IMAGE: Remembering tsunami victims
Gautam Singh  /  AP
Ravi Shankar, 22, lights incense sticks in Nagapattinam, India, on Sunday at a memorial built at the base of a coconut sapling in memory of his niece, Nandini K., who died in the tsunami.
updated 6/26/2005 2:58:32 PM ET 2005-06-26T18:58:32

Along India’s tsunami-battered eastern shore, fisherman Ravi Shankar burned incense sticks before a coconut sapling named after his niece, one of 207 trees planted and named in memory of children who died on this spot six months ago.

Later on Sunday, about 1,000 children from India’s hardest-hit Nagapattinam district planned a candlelight march.

Half a year after the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami killed 178,000 people in 11 countries and left another 50,000 missing and presumed dead, Asian nations on Sunday held ceremonies to mourn those lost, while survivors struggled to pick up the pieces.

Raw memories
In a sign memories of the disaster are still raw, some people in Nagapattinam were shunning memorials near the Indian Ocean shore out of fear another tsunami might strike on the anniversary.

“The water is very rough, so people don’t want to go. There was also a rumor that there could be another tsunami at 6 a.m. today,” said Namaswaya, the head of a local fishing cooperative in Nagapattinam, the district where the coconut palms are planted.

In Sri Lanka — where a deal with Tamil Tiger rebels to distribute tsunami aid in guerrilla-held areas was only signed this week — the scale of the tragedy continues to haunt survivors, many of whom have yet to rebuild their homes and lives.

Thailand’s southern tourist beaches that once saw throngs of foreigners were eerily quiet Sunday, with luggage still buried in the sand, and posters for missing victims hanging on palm trees as grim reminders of what happened back in December.

In Indonesia, where residents gathered a day earlier to commemorate the 131,000 people killed, signs of hope filled the grounds of the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in the heart of hardest-hit Banda Aceh, as wedding parties took place throughout the provincial capital.

Sadness mixed with optimism
Clad in a green and gold silk outfit and an elaborate headdress, Wanti Maulidar waited nervously for her groom to arrive for their traditional marriage ceremony.

“I realize today is the six-month anniversary of the tsunami so there is a sad memory. But this is also a happy day for us and a way we can encourage others to look to a better future,” she said.

Before the tsunami, about 850 to 1,000 students came daily for Quran teachings at the Grand Mosque, said teacher Mutia Wati. Only 250 students remain today, she said.

In Sri Lanka’s rebel-controlled Vakarai hamlet near the eastern city of Batticaloa, volunteers collected tsunami debris for an exhibition to mark the anniversary. School bags, books, shoes, tea cups, even television parts scattered by the waves were taken to the area’s government school.

Organizers said the exhibition would help survivors work through their suppressed pain.

“The (aim) ... is to bring out the psychological pressure of the survivors who are still suffering inside,” said Shanthi Sivanesan of the British-based charity Oxfam. “We will have psycho-social workers at this center to counsel them.”

“This pair of shoes, my daughter liked most” read an inscription written near a shoe.

“We can be what we were before,” read another.

Future remains uncertain
In some areas, an uncertain future and day-to-day problems took priority over commemorations. About 268 people living in an abandoned complex near Batticaloa were ordered to leave so a medical college could be built there.

“The university told us today that we will have to vacate the building soon and if that happens, we will have to go to the streets,” said Kandiah Thangavel, 59, a displaced fisherman.

In Thailand’s hardest-hit Khao Lak resort area — once crowded with tourists — only a few visitors could be found. Partly buried bags and clothes wrapped around driftwood littered the beach.

More than 5,300 people died and 2,900 went missing when the massive waves pummeled Thailand’s southwestern coastline. Many of the victims were foreign travelers vacationing at beach resorts.

Hundreds died on the island of Phuket — the country’s top tourist destination — where visitor arrivals have plunged and hotel vacancies have soared after the catastrophe.

At Phuket’s most popular beach Patong, a trickle of visitors played pool and drank beer early Sunday, while vendors sold souvenirs and snacks on nearby roads, where businesses were virtually washed away by the Dec. 26 waves.

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