GLADE SPRING — When a tornado tore through the Glade Spring Church of God in 2011, its pastor, James Walls, didn’t miss a beat.
The tornado touched down in the early hours of Thursday, April 28, 2011. Just three days later, Walls led its Sunday service in the basement of a nearby church, a service he called “heartbreaking.”
“It was a very difficult time because a lot of decisions had to be made immediately and people in the community were in such distress,” Walls said. “I just thank God for all the people that pitched in and helped the others in the community.”
Then, the rebuilding began. The current Church of God was constructed on the old building’s foundation, and 221 days after it was destroyed, there was a new church.
The citizens of Glade Spring did the same thing, picking up the pieces of a shattered town that still possessed its most important foundation: its people.
Today marks the six-year anniversary of the Glade Spring tornado, which took out scores of homes and left four dead in the town of 1,500 off Interstate 81’s Exit 29. Wind speeds of the EF-3 tornado reached 130-165 mph and at least eight other tornadoes touched down in the region.
Nationally, more than 350 tornadoes touched down between April 25 and April 28 in parts of the South and East Coast, killing more than 300 in an event dubbed the Super Outbreak of 2011. Thousands more were left grappling with the aftermath of the destruction.
One of those was Lynn Teaters.
Teaters, 60, lives in a house down the road from the Church of God with her brother, Bill Lester. On the night of the tornado, Teaters was listening to storm updates from a little two-way radio. The tornado warning was supposed to expire at 1 a.m., so Teaters went to bed.
Not long after, the tornado hit.
Teaters and her brother made it to the basement, but the commotion was over nearly as soon as it started, Teaters said. The roof was ripped off the house, and the front of her home was badly damaged. Wood two-by-sixes were sticking out of the walls.
“It’s still on everybody’s mind, especially when it gets bad weather,” she said. “You wonder and get a little leery of it.”
The portion of her house left standing had to be torn down. At the time, Teaters lived in a row of four houses that all belonged to family members. Of the several vehicles the family owned, only two remained.
Teaters said she’s still amazed at how the community came together in the weeks following the storm.
“There was a lot of amazing people coming through here after that was over with,” she said. “It was just unreal.”
Some of those volunteers came from the Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., a truck semi-trailer and refrigerated van manufacturing company.
Sam Cassell, now the Utility plant manager, received a call at 1:25 a.m. that Utility had been hit. Cassell lives just eight miles from the plant, but it took him about three hours to reach it.
Traffic on U.S. Highway 11 was at a standstill. Police officers and others were using chainsaws to clear the highway of branches and other debris.
When he arrived at the plant, it was still dark. The sounds of gushing water filled the air from all the broken water mains. When the sun came up, full truck trailers that had been thrown into trees reflected the sunlight.
“I would not want to do it again,” Cassell said. “It was a trying time.”
After assessing the property and the damage, Utility employees got to work.
“We just decided, no one’s going to clean it up but us, so we started cleaning,” Cassell said.
It took several months for the plant to be fully reconstructed. But just as the Church of God got right back to its worship services, the Utility plant started producing trailers within a few days of the storm.
In a break room at the Utility plant, a photo collage of the damaged facility hangs on a wall as a reminder of the events that night.
Utility also sent its employees into the community to help with cleanup. Teaters said she remembers a Utility crew helping in her neighborhood.
These days, the Church of God is thriving. When the tornado hit, when Walls was just six weeks into his role as pastor, the church had about 40 members. Today, it has about 100.
Walls said it has been a small blessing to have a newer facility with adequate space for things like its youth group. But, that’s not what concerns him.
“This is just a building,” he said. “The church is the people. We can always rebuild a building, but the people are the church.”
In the six years since, it has been the people of the community who have helped one another pick up the pieces and move on from a terrifying storm.