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. stanton


    April 28, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Churchlady

      Enough stanton aka O Satan...may the Lord rebuke you!

      April 28, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      @Churchlady- You know-I'm a devout Christian-and reading your posts-I don't think you are doing any good. Tearing down people who don't even believe what you believe isn't going to show Jesus to anyone. Christians need to get off of their high horses and exalt JESUS and not their abilities to call others Satan, and prove the Bible right. THE BIBLE DOESN'T NEED YOUR HELP! God will exalt Himself among men...and the only way Jesus will be made known is by us LOVING one another....not tearing people who don't even believe in Jesus down. It's sad Jesus has to take the blame for things his "followers" say and do.

      April 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Churchlady

      Looka here Sista Sarah! Nam! Amen! I'm about to slap us with my church fan...Preach On!...and knock out them demons in you with the Good Book...
      (running up and down the aisles in The Spirit)...don't be gettin in the way Sista...Nam! Amen!...while I'm battling dem demons...Yeah!...while...I'm....bat...tling
      ...dem...demons...Alleluia! Amen!
      You beeeeetter! You beeeeeettter! Go look at stanton blogs befo coming in my face....Amen!....and the Face of the Lord's.....Amen! Allelulia! Allelulia!

      April 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Savana

      Great point Sarah. Although, I don't know about the whole exhalts himself thing since conversions and getting children young makes the mold for most faithful children. I also believe that most people who have lost faith or are simply faithless are so because of the craziness of certain faithful extremists. Let people explore, what's wrong with that?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      That was mostly a Protestant thing. The Irish had brought rye to the many Irish monasteries on the continent, but they knew how to look for problems in the grain. When the Irish were kicked out of the monasteries (because of politics after the 12th century), suddenly there was all that rye, but no concern for how it was harvested, ergo, ergot poisoning. And some people were burned; but mostly that occurred after the Reformation was in full gear. Most of the burning at the stake was not for political or theological reasons, but because of ergot poisoning. And it wasn't "billions" of dollars (or pounds of gold). Most stolen money went to aristocracy; and most of the time they would steal FROM monasteries: how many "Abbey"s did Henry VIII steal? If you get into money arguments, it won't go anywhere, because philosophically, whether from a religious viewpoint or a scientific viewpoint, money is not worth the paper it is printed on. BUT, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't DIG DEEP into your pockets, and send donations NOW to help these people in need in the south!

      April 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. debbie

    Crying won't help ya and prayin' won't do you no good, when the tornado breaks momma you got to move, I can't believe some are so smug as to think God would single them out to be saved and kill others including innocent babies, you got LUCKY, PERIOD> Now help those less fortunate!

    April 28, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Churchlady

      Another cheerleader for satan, you're trying make the victims of this storm lose the virtue of Hope...

      April 28, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Savana

      There are no virtues in hope, it is vanity to think that you are actually more worth saving than anyone else. Tsk churchlady.

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

    @stanton.... Very well said, canonize is a fabricated word, it doesn't exist, as all of churchs vocabulary, they invent all kinds of methods to make money from ignorant people

    April 28, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sybaris

    For everyone praying and attributing natural disasters to divine powers and signs of the times........ you're wrong.

    If a tornado sweeps through an unpopulated area and harms no one what do you say then? That your god missed or was just practicing?

    The ONLY reason for the death and destruction is because people lived in the path. 300 years ago nobody would've been harmed.

    Zeus isn't angry and didn't send a tornado to kill a bunch of people who you think did whatever to upset him.

    Wake up!

    April 28, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      No He didn't miss-i call that MERCY-a warning and time to get right before He has to wake you up in a more extreme way. HE will always use the least severe means of judgment to open your eyes. How merciful of a God would He be if He started by blowing your home over and killing some of your family members?? Then you would be blaming Him for being unmerciful. Instead, He gives you chances to turn to Him without harming you, or even stealing your house or car. Read about the plagues in Egypt when Pharaoh wouldn't let the people out of slavery. It started with flies...and got worse...and worse...and worse...until it ended with the death of every firstborn son. God gave them 7 plagues before taking the lives of what mattered to them most...and after the death of his son, Pharaoh did listen to God, and let the Hebrew people go. It's history-look it up.

      April 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. PACO

    Ellen s is sooo right get faith in JESUS AND SEE HOW THAT AFFECTS YOUR LIFE

    April 28, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      See how it affected all the people in the Towers on 911, you moron.

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

      If I wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons then I would buy the game. Get the analogy?

      April 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. popeye

    My prayers go out too all who are involved may you have the strength to carryforward and come out stronger!

    April 28, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      For all the people praying, just remember this: two hand at work is worth more than two million clasped in prayer.

      God doesn't answer prayers because there is no God. After all, how many people were recently praying that their house wouldn't be drilled by a giant tornado? Prayer certainly didn't work for many of them!

      If you really want to be helpful travel to the disaster areas and help rebuild, or donate money to the families most effected.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nelly

    For those that belive in God and His so return,get ready, for those that don't and don't care, I feel sorry for you. May God have pity and mercy on you. These events are going to get worse the closer we get to the end time.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      You should have stayed in school and off the crack pipe.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jannynet

    My thoughts and prayers are with those with losses. I'm grateful that it all seemed to pass us by as we listened to the warnings on our local TV stations of possible activity coming. I'm originally from California and am amazed at how people from the south and east can be so worried about earthquakes rather than tornadoes. At least with an earthquake you don't have to watch your doom coming at you. I'm saying prayers of thanks today.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      "Thoughts and prayers" don't mean a thing... why don't you find a way to help them? You know, like donate to a disaster relief fund.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lori

    I must say that I am slightly disappointed in people's responses to Tammy on this message board. Tammy- I would just like to say how sorry I am for you and your family! I am sorry that instead of showing you compassion people have turned this forum into a debate about religion. You have been through an awful disaster- stay strong and know that others are thinking about you and all of the other victims of this terrible storm!

    April 28, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  10. Robby

    @Amy.. So when God inundated the world He was not angry and was not violent, He Himself says He's a warrior the Master, and the One that took out the jews from egypt with a strong hand so don't think He's all love and soft, He has to be this way with the animals that live here (I'm talking about human animals)

    April 28, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  11. Sarah

    Isn't it crazy that talk of a storm brings out debate about God? I mean...seriously...whatever you have to step back, look at the conversation, and realize there is something bigger going on.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Churchlady

      (SPLASH!) (SPLASH!) (SPLASH!) hurled ballooned holy water (SPLASH!)

      April 28, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Robby

    @Sarah. Why don't you dance over the graves of the people that died, and sing to their survivors, I'm sure they'll love it. Just keep on saying stupid stories about faith and rejoice, what a bunch of crap.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. hsr0601

    How much longer should we wait for the U.S. to realize Climate Change is real ?

    April 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Marion

    I think some people just want God to show "his long form" before they will "believe". ;:))....and that wouldn't be enough for them either. LOL. That's Bishop Sheen once said: "to those who believe, no explanation is those who don't believe, no explanation is possible". (anyone old enough in here to remember Biship Fulton J. Sheen? )

    April 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. PACO

    dogs rule, 9-11 was a terrorist act by complete idiots that know nothing of CHRIST. You on the other hand we forgive for you know not what you say

    April 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Savana

      Dumbest comment posted yet. Jesus is the most mentioned name in the Quaran besides Allah. You should try reading all of the holy books before you make stupid, blind comments.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
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