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. Robby

    Ruel... I'm not going to make a silly remark, I just think people put their trust and faith on the wrong people, maybe its just ignorance, but I dislike very much child abuse, and the church is the largest child abuser in the world, I can tolerate murder better than child abuse, and the people that are supposed to take care of this are the ones doing it. This is really disgusting.

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

      Agreed Robby. We should never put our faith in any he a president, a priest, a preacher, a pastor, or the pope. Our faith should only be in Jesus Christ. He is the Way....the only Way.

      April 28, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. katie

    hey i'm soooooo sorry i hope yooh all get betta and hope yooh can repair it XOXOXO !!!!!!

    April 28, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sharon

    Very sad.
    But I don't understand people who think that their god saved them. Do they also think that their god hated the people who were killed? Get a's weather. No one controls it!

    April 28, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • jcemce

      Sharon, we are all destined to die the moment we are born.....that being said God does allow things to happen. Doesn't mean we those of us who know him as our Universe's Creator can't say it. Yep, we can say it. Don't let it offend you . It's part of the whole religious freedom our country was founded on. We, as Believers, are so often criticized for our beliefs. I don't see anyone standing up shouting at all of the other world religions as they do at Believers of Jesus Christ. It is amazing to me that somehow the name of Jesus Christ, God's only Son, can cause such an uproar. Jesus lives and will be back....whether you are ready or not. Whether any of us are ready. Terrible that anyone dies in a tornado. As for man creating, it didn't happen that way. Do you think evolution just perfectly created us the way we are? We are knit together perfectly.......our earth hangs at a perfect distance so that we don't freeze or burn up......the way we recreate.......the way the tide rolls in and out every day.....there is perfection in what JEHOVAH made......nothing made by man could produce such perfection. Yes, he allows disasters and HE gives us a choice whether we believe or not. Everything in this natural world points to HIM.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, will always use the least severe means of judgement to save the most amount of people, at the deepest level of love. It's sad, but it takes things like this to turn the hearts and minds of the people toward Him. If people didn't have to die and He could save us that way, He would. This is about God turning the hearts and minds of people toward Himself. He loves us too much to let everyone perish. He knew every single heart that died...and every single one that survived. He is a righteous judge...the only one knowing the hearts and minds of men. I am not posting this for the purpose of debate...but in urgency-BE RECONCILED TO GOD AMERICA, before it's too late.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • woah

      @jcemce: look around you. can you really say all beings on this earth are "perfectly" made? if you can than i urge you to take some science classes. take the evolution of the proboscis in many species of butterflies. As many species of flowers became larger and deeper, the proboscis of many species of butterflies became longer to reach the nectar that they feed on. If they were created in such a perfect design, why did these adaptations occur to lead to evolution taking place in these species of butterflies. god? jesus?
      i'm all about doing whatever you need to do in times of crisis. but alot of you sound crazy.

      April 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Katt

    we go outside and look

    April 28, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. Thumbprint

    For those of you affected by the tornado - how can we help? I can send shoes and blankets and stuff, buy 'em new and give some that I've never used/worn.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  6. Robby

    @ Lauren... You are right, there is a supreme one and He created the world, its no accident that we exist, but there is only one creator and that's it, forget about everything else

    April 28, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • The Truth

      Robby good point, but if there is only one creator then tell me why people give him so many names? when the Bible clearly states that there is only ONE name in which you can be saved! so what is that ONE name?

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

    When are Pat Robertson and the Rev. Donald Wildmon going to come out of the woodwork and blame gays and lesbians for this?

    No, seriously, while I don't wish misfortune on anyone, I can't help but think how interesting it is that these states are just filled with rightous Christians and Republicans who just LOVE to hate big government, but look how fast they want handouts from the government when disaster strikes. I'm surprised Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor aren't telling them to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and re-build their towns and cities themselves.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • i2h

      i thought the same thing. but they'd only blame it on gays, corrupt morals, or whatever other reason they derive from their ass when it isn't directed at them or their primary support base (predominantly the south and midwest). but if any natural disaster does hit outside their circle of influence (northeast and west coast states, anywhere outside the states, etc), then yes...gays and lesbians, all their fault...

