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

    Jesus is not going to save anyone, he's dead and will stay that way forever, you church goers are wasting your time and money, the pope and all of his gang members are making billions from ignorant and stupid people like you. You people like child abusers, if you don't like it burn all the churches with their disgusting fathers in them, these people are the worst humans that exist, starting with the "holy" pope.

    April 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      So when did the pope become Jesus? I'm not a Catholic-but it seems like someone has an offense against the Catholic church. Maybe your offense is valid-but don't take it out on Jesus. Do you even know who Jesus is?? He knows you...

      April 28, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. will it snow!

    Robby, maybe you should seek forgiveness from somebody you have abused. Turn your anger towards forgiveness and seek help. God will forgive you.

    April 28, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PACO

    JESUS will be back for us, well some of us trust in JESUS

    April 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dan K, Philly

    Global warming isn't the culprit when it comes to tornadoes, since prior to yesterday the most severe tornado outbreak was in 1974. Tornadoes and Hurricanes have been around as far back as weather records go. And while more tornadoes were reported yesterday than the 1974 outbreak, it will be interesting to see if as many were as intense (EF4s and EF5s). Rarely in our history have we had a day like yesterday. Severe weather is how the atmosphere releases energy and follows basic laws of physics, and is not some act of God. My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been impacted by these terrible storms, and let's support these folks as they rebuild an even stronger community!

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

      I don't think looking at this one event of the many horrendous ones recently and over the past few years is evidence against Global Warming. It is not, for one thing, global WARMING. It is global CLIMATE CHANGE. Tornadoes and hurricanes require a certain amount of heat to get going. You don't get either one in the northern part of North America. Yet. Climate and terrible outbreaks of violent storms are based on the entire planet not just your little corner of it. You need to pay attention to what is going on elsewhere, very rare for an American to look outside his borders but still necessary if you actually care to know what is going on.

      April 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tara

      I am so sick of hearing the global warming propoganda crap. You all have fallen victim to the money machine that is the environmental movement, congratulations. What we have here is a weather pattern caused by la nina. It is cycllical event that has happened for millions and millions of years, nothing more, nothing less. But go buy your environmentally friendly crap and give the money hungry executives and environmentalists your hard earned money. twits.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bo Allen

    Let God and Jesus have mercy upon all of the people and families devastated by the tornadoes! I have been praying since last night for all of you affected by the tornadoes and I pray that you all will make a full recovery! Amen!

    April 28, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    I guess those tornados were Auburn fans

    April 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. CalgarySandy

    God did everything he could? Why did he not just stop the storm? Are you saying that God has no control over acts of nature so he comes in and lends a hand to save a few? So, apparently Satan is in charge of the climate and God can only sneak in under cover to help. Lovely theology. Even more twisted than it is in the Bible itself.

    April 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dexter

    wow, why do all these videos have to have arguments about religion in it. im a Christian and even i think its really dumb. quit arguing like children. the chance of anyone else's opinion being changed through comments on a video are really slim so give it up. there are better ways to reach people

    April 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ziggy

    it's like the movie called day after tomorrow very scary! I live in the north east of the country so I won't be able to help physically but at least I'd love to help financially is there any aid organizations other than red cross? because i lost my trust in red cross after Catrina.

    April 28, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Roxana

    I want to make a donation for USA' s April Tornadoes victims. Do anybody know a site? Itis kind of hard to find on this cnn front page. Thank you

    April 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tara

    I would just like to use this platform to personally thank The Weather Channel for the constant coverage on the storms from last night. Why cnn thought it was more important to run bullcrap political programs last night instead of the destruction of 3 states is beyond me. I am so sick of hearing about Trump, Obama, birth certificates, royal weddings and the such I could just vomit. It's good to know that CNN values it's viewers so much. It's never ever happened before for me but here it goes.......Anderson Cooper, you truely dissapointed me last night.......and that was hard to say, trust me.

    April 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Overpaid talking heads have replaced reporters on every TV national network. They used to report weather, but the Dept. of Homeland Security told us that terrorism is more of a threat than natural disasters, even though in America there are far more natural disasters than anything else. The trouble is, they have no reporters around the country the way they used to. They really don't know what is going on, and this proves it.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ummyeah

    anyone who thinks tornadoes were not around before human beings (and thus the idea of religion) is a utter and complete moron. what were the tornadoes doing there when people weren't around? or how about the many tornadoes each year that cause no damage because they hit where nobody was around. Interesting, the more land humans populate, the more natural disasters affect them? hmm....naw just coincidence, its the sign of the apocalypse, I just know it this time! We want punishment or blame when something awful happens, and the loss is great, but sometimes a tragedy is a tragedy and nothing or no one to blame, and the only thing to do is help those affected and rebuild!

    April 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      So you're saying it wasn't Jesus who did this? That this isn't the end of the world?....right? Please state your sources. I want reputable sources.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ok


    April 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bajakhana

    Obama needs to rebuild the middle east first, before he starts anything at home. What an idiot

    April 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tara

      congratulations for saying the most ignorant thing today.....#winner

      April 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rene

      As much as I would like to shake you up, I won't. You have obviously not been taught right. We will need to always take care of home first when tragedy strikes us here in the states. We always take care of our allies or anyone else outside of our boundaries when tragedy strikes them. Sometimes, we take care of the wrong people. but then again, that says a lot about who we are when we do. we still care and love those who do us wrong. We will always need to take care of home first, it's the right thing to do. All we can do is continue to pray.

      April 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lollercoaster

    Keep praying... It still won't save you from your fate...

    April 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
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