Tornado survivors' stories: Flying Jeeps, moving earth, neighborhoods gone
Some of the worst damage from Wednesday's tornadoes was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
April 28th, 2011
01:57 AM ET

Tornado survivors' stories: Flying Jeeps, moving earth, neighborhoods gone

[Updated at 9:57 p.m. ET] More than 280 people have been killed by the wave of violent weather that has swept across the South the past two days.

Survivors told of entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and the terror of tornadoes ripping through their homes and businesses.

Here are the voices of some survivors:

Shortly before a massive tornado tore through her Tuscaloosa, Alabama, neighborhood on Wednesday, Lucy Arnold Sykes decided the weather was ominous enough to shelter her 3-year-old and 6-year-old children in a bathtub.

"I ran in with the kids and kind of joked (to my husband), 'Don't make fun of me for putting the kids in the bathtub, but I think this is serious,' " she told CNN's "The Situation Room" on Thursday. "He went out for one last look, and … he came back in with kind of a strange look on his face, and he said, 'It's right outside the door.' "

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The edge of the tornado passed across the street, but the wind tore apart a corner of the house, sent a tree crashing onto the roof, broke nearly all the windows and flipped her vehicle from the curb onto her front lawn.

The family is OK and stayed with friends on Wednesday night.

"(The kids) want to know when they’re going to go back home. I don't think that will be anytime soon. We're going to be looking for a new house," she said.

Brian Wilhite is an internist at Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa. He spoke to CNN on Thursday morning.

"It looked more like a Vietnam War site than a hospital. I know one physician who watched two people die right in front of him. There was nothing he could do."

And as for the city, where 36 people were known to have been killed as of Thursday morning:

"It looks like an atomic bomb went off in a straight line. It's probably close to a mile wide. There are areas where neighborhoods are completely gone."

Restaurant owner Gary Lewis described what he saw on 15th Street in Tuscaloosa for al.com:

"Everything I saw was gone. (McAlister's), major damage. No Taco Casa, no McDonald's, Mike and Ed's Barbeque, major damage. All those houses on that little lake are splintered. This thing (Wednesday) afternoon was a monster."

University of Alabama business student Michael Neese took cover in the stairwell of his apartment near 15th Street, according to Raycom News Network.

"It was like a white cloud just twirling in the parking lot next door to me. All of 15th Street is gone," he said.

University of Alabama student Adam Melton told The Crimson White he was in off-campus housing as the storm approached. "When it hit, the house lifted up off of us, and then a Jeep Cherokee came right over us and hit me in the head. We were underneath ... the Jeep on our knees and chest for the end of it. After we got hit, we pulled five or six people out, but it was gone. The house was gone."

Fred Jackson, 48, told The Tuscaloosa News what it was like in Tuscaloosa's Alberta community:

“The earth went to moving. Roots were pulling up. Everything was moving. The house is destroyed. We had to get out through a window. ... Alberta is gone. I've lost everything."

In Pleasant Grove, Alabama, Charisse Hudson on Thursday tried to figure out which pile of debris was her home. Flattened homes and downed trees littered her neighborhood, making it difficult to get her bearing. Eventually, she found her property.

"The only reason I knew this was my house was because my car was on top of it," she said, referencing the blue vehicle resting on a mound of rubble.

Before Wednesday's storm struck, the Hudson family left the home because the power had gone out.

“It was a blessed thing we did," Hudson said. "One of our neighbors said, ‘Well, I'm going to tough it out. I'm going to stay home.' " Asked whether she knew where that neighbor was Thursday, she answered, on the verge of tears: "I'm not sure."

Beth Varden took shelter during Wednesday’s storm with her husband in the basement of their Pleasant Grove home. The step was rare for her: She likes to sit outside to watch storms but said she sensed that Wednesday’s weather was different.

After the couple were in the basement, "the house was really shaking, and stuff started sucking out of the garage," she recalled Thursday. "You could hear everything moving upstairs moving around, and you hear a roar."

"After (the storm) left, we came out, and the first thing we saw was (a neighbor’s) house gone," she said.

Most of the houses in the immediate area were heavily damaged or destroyed, but hers was standing. She said she's struggling with guilt because her neighbors' homes weren't spared.

Rachael Mulder was asleep in her second-floor apartment in Duncanville, Alabama, just before the storm devastated the building. Her husband woke her up.

"I just remember him running in and grabbing me and saying, 'Honey, hurry! Get in the tub!' And we ran in the tub and took shelter, and probably 30 seconds later, it was just like so loud, and it was just like an earthquake, almost," she said.

When the storm passed, only the bathroom was standing. Her husband opened the bathroom door, "and we were outside."

Mulder, a nurse, said her husband called her to an injured woman in another damaged unit.

"I grabbed my first aid kit and ran down the stairs, and tried to help her. I tried to stop her bleeding and save her, but she was taking her last breaths, and she passed away right there," she said.

In Hueytown, Alabama, Jason Wilson gathered his family, including a daughter, 10, and son, 7, in an auto repair shop his family owns, according to al.com.

"We was fixing to go home and heard the siren. We took cover. It's about all you can do. And then it just blew the roof off."

In the northern Georgia town of Ringgold, where at least three people were killed in Wednesday's storms, Reba Self told CNN Radio that she and her mother are lucky to be alive. There were in the lower portion of a house when a storm hit, knocking the home off its foundation and causing a tree to fall through the roof.

"I don't know how we lived through it, but we did," she said Thursday.

