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.' "

Have the tornadoes affected you? Share your stories, photos and video

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. Jim

    I'd like to see Walter Maddox run for Governor, he is a composed and bright individual.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Don McLaughlin

    >> Are there any scientist that suggest that these tornadoes are connected to either global warming and/or El Nino?
    There are some who think that the severity of tornado seasons are correlated to El Nino, but at this point the complexity of the weather patterns that lead to tornado formation are very complex so it is a difficult question to answer definitively.

    No credible meteorologist would go so far as to blame the current tornado season on global warming, the number and intensity are by no means unprecedented.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. The North

    I don't want to hear from these folks pleas from the government for help and assistance. Lets see in action some of that rugged individualism we've heard so much about from Red State America.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      The way to prove the value of compassion is to be compassionate, and tell people to vote for compassionate representatives. If you carry out your plan to cut them off from aid, it will not give them any incentive to vote to aid you.

      April 28, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Roflcopter

    You call this news? Wow.. what about lowering the gas prices so i can get farther away from Alabama.
    I think a good strategic plan would first start at helping out the mother f'in U.S.A THEN worry about helping all those other slums.
    What is it going to take to get Mr. Obombya to realize where the real problems are?

    Mr. President.. We have a problem and you're number 1.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Fard U Din Faruq

    My only prayer is that America wise up & realize that because of your mistreatment, killings, lychings and the like that Black people had to suffer since you forcefully brought us here as slaves, The God of Righteousness is present in The Person and HE means to bring more if you don't actively work to change the condition that we're in as HIS people! You've been warned for over 80 yrs. that days like these were coming, and you were told that before this would happen, that a Messenger would be raised to warn first! You've heard the warnings, now receive the chastisement! WISE UP & WAKE UP

    April 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Don McLaughlin

    >> You've heard the warnings, now receive the chastisement! WISE UP & WAKE UP
    um... ooookayyyyyy... and I always trusted scientific fact which shows that this type of weather is nothing new in this region of the country... but then I'm just a simple, country engineer...

    April 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fard U Din Faruq

      These storms have nothing to do with the regions that theyre happening in. But they have everything to do with the fact that America has yet to help their poor Black citizens out of the wretched condition that we're in! We're not looking for handouts, all we're saying is that she gives us what she owes us, Freedom, Justice, & Equality and if she refuses to then ALLAH(God) will forcefully take away America's power slowly but surely and give it to us. Shes already losing her power & influence over the planet and she'll continue to lose it, if we do not receive our ust due. Today Alabama, tomorrow somewhere else.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. True North girl

    Now maybe Yankees will take climate change SERIOUSLY.

    Wake up DUMB SOUTHERNERS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    YOU BACKWARD WASTERS- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle-

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

      congratulations you are stupid enough to buy into the environmental money magnet.........i don't want to hear you whining about how you have no money because guaranteed you have been sinking your hard earned cash into a movement that brainwashes you......#winner

      April 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. justme

    Why have you taken it upon yourselfs to turn this horrible tragedy into your own battle feild? This isnt about who belives and who doesn't. Its about a horrible thing that has happen to people who were mothers, fathers,brothers,and sisters to someone, somewhere. Its about people loosing everything they have worked for. These people need help and thoughts and prayers. Suppose they look at this for support, what will they find? A bunch of selfish people who still have a home with the internet so they can sit on the CNN web page fighting! Really? I belive in the Lord and he will help those who need him and help others. If you do not belive the same way I do fine and Im not trying to force it on you in any way. All I know is there are people in need tonight and all the arguing over religion and politics isnt going to help them. My heart goes out to these people. I hope they find peace in this mess and the strength to pick up and go on!!!!

    April 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Roman, Butler PA

    I AM the ALPHA and the OMEGA. I AM the FIRST and the LAST.
    And there is no other.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Amen

    Big disasters like these are proof that God doesn't exist. If you argue that God exists then why not have mercy on good innocent people?

    The truth is natural disaster like this happens and if you get in the way, you die. Simple as that.

    Keep wishing God save you, save yourself.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steven Anders

    Last week I was in Africa, I had a dream about a huge tornado that was huge, we ran into the basement. When we came out of the basement houses was gone and then I saw a dark cloud coming from the air and moved through the street. This last week Thursday. Last night I dreamed of locust that stood as tall as men and they had swords in there hands.

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

    God is upset at the atheists.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      So he murders them? Nice god you got there. How about all the Christians that died? Was he upset with them too? Again a really nice god you're worshipping there.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jim

    Its real simple people, we are all just bags of meat living on a hostel planet in a cold and uncaring universe. Live you're life and love you're family by to believe that everything happens for a reason or is part of some grand "plan" by a invisible man in the sky is just silly.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • JC

      I sure hope someday you are awoken to being either affected by something like this or we meet along side the invisible man in the sky and i get to hear that you get to find comfort with living eternity with the other guy. What does it hurt to at least be kind and not so mean spirited. You certainly deserve less than you have.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • RufusVonDufus

      Why, JC, because he does not believe as you do? That's sad!

      April 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • -


      And JC, you're an idiot.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Finally someone that thinks rationally.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      I think I understand what you are (contraction, you're) trying to say and I'm pretty sure I agree with you, but if you are going to make assertions, please be intelligent about it and put "I think" or "it's of my opinion". Otherwise, you just come off as stupid.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reality

      @ JC: The fact that you want to see O.P. sent to hell tells me you don't have a place with the invisible man.

