Greeks in tsunami-struck areas

Over 1,000 Greek tourists are believed to have been in parts of southeastern Asia that were devastated by tidal waves following yesterday’s massive, 8.9-Richter earthquake off Indonesia, although there were no reports of any having been killed or seriously injured. By late yesterday, the overall death toll had grown to 11,500, and was expected to grow. The countries worst hit were Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar and Malaysia. The Foreign Ministry set up a crisis management team headed by deputy foreign ministers Yiannis Valinakis and Panayiotis Skandalakis, with diplomats scrambling to collect accurate information on the precise numbers of Greek holidaymakers who may have been in the worst-affected areas. «Our diplomatic officials are in constant contact with local state authorities and with other diplomatic missions from European Union member states,» a Foreign Ministry statement said. «A diplomat from our embassy in Bangkok has been instructed to go to the island of Phuket, and similar instructions have been given to the Greek consul in Madras. The Foreign Ministry continues to observe and to receive updates on the situation, despite the considerable difficulties in communication.» It added that a Greek air force C-130 transport plane with humanitarian aid has been placed on standby. Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said the heavy plane would carry a team of doctors, medical aid, blankets and tents to the afflicted areas. It was due to take off early this morning for the United Arab Emirates, from where it would proceed to southeastern Asia. Furthermore, Transport Ministry officials arranged for two Olympic Airlines passenger jets to be ready to take off for the area in order to carry back Greek holidaymakers. At least 1,000 Greeks are thought to have traveled, with local tour operators, to Thailand, India, the Maldives and other regional destinations for the Christmas and New Year holidays. Several Greeks are also believed to have booked with foreign travel agencies, or to have been traveling alone. The Foreign Ministry set up hotlines (210.368.1212, 210.368.1730 and 210.368.1360) for relatives or friends to report Greek citizens in to the latter two categories. Furthermore, it said, the Thai Foreign Ministry has set up a hotline (00662.241.7450-62) to provide information to foreign nationals. None of the Greek merchant ships in the area reported any damage or injuries.