As day breaks near the southern Indian coast, Idambai Duraiswamy carries a pot of water to an enclosure of saplings near the sea and pours it over a budding coconut plant that stands as a memorial to her four-year-old daughter killed by the tsunami.

Soon dozens of other villagers join Idambai, each watering their own saplings dedicated to kin who died when the killer waves struck this fishing village in southern India on 26 December.

The coconut and casuarina tree saplings - each with a small tag giving the name of the victim - were planted after the tsunami as part of a government effort to encourage villagers to grow trees along the coast that act as a buffer against future tsunami.

Trauma therapy

But residents of Seruthur - where a sixth of the 1100 people were killed - say the plan is also helping them overcome trauma.

"When I pour the water I feel as if I am feeding my daughter Rasia," Idambai said. "I feel my child is still with me."

Survivors says planting trees has
helped them overcome trauma

She never got to see her daughter's body, which was buried in a mass grave along with dozens of others as authorities, fearing an outbreak of disease, hastily buried hundreds of victims.

"I was washed away and was unconscious for a day. When I gained my senses and looked for my daughter, my husband said she was dead," Idambai said, her voice choked with tears. "At that time, I felt I too should have died."

Three months later, Idambai feels differently. "I must live to keep her memory alive. I will make this (plant) grow tall and beautiful as Rasia would have become."

Natural protection

Others in Seruthur said they were trying to undo mistakes of the past.

The tsunami highlighted how natural vegetation like mangroves and coral reefs significantly reduce the devastation caused by storms and waves.

"When I pour the water I feel as if I am feeding my daughter Rasia. I feel my child is still with me"

Idambai Duraiswamy

On 26 December, most deaths along India's southern coast occurred in areas where such natural barriers against the sea had been destroyed by human settlements near the coast.

In Seruthur, one of the hardest-hit villages, fishermen built houses dangerously close to the sea.

But in Pichavaram, a cluster of villages 75km north of Seruthur, there was no loss of human life or property. The residents there were saved by mangrove forests they had preserved over the years.

"We destroyed the trees. We are responsible for what happened," S. Sanmugam, a 50-year-old fisherman who lost his wife in the disaster, said.

Coast greening

Sanmugam said the villagers were determined to restore the trees. They collectively keep watch over the two nurseries and have enclosed the young plants with fishing nets.

Authorities in Tamil Nadu state, where some 8000 people were killed by the tsunami, are trying to replicate the Seruthur model of greening the coast in other villages.

Work has begun in a dozen other villages, but in most other places the increased salinity of the soil after the tsunami has rendered the area unfit for vegetation, Akashdeep Baruah, the chief forest officer of Nagapattinam district, where Seruthur is located, said.

"We will have to wait until the rains wash off some of salinity in the soil."