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ODU Grad Takes Expertise to Joplin Disaster Site

An Old Dominion University graduate, who works as an environmental scientist for the Norfolk Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has spent the months before her wedding doing difficult, draining work far from home.

And, like all of the corps employees from around the country, she volunteered for the work.

Two months before getting married, Chesapeake native Nikki Ange - who earned her BS from ODU in 2008, and her MS in community health education and environmental health in 2010 - should be obsessing over invitations and guest lists like some might expect. Instead, the 25-year-old is in Joplin, Mo., helping the city recover from one of the nation's deadliest tornadoes.

Ange, who was recently profiled on the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System website, told writer Mark Haviland the experience of working to help remove an estimated 1.87 million cubic yards of debris from the streets and residential properties of Joplin was unlike anything she's ever experienced.

Ange arrived almost a month after the deadly May 22 storm, one of the worst recorded tornadoes in U.S. history. More than 6,900 homes had been destroyed and another 875 damaged, and about 500 commercial properties, a hospital and most of the city schools were left in shambles.

"I was kind of like the gawking bystander; I just wanted to take it all in," Ange said. Instead, she has been part of the Corps team that has accelerated its efforts to remove the debris, rubble that would cover a football field to a depth of nearly 1,000 feet. The Corps has set a goal of having the job done in 67 days. "The first day was hectic," she said. "I was running around between crews and trying to learn everything, trying to learn where streets were because there were no street signs or landmarks except the debris piles, which were always changing. There was still a lot of work out there."

Ange told Haviland she enjoys the work - and that it's not that different from the day-to-day work she does in Virginia for the Corps' Norfolk District. She said she's often outside gathering information for pending permit applications in her job as an environmental scientist for the district's regulatory branch.

Ange told Haviland it's, "like crime scene investigation - for the environment." She described the assessment work in Joplin as arduous and emotionally taxing, maneuvering through the 6-mile-long, one-mile-wide debris area. Walking through the debris and seeing the items lost by people and families - important documents, valuables, children's toys - has given her a new perspective.

"It's motivated me to be more prepared for something like this," she said. "It's going to be one of my priorities when I get home."

After the wedding.

This article was posted on: July 25, 2011

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