Tourists seeking travel advice jam Government helpline

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Foreign Office's emergency helpline for relatives of those caught up in the Asian tsunami disaster has been blocked by tourists wanting travel advice to the region, it was disclosed yesterday.

The Foreign Office's emergency helpline for relatives of those caught up in the Asian tsunami disaster has been blocked by tourists wanting travel advice to the region, it was disclosed yesterday.

The helpline, which can be reached on 020 7008 0000, was set up for relatives of those missing abroad to obtain the latest information. Many callers said they were unable to get through despite a 40-strong team of Foreign Office (FO) employees in Asia working round the clock.

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth has already called for an investigation into "what went wrong" with the "inadequate arrangements" after hearing of worried families unable to get through for hours.

Those seeking travel advice should phone: 0870 6060290. Travel advice can also be found on the FO website, and flight details should be obtained from airports or travel operators.

Rob White, from Devon, who has friends in Sri Lanka, told the BBC News website: "After a million calls I finally got through to the FO number, [only] to be put on hold for 30 minutes and then cut off. What kind of communication is that?"

A joint statement from the FO and the Metropolitan Police said that many calls were being received from people seeking information on flights or travel advice. It added: "These calls are preventing us from answering the calls from concerned relatives and friends as quickly as we would like."

Several thousand people have spoken to volunteers in a facility at the Metropolitan Police training centre in Hendon, north London, since it was set up on Sunday and Commander Ronald McPherson, in charge of the Hendon operation, said the volume of calls was among the highest levels experienced for a mass casualty incident, including the 11 September 2001 attacks.

But Mr Howarth, MP for Aldershot, said: "The system in place is plainly inadequate."

Comments