Friday, September 23, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Displaced students find familiar face at the UW

Seattle Times staff reporter

The hugs and smiles came quickly yesterday when New Orleans student Tangelia Connor — still recovering from her "week of hell" — walked into a University of Washington classroom and unexpectedly spotted a friend.

Connor and fellow Dillard University biology student Tenecia Harris were among dozens of Hurricane Katrina evacuees attending special orientation sessions yesterday. About 100 evacuees are taking classes at the UW this fall.

"I was so happy when I saw someone I recognized," said Harris. "It was comforting."

The students are among the tens of thousands displaced from Louisiana and Mississippi. Many local higher-education institutions are opening their doors to evacuees, including Seattle University, which has accepted 58 students.

Like other universities, the UW is not charging tuition, but rather treating the evacuees as exchange students. That avoids red tape and allows the students' home institutions to continue collecting fees and avoid financial trouble, said Terry Hill, coordinator of the UW Katrina Resource Center. The UW is also giving clothes, money and loans to needy students, he said.

A Seattle native, Connor, 31, has lived in New Orleans for four years. When warnings of the hurricane came, she first thought it would be like other storms that have passed through with little damage.

After realizing she had missed her chance to evacuate, she moved to a friend-of-a-friend's third-floor apartment near Lake Pontchartrain, where she figured she'd be safe. An apartment wall started cracking when the wind hit, and later they watched in horror as water spilled over flood walls for hour upon hour and a "filthy" sludge rose around their building.

For three days, Connor and six others were marooned in the apartment. Lacking electricity, they barbecued every meal. They had no way of contacting anyone. Unbeknownst to her, Connor's mother was preparing to fly down from Seattle to search for her daughter.

"By Thursday she was freaked out," Connor said. "It wasn't so much that I was afraid to die or drown, but it was the fact that I may never see my mom again. That's what motivated me to get out of there."

Connor said they were rescued by workers from the local sewage-and-water board and taken to the University of New Orleans campus, where they stayed for another two days, sleeping outside one night.

"There were so many people and tons of babies crying," she said. "I don't know what took them [the National Guard] so long; I don't understand."

From there it was a 10-hour wait at an airport before she could fly to her mom's house in Madison Park.

Harris, 20, was luckier than her friend. Unlike Connor, she lived on campus and was evacuated by bus before the storm hit. But like Connor, she didn't expect much from the hurricane.

"I thought I'd be back in a couple of days," Harris said. "I left my clothes, computer, refrigerator, books and shoes. About eight pairs of shoes."

Harris, whose family lives in California, is staying with one of the 130 faculty, alumni and community members who offered to house the students.

Both Harris and Connor are considering moving to Seattle permanently. Connor said she loves being back, although she wishes people would stop talking about earthquakes.

"I said, 'Mom, I can't do another disaster, dude.' "

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639


Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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