Slowly, as the waters receded, the tales of sorrow and survival emerged.
In the wreckage that had been his hotel room, 75-year-old Brian Nichols is amazed to find he's still alive.
“As the water gushed through, it filled the room with water and I was almost drowned and I just stood there and prayed,” says Nichols.
American tourist Susan Sweat is thankful she was on part of the Thai island of Phi Phi that wasn't flooded.
“[If I was] laying on the beach in any other resort I'd be dead right now,” says Sweat.
Everything which depended on the bountiful earth and sea was swept aside in the wrath. Scenes once blissfully simple are now surreal, making British tourist Tom Barnacle tremble.
“It was just a bit mad, really,” he says. “One day you are in complete paradise and the next thing you know the ocean is trying to eat you up.”
What the sea did devour was children, who make up as much as one-third of the dead, by some estimates.
Some were spared. On the east coast of Sri Lanka, 35 orphans at the Samaritan Boys and Girls Home were saved when director Dayalan Sanders hustled them onto a boat just before their orphanage collapsed.
“They pretty much had 22 seconds from the time of seeing the waves to getting on the boat and out of there,” says Dayalan's sister, Dyana.
And, in Phuket, Thailand, 20-month old Swedish toddler Hannes Bergstrom — his mother swept away — was rescued, bruised on a hilltop, by American tourists Rebecca Bedall and Ron Rubin.
“It was just a miracle getting him to the hospital from up in the jungle,” says Ron. “Like we've got a ride; you know, like, ‘How did that happen?’”
How, indeed. As the monster waters subsided, acts of goodness, bravery and sheer, dumb luck emerge in this lost paradise.