PHUKET, Thailand - Amid Christmas lights strung along the beachfront, a cluster of mourners bowed their heads toward the ocean at dusk Saturday and offered prayers for the hundreds of thousands killed a year ago in the Indian Ocean tsunami.
On a nearby beach, Thailand's Moken sea gypsy tribe banged drums and chanted as offerings of candles, flowers and incense wrapped in banana leaves were pushed out to a gently lapping sea in a ceremony to ward off evil spirits.
The two commemorations were a somber, low-key start to events marking one year since the Indian Ocean rose up in a massive, earthquake-spawned tsunami that left at least 216,000 people dead or missing in a dozen countries.
A year ago Monday, a massive magnitude-9 earthquake ripped apart the ocean floor off Sumatra, displacing millions of tons of water and sending giant waves crashing into Indian Ocean coastlines from Malaysia to East Africa.
The world responded with $13.6 billion in pledges. Rebuilding has started in some places, and fishing boats and seeds have been handed out to kick-start ruined village economies.
But many refugee camps are still full, and their residents rely on handouts to survive.
"It's been a tough year; if anything, things have gotten worse as things went on," said Nila, a 42-year-old Indonesian woman who lost three of her four children to the waves. "I somehow feel lonelier."
Final preparations were being made for hundreds of commemoration ceremonies Monday, and the tsunami was expected to feature in Christmas prayers Sunday across the region.
In the Indonesian provincial capital of Banda Aceh, workers Saturday scaled the minarets of a 16th-century mosque to replace missing tiles and slap on a fresh coat of whitewash.
Thousands of survivors have been rehoused in Aceh, but agencies say they are only about 20 percent of the total number needing new homes. The landscape in many places is still one of devastation.
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