When the devastating tsunami hit south east Asia on 26 December the Italian department of civil protection, trained to react quickly in case of earthquake and tidal waves, was able to send emergency teams to the worst hit areas immediately. Three teams were in place by midnight on 27 December.

One team set up a centre at the airport at Mal in the Maldives from where they have arranged for the repatriation of Italian nationals caught in the disaster, one team set up an emergency field hospital in Sri Lanka which is now functioning, complete with operating theatre on the outskirts of what was once the village of Hunawatuna and one team set up a field hospital at Phuket in Thailand.

So far more than 3,500 Italian nationals have been flown home from the area on flights specially arranged by the ministry of foreign affairs, many of them suffering from injuries, and many more have returned home on commercial airlines. A total of 660 Italians are still reported missing.

As the overwhelming size of the tragedy unfolds and the needs of the populations become clear hundreds of Italians have volunteered to go to the stricken areas. Aid organisations, which are coordinating relief operations, have expressed appreciation to all of these volunteers but have explained that only qualified medical staff and experienced aid workers are required. They stress that at the moment the most important thing is to raise money to pay for supplies such as shelter, water purification systems and medical supplies.