Weeks after the seas retreated, after the minutes of terror along hundreds of miles of coast, people on the rim of the Indian Ocean are emerging from their December morning's nightmare to a long, hard future of trying to re-create an obliterated past.
The Dec. 26 earthquake-tsunami took a staggering toll of lives. But for those left behind, from Aceh to Galle to the shores of east Africa, it also destroyed a world: of houses, shops and schools, clinics, mosques and farms, roads and railways, boats and vehicles, bridges, power lines and irrigation channels, harbors and storehouses, trees, beaches, reefs and lagoons.
It will take months and years to rebuild local fishing industries and restore other jobs, to wash the salt from farmlands, to re-grow coral reefs and mangroves, to replant uprooted families, to repair wounded minds.
The world-destroying waves left economic, social, political, environmental legacies -- and a geological one five miles deep in the sea, where seismologists say a twin great quake is now inevitable.
But those who know disasters well hope that the Indian Ocean tsunami will have one more lasting impact: waking up a distracted world.
"We've got to get away from this whole idea that disasters are acts of God," said Andrew Maskrey, a U.N. advisor to governments on ways to guard against nature's violence. "In a sense, disasters are constructed -- through development."
Now that they must "redevelop," Maskrey and others say, the Sri Lankans, Indonesians, Thais, Maldive islanders and others should rebuild smarter, making themselves less vulnerable, through more sensible land use, with stronger buildings, taking better care of natural barriers that could protect them.
The United Nations has dispatched experts around the region to help plan this "resilience" to future disasters. It's calling for reconnaissance satellites to map out the damage and vulnerabilities. But advice is no guarantee of success.
"Whether the governments manage to implement it is another thing," said Salvano Briceno, chief U.N. strategist for disaster reduction.
One thing that governments are managing to implement is an early-warning system for future Indian Ocean tsunamis. In Japan last month, delegates to a U.N. conference on disaster reduction came together to promise such an alert system by next year -- a network of buoys, sensors and communications that, had it been in place, might have saved many of the more than 150,000 people killed in the December disaster.
That immediate human cost of the tsunami is well known. Less quantifiable are the numbers of people injured, physically and mentally, the years of schooling that may be missed, the long-term repercussions of losing doctors and nurses, of driving people to live in shelters, of shattered families, orphans, parents bereft of their children, livelihoods lost.
In an already impoverished part of the world, an additional 2 million people may be driven into poverty by the catastrophe, the Asian Development Bank estimates.
The bank's economists say such large national economies as India's and Indonesia's will move on with hardly a pause.
But "national" glosses over huge local impacts: In two Indian states alone, the loss of livelihoods, mostly fishing, was the human equivalent of shutting down the economy of Boston, eliminating all 600,000-plus paying jobs.
As for the smaller economies -- Sri Lanka and the Maldives -- the waves erased years of progress.
The sight of broken boats among denuded trees, and the 13,000 fishermen dead or missing, led Sri Lankan officials to lament that the struggling island's fishing industry, a rising export sector, was set back half a century. Along with 100,000 Sri Lankan homes and 150,000 vehicles -- the Asian bank's estimates -- almost all fishing harbor facilities were destroyed in that small country, and 20,000 fishing boats were lost or damaged.
In the mid-ocean Maldives, the tsunami swept over almost every inch of dry land, destroying all roads, electrical lines and other infrastructure on 13 islands. It will take the equivalent of two years' gross domestic product to repair and rebuild the tiny nation, the bank calculates.
Along battered shorelines from Indonesia's Banda Aceh, to Malaysia and Thailand, to India's east coast, hundreds of acres of fish and shrimp farms were washed away. Thousands of farm-raised groupers littered Malaysian beaches, dead. In Indonesia alone, the aquaculture losses were pegged at $210 million, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports.
The onrushing ocean waters also flooded farmlands, destroying rice harvests along coastal belts from Indonesia to India, wrecking irrigation and drainage equipment, depositing salt in soils up to a mile or more inland, and ruining the water of countless wells for consumption and crops.
The damage doesn't threaten national food supplies, but like the loss of jobs, it's crippling at the local level.