- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) — It is impossible to imagine, here in the tranquil resort towns tucked among the Rocky Mountains and topped by a gentle meringue of snow, that nature could be the sinister force that caused Hurricane Katrina.

But the hurricane — which sent victims to Houston, Memphis, Tenn., and Atlanta — also has landed small communities of storm survivors here, in the exclusive ski resorts along the Continental Divide.

Some of them are here by affluence: They lived in well-off parts of New Orleans and its suburbs, places where high land meant that Katrina took mercy on their homes, and they were able to plunk down the money that it takes to settle here.

Some of them are here by good fortune, taken in by wealthy natives or, in at least one case, a sprawling ranch for artists.

Although it may seem difficult to pity any of the Katrina survivors in these gilded shelters, the storm victims who find themselves in the wealthy Colorado outposts are struggling with their own traumas: What will become of their families? Should they return to the New Orleans that they so love and when?

They also are dealing with guilt: that they were so lucky when others have merely a trailer to call home, or no home at all.

In a small shopping and restaurant district in Edwards, Colo., is Gallery Rinard — the second one. The original is on Royal Street, in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Their owner is Matt Rinard, a 41-year-old painter and motorcycle enthusiast who was driven from New Orleans by Katrina and landed in the Vail Valley because his wife, who worked at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New Orleans, was offered a job at its enormous resort on Beaver Creek Mountain.

They lucked into a two-room apartment — furnished, with granite countertops — above the garage of a magnificent, $5 million mountain home whose owner was not even advertising the place.

Mr. Rinard skis several days a week, usually at Vail. Still, he says, he is struggling in his new business market: New Orleans is a city completely about art — the jazz, the architecture and the plentiful galleries.

“You just don’t have the traffic,” he said. “It’s just too cold for people to be walking around. Everyone says wait until the summer. Everyone says once I see the summer of Colorado, I’ll never leave.

“Of course,” he said wryly, “they’ve also said there’s 300 days of sunshine, and I’ve seen about four.”

Allison Stewart and her husband own two homes: a five-bedroom house just west of Aspen and a condominium near New Orleans’ now-infamous convention center, in a building wracked by looters after Katrina.

She spends summers in the Rockies, but has been suspended here since the hurricane. Now she channels her energy, her thoughts of home, into thick, black binders in which she almost obsessively stores news clippings about New Orleans.

She is eager to talk politics, to detail her frustration with the city’s system of governing its levees. She says good people were in charge in Louisiana, but Katrina simply overwhelmed them.

She, too, says she feels guilt about having a second home here, having come through the storm so well. The condo in New Orleans sustained some roof damage from the storm, but the looters took nothing.

Mrs. Stewart says there is no way she could not — eventually — go back to New Orleans and help rebuild.

“I still wake up at night with those anxieties: What can we do to help?” she says. “I have no answers.”

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