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.' "

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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. Rebecca in Alabama

    Thank you everyone for your thoughts and prayers. It means a lot as we continue to grieve the loss of our family, friends, and homes. Please continue to remember us. Roll Tide Roll, and may God bless you all.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DE

    Sarah; they are called weather patterns caused by heat from the sun, you know that big orange hot thing in the sky, that heats the atmoshphere and causes winds to blow and storms to form.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PoDunk

    It's sad that some of you ride the coat-tails of this disaster to satisfy your personal agenda. In the midst of so much loss and pain, you cannot set aside your selfishness. You choose to persecute those for sharing a kind word of faith and support. You're so wrapped up in pointing your finger, you don't see the evil of your own way's.

    Those of you that have fell victim to this atrocity. I pray for each and every one of you.

    April 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    I find it sad that people are arguing on here about how to build houses. this was an F5 tornado with 200+ mile per hour winds. it does not matter how a structure was built if it was in the path of this storm. At least 300 people are dead because of this storm. People on here need to get their priorities right and think about what people have lost. Stop worrying about why it happened. It was an act of nature and nothing can be done about it. Pray for the people affected by this storm and figure out a way to help them. We are all American citizens and we should help each other out in times of need. that is what makes this country great.

    April 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. PAula

    My thoughts are with everyone in the South, especially Alabama. Take strength and know that the world is watching over.
    Im especially thinking of those who have lost children in this disaster, please know that although I dont know you personally, I share your pain and shed tears for your children. RIP Babies

    To those who want to point blame, shame on you. This has nothing to do with religion and god, nothing will bring these families back together. I sincerely hope you never see the day when tragedy visits you, and if it does I pray you are not tortured with the cold responses you bestowed upon the victims of this tragedy

    April 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kenneth

    Earth is currently crossing Comet Elenin's orbit. This is not surprising.

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

      When the mooooooonnn is in the southern sky, and Jupiteeeerrr aligns with Mars...! LOL

      April 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Manton

    I hope that we can all remember tonight when we go to bed that there are a lot of families in out country that need help. There are so many states full of people that we need to support. I know someone personally who has lost everything from flooding in MO the same system that caused all of the destruction and deaths we are seeing today. Let us all hope this is all we see this storm season.

    April 28, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Beverly NC

    And REPUBLICANS wanted to eliminate FEMA! What would these primarily Republican states do now with NO federal assistance? Republicans are short-sighted and care NOTHING about the PEOPLE. They wanted to end FEMA to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. Do you think the wealthy would be down in the South rescuing People, providing food, shelter, cleaning up debris, and providing aid? Which Republicans are now in the South working to help these People?

    April 28, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. blackmonk

    Sorry for the death and destruction but in my day, people built storm shelters and/or had a designated shelter to go to. They are cheap to build and even a F5 is a non-event IF you get to the shelter. SO DO IT and then you won't have to pray for anyone!

    April 28, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael Hamilton

    I think its sad that people are on here arguing about religion and how houses are built in the wake of this devastation. There are almost 300 people dead in the south and religion is what we are worrying about. We are Americans and the people that were killed are our country members. these were fierce acts of nature and it does not matter how houses were built. it was an F5 tornado that travelled 100 miles on the ground and had sustaining winds at over 200 mph. Anything that this tornado hit was destroyed. get off your religous high horses and help the people involved. This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world and when something like this happens we should jump up and help out. You should be ashamed if you are on here arguing.

    April 28, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. sixoh

    Please people, I don't care if you don't believe in God, but please stop prefacing your comments with, "I don't believe in God, but". Just say your words of encouragement. You don't need to announce that you are a non-believer. Who care's??!!
    Just leave your well-wishing and leave it at that.

    April 28, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. epona

    Who knew the SciFi channel could even come close to this.

    April 28, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. cheyanne

    I once rember a nation called America that was filled with diversity and tolerance of each other and in the face of disasters would open our arms & hearts thoughts & prayers to be kind to one another and care for and make the people in the tradgedy our first priority not our own opinions or need to use this as a podium to make everyone believe what we believe. America was a nation of melting pot and not what Im reading above this story is of Loss to real people who lost family friends and homes its not about us its about them. Do you recall 9-11 and how this nation came together to help the fallen and not care what religon what belief what politics you were can we try to do that for Alabama today

    April 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Davit

    Does anyone know approx. how many homes and businesses in total were destroyed by this series of storms?

    April 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. WS1234

    Not sure why, but I am always amazed at how off topic people get in replying to posts to get their point across. This is not a Republican vs. Democrat, Christian vs. non-Christian, God punishing the South or liberal vs. conservative issue. These tornadoes did not know any of this when they took lives. Living in Birmingham, I personally know relatives of people who have lost children, cars, houses and have been injured. Another person had 4 houses of relatives destroyed. These people are not defined by a specific race, religion or political belief. Mother Nature does not discriminate. And growing up in a different region of the country I assure you that natural disasters happen everywhere. Please keep these people in your thoughts rather than make silly comments with the hope that someone will find it interesting or funny. I myself have donated my time and money and know many people who will do the same.

    April 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
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