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Gary Younge
Hundreds of UK relatives to visit New York

The Foreign Office has pledged to fly two relatives to New York and provide three nights' accommodation "where it appears certain that a Briton is a fatality or where a victim has a British next of kin".

It will organise tickets for the families directly with airlines or reimburse them £500. Special flights may be chartered in the event of high demand. Relatives will also receive travel insurance and a night's hotel accommodation in Britain if they live too far from an airport.

In New York, the British consulate is being bolstered with staff from Britain in anticipation of the arrival of the relatives of the hundreds of Britons feared dead. "The latest figure we have is two to three hundred missing, feared dead," said the consulate press officer, Dewi Williams.

Officials expect "a trickle" of families to start arriving today and gathering pace towards the end of the week.

The Foreign Office has deployed 30 additional consular staff, 20 police family liaison officers trained in dealing with the bereaved and victims of crime, and 10 grief counsellors. Staff from the British mission to the UN and the UK Trade Office in New York have also been co-opted to work at the crisis centre established at the consulate. They have received hundreds of inquiries about missing Britons and issued more than 70 emergency passports.

Britain's ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer, yesterday met with consular staff. "Since the first shock and grief on Tuesday morning...we have worked round the clock," he said.

"We are talking to British families whose loved ones are missing in New York. We are helping British survivors pay for medical treatment and looking after people who are stranded without passports and money and can't get home. And we have begun the heartbreaking work of listing so many British people who will now never go home."

In London the priority has been identifying and contacting next of kin of those feared dead. A telephone hotline set up last week has received 20,000 calls. Those who have called the hotline and subsequently found the person reported missing are being urged to call in so that the database can be kept up to date. Many relatives have already made plans to travel independently to New York.

A bereavement counselling organisation, Cruse Bereavement Care, confirmed it would be sending 10 bereavement support volunteers to the US as part of the Foreign Office team.

The culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, whose department is coordinating assistance for the British victims, met some of the families who lost relatives. and visited investment banks in the City which were affected.

· Foreign Office helpline: 020 7008 0000

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