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.' "

Have the tornadoes affected you? Share your stories, photos and video

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

"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

"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. Bubba Licious

    Well cover me in grits and call me a peach cobbler! I do believe that ole wolf finally blew down the little piggies house!

    April 28, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. joe doe

    Blame to Newt Gingrich what he had done! =-i'

    April 28, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  3. PACO

    that is really smart people lost their lives you are a complete idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 28, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. Benny

    You're a peach cobbler! BTW.. It's not a little piggie but a big ALABAMA BULL ELEPHANT!!!

    April 28, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  5. SoS

    Okay people, let's do the right thing today.

    When the trolls come out, simply click the report button under their comment.

    April 28, 2011 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. RR

    GOD Please save us!!!

    April 28, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Amen! Have mercy God!

      April 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • DD

      You're alive, now its time to save yourself and help others do the same.

      April 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boheme

      God seems to have a habit to usually dance twisters through trailer parks..Probably enjoying the spectacle during and after the show.

      April 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christopher

      God isn't doing it nor is the devil, the forces of nature are at work, and they neither have pitty or remorse, nor do they have brains and emotions.

      April 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • From The Trinity, Virgin Mary and Angels of Zion (Heaven)

      Zion is another galaxy were god lives and if anyone needs backup from the Bible and cant find it please let us know. What you are going through is the consequences of your actions (war, political prisoners and people called terrorist because how they look) all of this God see it what happened to all of you in Sept 11 was horrible and not something God approves but all of you have come with more damage to innocent people and you have destroyed as many homes and families as you have in your backyard right now.

      April 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      @Christopher: The forces of nature?? Explain that scientifically for me please...because science proves everything comes from something-so the forces of nature has to have a source.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chandon

      The flip side is that God must have really hated those sinner neighbors, cuz he had them shredded! There's no need to hide behind superstation in the wake of a natural disaster.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luke


      Science proves what? I am a scientist and must disagree with you. If you have new information to share with the scientific theory, I would love to peer review your papers. Can you pass them along please or cite your source?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • D-NICE

      Sarah – The source of the forces of nature is the sun. Hot and cold air mixing causes tornados. I guess you didn't ake too many science classes in school.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Science is merely another man-made belief system. In 100 years, it'll be different, and 100 after that, different again.

      Think about it, 500 years ago, the world's most brilliant scientists "knew" the world was flat. Now we know differently. 500 years from now, we'll look back at man circa 2011 and be thinking "they knew nothing then."

      April 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • darkstar

      @ others have already stated, and since I am a scientist, I will again reiterate that science says nothing of the sort that everything comes from something. Try reading up on quantum mechanics sometime. But, I'll play your game. I assume that you are basically insinuating that that something must be your deity of choice. So, let's follow your own line of logical progression: everything must come from something, so please explain where your deity of choice comes from.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      Enough of the whole is there or isn't there a God thing! Fact is, many people lost their lives as a result of those storms and we, as a nation, should stand by them and help all we can. I sure will do my part. Remember, the folks affected are AMERICANS living on AMERICAN soil!

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

      Poor little uniformed Jason. Hate to break the news but science is not a belief system in any way, shape or form. It is a process of knowledge and discovery, and has a built-in self-correcting mechansim into the very fabric of its procedure. You are quite correct that 100 years or 500 years from now, science will most likely say something else asd our knowledge of the Universe expands. Nothing is set in stone, which makes the field of science a valuable tool as opposed to stagnate 2,000 year old beliefs (without any evidence, I might add) from Bronze Age goat herders.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZS

      Yeah, but science is always getting more refined. Your religion has no hope of doing that because it claims to know everything, and can never progress. It's quite easy to see which system of belief is man-made.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      @ Jason.

      You have no idea what you are talking about. "500 years ago scientists thought the earth was flat". The idea of a spherical Earth was developed in Greek astronomy, beginning with Pythagoras in the 6th century BC.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |

    IT;S going to take them awhile to rebuild that mess..

    April 28, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      I wish we could rebuild in ways to prevent tornado, hurricane, or earthquake damage. It can be done. If we can go to the moon, why can't we house our citizens safely? There are technologies that counteract stress in structures. But if you vote to cut taxes for the rich, you won't get a shack to live in.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • zitandspit99

      Yeah it can be done, but the citizens living in that area aren't important enough to warrant extremely expensive disaster-proof housing.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Robby

    More people shud have died

    April 28, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  9. st

    Okay God knows the best. Hope my huey town friend not affect pray for them amen

    April 28, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • zitandspit99

      Yea, that's why god killed millions of Jews in the Holocaust. Because god knows best.

      April 28, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • LK2

      Your God thinks killing people and destroying their homes and life is best? So much "nature" devastation all around lately, and you can say "God knows best"? I thought your God was suppose to be a kind soul?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Robby

    Praying won't help, just die and finish with it

    April 28, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. Floria sigmundi

    That is scary I just can't imagine, hope everyone pulls through

    April 28, 2011 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • KM

      This video has nothing to do with the storms. Shame on you for taking the selfish opportunity to post something unrelated to a likely high-trafficked area of a high traffic site.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • debbie


      April 28, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • George

      Huh ?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeb

    Awww heck, we gonna rebuild.

    April 28, 2011 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • shirley

      that's the spirit!!!!!

      April 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christopher

      We can't afford to rebuild, no money!

