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Foreign survivors return to Thai beaches to remember the dead

Foreign survivors return to Thai beaches to remember the dead

They came to frolic in the sun and surf, survived a hellish ordeal and now have returned to remember and feel as close as possible to those they lost to the Indian Ocean tsunami a year ago.

"I never thought I would come back. Every day I would cry," said Sharon Kelly, 49, whose husband pushed her onto a wall to escape a mammoth wave that rushed ashore at Patong Beach, in the Thai resort of Phuket a year ago yesterday.

Despite their fears, the couple did return, as have hundreds of other foreign survivors. "We just wanted to be here to pay our respects," said her husband Raymond, from Hull, England, who was swept into a flooded shop but survived because he was able to open a skylight in the ceiling.

Others - who were not vacationing on Thai beaches at the time - came because they lost family members or close friends on December 26 last year.

"I think if I were at home I wouldn't feel so close to her as I feel here," said Gunlog Sanner Norling, from suburban Stockholm, who lost her 37-year-old daughter Cecilia when the waves raced through the swimming pool area of a beachside resort.

Norling was one of several hundred Swedes, including many survivors, who gathered under a stormy sky at a resort on the devastated beach at Khao Lak in Phang Nga province yesterday. They took part in a simple ceremony of songs and remembrance.

Memories, said relatives on the backpacker island where 700 people died a year ago yesterday, which will never go away.

"There's never going to be closure," said Trisha Broadbridge, whose Australian Rules footballer husband Troy was killed, as gentle waves slapped at fishing boats riding at anchor off the backdrop to cult movie "The Beach."

"But at least now you've got through all those first dates, those first anniversaries, so hopefully it should get easier."

On Phi Phi, on nearby Phuket island and Khao Lak beach to the north, people from all over the world joined Thais in remembering the 5,395 people known to have been killed in Thailand by the tsunami, which left nearly 3,000 people missing.

"I remember all the pain of that day when I see these names," Kanchana Wuttikorn, 13, said at the destroyed, now rebuilt, village of Ban Nam Khem as she gazed at a wall on which the names of the dead are carved.

"One year has passed, but my memories are fresh," she said.

"Even the skies are crying with us today," Bishop Lennart Koskinen said in Swedish as a light rain fell on the mourners gathered in Khao Lak, a beach resort that was pounded by the tsunami.

"I think it's important to see the place and get answers about why it happened and where they were when it happened," said Alexander Boonevier, 21, of Vaxjo, Sweden, who lost his sister and brother-in-law. He came to comfort and support his mother who traveled with him to Thailand. "When you see it at home on TV it's not the same."

Taking part in the remembrance, he said, "When so many people get together, the feelings are so much stronger than when you are just walking alone."

On Phuket's Patong Beach, Kevin Knodler choked up as he pointed to the sea, his girlfriend beside him.

The 49-year-old, from Heidelberg, Germany, was waiting for her to arrive and so didn't go diving with five of his friends. Only one of them survived that day, the four reportedly struck down as they tried to outrun the giant tsunami waves on a beach on Khao Lak.

"We came because we wanted to remember our friends," he said. "I was very lucky. She saved my life. She is my angel."

Nearby, the British couple were remembering the tragedy when someone tapped Sharon on the shoulder, saying "Remember me?"

It was Adolf Ruschitschka, 69, from Ruesselsheim, Germany. The two of them had been trapped together on a rooftop ringed by savage, swirling waters.

Sharon hugged her companion in distress, tears pouring down her face.

Some foreigners were upset by a crowd of photographers preventing them laying down flowers at a large ceremony on Patong beach.

One tearful woman yelled at them to "just go away, please."