Neighbor brings hope in the aftermath of natural disasters

Nicoletta Anselmo rode up on her bike, sporting a bright yellow vest and wearing a safety bike helmet. This project specialist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) looked prepared for anything.

A Curtis Park resident of 19 years, Anselmo moved to the neighborhood after she married John Mathews, SCNA Board member and chair of the Neighborhood Concerns Committee. They live on Fifth Avenue with their dog, Carina.

Over the last 11 years, Anselmo’s job with FEMA has taken her to some of the worst natural disasters in the country. She’s seen the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, the severe 2008 flooding in Iowa and massive destruction in Oklahoma, along the infamous tornado alley. Neighbor brings hope in the aftermath of natural disasters

“I usually arrive a month after the disaster to inspect the damages, take photos and begin documenting how much it will cost to put things back together,” Anselmo said.

She works with cities, counties, schools and other non-profit government entities to develop detailed reports that justify what the federal government will pay to reimburse these agencies to repair or improve ruined infrastructure after a disaster. This work can take its toll. Sometimes Anselmo is away from home for three to nine months at a time. She lives out of a hotel, and her office is usually a vacant building. She must stay at a disaster site until all reimbursement reports are complete. Occasionally she faces danger, like the Please see Art, page 3 time she was working in Oklahoma and a tornado warning sounded.

“All the FEMA people ran into a shelter, and we watched the approaching tornado,” Anselmo said. “I called my husband, John, who was watching the weather channel, and he would give me updates like, ‘the tornado is two miles away and heading in your direction.’ We were all scared.”

Fortunately, the tornado dispersed before it got to their building. Anselmo said that tornados cause some of the worst destruction. She has seen cars literally wrapped around trees and whole neighborhoods reduced to piles of wooden sticks and debris.

Because the work is so demanding, Anselmo takes time to rejuvenate. She usually dances in the summer with Balliamo, a folk dance troupe she joined 30 years ago, that performs all over Northern California. She also likes to travel and recently returned from a month in Peru.

For now Anselmo has no plans to retire. Her deployments have exposed her to some colorful cities, like New Orleans, and to historic sites and cultures she never would have experienced. She’s also proud of helping towns and cities get back on their feet. Yet, she always loves returning to Curtis Park.

“This neighborhood has such a strong sense of community,” Anselmo said. “And the trees. I really notice the lack of trees in other communities. We are fortunate to live in Curtis Park.”

By Rosanna Herber
Viewpoint staff writer

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