New Orleans, Louisiana native Ellen Degeneres fought back tears as she introduced last night's (09SEP05) SHELTER FROM THE STORM US telethon by recalling an emotional chat she had with her cousin, who was caught up in the eye of Hurricane Katrina.

DeGeneres was among a host of stars who appeared during the hour-long multi-channel benefit show, held to raise funds for the hurricane relief effort.

The comedienne said, "Last week I talked to my 15-year-old cousin, CATHERINE, on the phone and I asked her what she thought the rest of us should learn from what she's gone through and she said, `Never take anything for granted.'

"When I asked her what she missed the most right now, she said, `My friends. I don't know where my friends are.'

"Tonight, let's show people on the Gulf Coast that they have friends all over the world - friends who care, who understand and are here to give them shelter from the storm.

Singer/songwriter Randy Newman kicked the commercial-free benefit's live performances off on an apt note with a stirring rendition of his 1974 tune LOUISIANA 1927, which has been adopted as the unofficial theme for the hurricane relief efforts.

Other performers included U2, who performed their ballad ONE with Mary J Blige; Mariah Carey; Neil Young; Paul Simon, who added an uplifting note to proceedings by inviting a New Orleans Mardi Gras orchestra to perform with him; country trio the Dixie Chicks; Rod Stewart; Dr John; Foo Fighters, who covered Creedence Clearwater Revival classic BORN ON THE BAYOU, and retired country singer Garth Brooks, who teamed up with his fiancee Trisha Yearwood for another CCR hit, WHO STOPPED THE RAIN.

Meanwhile, celebrities like Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, offered words of hope as they urged viewers to give generously to the cause, and others like Debra Messing, The Rock, Jimmy Smits, Michael Chiklis and Nia Vardalos manned phonelines as donations poured in from members of the public.