LONGMONT — Lester Thorne lived in New Orleans for more than 30 years, but he left the Big Easy four years ago to run the Loaf & Ladle restaurant at 1134 Francis St.
Now, Thorne and his wife, Sheryl, will house 19 stranded relatives from Louisiana who say their homes were either under several feet of water or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
A six-vehicle caravan is expected to arrive at the Thornes’ three-bedroom Longmont house this afternoon.
The Thornes will spend today gathering air mattresses, sheets and toiletries for their guests.
“It’s tough, you know?” Thorne said Tuesday as his parents, grandparents, sister and brother, their spouses, their children, an aunt, her daughter and her grandchildren left a hotel in Jasper, Texas, where they watched the destruction unfold on television.
“The mass of this, watching it on TV, it just doesn’t even add up in my head. It’s just unbelievable,” Thorne said. “We just told them to come up here (to Longmont). They’ve got no place else to go.”
His mother-in-law’s home in Boothville, once 100 yards from the Mississippi River and surrounded by two levees and a swamp, is now “100 percent, completely gone,” Thorne said.
He recognized televised aerial shots of neighborhoods where homes of friends and family were submerged under flood waters. A corner drug store he used to visit is now “not even there,” Thorne said.
Thorne said his relatives decided to stay with him and another Colorado relative, though they do not know how long the visit could last.
Thorne said his relatives were told they could not return to their Gulf Coast communities for at least a few weeks, and officials began to evacuate remaining refugees Tuesday because of worsening conditions.
Thorne said some of his nieces and nephews, who range in age from 11 months to 13 years old, could possibly enroll in the St. Vrain Valley schools to maintain a sense of normalcy while their hometowns try to rebuild.
Thorne said he hoped to keep his family and livelihood afloat financially during the next month.
“It’s pretty easy to (have guests) for a week in the summer. We don’t know how it’s going to be longer than that. Having baths for 19 people in one house is going to be difficult.”
Other Longmont businesses with ties to the hurricane-battered region also are finding ways to help.
Donations jars were put up by the owners of Colorado Cupboard, 2001 N. Main St., and Storyville Creole Café, 246 Main St., on Tuesday afternoon.
Storyville chef and owner David Johnson, who was born and grew up in New Orleans, said he spoke with relatives who escaped to Galveston, Texas, as the storm approached.
“They’ve anticipated they’ve got nothing left,” Johnson said. “I’ve been through hurricanes myself. The after-effects are the worst part. The house might still be there, but it’s under water.”
Sketches of New Orleans cityscape are outlined on the walls of Johnson’s eatery. Now, it is an entirely different scene there as the city streets resemble muddy canals and two trees in historic Jackson Square were reportedly ripped out by the storm.
“We could have been the city of Atlantis,” he said, had the hurricane dealt New Orleans a direct hit.
Sisters Shari Triche and Dayna Nixon, who co-own specialty store Colorado Cupboard, also grew up in the New Orleans area and have many relatives affected by Katrina’s aftermath.
“I still can’t get in touch with some, and others just don’t know if they have homes to go back to,” Triche said.
She and Johnson said their businesses will donate any money collected for hurricane victims to the American Red Cross.
The Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross in Denver has a call center to answer questions and provide information to hurricane victims, as well as loved ones in other parts of the country and military personnel around the world looking for loved ones in the path of Katrina, said volunteer Joe Callahan, who worked a seven-hour shift Tuesday and plans to work today and Thursday.
Red Cross spokeswoman Nicole Adair said the call center likely will remain open for the next six weeks.
The Red Cross and the United Way both have funds accepting money for relief efforts.
Also, tonight’s Bike Night, a weekly bicycle outing open to the public, will collect donations for Rebuilding Together USA, a national nonprofit with chapters in Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans that rebuilds homes for the elderly and disabled.
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at