One year on from the tsunami, a sea of tears and prayers

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The Independent Online

The tears rolled slowly and the ocean gently kissed the shore. From across the world, the people had come back. Last year they jet-skied, partied and sunbathed. Yesterday they remembered quietly.

There were moments of silence - floating candles and religious services - as those touched by one of nature's most fearsome events gathered along Indian Ocean coastlines.

More than 230,000 were killed or disappeared in 13 countries a year ago, nearly three-quarters of them in Indonesia's Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra. And so it was there that yesterday's eventsbegan, as they hadon Boxing Day 2004.

It was 8.16am, and Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono set off a siren to begin a minute of silence. "It was under the same blue sky exactly a year ago that Mother Earth unleashed the most destructive power among us," Mr Yudhoyono said in the capital Banda Aceh, a city still strewn with rubble.

Europeans headed for Thailand, to see where their friends, brothers, husbands, wives and children had been taken. An hour later, services were starting there as unseasonably late monsoon rains fell.

On Patong beach, a man sat alone with a bouquet of white roses stuck in the sand, weeping quietly as the sea harmlessly lapped before him.

A group of more than 50 Britons joined the ambassador, David Fall, on the small land spit of Phi Phi where the tsunami waves had hit from both sides. Yesterday, a banyan tree was home to candles and garlands. On a boat back to Phuket, the families released candle-lanterns into the twilight sky.

"Our son [Robert] hasn't been found, which made it extremely important to come. He's still here - somewhere," said John Rowbottom, from York.

Robert's sister, Pamela, said: "It definitely helped. It was a lovely day. It's really good that we came here. It's all part of a long healing process that perhaps one day will bring us some comfort."

There were signs that this is a country determined to recover; to dust itself down and move on. Loud music blared as a vast mass wandered in the heat. Tourists in swimsuits with cameras - even two topless European women wandering over the wreaths - almost converted a mood of mourning into raucous festival.

But the condolence books were a constant reminder. One read: "My Beloved Mom and friends. Miss you always. Love, Joe."

Mourners wept, prayed and observed moments of silence along Indian Ocean coastlines to remember the dead. A year on, many survivors are still without proper homes and the pain and trauma remain strong. There are also fears that more killer waves will surge.

"We think about the lost lives, lost property and lost jobs," said Kanagalingan Janenthra, 19, in Sri Lanka's devastated eastern town of Batticaloa. "We are in fear. Some of us think it might come again."

To the south, in the town of Peraliya, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim priests chanted blessings at the site where 1,200 people died when their train was hit by the tsunami. Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse oversaw a two minutes' silence and placed a wreath at the foot of a wave-shaped memorial. Surfers formed circles in the sea as they remembered the dead. All along the southern coast thousands lit traditional coconut-oil lamps on beaches.

In the Nagapattinam district, where the tsunami took half of India's 12,405 known dead, fishermen stayed away from the sea to pray for the departed. In the Andaman and Nicobar islands, home to tribes that the outside world knows little about, groups of people walked from village to village observing silence.

And on the other side of the Indian Ocean, in Somalia, services were held in mosques along the African nation's coast to commemorate the unknown number who died, and to pray for the tens of thousands still homeless.

In Africa, Asia and across Australasia, they gathered in the sun. But the astonishing impact of the tsunami was perhaps clearest in Sweden. The nation of nine million was the hardest hit of the countries outside the disaster zone, with 543 dead.

Palms swayed thousands of miles away, but the snow fell thick in Stockholm last night asKing Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia led mourners. Candles, 543 of them, were lit and again Sweden united with the people of South Asia.

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