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After Irene, college students document stories

December 6, 2011
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

KEENE - Students from Burlington College in Vermont recorded stories about Tropical Storm Irene over the weekend as part of an audio-documentary project.

Allie Burke and Colin Donaghey, students in John Warren's "Oral History and Audio Documentary" class, set up their recording equipment at the Keene Community Center and taped conversations with people whose lives were affected by the Aug. 28 storm.

Warren said this project aims to document stories from people who may not otherwise be heard. Burke and Donaghey recorded those stories in an intimate, one-on-one setting.

Article Photos

Anya Morgan, left, of Upper Jay, tells Allie Burke about volunteer work she did after Tropical Storm Irene hit on Aug. 28. Burke collected stories from residents of Keene and Jay on Saturday as part of an audio-documentary project with Burlington College.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)

"We're just trying to gather all of the stories we can," Burke said.

One of the accounts about Irene came from a Montreal woman who paddled her kayak to a stranded chicken coop to rescue its inhabitants. The woman told Burke the chickens survived the flood and were fine.

Burke also interviewed a woman whose 35-year-old barn was swept away by the flood and completely destroyed.

"And one of her cats got swept along with the barn, but the cat made it," Burke said. "It somehow climbed up a tree and was safe until the next day, when they found it. Her home was destroyed, so she isn't going to put the time and the money into restoring it. She's going to build a new home somewhere else."

Anya Morgan, a young girl from Upper Jay, told Burke that her family's home was spared in the storm, so they pitched in to help others.

"We didn't have to evacuate," Morgan said. "But we went to go see what happened the next morning. I went to Julie's Place, the antique shop. And I helped at the (Brookside) Motel and the (Wells Memorial) Library."

Anya's mother, Heather, said she was proud of the way her daughter responded to the disaster.

"I wanted Anya to have this experience," she said of Saturday's interview, "because she was so amazing with volunteering her time in those first two weeks. She wasn't quite in school yet, so she really just got right into the mud and started shoveling and helping her neighbors. And I was just so impressed with how she threw herself into it, so I thought she should be documented for posterity and I wanted to have her experience this."

Donaghey said documenting stories from Irene was an interesting process. He said he wished the storm hadn't happened and that the devastation hadn't occurred, but since it did, he said it's important to look at the role that these personal accounts play.

"From a historic perspective, I like trying to document things that can become part of the historic record, because in the future, you never know what will be looked at as important when you look back," Donaghey said. "I find that really interesting."

Warren said the turnout on Saturday was great, and that the stories were incredible.

"A lot of folks are glad we're here to hear their stories," he said. "They have stories to tell, and people don't always have the opportunity to tell the stories that mean the most to them. We're glad to be here to provide that opportunity."

The long-term plan, Warren said, is to have the audio files archived at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Hopefully, he said, researchers in the future will be able to tap into the stories for their work.

Warren said his students may also use the interviews to create documentary projects at Burlington College.

Warren, who lives in Chestertown, is also editor of the online news magazine New York History and founder-editor of the website Adirondack Almanack.



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