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Last Updated: Monday, 26 December 2005, 20:29 GMT
Hope amid sorrow for tsunami bereaved
By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Baan Bang Niang, Thailand

Lanterns are released on Bang Niang beach
Some 5,000 lanterns were released into the night sky
As the light faded on Thailand's Bang Niang beach, thousands of people gathered together to remember the tragedy that hit this beautiful coastline exactly a year ago.

They came from wealthy homes on the other side of the world and small villages just down the road - united in remembrance of more than 5,300 people from 56 nations who died as a result of the tsunami.

For some, like Britons Paul and Allison Arlotte, it was a chance to get a better understanding of what happened to Paul's mother and father-in-law.

"It's impacted our lives so much this year," said Mrs Arlotte. "We needed to come here to see where they died."

For others, like German Marcello Sestu, it was a time to say a proper farewell.

"I lost my best friend here, and today is the day I say goodbye to him on earth - but I will always be connected to him inside," he said.

Rebuilding lives

Alongside the foreign visitors - many of them invited to attend the memorial events by the Thai government - local people also came to remember their loved ones.

"It's important to me that one year on, I can be with many people from many countries to remember those who died," said Vimon Munsee, who has been to a variety of events to mark the one-year anniversary of his father's death - including a traditional sea gypsy ceremony in which a boat was floated out to sea.

Some of the thousands on Bang Niang beach
Local Thais joined foreigners on the beach to mourn their relatives

"This ceremony tonight is important because I can remember everyone who died, not just those in my family," he said.

Monday's anniversary events - both the main ceremony in Bang Niang and seven other events along the coast - were designed to reflect hope for the future as well as honour those who lost their lives.

A multi-faith service began the proceedings, then there was a minute's silence, punctuated only by the sound of the waves.

Tilly Smith, an 11-year-old British survivor who warned others about the impending tsunami, read out a poem of hope - as did a young Thai survivor, Patiwat Komkla.

Over the past year, much has been done to rebuild Thailand after the tsunami. Local people, national and international agencies and volunteers have all helped in the massive reconstruction effort.

Similarly, many tsunami survivors and those who have lost loved ones have been slowly rebuilding their lives, choosing different ways to overcome their grief.

For the Archers, an Anglo-French couple whose daughter Samantha and six-month-old granddaughter Ruby died in the disaster, part of the healing process has been to raise money through selling a rose named after the loved ones they have lost.

Tilly Smith prepares to read a poem
Tilly Smith (centre) warned people of the incoming waves

"We are going to donate the money to a local project," said Mirielle Archer. "We're having a look for what's needed while we're here."

Allison Arlotte has channelled her energy into the Tsunami Support Network, set up specifically to help those affected by the disaster.

"I'm a doing kind of person - it's just my method of coping with the grief," she said.

"For me, getting involved is part of the grieving process."

Even for Aroonrat Janupakara, who lost 15 relatives as well as her home and all her possessions, life is beginning to get more bearable.

"In a way I feel much better now - but it would be much easier if I'd found all the bodies of my family," she said.

Lighting up the sky

As the evening ceremony in Bang Niang drew to a close, 5,000 paper lanterns were released, lighting up the beach as the mourners stood and watched.

It was an emotional moment, with many bereaved relatives hugging each other as they watched the lights slowly disappear into the sky - each with the name of a victim written on the side.

"The lanterns were fabulous, really magical," said Allison Arlotte, walking along the seafront.

"I think this ceremony has drawn a dotted line for us - we can start looking to the future," she said.

"But we're not ever going to be able to stop thinking about what happened."


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