In Smithville, Mississippi, Tammie Vaughn told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal how a twister swept into the town of 900.

"There was a lot of fog from the rain, and all of a sudden the fog disappeared, swept into the swirl of the tornado, and it sounded awful. I’ve never seen or heard anything like it."

In Tennessee, William Hart told the Chattanooga Times Free Press how he grabbed his 3-year-old son and dived for a small space between the foot of his bed and a dresser in their doublewide trailer home.

"I heard the roof rip off. The mirror fell over this way and was actually laying on me. And I was just thinking, 'That’s the end of it for the both of us.' I know the only reason I’m alive is by the grace of God. He was protecting me and my son."

Were you affected by the tornadoes? Share your images, stories with CNN iReport.

soundoff (501 Responses)
  1. George

    This happened in the bible belt. Is it possible that so many millions of people thinking the end of the world was coming brought on these energy reactions from nature? I dunno. Anybody?

    April 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Lord2FLI

    You know what's worse than atheist trolls? Jesus trolls.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Amen

      I was praying in my basement when the tornado hit and somehow it spared me and my dog, but took the neighbors house baby and all. I couldn't believe my eyes when I came out. Praise the LORD, Almighty Jesus. Just for this I think I am going to give my life savings to the church and pray for all those poor familys and children the Lord took to his kingdom.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mommacrazy30

    Prayers for all who were affected by this storm

    April 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. MAU

    There is only ONE GOD. He created the heavens and earth and the billion, trillion stars and galaxies and everything within them. Why does He need a human as son??? He alone is the KING and to HIM alone the sovereignty belongs.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • George

      For real ?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Truth

      because the creator came as the SON, you can not perceive of him in his pure spirit state, he came in the solid state as the "SON" so that our little minds can partake of him. I hope you understood that!

      April 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. George

    This is it !!! The end !!! Just like they been sayin...right?

    April 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • The Truth

      George keep on living and soon your END will come, then what!

      April 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kelsey

    Dear CNN fact-checkers- It's McAlister's.... (Yes, this is very important)

    April 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Don McLaughlin

    How short the memory in our society... the tornadoes that have occurred this year are by no means "record breaking". Tornadoes in this number and this strength have been repeatedly recorded as touching down in the south and the Midwest for as long as records have been kept. Unfortunately, the really bad years, such this one, come on average once every 20-50 years leading each generation to think that this type of thing all new...

    April 28, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • George

      So your saying its not the end of the world?...right?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. New Orleans

    Obama hates whites!

    April 28, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. kimberly

    I pray for every one that was in this I live in tn and I pray for yall and god will get us throw this just hold your head up high im thanking of all my ppl out there and may god be with u

    April 28, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. TruthSeeker

    Two thousand years of "any day now" is about enough, don't you think? Use those big brains of yours, people! Churches call you their "flock" for a reason.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. genewest1801

    Are there any scientist that suggest that these tornadoes are connected to either global warming and/or El Nino?

    April 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Savana

      Gulf streams friend.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tim

    The score thus far: Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion – 0. Global Warming Advocates, Pope Haters, Atheistic Zealots, Metro Bigots – scoring too fast to calculate. Helluva world we live in, ain't it.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tara

      hit the nail right on the head tim, thank you for your intellegent point of view...finally some common sense

      April 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • zitandspit99

      It didn't affect me so why should I care? This kind of destruction happens everyday around the world. Why is this any different?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tara

      picture me telling you this slowly so that you understand it fully.....you should show sympathy, empathy, and compassion for all humans everywhere....idiot

      April 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ...

    I am lucky to live on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, where received nothing more than a little rain from this mess (though we've seen our fair share of hurricane damage–but nothing like this except maybe right on the beaches/bay). My heart goes out to the residents of central and northern Alabama and the other states that saw damage, especially those who lost their homes, communities, and loved ones. Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville are in our state's "tornado alley" but storms of this magnitude are pretty much unprecedented. Tornadoes this large and this numerous are seen in Kansas and Oklahoma, not Alabama. Much of the area was already without power, so it's amazing that more people weren't hurt or killed since they couldn't watch the weather on TV. I am grateful schools and some businesses closed for the day. What do you do when you hear a tornado siren and have minutes to find shelter? In Alabama the water table is too high and the soil is not right for basements, and it's easy to see after this devastation that interior bathrooms and hallways don't always protect! I pray for comfort for those who lost everything, but I also pray for a rebuilding effort much like that of Greenburg, Kansas (sorry if I named the town incorrectly) that was decimated and then rebuilt as a "green" community. I've been through some frightening thunderstorms and even through Hurricane Ivan, but I can't imagine the horror of being caught up in this mess. It's amazing and terrifying. I hope weather like this is not the new "norm." I'm not using this as a political soapbox, but one has to wonder if more frequent weather patterns like this, the Midwest flooding, and the historic snow storms of the last couple years aren't a sign of Climate Change and things to come. Anyway, we all should take a minute to think about our lives, families, and all the things we value in life–because as we've seen, all that can vanish in a blink of an eye. I wish everybody effected a speedy recovery.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. angel

    I live in north alabama and want to thank all the idiots debating religion. thanks for all the help and support during our time of suffering.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • zitandspit99

      Why should we care?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kyle

    Does anyone know of any group already planning to help people rebuild. Personally I think this is a nother opportunity for us as Americans to show our support for each other, as humans. If you could post anything that you know of I would appreciate it.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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