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Survivor stories from Camp Williams

'Santa' eating, resting

Don't tell Paul Ellzey it's a little early in the year to be wearing a Santa hat.

"It's Christmas around here already," said the 55-year-old New Orleans man, who has lived through "amazing disaster" the past week.

After six days at the Superdome, Utah seems like heaven, Ellzey says. He evacuated the night before Hurricane Katrina struck, like he was instructed to do, thinking it was "a safe place to run."

And at first, he says, it was. But then things turned sour. "It was a nightmare. It just, first of all, everyone was real pleasant to start with. After a couple days or more, it was all bent out of shape."

Despite the devastation wrought by Katrina, Ellzey plans to return to his home in the lower Ninth Ward. Living anywhere else would be unthinkable, he says. "That's my hometown. . . . No matter where I roam, there's no place like home."

He'll eat and rest in Utah, build himself up, he says, until he gets the all-clear to go back. Meanwhile, he plans on enjoying the generosity he's experienced so far at Camp Williams.

"Everybody's so considerate, so compassionate, so concerned, so full of life. You can't help but love 'em."

4 to seek home in Utah

He's the same man he was a week ago; he just has a new ZIP code.

"My name is still Curtis, but I'm not the Curtis from Louisiana. I'm the Curtis from Utah," said Curtis Pleasant, 45.

Count Pleasant, his wife and children — a 28-year-old son and a 25-year-old daughter — are four of the state's newest residents. All have decided not to return to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, choosing instead to look for a home in Utah and start fresh.

"We all want to make a new, clean living," he said, noting that his enchantment with the state began when he stepped off the plane this weekend at the Utah Air National Guard airport. There, "people were lined up as if the president was coming."

"It's lovely. They've been treating us real good. And it's not like they're just doing it because we're here; they're doing it because they're human."

The humanity Pleasant has seen in Utah is a marked difference to what he saw at the New Orleans Convention Center, where two people were killed right in front of his eyes. One, he says, was when a man jumped on top of a police car late at night and frightened the officers inside. The man was shot right through the windshield, Pleasant says. "I thought . . . we've got to get out of here."

Surrounded by family

Camp Williams is almost like home for Gerald O. Preston.

His entire family is here, as well as most of his neighbors from uptown New Orleans. And since he served in the U.S. Air Force, he's used to his new military surroundings.

But that doesn't mean he wants to stay in Utah, despite the beautiful weather and friendly people. No, he intends to return to his 1800s-era house, which withstood the devastating storm, thanks to its hearty construction.

"It shook a few times, but it didn't fall over," said Preston, 45.

Preston and his family stayed in their house until they ran out of water and decided it was time to leave. But he'll go back as soon as Louisiana officials says it's OK to return. "I have to go back. All of my tools and important papers are there."