Student from New Orleans adjusts to life at CSU
It was just another hurricane warning, and Tiffany Picus knew the drill. She grabbed some clothing and left for a hotel, knowing she'd return in a couple days. Hours later, her home in New Orleans was filling with 3 to 4 feet of water as Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city.
Picus, a sophomore biochemistry and art double major, was originally born in Colorado, but moved to New Orleans in middle school, which is where she was living and attending University of New Orleans when she first heard news of Katrina.
"We'd never evacuated before. We've been through a category four hurricane, so we held out until the last second," Picus said. "By the morning of (the hurricane) we knew it was a category five. It kept strengthening. We left just before it hit."
Picus and her family evacuated to northern Louisiana, normally a five-hour drive, but because of traffic they were forced to detour through Mississippi, arriving 14 hours later.
"The traffic was standstill. We eventually started talking to the cars next to us," she said.
It wasn't until after the storm hit and they'd heard from her brother and uncle, who stayed behind to look after the house, that they wouldn't be returning anytime soon.
"Our house weathered the storm, and we were still expecting to go back until my brother called and told us the water was rising, he didn't know where from, and we shouldn't come home," Picus said.
Picus and her family had not fully prepared her house for flooding.
"We didn't think it was necessary," she said. "We put some pictures and home videos up, but only expected maybe a little water."
Her brother stayed in New Orleans to help and watch for looters, but cut his foot and was forced to leave to get shots. Since his foot was exposed to the contaminated water, he was at risk of infection.
"We watched the news for hours that Saturday, and saw our neighborhood underwater," Picus said.
After moving from the hotel to a relative's home in Atlanta, Picus made the decision to get back into school.
"My mom wanted me to go somewhere where I'd know people because I didn't have any stuff. I initially applied here. I always wanted to go here, but had scholarships in Louisiana," Picus said.
She also looked into taking classes in Georgia, but said the schools were "if-y" about when she'd be able to move in and start classes.
"CSU was great about everything. I talked to them on Tuesday and started school on Thursday," she said.
Paige Jacobson, an academic advisor specializing in transfer orientation, said Picus was very appreciative of CSU.
"Tiffany expressed appreciation for all the small things. It was very touching to me. It showed the ways the university was trying to reach out were meaningful," Jacobson said.
Picus moved into Westfall Hall, two floors down from one of her best friends, Emily Grisley, a sophomore interior design major, from Colorado.
"Tiffany has handled everything like a trooper. She has jumped right in with a positive attitude. She's already made tons of friends," Grisley said.
Picus, who only left with a suitcase, depends on Grisley for daily necessities.
"She's great. I use her blow dryer, clothes and everything," Picus said. "She's my support."
Grisley isn't the only one who has lent Picus a hand; the rest of her dorm has also been helpful.
"The people here have been really great and are doing all they can. Girls have opened their closets to me, and boys give me sweats and t-shirts and things," she said. "People have been awesome and welcoming."
A welcome reception was recently held for Picus and the other students displaced from New Orleans.
"When anyone has gone through an unexpected, tragic event we want to offer them resources and give them support. Many lost a lot and may need both practical and emotional support. Someone to reach out," Jacobson said.
Picus considers her and her family "lucky" compared to much of New Orleans.
"There was initially less (aid) than I expected. It was upsetting that when the tsunami hit, the U.S. had aid there immediately, but it took them four days to get to New Orleans. Lots of lives could've been saved," Picus said.
Picus hopes to eventually return to New Orleans, but when she will be able to remains unknown.
"My family is going home for Christmas after my sister finishes school in Atlanta. We're going to continue building, but as of now we won't be able to live there for a year," Picus said.
Grisley said living with Picus has made the hurricane tragedy more "real."
"It affected her whole family life. She has no place to call home," Grisley said. "We've welcomed her into our family.
Picus said the whole experience has taught her not to take things for granted.
"It's crazy and upsetting to think that the city won't ever be the same. It's not losing the material stuff that's been hard – that's all just junk. It's losing the city that's hard."