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A “Double Whammy” of Disasters: Flooding and COVID-19 in rural West Virginia

A “Double Whammy” of Disasters: Flooding and COVID-19 in rural West Virginia

Health Sciences Center Pylons
August - December, 2022

Check out the online exhibit here!

Special event with curator Jamie Shinn and project partner John Wyatt: Monday, Sept. 12, 5:15pm, Health Sciences Pylons

Town of Ranielle SignThis exhibit is the result of a photovoice project that was designed to capture life in rural West Virginia during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project centered on the town of Rainelle, located in Greenbrier County in Southeastern West Virginia, which has experienced decades of socio-economic hardship from the decline of regional timber and coal industries and a devastating flood in 2016 that damaged hundreds of homes and businesses. With funding from the WVU Humanities Center, this project brought together faculty member Jamie Shinn and her key informant from previous research in Rainelle, John Wyatt. Together, they identified a group of nine residents to participate in the project, including local business owners, city council members, parents, and retirees.

Outdoor Church ServiceTogether with excerpts from interviews and a focus group with participants, the photos tell the story of one small town during the global pandemic and the ways it impacted life there. It is as much a story about a tight knit community surrounded by natural beauty as it is one of isolation, small town politics, and the economic toll of the pandemic in a place that was already suffering. Most strikingly, the photos tell the story of how the pandemic intersected with ongoing flood recovery efforts, or what one participant called “the double whammy” of disasters. The result is a visual representation of people’s experiences with COVID-19 in ways both familiar and unique, as told through their own voices and lenses. 

crossroads signJamie Shinn is an Assistant Professor of Geography in the Department of Geology & Geography at WVU. Her research investigates issues of environmental governance and adaptation to climate change, especially in relation to water and flooding. 

John Wyatt is a project participant, musician, storyteller, minister and resident of Rainelle, WV. He will discuss his role in the project and the impacts of COVID-19 in Rainelle through story and song.