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Survivors pray, lay wreaths in tsunami memorial
Updated: 2005-12-25 14:26

PHUKET, Thailand (Reuters) - Tsunami survivors and relatives of the dead laid wreaths and prayed on the Thai island of Phuket on Saturday as they began marking the first anniversary of the disaster.

About 150 Norwegians gathered for a garden church service near Kata Beach to honor the 84 nationals who died when the tsunami struck Thailand's Andaman Sea coastline last year, killing 5,395.

"Thailand is a warm country, sunshine, palm trees. But for some people it also feels cold because of their loss," Rune Birkeland, a priest with the Norwegian Seaman's Church, told the sunset ceremony.

Emotional family members wept and consoled each other throughout the ceremony as one relative sang two solos.

The Phuket service was one of several events held in the region as Thailand prepared for a full day of commemorations on Monday on the first anniversary of the disaster.

Thai authorities say at least 10,000 people will attend memorials to be held in the six southern provinces affected by the tsunami, which killed more than 2,000 foreign tourists.

Suwat Liptapanlop, chairman of the tsunami commemoration committee, said the Thai government was sponsoring about 2,000 survivors and relatives of victims so they could attend the events.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had earlier announced plans to pay for the flights and accommodation of survivors and the immediate family of victims from December 25 to December 27.

Groups helping foreign families to attend services said the Christmas period would be especially tough.

"For people who lose someone, the first year is always the hardest. You go through it all alone," said Knut E. Pedersen, who is helping Norwegian survivors and relatives in Thailand.


Other ceremonies were also held across the region to remember the death and devastation caused by the disaster which struck Asia last December 26, leaving 231,000 dead or missing.
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