A team of New Zealand police was last night preparing to go to Australia to help to identify the climbing toll of bushfire victims.
Their job will involve recovering often unrecognisable bodies and placing them in the mortuaries.
But much of the work of disaster victim identification (DVI) experts will be in the ante-mortem phase, gathering information gleaned from interviews with relatives and doctors and any other information that might help identify a body.
That includes finding information on scars, tattoos and teeth and any surgery involving breast implants or steel or titanium plates that contain serial numbers and can help identify someone.
The gruelling process involves entering every detail into a specialist database.
The database matches the details from the bodies police have recovered with the specific details of those missing people and provides a list of matches.
A police spokesman said a team of six was leaving today on a three-week assignment.
About 100 police officers are trained in DVI after being called to help with victim identification in the Asian tsunami on Boxing Day 2004.
The DVI experts are also involved with search and rescue teams around New Zealand and are called to help in any emergency when victim identification is difficult.
Meanwhile, donations to help the victims have been flowing in.
In the 24 hours to yesterday afternoon, New Zealand Red Cross had received more than $115,000 for the bushfire fund.
The New Zealand Government committed $500,000 to the fund yesterday.
Others wishing to do so can donate to the New Zealand Red Cross.
LJ Hooker New Zealand said yesterday it had opened a bushfire appeal after one of its Australian branch owners, Allan O'Gorman, his wife and one of their sons died when fire destroyed their home.
"This has brought the disaster home to us here in New Zealand and we want to do everything we can to help victims of this tragedy in Australia," said LJ Hooker New Zealand general manager Keith Niederer.
Anyone wishing to donate to the appeal can visit their local LJ Hooker branch or any National Bank branch.By Beck Vass Email Beck