Anniversary is a time of grief and gratitude for British survivor

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The Independent Online

Bill Rea will never forget the two heart-stopping moments after the tsunami hit the beachfront villa in Thailand where his family was staying one year ago.

The first, and most devastating, was the death of his "beautiful, perfect wife, Pippa", who was swept off the villa's balcony by a wave in Khao Lak.

The second was a "miraculous moment" when he discovered his seven-year-old daughter, Claudia, who was dragged away from the villa by the 10-metre high surge, was found miles inland, injured but alive. " There's very little good that's come out of the tsunami, but Claudia's story of survival was one of them. It was just miraculous," said Mr Rea.

One year after the tsunami, Mr Rea, 48, a marine surveyor from Emsworth, Hampshire, described how he was out playing golf when his wife of 15 years was killed .

"Claudia was with Pippa and saw some terrible things. She was taken inland by the waves and carried over the roofs of buildings. I found her one-and-a-half hours after searching for her. She's always been a very strong swimmer and somehow managed to survive. She is an incredibly resilient and brave girl."

More than 150 relatives of British victims travelled back to Thailand and Sri Lanka for memorial events. A total of 149 Britons died as a result of the tsunami, with 129 fatalities in Thailand, 17 in Sri Lanka and three in the Maldives.

The Thai government organised ceremonies at six locations including Patong Beach, the Khao Memorial Wall in Phuket and on Phi Phi island, with relatives laying flowers for loved ones at the services.

Mr Rea and his daughter, now aged eight, decided not to travel to the tsunami region. Instead, they were with friends in Henley and will later travel to Spain. "We want to have a change of scenery. When Claudia feels it is right to return to the scene, we will go. I will be listening carefully for that moment," he said.

He said the terrible events had shattered his family:"We were living beautiful lives and we were having a fantastic holiday. Within five minutes, the devastation shattered our lives. Pippa was the perfect mother and the perfect wife. My overwhelming thoughts this Christmas period are for her loss. My sadness extends to all the families who have been affected. All of us are feeling sad for the Thai people. They did some incredibly unselfish things on the day."

David Mills, the father of Nova Mills, 28, who died in Khao Lak two months into a round-the-world trip with her partner, Andrew Chaggar, said his daughter was like "a ray of sunshine".

Mr Mills, 58, a technical adviser from Spalding Moor, in Yorkshire, said: "We didn't go out there as we thought it would be too depressing."

The family's final contact with Nova was less than 24 hours before the tsunami. "She said she was sorry because she had been so busy, she had not sent us a gift. I told her the only gift we wanted was to have her back again, alive and well. We never got that," he said.

Mr Chaggar, 28, who survived but was badly injured and in hospital for six weeks, felt compelled to return to the devastated region in August to help with the rebuilding effort, where he is a project manager at the tsunami volunteer centre in Khao Lak.

"Seeing the devastation first hand made it very difficult for me to walk away from it. I didn't feel like I could. I am quite inspired by being out here and the work that I'm doing. It's helped that I've come back. It's given me something to focus my energy on."

"This day will be marked differently for different people. I may decide to go out to a village or spend some time with people I have been working with. I'm not really putting a great deal of weight on the actual date of the tsunami," he said.