GLOUCESTER COUNTY, Va. -- Friday marked 10 years since an EF3 tornado tore through Gloucester County. The devastating storm destroyed Page Middle School and crushed homes in its path.
Danny Strother, who was paralyzed in the April 16, 2011, storm, died from injuries he sustained during the tornado just two weeks shy of the 10th anniversary.
“It’s very difficult. I lost my best friend,” said Christie Matthews, Strother’s fiancee. “He never gave up, not for a second. He fought until the bitter end.”
Matthews and Strother were inside their home on Hickory Fork Road when the tornado touched down on their street. Matthews said she had only seconds to get her children into the bathtub, and by the time she called out for Strother, it was too late.
“It felt like the house was moving from under my feet, like I was on an escalator,” Matthews said. “I could feel stuff hitting against my body.”
The tornado leveled their home. Neighbors had to pull them out of the debris. Matthews' back was broken in two places, but Strother’s injuries were far worse. He became paralyzed from the chest down.
Matthews, who never left his side, said he was eventually able to make peace with his paralysis and find joy in life.
“Most people would have just hidden in a corner and thrown their hands up and say, ‘I give up’. But that just was not his spirit,” Matthews said.
Matthews said her fiancé was most proud of his only child, McKinley Strother, who is a news anchor in Roanoke.
“He kept encouraging me no matter what to keep going,” McKinley said. “When I thought, 'I probably shouldn’t go to school; I should stick around here to help out with him as best I can,' he was the main one saying, 'No, you should absolutely go.'”
McKinley said he's grateful his father was able to see him live out his dreams of being a television journalist before his passing.
“All of that hard work is now seen on TV, and he was able to see that,” McKinley said. “That meant a lot to me.”
Strother died on April 1, 2021, two weeks before the 10-year anniversary of the tornado. Matthews said they planned a celebration, but now they will focus on Strother’s legacy.
“He’s an example, I think, for all of us,” Matthews said. “[We will] celebrate his life and the strength, the humor, the positive spirit and determination that Danny had.”
Matthews said they’re still trying to identify one of the men who rescued them from the rubble after the tornado. They’re asking for them to come forward so they can say thank you.