Boulder woman died in earthquake tidal waves |

Boulder woman died in earthquake tidal waves

BOULDER ” The disaster that has killed thousands in Asia claimed the life of a Boulder woman whose family says she died after a wave struck her beach cabana as she ate breakfast with her fiance.

Kelly Ann Hillgrove, 35, had just woken up on Sunday morning when the water struck, said her brother, Robert Hillgrove of Broomfield.

Hillgrove’s fiance, Nasser Zouaoui, survived but was separated from her. Two hours later, Zouaoui found her body in 5 feet of water, touching the hand of a 2-year-old victim.

“I’d like to think she was clutching onto it, trying to save his or her life,” Robert Hillgrove told the Daily Camera. “I just hope she didn’t die scared.”

Her brother said he assumed Kelly would be fine even after he learned of the deadly tsunamis.

“I figured she was going to have one heck of a tall tale to tell when she got back,” he said. “I thought that right up until this morning.”

Zouaoui notified family members and the U.S. embassy of her death Monday. Friends and family gathered at her apartment in Boulder and spent the day going through hundreds of photos taken during her global travels.

Hillgrove, a hair stylist who attended the University of Colorado and Fairview High School, grew up in Thomaston, Maine, and moved with her family to Colorado 20 years ago. She was pursuing an ethnic studies degree at CU, in between her full-time job and volunteering for the Boulder County AIDS Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Navajo Nation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“She truly believed that one person can and must try to make the world a better place,” said a friend, Alex Bruckman of Lafayette. “She traveled to different reaches of the world to better understand what her part would be.”

Hillgrove met her fiance, a Parisian schoolteacher, while on a trip to Guatemala.

“She constantly had a smile on her face,” her brother said. “She made an impression on everyone she touched.”

She was described as a passionate world traveler.

“She doesn’t have a ski jacket; she was always in a bathing suit,” Robert Hillgrove said. “She had the fever for the tropics. She loved to go scuba diving. She would travel through Belize, Colombia and Costa Rica by herself, with no itinerary. She just stayed with local folks. She knew Spanish, and she could just blend in because of her openness and her vivaciousness.”

She left Dec. 20, the day after her birthday, for a vacation in Sri Lanka.

Another Colorado resident, John Krueger, 34, of Winter Park, said earlier this week that he and his wife, 26-year-old Romina Canton, barely survived the disaster.

They were in a beach bungalow north of Phuket, Thailand, when the sea rushed in and blew it apart.

“The water rushed under the bungalow, brought our floor up and raised us to the ceiling,” he told The Associated Press. “The water blew out our doors, our windows and the back concrete wall. My wife was swept away with the wall, and I had to bust my way through the roof.”

Krueger was sucked nearly 10 feet underwater, and Canton was dragged out to sea where she struggled to live for more than an hour before the sea tossed her back ashore with a broken nose, fractured foot and scrapes over most of her body.

“It was like white water rafting. … She was naked on the beach (when he found her) because she had just gotten out of the shower. It was like being in a washing machine,” Krueger said.

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