      April 28, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      AdamtheDude – AMEN! You are SO right! Its funny that when bad things happen, people – irrespective of their political affiliation and persuasion – will beg, grovel and plead for assistance from the snake who's head they've yearned to lop off, so to speak. There are TONS of Christians and various rank-and-file GOP'rs who are against any sort of government intrusion in their daily lives...but when God, mother nature, the devil or who/whatever causes misery and destruction, suddenly those who have had disaster inflicted upon them cry out for government assistance. GOP leaders should absolutely tell those afflicted to suck it up and rebuild on their own. If people protest, they ought to be put on a terrorist watch list, as they're obviously out for their own good.

      April 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. James

    All you can do is pray for the people who have lost their lives or homes and begin to see if there is anything you can do for those people. This shouldn't be a debate about religion... People lost their lives yet a lot of us dont feel for them simply because we dont care. We have become such emotionless and non-empathetic culture and we find comfort in it based on the fact that it's the American way. I am a christian, so what. If your not, show some respect for those who lost their lives.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • AndrewsAFB

      Hey, I am an Atheist with much respect and sympathies for those who suffered. I actually loading my truck to go down there myself to help rebuild with several other atheists. This is not about religious beliefs or whether you believe your sky-daddy is going to save you from the same. It's about doing the right thing which we are all capable of. So, whether you believe in the tooth fairy or the elusive Jedi that should not matter. What matters is that we're all in this together and need to help each other in times of need. I just sounds a little odd that you should ask for prayers don't seem to prevent this or any other tragedy. It's just a sad fact of life.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Robby

    @excitizen... Thanks I agree

    April 28, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mary

    Here in Texas, no matter what station you watch there is a crawl across the bottom of the screen when there is a tornado watch, warning or if one is closing in on you. People in NY can do nothing to help people in AL when at tornado is bearing down on them. Tornados are not like hurricanes, they can spring up in literally minutes so you can not expect the national news to do real-time reporting on tornados. And for the people who are effected, the local news is far more helpful than the national news.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      But the NATIONAL weather service (paid for by TAX dollars) has specific information for all localities, and any national news station can get the FREE information, and at least put it on their screens as a crawl. At the very least they can direct you to an affiliate station with more detail. With more stations these days, there is no excuse for these overpaid talking heads with no real news, while the droves of reporters no longer exist.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Robby

    @Nancy.. Couldn't have say it better, you are correct 100%

    April 28, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. LK

    @ Robby – I have agreed with all of your posts. One reason I don't normally read comments on here is everyone is shoving religion down your throat. I choose not to believe and that is a personal decision. If you believe in the power of prayer, go for it. But don't shove scriptures and all of that down my throat!
    I feel so badly for what everyone went through with these storms. It looks so much worse than the hurricanes of 2004 in Florida, and I was hit dirrectly by them. This damage is horrific. I hope they are able to rebuild and start new. Everyone deserves that chance.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  13. stanton


    April 28, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Churchlady

      Leave JPII alone...if you would pray and love one another more and complain less some of this could may have been avoided. Whole communities are removing the power of saving grace from among their presence...when you remove the proctective grace of God from over you and leave yourself exposed what can you expect...when the last time you fell to your knees in prayer and when the last time a roof of a church covered the crown of your head? You all know wickedness and the godlessness will not be permitted to
      stand...the earth was created to glorify the Lord!

      April 28, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      I truly feel terrible for those who went through those storms, and I pray for those who died. But that doesn't mean that I believe that churches are infallible. Stanton, I go to an Orthodox church, and I see the value of church, but the Bishops need to be watched, just like everybody else. (The Orthodox church does not believe that Bishops are infallible.) JPII indeed allowed two major horrors: the harming of children which Jesus said is unforgivable, and the closing of churches to pay for lawsuits; I think that the RC "devil's advocate," the person who examines a life to determine sainthood, ought to notice these errors. Even though I'm not RC, I hope and pray that they weed out the wrongdoers and find their direction; although that's nothing to do with this article. I guess if there is a connection, it's that the church used to be a sanctuary in a time of storms; a place you could go to trust, and stay in, until you had rebuilt, but if you can't trust the church it is very hard in a time of need.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Robby

    @LK... Thanks, feel the same way as you do.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  15. Quasar

    I don't know about the credibility of some of these reports. "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.”

    If a Jeep Cherokee hit him in the head, why wasn't he killed?


    April 28, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Saboth

      Maybe the airbag hit him in the head.

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

      oops accidently hit the wrong button, anyway I just meant to say maybe he's really hard headed.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
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