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."

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soundoff (501 Responses)
  1. lynn

    U cant blame god I think he is givin us a warnin that we need to get right the times r gettin short an i dont want ne1 to go to hell.. instead of blamin him u need 2 thank him 4 keepin u alive an if u dont believe n god just read revelations i think ur mind will change im not here 2 preach but 2 defend my gods name o an if this offends u well o well its american an if u hav a rite 2 say what u want so do i..2 the 1s who lost loved 1s im truely sorry an i will b keepin u n my prayers god bless every1..

    April 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. carole

    Tammy, don't despair. God does allow things like this tornado to happen. He created the earth and the weather, and the weather conditions just happened to be right for this to happen. I also prayed for my family to be spared, and it was. It doesn't mean I prayed louder than you, that God loved me any better. Sometimes for whatever reason we do not understand, our prayers are answered in a way we do not expect, sometimes God says no. God is with us all, whether it is when we are praying to be saved or praying in despair. He is with us always. Your faith is your strength in times of trouble. When you feel your faith wavering, pray harder, and look around you at those who have it worse, and thank Him for your life being spared. I will pray for you, Tammy. and I hope everything will be better for you and your family and friends soon.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Robby

    @Sarah you are so wrong in your beliefs, first of all women in that time were more educated than you, church was not rotten as now, I guess you like the church as it is now, women have to cover their head always not only in church, you shud forget about religion you are very ignorant to understand the meaning of it.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Nurse Julie in AL

    Lord please help the people of Alabama rebuild! We have lost so many lives, so many are injured, and thousands are homeless! We don't have much here Lord.. don't let the death toll keep rising Lord.. put your hand upon our great state and protect us! Praying for everyone affected!

    April 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Trevor

    Funny how CNN did a great job in Egypt covering the story best as they could, but totally FAIL in covering HISTORIC storms in the US.

    I too am sick of the major news channels running crap stories like the birth certificate drama. They seem to be leaning towards tabloid news, which in my opinion is the very least important news on the entire planet...

    April 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      It's what happens when they overpay a few talking heads but fire droves of reporters. "They" isn't just CNN, but all the major TV networks. No news isn't necessarily good news, just NO NEWS. Freedom of the press means that they are not obligated to tell you anything, or tell you the truth. I hate that: they have no integrity.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Robby

    @Sarah, its very strange that with that name you believe in Jesus, you have been fooled by church, church needs ignorant people like you to make money, the only thing that the church is good at is molesting and abusing kids, you are serving demons and you love it.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Robby

    @Sarah. There is only ONE GOD, HE does not have children, you make HIM angry by believing in other Gods or fake children, the first thing God teaches is not to believe in objects and statues, God is a jealous God, I know its difficult to forget about your beliefs but don't be fooled by church, Please don't make God angry by adoring children He did not have.

    April 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Malakas

    This is a terrible and unspeakable tragedy. Our hearts and compassion go out to those suffering great loss. That said, there are many credentialed scientists that feel that we humans are adversely influencing weather patterns due to record amounts of CO2 being released into the atmosphere, whether by industry, our vehicles, or our coal burning power companies. This is disconcerting, and something must be done to embrace alternative, 'green' energy. We must not allow lobbyists and 'big money' to rip progress from our hands!

    April 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. lynn

    we suppose 2 love 1 another an we suppose 2 help 1 another an be ther 4 1 another no matter if ther believers or not an i do no this much the bible does say judge not that ye be not judged matthew 7:1 so lets just pray 4 every1 instead of fuss over whos rite i will pray not only the 1s who lost ther homes an loved 1s but i will pray 4 the 1s that they will find god an god never leaves us we leave him so lets just focus on gettin bak 2 him

    April 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tammy

    I agree with Sarah what a sick world we are that we cannot see this picture that is unfolding,

    April 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Robby

    @Sarah I'm sorry to tell you that Jesus is not coming or going anywhere, he's gone and will never come back, you have to believe in this because the church needs your money, God is going to kill everyone that believed in such a disgusting thing for Him, can you imagine a person telling you that you have a kid that does not belong to you, as I told you God is very jealous, and does not like people taking credit for what He did, Jesus was killed for playing to be God, if he was a Saint he would have never been in a position to be killed. Forget about him and start believing in the One and Only true God and you will notice the difference.

    April 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Josh

    I thought this post was about tornadoes, the destruction, and how many states were trying to recover from this.

    Why on earth did this comment thread turn into a fight about religion? I have a religion, but religion should not have any part of this discussion, especially in the levels of hate that both sides are spewing at each other.

    Also, shame on the national media for not getting their priorities straight.

    April 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. will it snow!

    I think we all believe in helping our fellow Americans. So lets give to a charity that will assist them.

    April 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jimbo

    This is a terrible event, I'm originaly from Kansas and know the awesome power of a storm like this. It's too bad so many people had to die and get injured. I wish for the best and a speady recovery.

    P.S. – If there is a God no one, I mean NO ONE, knows what his plan is. To post on here and act like you know otherwise makes you look like a fool. I don't care what your preacher, priest or pastor told you, they don't have a clue when the world is going to end or why God kills some and not others. To try to even figure this out is a complete waste of time and that time would be better spent helping those in need. If you are on here posting that God is going to end the world soon, you are most likely trying to scare people into going into church with a lie, yes you are a liar.

    April 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Jimbo, do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?? If so, read this as Jesus speaks from John 15:14-15 "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. " If you are His friend, and you know Him, then He shares His plans with you. Just because you have never experienced something doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

      April 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Thelma Heywood, Sugar Hill, GA

    I have some questions for God should I be honored to go before Him, which I doubt. But I do believe in Him. He knows the whys, I do not. The year our daughter was diagnosed with Type I (juvenile) diabetes and blinded in one eye, my husband of 24 years lost his wonderful mind and became the 4th husband of a legal assistant. My daughter and I will ever be the same. I had a small inheritance from my parents who worked so hard to provide for me. When my daughter was 17 I was still receiving $400/month child support. No provision was made for the diabetes and no provision was made for my retirement. My husband had me take mine out to buy furniture years ago.

    However, I continue to receive that message from Isaiah that He will raise you up on Eagle's wings...that you may stumble, but not fall. A missionary who barely knew me brought me back a fan from China – a plain white fan with black Chinese characters. He read it off in Chinese. I told him I don't speak Chinese. He then read it in English. It was the verse from Isaiah. The fan is still on my bedroom wall to remind me that regardless of how we think, there really is a God – and I believe there really is a Satan. It is not a matter of convenience and comfort. I believe we are put on this earth to learn lessons. When we have to go through trials (and believe me, I have a temper when going through the smallest trials), I had a friend who once told me, "It's a test! Don't fail the test!"

    April 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
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