been confirmed dead.
The Swedish National Police was set to take over the lists of missing Swedes, but said they would also not release the names of the missing because there was a risk that their homes would be burgled.