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Central Europe: Nations Attempt To Count Dead, Missing In New York Attacks

  • Nikola Krastev

More than 60 countries have reported nationals missing or dead in the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center towers. Aside from a large number of missing Russians, few appear to be from countries in Eastern and Central Europe. But consular officials from this region say they have fielded numerous inquiries from people in their home countries concerned about missing loved ones.

New York, 28 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The total number of residents from Eastern and Central Europe who perished in the recent terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center appears to be small, but uncertainty over missing nationals continues to generate concern.

Russia has the largest estimated number of missing -- nearly 100 -- but consular officials in New York could provide no immediate confirmation of casualties.

Other consular officials interviewed by our correspondent said they have experienced a surge in calls from compatriots worried about loved ones working or touring in New York.

Consul Cezary Dzurkowski of the Polish consulate in New York tells RFE/RL that most Polish nationals working in the World Trade Center and in the nearby area -- where upwards of 5,000 people are believed to have died -- were able to escape. But Dzurkowski says there have been some confirmed fatalities.

"There [were] a lot of Polish citizens working there. Happily, most of them survived the blast and survived the collapse. Now we have a situation [in which] we have confirmed missing and probably dead five persons, five Polish citizens."

Dzurkowski says there is another group of 22 Polish nationals, including some tourists, who are still unaccounted for. But he said his office has reason to believe that these people are not among the casualties of the attacks and will probably be found.

Consular officials in New York from a number of other Eastern and Central European countries stress that often when their nationals are traveling or working in the United States they will not contact their relatives for a long time, prompting queries to consular offices about their whereabouts.

These officials say they have mounted a daily effort to try to track down the unaccounted-for travelers and determine which of them may have been victims of the attacks.

Officials at the Romanian consulate in New York say they have been in steady contact with the Command Center of Rescue and Recovery Operations in lower Manhattan. So far, they say, they have a positive identification for only one Romanian national -- a woman -- who died in the Trade Center attacks.

The permanent representative of Slovakia to the United Nations, Peter Tomka, denied speculation that there was a large group of Slovak tourists who went missing in the Trade Center attacks. He tells RFE/RL that the U.N. Mission is working with the Slovak Embassy in Washington to determine the fate of those still considered missing.

"Of course, their relatives in Slovakia were a little bit concerned whether they have visited the World Trade Center at this moment, but we clarified these matters also with the Slovak Embassy in Washington, and so far there is no indication that any Slovak citizen was on the spot at the moment of the accident -- and we don't have any confirmation of any casualty."

Stoyan Tonchev, Bulgaria's consul-general in New York, says there were initial concerns about several Bulgarian nationals, but their relatives were able to contact them in the days after the attacks with the assistance of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Tonchev has set up a website where concerned relatives can put the names of Bulgarian nationals believed to be missing.

Consular officials in New York tell RFE/RL that it is also difficult to track the whereabouts of presumably missing persons from their respective countries because, as a rule, they do not register, they frequently change addresses, and some of them -- working illegally in the country -- prefer to remain anonymous.

These officials say that because of the massive media coverage and the magnitude of the tragedy, their governments are paying special attention to the needs of those whose relatives are missing.

A spokesman for the Hungarian Consulate in New York says his office has received more than 150 inquiries in the last two weeks from the relatives of people who may be considered missing. But he says those inquiries are handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Budapest.

Tonchev, the Bulgarian consul-general, says that inquiries are numerous and are handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sofia.

Peter Gandelovic, consul-general of the Czech Republic in New York, says that he is not aware of any Czech nationals being employed at the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks.

"We don't know about any Czech citizen dead or being a casualty of this tragic disaster. As far as missing persons, we have a list of people who have not reported back home to their relatives [or] acquaintances. But the point is, we don't know about any one of those to be, positively, employees or being around the disaster [area] at the time [of the attacks]."

Consul Sven Tolp of the Consulate General of Estonia in New York says he doesn't have any information about nationals of Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania missing in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Estonia is the only one of the three Baltic states to maintain a consulate in New York.