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

      Jim, usually in times of disaster, people try to offer reassurance, hope, and words of comfort to the victims. Is this truly the right time to suggest that "there is no God"? Do you think it offers any reassurance to the victims of the disaster? The universe can seem cold and uncaring at times, and perhaps you've been burned in the past by Evangelicals who threatened you with fire & brimstone if you didn't subscribe to their ideology. But, it's never too late to find your own path to God, and it doesn't have to be about fear. God wants to have a relationship with you, and the door is always open. I'll pray for you as I'll pray for the victims of this tragedy.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Jim, you are so wise.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eh?

      what's wrong with being silly? are you against humility? from what I can tell, everything He said is true and is "coming to pass". Correct me if I'm wrong.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark

      We came up I65 from Gulf Breeze FL enroute to Indianapolis. The drive through Alabama was pretty scary, there were places along the I65 corridor where it looked like a Godzilla had come through snapping off the tops of trees, in one place there was a clearing with buildings, on the West side of the highway things looked untouched but on the East side there were roofs missing. We missed a tornado by minutes, trees blocking I65. I saw one guy driving a gold impala and the windshield of his car was totally smashed like something hurled into it. Further north in the foothills near the AL and TN state line it was just scary scary scary. Clouds swirling in different directions. I saw 2 funnel clouds – I know they were as I've seen 5 touchdown tornadoes in my lifetime.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • huynhminhtri

      No , Jimmy , my boy , you got one side of disaster .
      Here we are another side :
      God looked down to Alabama and said :
      -Well this state was a heavy prejudiced state in the past between Black & White, now I should teach them a lesson about live & death , so they may love each others later , I hope !

      April 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Your point is usually better received if you learn to spell first.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      Unnecessary. This is a tragedy for both religious and non-religious. Maybe the people you grew up with were uncaring. My parents are both atheists, and they very caring, same for my catholic aunt. People are also part of the universe, not separate from it.

      The only one that seems uncaring in all this is you. And to state that the universe is an uncaring place implies that the universe has a consciousness, and it is being consciously uncaring. I don't think in your bitterness and resentment toward, I don't know what or who, you thought this through. Our bodies carries thousands of germs and bacteria, many of which we kill on a daily basis, without even thinking about it. Doesn't make us uncaring. It simply is. The same goes for the Earth and its inhabitants. Natural events are a part of life, it has nothing to do with being caring or uncaring.

      Let's have some sympathy and compassion for those who have lost loved ones, regardless of philosophical views. We are all humans. There is no need to add insult to injury during these times.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wilson Junior Ribeiro

      My name is Wilson, I'm brazilian and now I live in Juiz de Fora – MG, Is very sad watch these images, I had lived in Tuscaloosa for about two years, I love the city and I got many friends over there, I will pray for you all rebuild your life as soon as possible, I will be always with you all.
      God Bless.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • jerpic

      @MikeS, I agree. Thanks for your words of civility. It's always interesting how those who are proud to be non-believers are the very first to angrily deny His existence as soon as a natural disaster occurs. (Never have understood how that works, but anyway.) Our prayers here in Georgia are for everyone touched by the tornadoes.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Orlando

    I want everyone that has suffered from the recent tragedies to know that I am suffering with you. It doesn't matter who you are or that you are a stranger to me, I have been praying for you and your losses. I am praying that we as a nation, are able to support you in your efforts to rebuild. No one should be blaming anything, or anyone for these losses. These are acts of nature. We must all work together in order to rebuild and heal ourselvs from these deep wounds. As difficult as it sounds, we need to look towards the future for all of our children. Along with my other firm believers, I will pray day and night for you. Along with those who chose not to pray, I will work hand in hand with you. All must work together in order to rebuild.

    April 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam

      Thanks:) It means alot.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • RufusVonDufus

      I am not one of your believers, Orlando, but I agree completely with your intentions. We all need to remember and attempt to help those who are suffering from these terrible storms.

      April 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heather

      Well said Orlando I applaude you for the intelligence you display. I will pray with you and work hand in hand with you. I do not believe that our God is a vengeful God and will pray for the non-believers that show such a lack of regard for what their fellow human beings are going through by turnung this tragedy into a moronic debate about higher powers. These people are suffering and all you can do is debase their beliefs and make a mockery of their pain! Shame on you.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • bpu

      would praying help when god caused it?

      April 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • inbirmingham

      You are precious........ thank you!

      April 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • inbirmingham


      April 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carrie in Al

      Thank you so much for your concerns, thoughts and prayers, we all bleed red as the new song by Kicks Brooks goes, it is very appropriate at this time .
      I am blown away with the hateful words and gloating over others misforune , blaming it on any and eveything including politics. It is very disappointiung , so thank you again for prayers sent out way.

      April 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • shayne

      11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (New International Version, ©2011) .. Praying for you all. from shayne, philippines

      April 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • shaktakdopulous

      I echo @RufusvonDufus – Agnostic Secularists from Yankee New England are showering the south with our own version of prayer & meditation. This is a horror. They just found a 5 year old girl's corpse. I am weeping.

      April 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • jean2009


      April 28, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Do something about it

      Hey Orlando and all you people... you wanna be with these people... then do something besides write on the message board you are praying for them... Donate to disaster relief for these people... They need help in these ways or going there and helping to clean up... They don't need you to sit here and say you are suffering with them because no your not... I understand you are praying for them... But your not suffering with them... Donate and make a contribution to help these people pull through

      April 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joann


      April 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachael N.

      Thank you Orlando.. nicely said.

      April 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • AB

      Amen Orlando

      April 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • T-Town Tornado Relief Team 2011

      Please visit our page to find out more info on how you can help! Thanks so much for your comments! We all need the support down here right now.

      April 29, 2011 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Kenzie

      I hope that all the people who were hit by this are all right. It dosen't matter what if you weren't hit by it, why don't we all work together to help the peole that are going trough this hard time

      April 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. freeperson

    Don't mess with Mother Nature.

    PS when's the black tide on Florida's west coast?

    April 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
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