Monday, March 07, 2005 9:20 a.m. ET
VIENNA (Reuters) – U.S. and Austrian lawyers have filed a lawsuit demanding Thailand, U.S. forecasters and the French Accor group answer accusations they failed in a duty to warn populations hit by December’s Tsunami disaster, a lawyer said Monday.
The lawsuit was filed Friday at a New York district court on behalf of tsunami victims by lawyers including U.S. attorney Edward Fagan, internationally renowned for 1990s lawsuits against Swiss banks over Holocaust-era accounts. It demanded an account of their actions on Dec. 26.
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“We expect a hearing within 30 days,” Austrian lawyer Gerhard Podovsovnik told Reuters.
“We don’t earn any money on the lawsuit. We want to help people,” he said. “We are suing to get information.”
The disaster left about 300,000 people dead or missing in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Maldives, Bangladesh and East Africa. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes.
The text of the lawsuit is available on the Web site www.tsunamivictimsgroup.com.
The U.S. and Austrian lawyers filed the lawsuit on behalf of around 60 named plaintiffs from Austria, Germany, France, Netherlands and elsewhere. Podovsovnik said they were also acting on behalf of at least 40 more not named.
The lawsuit suggests the Thai government and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates a Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, failed to issue the requisite warnings.
“Respondent NOAA did not notify all involved countries which lay in the tsunami’s path. From public information it appears that … NOAA failed to issue an alert that would notify countries where the tsunami hit that the deadly wave was coming,” the lawsuit said.
“Published reports emerged that upon receipt of the NOAA alert and other data, the seismological and oceanographic experts of Thailand spent more than one hour talking about what the risk may or may not have been, instead of immediately issuing a warning to their population,” it said.
It also accused Thailand of failing to notify Sri Lanka that a tsunami wave was headed its way.
Among the charges leveled against Accor, the owner of the Sofitel hotel chain, was failure to equip its luxury resort and spa in Khao Lak, Thailand with state-of-the-art seismic detection and warning systems, despite its location “in an earthquake and tsunami fault zone.”
Last month, Accor issued a statement denying media reports of possible negligence in connection with the tsunami disaster. “The allegations concerning Accor are completely unfounded,” Accor said on its Web Site.