University of Alabama student Emily Fuller was disappointed that her spring semester had to end early in April after a tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa. It was devastating when she finally made it onto campus from her off-campus house to see people walking around dazed after the twister. Forty-two people lost their lives, including one of her sorority sisters.
But as the 20-year-old drove home to Joplin, Missouri, a few weeks ago, she started to feel better. This was a chance to spend more time with her family and get a head start on a peaceful summer.
On May 22, Fuller was working out at Joplin's gym. It had been raining most of the day. All the local stations where warning that a tornado was likely.
"I was getting really worried," she said. "I've always been very scared of storms and after everything, I got in my car and drove home immediately." She called her mom who was out running errands. "I told her to just get home," she said.
Stephen Fuller, Emily's father, was at home. He knew his daughter was getting worked up.
"When she was a little girl and there was a thunder storm, she liked to gather all her blankets and come sleep next to us," Emily's father Stephen Fuller told CNN.com. "Emily was very, very anxious when this storm rolled in."
She didn't want to see a familiar big black blob hovering closer and closer to Joplin. She didn't want to hear the wind screeching or watch the thick, strong trees that had stood for years in her yard bend like rubber.
When the first of two tornado sirens went off, Emily's parents didn't act very alarmed. They weren't moving very quickly.
The lights went out.
"I begged them to come with me to the basement," she said.
It was 5:45 p.m., she recalls. The tornado was on top of them. "It happened very quickly - bad to very bad," he said. "I thought, 'This is it. She's right.' "
Emily Fuller knew how little time they had.
Her father opened a basement closet that he had intended, when he furnished the space, to be an ideal tornado shelter.
"Turns out we were storing all our china in there," he recalled. "So I said, 'Okay, that's not going to work.'"
The basement had another closet so the three dove in.
Minutes passed. The sound of a storm can be deceptive. And to Stephen Fuller's ear, it seemed for a brief time that the storm was ebbing. Out of curiosity, he stuck his head up high enough to look out of window. The winds were blowing at maddening speed. He said loudly, 'Hey, I don't see a tornado.'"
Emily ordered him to get down.
When the twister passed, her phone rang. It was her sister calling from Birmingham, Alabama. "She said she was watching the news and all of Joplin was gone," Emily said. "I just couldn't believe it."
The Fuller family was lucky. Emily and her parents were uninjured. Their house, less than a mile from the town's most ravaged neighborhood, was untouched.
Emily is driving back to college Wednesday to start summer school. On the long ride, she'll be thinking about other people in Joplin, everything they've endured. There are still 10 people who are missing. At least 142 people have died. The Tuscaloosa News is reporting damage costs could exceed $75 million. Joplin's tornado costs could reach $3 billion.
"We'll come back," said Stephen Fuller. "When we see how Tuscaloosa is rebuilding, it inspires us even more."