      April 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      Good for you! Maybe you can rebuild your town to be much better than it was like Greenberg, KS, did, totally green with everything sustainable. Make it a model for others to follow. Maybe some of these green building companies would be willing to give your town price breaks for the free advertising the news stories about it would create for them.

      April 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      There is lots of money in America; it's tied up in huge corporations and rich people. There is enough to rebuild with sturdy structures that are also green, but you will have to stop voting for politicians that hurt the middle class.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. C!

    I am praying for everybody, I also had family in them storms!

    April 28, 2011 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      im sorry for ur family

      April 28, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      I'm also sorry you can't speak real English. "Them" storms? Too much "home-schooling" in the South.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Becky


      I'm terribly sorry for you and for all who have lost in these storms. You are in our prayers.

      As for "Dogs Rule"....what a depressing individual you are. I'd bet your life really sucks. Oh, and by the way....funny you would correct "C" and not correct the responder to "C" wouldn't be prejudiced against southerners now, would you? Idiot.

      April 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      I'm so sorry you have to go through this. Prayers to you.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • owen

      this is the work of the new world order haarp strikes again

      April 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. J. Santi

    At 6:15 last night, while the tornados were plowing throught Alabama, The 24 hour up to the hour television networks, FOX, Headline News and CNN all had storied running about Presidents Obama's Birth Certificate, What the heck? No interupption of the news cast to report immident dangerous conditions.

    They have all failed us, they should have been warning folks to take cover, report, warn, report. Come on new folks, serve the nation, REPORT, WARN REPORT. The Weather Channel did a great job.

    April 28, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      Trust me, no one in the tornado belt gets their weather info from cnn. We have local experts on local channels for that.

      April 28, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Carrie in Bama

      We have amazing local stations we get our weather from. ABC 33/40 for me!

      April 28, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • MatarLaRaza

      CNN is not news. It's a propaganda machine for the White House...

      April 28, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Astarte

      As usual, CNN did not understand what is really important to the American people.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • AmyLANDERS

      The Weather Chanel did an AMAZING JOB to keep us informed. My family and i live in Woodstock GA, thank God we are okay, the storm cell that produced that horrible tornado in AL flew right over us, we got hit hard but no touch downs. thank god, I want to see how i can volunteer to help those in need of clean up and rebuilding.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      If you want updates on what is happening to you locally, turn to your LOCAL stations, not CNN., Faux News, or MSNBC. I bet your local stations did a good job of providing information.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • ML

      I'm in Floyd County, GA and had the same problem with coverage. The Weather Channel was good at the big picture but not at specifics. And for the longest, the only channels covering it were in Chattanooga – covering TN, not GA. The Atlanta channels were playing stuff about the royal wedding until it got so close that they had to cover it. FOX did nothing. CNN did a tiny bit. Thankful for the Weather Channel until the winds blew down the power lines.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Of course they were talking about the Obama birth certificate, because that is all people wanted to hear about and they are not a weather channel, they are a NEWS channel. BTW how was the Weathers channels coverage of the birth certificate issue. Yes it was a horrible incident, but your comments are make little sense.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • nancheska

      Yeah, I agree that Weather Channel does a great job, as well as local networks. You're right though: less attention to silliness and more to potentially dangerous conditions is critical. We (our family) is set up to get severe weather calls from our local network. Another thing that helps is a warning radio. Poor people...I am very saddened for them, and would like to help out w/ rebuilding.

      April 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      You must have had the storm coverage confused with all of our a$$hat anchors over in England....

      April 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • likeIcare

      Our local weatherman is a blowhard that likes to hear himself talk...but does a great job of staying on top of things. They were showing the tornado bear down on Tuscaloosa in REAL TIME, and then proceeded to Birmingham. It was heartbreaking to watch.

      April 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Me

      James Spann is the man. He's the best weatherman in the State of Alabama!!

      April 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debi

      Thankfully, we in South Alabama have a fabulous resource in our Montgomery, AL NBC affiliate – Channel 12 – WSFA. Their weathermen were on the air all day and stayed at the station reporting weather conditions until about midnight. They were so helpful. I'm quite sure a number of lives were saved by that team. The station has a pretty big coverage area which helped immensely. They pinpointed the storms and predicted directions and time of arrival in various communities. Anyone who stayed in a mobile home after the storms of the morning were CRAZY! The weather forecasters were telling us exactly where the tornadoes were heading and about what time they'd arrive!!! People just need to heed the warnings and NEVER think it won't happen to them. So many of us were blessed. Conditions have been ripe for a week for horrible storms – unseasonably warm and very humid...jet stream bringing the warm gulf winds north and a cool front headed south – that meeting causes thunderstorms and tornadoes. A part of life if you live in the south so close to the Gulf. Thank God there were not thousands killed. I don't see how anyone survived many of the building collapses all over the area.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      President Obama's birth certificate was contested by Republicans, not Democrats, but yes, CNN, Fox, and the rest need to understand that WEATHER IS NEWS. Years ago, when he was a young reporter, Dan Rather stood out in a hurricane giving up to the minute reports. It made his name, and soon after he became a CBS anchor. At one time, local news was worse than national: local wouldn't tell you about a hurricane, or a war. Now national news is much worse: they don't have their priorities on straight, I agree. Yes, I also turned to a local station (and on the internet), which had even better weather maps than the weather channel.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Robby

    Keep on praying, the dead won't come back, the worms are having a banquet

    April 28, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
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