Colorado high schoolers cope with loss by creating book about September flood

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A new book tells the story of September’s historic storms through the eyes of high school students who lived it.

Their school in Lyons was evacuated with the rest of the town, and the school remained closed for three months. So when the students returned to Lyons to take photographs in November for a class project, it was the first time most of them had walked around town in two months. Now their pictures and personal stories are together in the book, Our Town, Our Story: The Lyons Flood of 2013.

Senior Hannah Baker wrote about being awakened by the flood in the middle of the night.

"Our house is about 300 yards from the water. It sounded like really loud thunder, the boulders hitting each other and tearing everything apart. I could hear trees snapping and boulders rolling, all pushed by the water," Baker wrote.

Eventually National Guardsmen evacuated Baker's family in a helicopter. The family moved around to several different houses while they waited to get back to their home in Pinewood Springs.

"This photo class was the first time I had a chance to explore Lyons," Baker said. "I was shocked. I don’t think people realized how bad it was until we went into the heart of Lyons, into the destroyed neighborhoods. I knew people who lost their homes. They really didn’t want to talk about it."

Like Baker, other students captured the destruction with their cameras and wrote about their feelings of disbelief and sadness.

Senior Joe Christiansen said that at first he was struck by all the wreckage and devastation. But the closer he looked, the more he started to see signs of positive memories, of family and faith. Christiansen's photographs show washed-out cars and an American flag hanging over the muddy debris.

Photo: Lyons flood book 1Art teacher Stephanie Busby and local photographer Bob Campagna guided the project. Busby said writing the stories and taking the pictures helped her students cope with the disaster. And the flood has put their lives in perspective.

"As far as what I see," Busby said, "kids appreciate what they have more because they almost lost everything."

Campagna is also documenting the flood for nearby Evans, Colo. He said he has already taken about 5,000 photographs, some of which the city is using to apply for recovery assistance. As Campagna has toured destroyed homes, he's been struck by how the post-flood smell reminds him of a flood he experienced several years ago while living in Iowa.

"In our neighborhood we had to clean out houses and every day I had to throw out the clothes I was wearing," Campagna said. "It was sacrificial clothing."

Campagna has worked with high school students around the country for about 30 years. He agrees that the flood has brought a new level of awareness to the students' lives.

"When working with students, the highest price is empathy," Campagna said. "Many of the students got that empathy."