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. Judge Dredd

    I am the law and I created this Tornado, do not break the law again.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Way to go

      You inow what... You're an idiot and I would personally help the tornado survivors open up a can of whoop @ss on YOU!

      April 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • panzerman13

      I am willing to bet YOUR life that you would not have the ballzz to march down to one of these hard hit American towns, grab a bullhorn and make this comment...

      Because you are a coward, hiding behind the internet.

      April 28, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. StupidAmerican

    Way to go, Republicans! Keep causing global warming and see how many more people you can kill.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Keep dancing on those graves, stupid.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • panzerman13

      Please take an overdose of drugs and die.

      You are a waste of Life Essence.

      April 28, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rachel

    What I mean is when are we going to see help from other countries that we send money to when they have a natural disaster???

    April 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elkonig99

      Yeah right... we're the only suckers in the world that give money to 'everyone'. Look at France, its citizens turn their noses up to us and we not only liberated their country (that they allowed to be overrun) twice but lost 600,000 of our men in doing so most of which are still buried in their country. We get no thanks for our's almost come to be expected. If we don't help...people get angry. But we rarely get help from other countries with our disasters.

      April 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Daryl

    Tragedy never fails to bring out the bitter division between "believers" and "non-believers." Isn't it enough that so many people have lost their lives or all that they own? If all the energy devoted to arguments about creation of life could be funneled into helping those devastated by the weather crisis, you could all share in doing something real for these people rather than leave them to their own peril. No one really cares what you believe and your influence either way is worthless. Try being human for a change and go lend a hand like the rest of us. You'll sleep better.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elkonig99

      Yeah right... we're the only suckers in the world that give money to 'everyone'. Look at France, its citizens turn their noses up to us and we not only liberated their country (that they allowed to be overrun) twice but lost 600,000 of our men in doing so most of which are still buried in their country. We get no thanks for our's almost come to be expected. If we don't help...people get angry. But we rarely get help from other countries with our disasters.

      April 28, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elkonig99

      Ooops...somehow replied to the wrong post. Meant to respond to Rachel's above post. Time for bed.

      April 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. StupidAmerican

    I'm going to pray for all you nonbelievers. Lord Jesus, please help them to stop being so damn stupid. Amen.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sonia

      Ha! Your name and what you wrote fit together perfectly!

      April 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Way to go

      REEEEEEEEEEEEALLY!!!??? First of all STUPIDAMERICAN.. You're name alone.... REEEEEEEEALLY???!!! Next I just LOVE the way you use the Lord Jesus and "damn" in the same sentence!! REEEEEAAALLLLYYY???!!! You're just fueling non-believers to stereotype you as the CRAZY RELIGIOUS RIGHT!! and be stamped with the STUPID HICK monicre.......

      April 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • RHQuad

      The atheists just got trolled and don't even know it.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. noname

    this is pathetic. but funny.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. StupidAmerican

    Less than a year after repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, and this happens. I'm sure it's just a coincidence, though.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reid

      As way to go said, you make normal Christians look like idiots.

      April 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ellen in CA

    @ Sarah & ChurchLady...Just a reminder from another follower of Christ. He is very disappointed when some in his flock attack each other. Please watch that in the future.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tara

    the lack of compassion, sympathy, and empathy are what is truely scary here. our country is going to hell in a handbasket...good work people.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Karen

    I find these conversations very disturbing – that while more than 200 folks, in my state and neighboring states, who were killed by this weather (and yes, I saw the hail and the tornado that was near my home in TN), and thousands have been injured and lost most or all of their belongings, and the folks on here find it necessary to hash out a 2000+ year old is He or isn't He real scenario. Right now, everyone, including myself, needs to concentrate on getting these folks the help they need to find those who are missing, and they need water, gas, flashlights, clothes, blankets, etc. We live an hour from Huntsville, and folks have almost drained our gas pumps here and bought out all the groceries here, and it's because they don't have any electricity there. I'm thankful that they can come here to resupply. My concern is on that issue, not whether or not one of half of you believe or don't believe in God. Focus on helping others instead of trying to get your own points across about christianity, put that much effort into sending the Red Cross some money or donating blood, or anything else you can do to help, and I will do the same.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Well said Karen. I am an Alabama alum and it breaks my heart to see what has happened to the great little town I went to school in. This is not a place or time for religious debate. These people need our support, not our ridicule and snarky comments. Grow up people.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bethany

    I must say, that as a citizen of Alabama, I am saddened and disgusted by some of the comments here. Religious arguments (from either side) have no place in all the individual tragedies that have taken place. Have some class. This is the reason our selfish country is in the state it is in. Get over yourselves, really. And as for the guy endorsing genocide of southerners, you sir are every bit as ignorant as the people you claim to hate if you really believe we are all walking stereotypes and deserve to die based on your observations.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ladyblahblah

      Very well said, Bethany. It's rare to see an intelligent post on these comment boards (on either side of an issue), and most are oblivious to the fact that there shouldn't even be conflicting viewpoints toward a story about a natural disaster killing a large group of people.

      April 28, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Religion is Poison

    I'm an atheiest, don't believe jesus was anything special, and I'm healthy, wealthy and wise. Some of the most two-faced back-stabbing people I've met are "Christians."

    April 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • michael

      And, some of the most two-faced back-stabbing people I've met are "atheists". Your point?

      April 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reid

      What does that have to do with so many people dying? I live in Memphis,TN and I saw all of that mess. Those people really are hurting and you just want to release your anger? Come on!

      April 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • cheyanne

      OMG do you really want to stand here and spout about religon when people have LOST THERE LIFE AND LOVED ONES AND THERE HOME HAVE BEEN DEVISTATED....
      STICK TO THE STORY and if you cant then shut up......

      April 28, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Brian

    While I am not in the area (Baltimore, MD.) I followed the events of yesterdays terrible storms. I too have been through a tornado before. This date 9 years ago, an F4 tornado turned the town of LaPlata, MD upside down, and while I was not in Laplata when it hit, I worked search and rescue and recovery ops there for several days following. I pray for each and every person affected by this tragedy, and I suffer alongside you. Just know that there will be brighter days ahead for all of you. May God Bless each and every one of you, my family will continue to pray for all affected.

    For everyone else who can't head to the south to physicially help,it would help immensely if you can text "Red Cross" to 90999 and donate $10 to be billed to your cell phone bill.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. PBNPS

    Where is the president? OH, I forgot, he's campaigning in Illinois. The same media who ripped Bush for not being on the ground in New Orleans right after catrina are stangely silent. DOUBLE STANDARD, ya think.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mimi

      Clearly you have not been reading the news. He is coming to Alabama Friday morning.

      April 28, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NoT

    I hope all the Tea Partiers out there will stick to their principles and refuse to take any money from the Federal government for disaster relief! Or do you only want the government to stay out of your lives until you need it?

    April 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Ahh one of the ones that haves everything that happens have a political context. Please go back to your hole until you have something intelligent to say.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
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