During the night of April 27 and the early morning hours of April 28, tornadoes swept through Washington County, Va., destroying homes and claiming the lives of four residents in Glade Spring, one of the hardest hit areas in the county. By day break, residents gazed in awe at the destruction caused from the furious storms that wreaked havoc on the small community. The tornadoes crumbled homes and businesses, tossed vehicles like toys and forever changed the landscape outside the town.
In the days that followed the tornadoes, hundreds of community volunteers helped with disaster relief efforts in Glade Spring and the surrounding areas.
Emory & Henry College played a large role in coordinating those relief efforts for victims, many of whom lost most everything they owned.
The Virginia Office of Emergency Management, the Council of Community Services along with the 211 ACCESS Southwest Virginia coordinating agency, and the Appalachian Center for Community Service at Emory & Henry College were granted temporary exclusive use of the King Center gymnasium on campus during this time to staff a volunteer staging center. This group, under the direction of Denny Huff from 211 ACCESS Southwest Virginia, served as the coordinating authority for all Glade Spring volunteers. Kristina Morris, volunteer coordinator for the Southwest Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, coordinated the volunteer center.
Representatives of the agencies formerly operating out of the King Center later moved to Joy Baptist Church in Glade Spring where a disaster recovery center (DRC) was established. This center also housed the representatives of the Department of Social Services, FEMA, Red Cross, and the Office of Emergency Management. Glade Spring Baptist, Joy Baptist, and Glade Spring Presbyterian served as distribution centers, accepting food and water.
Volunteers rallied together to help the victims who experienced overwhelming loss due to the storm, some of whom even lost loved ones. Each morning brought people to the site willing to help in any way they could. Some picked up debris, others used chain saws to cut the massive amounts of trees that were blown to the ground. Teams of volunteers rallied together to remove debris. One helper said the loud sounds of chain saws, trucks and other equipment in Glade Spring was a good indication of the heart-felt, diligent work offered by volunteers following the disaster.
“A host of volunteers from the College have helped with this process,” said Tal Stanley, director of the Appalachian Center at the College. “I believe every member of this campus community has contributed to this effort in some way and every person helped us accomplish so much in such a short time. The state official coordinating the staging area commented to me throughout our work together that he had never met a community or an institution as gracious or as willing to help as the Emory & Henry family.”
Extensive assessments of damages were taken in each of the zones of Washington County in which there was damage from two tornadoes. A tornado at 11 p.m. on Wednesday affected the southern portion of Abingdon, in the area of Glenrochie, and another tornado at 1 a.m. on Thursday, affected a broad area from south Holston all the way to Chilhowie. The worst and most extensive damages were found in the Bethel community, Middle Ford Cedar Creek, south of Meadowview, those areas along the valley to Glade Spring, and following Lee Highway into Smyth County.
Financial donations may be sent to the United Way of Russell and Washington Counties.