Legacy.com Katrina's Lives Lost
Brought to you by The Times-Picayune Thursday, April 27, 2017
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In Remembrance
Ersell Smooth
Age: 33
Parish: Orleans, LA
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Ersell Smooth, 1972-2005
Kendricka Smooth, 1987-2005
Kendra Smooth, 1989-2005
Doneika Lewis, 1990-2005

Maria Montoya
Staff writer

Although she worked as a housekeeper at a local hotel, Ersell Smooth's dream was to open her own child-care center. She had plenty of experience under her own roof: She was one of 18 children, number 14 in a brood that grew up playing in the streets of the Lower 9th Ward.

Even as an adult, she welcomed the company of children -- her own and those of her siblings. From the time they were toddlers, her nieces Kendricka Smooth, Kendra Smooth and Doneika Lewis followed their Aunt Ersell just about everywhere she would go. Friends and relatives say Ersell was happiest when she was surrounded by the girls and her own daughter, Rolisha Smooth.

"Ersell was very easygoing. Whatever she could do for somebody, she would do it," said Gwendolyn Sterling, another of Ersell's nieces.

"She was an angel to me," said Ersell's friend of 15 years, Zelda Dennis. "Ersell was a great mother, sister and friend. She treated me and my own child as if we were family."

Ersell, 33, took great pride in the accomplishments of her young nieces. Kendricka graduated last spring from Lawless Senior High; she and her 16-year-old sister, Kendra, were working at McDonald's to try and save money for college. Kendricka hoped to attend school in Atlanta. Kendra wanted to travel to New York someday and become an attorney.

All three girls shared a passion for music. Doneika, 15, dreamed of one day becoming a professional dancer.

"They were typical teenage girls who always wanted to be together," said Kendricka and Kendra's mother, Iris Smooth Smith.

As Hurricane Katrina approached, Smith gave her daughters permission to take shelter at their Aunt Marion Smooth's house with Ersell, her boyfriend Terry Derrell and her daughter Rolisha.

"They always took turns staying by each other's houses," Smith said. "Our family was never too far apart from each other."

Iris felt she had no reason to worry; her sister Marion's house never flooded during previous storms.

This storm, as we all know now, was different. As dawn broke on Monday, Smith received a frantic cell phone call from her daughters. They told their mother that water was rising in the house. They were standing on the kitchen counter; their Aunt Marion soon told them they should all head to the attic.

"Kendricka just kept screaming and then all of sudden the phone went dead," said Iris, who barely managed to escape her own home on Royal Street. "It was a beautiful day when you looked outside, but the water, the water just came out of nowhere."

Everyone made it safely to the attic, but feared no one would know they were there. Rolisha and Terry were the only ones who knew how to swim; they jumped from the attic into the water, made it to the front door of the house and safely outside. Rolisha grabbed hold of a gutter and attracted the attention of Michael Knight, who cut a hole in the roof and helped Marion escape the attic.

By that time Ersell, fearing they would become inundated before help arrived, had decided to attempt an escape. She jumped from the attic into the water. Kendricka, Kendra and Doneika did the same.

"That was them, always following their Auntie Ersell," Marion said. "They told me they were going to try and get to a taller house, but when they jumped back down the water was already too high for them to make it."

Ersell and her three nieces drowned before they could reach the door. Ersell's daughter Rolisha now lives with her father in Houston; the rest of the Smooth family, once so tightly clustered in the 9th Ward, is scattered across several states.

Marion Smooth's house was destroyed, as were most of her neighbors' homes on Flood Street.

Published in The Times-Picayune

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