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. mike

    Yes please take your talk about there being a god or there not being a god some where else. I came here to read the news and see what others have to say. Not read the good book or have others read it to me.

    Had two coworkers in Huntsville, Al. yesterday and they said it was unbelievable. Had to sleep in the airport last night.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JB

    “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.”


    April 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • RAH

      I agree that did not make any sense!

      April 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ginny

      It may not make any sense (in fact, it obviously does not make any sense) but after one experiences something like these tornadoes or some other devastating event or events, that person may not make sense for quite some time when talking about the experience.

      April 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PBNPS

    Stupid American, the name says it all.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Hannah Montana

    Thank beacause this just helped me with one of my homework that I had!

    April 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Good grief...

    These comment forums are a waste, regardless of the the issue they always turn to God and politics. Apparently, the trolls and bible thumpers have nothing better to do.

    Best quote: I have nothing against God, it's his fan club I can't stand.

    Now let's step back and play nice but be respectful at the same time. Focus on the ISSUE not your problems with others.

    How many of you donated to the RED CROSS to help? Put your money where your mouth is.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. GBS

    I'm not from area, but it is coming across to me that these are very unusual events.....if this is so...I add by bit.....the Almighty God is true and He exist! Consult with Him in prayer, and ask for an answer as to what is happening. It is the thing to do.....atheists are those who are either cunningly led astray from their early beginnings or not educated enough in historical facts and the holy scriptures.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chris

    "I know the only reason I’m alive is by the grace of God. He was protecting me and my son."

    Jeez, CNN, stop printing these types of comments from folks - because the implication is "God didn't care about the other people and wasn't protecting the 200+ souls that did die in this tragedy, God only cared about ME!"

    April 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • MN

      "Time and chance happen to all" – it is not a matter of IF we will die – we ALL will eventually, believer or not. They were not saying God didn't care about anyone else...he was saying he could have easily been killed too, but is thankful he was not. What's the difference to you WHO he gives thanks to for still being alive? FREEDOM OF RELIGION...some thank God, some Buddha, some their lucky stars, who gives? I am grateful that there were not MORE killed. I am grateful I was not there at the time – it could have been me. I am going to send money to help those who were NOT killed. And God uses PEOPLE to show his love – so show some love and help them too! And if you don't believe in God and send money to help, God also uses evil for good.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tom

    Three words: Two Thousand Twelve!
    If you don't believe it just wait until August...

    April 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Guy

    Is the wedding tonight or tomarrow?

    April 28, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      The Wedding is at 6am Eastern time Friday morning. Thats 11am BST London time.

      April 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Laura

    You may want to rethink this post. People like you are what is embarrasing. Way to act a fool in public.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • HeyZeus


      April 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. APAK

    Thankful for red cross. If they sat and debated about beliefs then they'd never get the job done. Let's donate!! 🙂

    April 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Good grief...

      Way to go APAK!!

      It doesn't matter what your religous belief is.. or isn't. It doesn't matter the color of your skin or anything else you don't like about others who are different from you. What matters is that we all need to set this all aside and get that credit card out... go to Your donation is the best revenge for poeple who make you mad on this forum.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dianne

    My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this tragedy.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dianne

      Whatever happened to human compassion. That explains a lot why things in this world are the way they are, everyone just stopped caring about one another.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. HeyZeus

    They took-R-jobs!!!

    April 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JBD

    Waiting for Pat Robertson explanation! "Gay marriage!"
    and the Tea Party quote! "Can't aford to rebuild!"

    April 28, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Robby

    There is no SON, stop saying that God has a son, this is so bad, you people are going to visit Jesus in hell. Grow up and stop giving money to the child abusers(church of Jesus). You are worst than them, cause you pay them to abuse your kids, what a beautiful religion Jesus and his cross are the emblem of child abuse.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Truth

      Robby what the hell are you talking about, there is no Son! anyway I agree with you about the church, Your body is your Temple not the Church, worship him in spirit and in truth! and you will be ok. ask him within yourself to guide and lead you, this is where he dwells In YOU! not in the sky as preachers say! where do they get that crap, you heard it before, they say you will fly off in the heavens and drink milk and honey, lol well milk gives me gas and I hate honey! Robby have a good day!

      April 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14