Hi-tech website helps families to trace victims

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The Independent Online

A Hong Kong biometrics company has begun operating a website offering a helpline to families waiting for news of relatives caught up in the tsunami disaster.

A Hong Kong biometrics company has begun operating a website offering a helpline to families waiting for news of relatives caught up in the tsunami disaster.

Photographs of the dead and injured taken by volunteers at hospitals and emergency centres on Phuket island have been loaded onto the site to create a database of victims.

People with missing relatives can now upload photographs of themselves which will be scanned automatically against the database using a hi-tech facial-mapping system. Close matches will then be e-mailed back for relatives to see if it is their loved one. The free site, www.PeopleMatch.rc.tv, which is updated hourly was set up by RC Group, a specialist biometrics company.

The internet has never before been such a focus of intense despair or relief. Hundreds of sites worldwide offer news of survivors or those who have perished in the waves which swept south Asia. The relatively new phenomenon of blogging - personal web diaries and links - has come into its own, offering some of the most vivid descriptions of the devastation as well as information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts.

On the more established news organisations' websites, such as the BBC, Sky News and CNN, seemingly endless lists of people have posted their desperate pleas for information, and these are sometimes followed by hopeful responses.

A spokesman for the BBC said its site had been visited by up to three million people a day since the disaster with 50,000 e-mails sent to their message board and 900,000 people logging on to it.

This is a selection of the messages posted on the various websites:

"We are desperately searching for Flory, a blond three-year-old girl. She was lost in Medilla Beach, Tangalle." Sabine Pienitz, Frankfurt, Germany

"Has anyone any news from the Banyak Islands? They are very close to the earthquake epicentre. I used to live there and can only fear the worst. I have many friends there." Gary from Jersey

"Peter Gooderson, please let us know if you are alright. Grandpa is very worried." Angela, Ballito, and the Goodersons

"Would like to know if Sue Glover and partner are safe. They are from Manchester area. They were due to marry on Boxing Day in Thailand." Anonymous

"I was in Mirissa on the day of the tsunami, and I think I may have been talking to your parents on a hill as we waited to feel safe enough to return after the tsunami.

Unfortunately I did not ask their names, but they appear to fit your description ... when I first met the lady who may be your mother I was struck by the fact that she was wearing red lipstick - does this sound like your mother?" Reply from Victoria Temple, of Stroud, Gloucestershire, to Margariet van der Valk's appeal for information about her parents

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