Perth prepares to welcome grieving families of MH370 passengers
Remote city gears up to play its part in biggest recovery mission in history
For families of the 239 passengers and crew on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the Australian city of Perth is as remote a place as any they could have imagined to be reunited with their loved ones.
And yet if debris from the missing plane is positively identified in seas thousands of kilometres off the coast of Western Australia, Perth is the city they are likely to arrive in to say their final farewells.
The city is gearing up to receive hundreds of relatives seeking closure after a hellish three weeks and authorities are striving to ensure there will be enough hotel beds to meet their needs.
The Chinese community, too, is making preparations, with up to 1,000 volunteers offering to support those close to the 154 Chinese on board. Yet no one is sure when and how many of the families may arrive.
Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett said the federal government had started to prepare for what would be the biggest recovery mission in history.
"We will do whatever we can to welcome these families and assist with their stay here," he said.
Hotels in Perth are compiling information on the availability of rooms and conference facilities for the next 30 days, said Bradley Woods, the chief executive of Australia Hotel Association's West Australia region.
Woods said Malaysia Airlines had appointed a firm to look after the booking needs. With the largest hotel in Perth only having about 300 rooms - unlike mega hotels in Beijing or Kuala Lumpur - Woods said the families would probably have to be spread over two or three properties.
Adding pressure to the operation is the fact that search teams going out of Pearce Air Base and a huge media presence have converged on the city.
A volunteer army of local Chinese is offering to ease the burden.
Wang Youteng, chairman of the Chinese Student Association in Perth, said his organisation had attracted more than 1,000 people offering to volunteer their services.
"Many people are very ready and keen to offer help," Wang said. "But the thing is we are not sure whether the families will be coming or not."
In a closed door meeting at the Chinese consulate on Thursday, officials told the Chinese communities that any preparation for the arrival would be welcome.
Sitting on the western edge of Australia and described memorably by travel writer Bill Bryson as the most remote city on earth, Perth is still not close to the suspected crash site.
Following a revision of the search area yesterday, crews are still flying 1,850 kilometres to continue the hunt for what may be the final resting place of hundreds.