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‘A double whammy of tragedy’ – Rainelle residents document ongoing 2016 flood recovery work in the time of COVID-19 as part of WVU project

Wall with damage marking how high flood waters were

Marks on the wall stand as a reminder of what Rainelle endured four years before the arrival of COVID-19. (Submitted photo/David Smith)

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Five years after devastating flooding in central and southeastern West Virginia that claimed 23 lives, a project from Jamie Shinn, an assistant professor of geography in West Virginia University’s Department of Geology and Geography, highlights the ongoing effects of the storms coupled with COVID-19.

Originally, Shinn, who has previously conducted research work focused of the 2016 storms, set out to document the COVID-19 pandemic in rural Appalachia by asking residents in Rainelle to take photographs of their daily lives using provided cameras funded with a grant from the Humanities Center at WVU. She soon found, however, that living during COVID, as depicted in 850 photographs 10 residents took over four months last summer along with personal stories, was still largely colored by the flood, “a double whammy” of tragedy, as one resident described it.

Quotes and comments

“One thing that surprised me about this project was the extent to which research participants documented and discussed the impacts of the 2016 floods and ongoing recovery efforts, rather than their direct experiences with the pandemic. It made it really clear how huge of an impact the floods had for residents of Rainelle in terms of infrastructure damage, but also emotional trauma and how that impact is still very present, even five years later.

“They were already in this vulnerable position from the flood that made the pandemic even harder,” – Jamie Shinn, assistant professor of geography in WVU’s Department of Geology and Geography 


VIDEO: Shinn explains more about the project, including personal stories from residents in Rainelle who participated.

MEDIA TOOL KIT: Additional information about WVU’s involvement in the response to the June 2016 Flood is available in the WVUToday Media Center.

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