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Identifying Bodies the Grim Task of International Team

Some 60 international forensic experts have begun what is perhaps one of the most daunting collaborative efforts undertaken by their profession. They are trying to positively identify more than 5,000 people killed in Thailand in the December 26th tsunami.

The forensic experts are working at the new Disaster Victim Identification Center, which opened Monday in Phuket, among the areas of Thailand hit hardest by the tsunami. The center, created with the help of Interpol, is being used as a clearinghouse for information about the thousands of people still missing.

Jeff Emery, with the Australian Federal Police, explains the task. "At the moment we are collecting missing persons details from Internet connections, from police service websites worldwide. We're gathering this information from embassies and consulates from all the countries, from all the police services and also the people on the ground here. All the information and missing persons data gets recorded on one single databaseā€, said Mr. Emery.

Experts are extracting muscle tissue from corpses, taking X-rays of teeth, and gathering fingerprints, where possible. The information is sent to a country that can conduct a DNA analysis, and entered into Interpol's database. The results are then compared with samples provided by family members.

Dental records have played a critical role so far in identifying the victims. Christopher Griffiths, a dental records specialist said, "As you can see with bridges and crowns, there is just so much information you can get with these radiographs which will match up. And these are the way, in Bali, 60 percent of the individuals were matched from their dental radiographs within the first two weeks."

Officials with the center expect the operation to last more than six months.