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. DJMK

    to PBNPS – according to the news, the President will be in Alabama tomorrow.

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

      oooh for real, I have to get my hair done! lol

      April 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Robby

    Jesus and the cross are the emblem of child abuse, what a beautiful religion

    April 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. D

    Wow, incredible video. That was one nasty looking tornado.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Heinz M

    Rather interesting. When things go horribly wrong, it's an act of nature and when it's something good, it's an act of god. Hey people. it's ALL nature, good and bad!

    April 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • MN

      The devil is at work, but God allows it...remember Job?...bad happened to him and he kept praising the LORD and he was rewarded for his faithfulness. Those who were affected by the storm and keep praising HIM will be blessed above and beyond what they originally had, just like Job. Some of those who were not believers before may be converted and become believers. Some non-believers will harden their hearts and remain non-believers who will perish. Sorry if you don't like it or believe it, but that doesn't mean it is not truth.

      April 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Heinz M

    Rather interesting. When things go horribly wrong, it's an act of nature and when it's something good, it's an act of god. Hey people. it's ALL nature, good and bad! And it's proverbial, S..t happens. My condolences to all who have lost loved ones. That is the real tragedy. Anything else can be replaced.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sam

    Do they not have warning sirens in the South or any underground shelters? In the MidWest if you don't have a basement, you at least have a crawl space for shelter.

    April 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lilbit1153

      Many places have warning sirens but that does not always give you enough time to seek shelter. Also many homes in the south are built with basements but when the house comes down on top of you they are not much help and I have never seen a mobile home with a basement.

      April 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LookAndSEE

    If you wonder how a God of love would allow bad things to happen to god people, go to youtube,
    search for 'COSMIC CONFLICT'

    April 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lindsay

    Why does God always blaimed and brought up when something bad happens?Do you idiots really think he is that type of person to think one morning oh I'll make tornados go through several states and damage homes and kill people?I'll don't thinks so.I am not a die hard religious person but I have enough sense to know that God would not do this to anyone.Have you guys watched the weather in the south on tv or check out already in the mid 80's in the south.Way to warm for temps in April.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      Either God sent the tornadoes on purpose, or
      God allowed them to happen and intentionally didn't stop them, or
      God wanted to stop them but couldn't, or
      God doesn't care one way or the other, or
      God doesn't exist.
      Which one is it? Make up your mind.

      My thoughts are with the people whose lives are affected by the storms.

      April 28, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jennifer!/event.php?eid=206658809366151&index=1

    April 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      This link is to donate money to Chris Wozniak Marvel Comic Artist who's house was destoryed in the tornado.

      April 28, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. hermitman

    "Pray to God if you wish, but row away from the rocks."

    April 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RepubtardPlague

    The irony: Most affected are Repubtards, and Tea Losers who voted for decreases in crisis and national disaster funding as well as 1st responders. After the government helps them out through social programs (they wanted funding to those cut too), they'll go right back to voting Repubtard and Tea Losers. Like always, Democrats are cleaning up after and providing help to the Repubtard and Tea Loser faithful.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shannon

      Is nothing sacred to you. Over 260 americans have died in a natural disister and you try to put a political spin on it. I would love nothing more to have an inteligent debate with you on this subject but will refrain out of respect for those lost.

      April 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Shannon

    For all of you that ask why. I recently attended a funeral of a 3 year old child who had fell in a pool and drown. It was a very hard thing for me to grasp because my son and his older brother played football together and the 3 year old was always in the stands sitting next to me. He had such a wonderful personality. The morning of the funeral I prayed and ask god why? What could this 3 year old have possibly done to deserve to be taken at such a young age? After the funeral I was talking with some of the family and they told me that they had donated his organs and 7 children were helped by this some that only had days to live. Then it occured to me that the prayers of 7 familys had been answered and this child was the reason. We dont always know why but everything happens for a reason and Its not always a punishment as some see it. God bless the families that have suffered loss of life and property in this tragic incident, my prayers be with you.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • PoDunk

      Thank you for sharing that. Folks need to think outside their box.

      April 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bill Mizzell

    I wanted to say that CNN has done a terrible job of covering one of the worst days in Alabama history. I am fortunate to say The Weather Channel today has done a much better job covering the damage to Alabama.
    It is difficult to imagine how CNN could ignore what has happened to us. It is difficult to imagine CNN couldn't send anyone here to cover our crisis.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |

    Poor people....

    April 28, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. DE

    These storms are setting records for their violence but as the climate warms the storms of the future will get even worse.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
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