- it took two weeks for the waters to recede, and since then the remaining sludge has baked into toxic concrete.
- FEMA canceled the family’s claim after the agent found no one at home two weeks after the storm
- The children’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are all making new lives in Longmont.
Kristin and Tim Ellis’ only son, Ben, feared running water would fill his house to the rooftop in Kenner, La. As a toddler, he grew anxious when the bathtub filled too high. Once, a toilet overflowed, causing 6-year-old Ben to grow hysterical.
“He used to think the water would just keep going up to the roof,” Kristin Ellis said. “It’s like he had a premonition,” said his grandmother Karen Thorne.
The Ellises owned a house and an art studio, both sandwiched between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. They always thought the studio — which they had owned for two years and where Kristin and her 8-year-old daughter, Kindal, taught art classes and art appreciation to children, teens and young adults — was the most vulnerable.
That’s why they had moved supplies from the studio to their home before evacuating for Hurricane Katrina. But it was their home, two blocks from the levees of Lake Pontchartrain, that was hit hardest; floodwaters measured 3 feet high on the walls of the one-story home.
“Some say there may have been a breach (of the levees) in Kenner,” Tim Ellis told the Daily Times-Call in a phone interview from Louisiana.
A photographer, Tim Ellis has made several trips home from Colorado since the storm and was there for the past two weeks trying to finalize insurance claims. He said it took two weeks for the waters to recede, and since then the remaining sludge has baked into toxic concrete.
“There is a glaze on everything,” he said. On his latest trip to the New Orleans suburb, he has spent time gutting his home, showering by garden hose and sleeping on a top bunk bed mattress placed on top of a plastic sheet. Like his father-in-law, Tim Ellis has been trying repeatedly to contact insurance company and Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives.
Kristin Ellis said FEMA canceled the family’s claim after the agent found no one at home two weeks after the storm. The Ellises called FEMA the day of Hurricane Katrina to receive aid. They say they are now at the bottom of the list.
The Ellises, while in Longmont, said they received a $600 electricity bill for their Kenner home, which they hope to gut and sell.
Kristin Ellis and her family will move into her brother’s Longmont home in two weeks. Her brother, Lester Thorne Jr., and his family plan to move to Johnstown.
The destruction down South, though, is not far from the family’s thoughts. While in Louisiana, Tim Ellis has been busy chronicling the devastation with his camera. Blue tarps from FEMA cover damaged roofs. Mold spores carpet the drywall inside homes. Refrigerators conceal once-frozen cubes of rotted food.
The city does not mirror the photographs of New Orleans that Tim Ellis took two weeks before the devastation: a church steeple next to holy statues. A trumpet player on the street. Trolleys and bicycles in the French Quarter.
Tim Ellis had lived in the New Orleans area since he was 3 years old. His wife was born and raised in Kenner. So were their three children: Kindal, Ben and Kiley, who celebrated her first birthday in Longmont.
The true shock of the Thorne family’s exodus from Kenner is the Ellises’ decision to call the Front Range home.
“I’ve always said I’m a gypsy. I can always move around,” Kristin Ellis said. “But Tim, he wasn’t ever going to move. He loves New Orleans. He still does.”
Tim Ellis’ love for his children, however, supercedes any affinity for geography, especially considering the environmental consequences of Hurricane Katrina on soil, water and buildings.
“We wanted my kids to have as close to a normal life as possible,” he said. “And as I keep coming down here, I can’t see betting my kids’ futures on the unknown.”
The children’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are all making new lives in Longmont. The two older Ellis children are enrolled at Sanborn Elementary.
“I’m the baby sitter,” Kristin Ellis said, watching her brood and their cousins at the “big house” provided by the Margaret and Steve Strong.
The Strongs, who own Sun Construction, offered their six-bedroom home to the Thorne family in September.
The Ellises don’t want their children to inherit a lifetime of running from storms. But they also don’t want their children, or anyone else, to forget what a storm like Hurricane Katrina can do.
“I don’t want to harp on how bad the storm was, but how strong the people were here,” Tim Ellis said. “I want to teach (my children) that the people down there, in the face of the worst natural disaster of the United States, didn’t give up. That’s what I’m learning here.”
He sees the tenacity in residents who remain and in volunteers who want to rebuild.
“I’m lucky to live in a country where people step up and help if they can,” Tim Ellis said. “The people of Colorado have done this for us. People all over this country have done this, and they’re still doing it.
“When people need to look for hope, it’s there in the face of disaster.”