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Ellen DeGeneres cries for her hometown

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Ellen DeGeneres says she has been glued to the television in recent days - crying - as she's worried about friends and family in the hurricane-ravaged areas of Mississippi and New Orleans.

"New Orleans is my hometown, and it's gone," she told the New York Daily News on Wednesday. "For me, it's pretty heavy."

DeGeneres said her 82-year-old aunt, who lives in Mississippi, was able to grab four paintings before leaving her home. Her cousins in the same area also got out safely.

However, they've all lost everything they've owned, including their homes.

"We got a phone call," she said. "We know they're in one place. But we haven't heard from them since."

Hurricane Katrina, and the devastation that followed, have weighed heavily on DeGeneres as she prepares for the return of her syndicated show on Monday.

Indeed, she's not sure how she's going to handle the situation - if at all - if she mentions it on the show. She tapes her first one tonight.

Yet, while she goes about trying to write jokes, plan questions for guests, and get up the energy to do her trademark dance at the beginning of the show, she waits for the phone to ring with more information about her loved ones.

"My mother is going to call me as soon as she hears something," DeGeneres said. "I literally watched CNN and sobbed all night long, and (Wednesday) I cried again. Now I'm not crying."

DeGeneres was born in New Orleans in January 1958, so she has watched her childhood get washed away.

"It's freaking my mother out. It's pretty hard. ... I don't think people have grasped this, it's a million people who are homeless."

When she can, DeGeneres vows to get her family members to California.

She's also talking with the head of the company that produces her show, who is also from New Orleans, about setting up a benefit.

"There are a million people who are refugees," DeGeneres said. "Life goes on, and if it didn't impact you directly, you may not realize how devastating this is."


(c) 2005, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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