KOH PHI PHI, Thailand, (Reuters) – One by one, two by two, they moved to the edge of the beach, sat down and stared silently at the sea that killed their loved ones.
Tears rolled down cheeks as memories of those killed by the tsunami on the once paradise Thai island of Phi Phi overflowed from hundreds of eyes fixed on the azure waters of the bay from where the giant waves came.
Memories, said relatives on the backpacker island where 700 people died a year ago on Monday, 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.
"UNITY OF HUMAN BEINGS"
"I just want to cry," Australian Joy Vogel said in Khao Lak, clutching a wedding photograph of her daughter, who was three months pregnant when the tsunami took her and nearly 2,000 other foreigners.
"But I feel all the tsunami people who died are with us. The essence of my daughter lives on," she said by a police patrol boat swept two kilometres (one mile) inland, which has become a memorial.
Like many other relatives of the tsunami dead, Vogel is involved in an aid programme to help Thais who suffered. "I want to make my daughter”s life count for something."
Mourners laid flowers — white, the symbol of purity.
"We hope that this memorial will be a symbol of our understanding of nature, and the unity of human beings at times of natural disasters," Thai Prime Minister Thaksin wrote on a board as he laid the foundation stone of a memorial at Khao Lak.
"We will show our love and care and offer our prayers for the eternal peace of the spirits of those who have departed," he wrote near where Swedes waded up to their necks into the sea to launch floating wreaths after singing the ABBA hit "I Have A Dream".
"It”s a day of emotion and remembrance. It”s a step in the healing process," said Frenchman Gerard Cohen, 66, who lost five close relatives at the Sofitel on Khao Lak.
"It was supposed to be beautiful, heaven, and it became hell," he said at a memorial at the shell of what remains of the hotel, where 129 guests of 18 nationalities, 41 of them French, were killed along with 58 staff.
On Phi Phi, it was at the foot of a huge banyan tree and at a simple shrine where people laid their flowers along with paper doves, a symbol of peace, something the mourners hoped for but found hard to imagine.
UPSET BY PHOTOGRAPHERS
"We just wanted to come, to come to see them," said 49-year-old Jaysar Gul, who came from Istanbul with her husband Ali to mourn their daughter Seda and her British fiance Justin.
"We miss them so much. We just want to be together," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. Seda”s body has never been found.
Some foreigners were upset by a crowd of photographers preventing them laying down flowers at a large ceremony on Phuket”s Patong beach.
One tearful woman yelled at them to "just go away, please".
"We don”t care about the pictures in the paper," she shouted angrily.
It was no easier for survivors such as Brandon Behle, a 23-year-old from San Diego, California who lived through the tsunami on Phi Phi.
For him, it was the sound of a helicopter carrying dignitaries from the mainland that brought back the images of the desperate evacuation of the injured and dying.
"It”s kind of surreal, especially hearing the chopper coming in," said Behle. "That”s just what it sounded like back then."