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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December, 2004, 09:24 GMT
Struggle to identify Thai dead
A Thai expert rests besides a wall of coffins at Bang Muang temple in Takua Pa, 31 December 2004.
Forensic experts are racing against time to identify bodies
It could be weeks if not months before all those killed in Thailand by last Sunday's tsunami are identified, rescue teams in the country have said.

The death toll is now more than 4,500, almost half of whom are foreign tourists, with another 6,000 missing.

Forensic experts trying to identify the dead have appealed to relatives of those missing to stay at home.

People travelling to Thailand to try to find the bodies of loved ones could end up getting in the way, they said.

Ten international teams of forensic scientists are now involved in the operation to identify the dead, led by a group from Australia.

THAI DEATH TOLL
Phang Nga - 3,689
Krabi - 395
Phuket - 279
Ranong - 167
Satun - 6
Trang - 5
(Thai Health Ministry figures)
It is now virtually impossible to identify the bodies by sight, so they are trying to use dental records, or match DNA samples provided by relatives of the missing.

But the bodies of the Thai victims - most of them Buddhists - are starting to be cremated.

The traditional mourning rituals have been abandoned, with dozens of bodies being burnt together to reduce the risk of disease.

Six Thai provinces were battered by the huge tsunami last Sunday.

The worst affected was Phang Nga, where more than 3,600 deaths have so far been recorded.

Nearly 2,000 of those were foreigners, many staying in the now-devastated holiday resort of Khao Lak.

Phang Nga governor Anuwat Maytheevibulwut told the French news agency AFP that relief workers in the province were expecting to receive another 300 corpses on Friday.

"We will try to complete the task today on land but I have no idea how many are floating in the sea," he said.

Muted New Year

In respect for the dead, the Thai government has asked holiday resorts to tone down their New Year celebrations.

In response to Lynn and Tim Parker in London. We have just heard that Mich, Dave and Poppy are all OK.
Judy Willis, Bucks, UK

"The government office announced that there shouldn't be any party or festival," an assistant at the Phuket Merlin Hotel told the French news agency AFP.

"Lots of people died. We cannot celebrate," the assistant added.

A candlelit vigil will be held on the quake-ravaged island of Phi Phi, and traditional New Year festivities in Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai will be replaced by commemorative ceremonies.




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DNA samples are being used to identify the dead



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