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Wild and wonderful West Virginia

In June 2016, floods ravaged many of West Virginia’s communities, leaving 25 dead and tens of thousands reeling from loss of home, school and jobs. Michael Fleming, our head of US Community Partnerships, traveled there after the hurricane and shared what he saw.

"I traveled to West Virginia in 2016 to spend time with a small, courageous Save the Children team who had been working around the clock to support both immediate, basic human needs of the families and children impacted, but also to help local authorities better prepare for the next time a terrible disaster occurs.

But the timing of my visit was cruelly coincidental.  As I made my way down to the remote Appalachian region that was the flood's ground zero, weeks of unprecedented rainfall had spawned equally devastating flooding in Louisiana, tearing apart homes, destroying infrastructure, washing away lifetimes of savings and memories.

It is into these bereft circumstances that organizations like Save the Children deploy, activating local networks and relationships and providing expertise in ensuring the needs of the most vulnerable victims – children – are addressed.  GSK is helping to fund these and other critical recovery efforts, both with money donated by employees through our Orange United fundraising campaign, but also with a $2 million US Community Partnership program designed to help American communities plan for and support the needs of children in these terrifying and chaotic situations.

In West Virginia, two months after the floodwaters ebbed, remote mountain communities were still struggling to recover.

Like so many areas hit by natural disasters, these Appalachian communities are disproportionately poor and isolated, and many residents were already living in less-than-robust housing stock that not surprisingly didn't fare well against the floodwaters that swept down the mountains and through lowland valleys and rickety creek-side homesteads.

Like we saw with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria -- when floods like these hit they come quickly. We met with families and pastors and school administrators who told of the impossible challenge of protecting property when survival was paramount. 

Life in these circumstances does not easily go back to normal.  Homes and schools and churches are uninhabitable.  Massive numbers of children are displaced from the classroom and daycare facilities.  The loss of bridges means disconnection from services, food stores and jobs.  Mud is everywhere. Black mold is a serious health threat.

When floods and other disasters – both natural and manmade – strike, Save the Children is there to do everything from providing crucial strategic and operational guidance to local responders and agencies to guiding families through the recovery process (including navigating FEMA policies and resources) to supporting community-based nonprofits deluged with requests. 

We are proud of our partnership with Save the Children and know that the vital job they are doing in these heartbreaking situations – and their efforts helping communities better prepare for the next event – is possible thanks to the ongoing support of companies like ours." -- Michael Fleming, Head of US Community Partnerships