GLADE SPRING, Va. (WJHL) – Jarren Strong, the now deputy chief of the Glade Spring Fire Department, recalls being one of the first boots on the ground a little after 1 a.m. on April 28, 2011.
“Trees down, just pieces of buildings laying in the road so we’re doing our best to navigate, trying to get to where we needed to be. It was quite something,” Strong said. “There were no street lights, no nothing.”
“I had some truckers say that it flipped them over, and they landed on their mattresses,” said Robert Sutphin, store manager of Petro Truck Stop.
“Some of the truckers, their vehicles were displaced, so they were milling about,” Strong said.
An EF-3 tornado blew through the community of Glade Spring with winds close to 140 mph. Hit especially hard was the Petro Truck Stop. It was a landmark for this small community.
“At the corner of the restaurant, there was actually a truck that had been lifted up,” Sutphin said.
Part of the truck went into the corner of the Iron Skillet restaurant. Other semi-trucks were tossed around like toys. Glass shattered inside the building and parts of the roof leaked. Sutphin said Petro Truck Stop sustained roughly half a million dollars in damage.
Crews managed to make repairs to the truck stop and reopen just two months later.
“Nobody actually got killed on our site. Everybody was safe,” Sutphin said thankfully.
Records from the National Weather Service and local emergency management indicate three people died, and more than 50 were injured by the tornado.
Despite its damage, Petro Truck Stop acted as a hub for nearby residents.
Tabatha Collins, a Glade Spring resident, told News Channel 11 she walked from her house to the Petro after the tornado. She lives about three-quarters of a mile away.
“I was finally able to get one phone call out to let my mom know that we were, in fact, okay,” Collins said.
“We were basically the only one in the area with power because we had generators,” Sutphin said.
Collins and her family moved into her home just one month before the storm. She’s still there today.
“You could hear things being ripped up. You could hear things being tossed around,” she described. “There used to be a cover on my porch. It took that completely away.”
Mother Nature left Collins and her family shaken up. Their home was still livable after the storm, and it’s where they reside to this day.
“We were pinned in the house. One of the neighbors after the tornado had to come move debris out from in front of our door so we could get out,” she recalled. “It took our windows. It took our roof. It moved our house a quarter of an inch off the foundation, moved the load-bearing wall.”
“I’ll be honest with you: I never thought a tornado would come through Washington County,” Strong admitted. “Something of that magnitude, you hear about that in Kansas.”
The community came together to rebuild and recover, but reminders of the storm remain.
“You still see the damage to the trees, but the community’s been good,” Sutphin said. “We’re going to be here until the end, so if it happens again, we’ll deal with it.”
“Everybody’s still here [my neighbors]. Nobody left. We’re a tough community. We are family,” Collins said.