Student survives Tuscaloosa, then Joplin tornado
Emily Fuller took this picture near her own Joplin, Missouri, home which survived the tornado.
May 31st, 2011
01:18 PM ET

Student survives Tuscaloosa, then Joplin tornado

University of Alabama student Emily Fuller was disappointed that her spring semester had to end early in April after a tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa. It was devastating when she finally made it onto campus from her off-campus house to see people walking around dazed after the twister. Forty-two people lost their lives, including one of her sorority sisters.

But as the 20-year-old drove home to Joplin, Missouri, a few weeks ago, she started to feel better. This was a chance to spend more time with her family and get a head start on a peaceful summer.

On May 22, Fuller was working out at Joplin's gym. It had been raining most of the day. All the local stations where warning that a tornado was likely.

"I was getting really worried," she said. "I've always been very scared of storms and after everything, I got in my car and drove home immediately." She called her mom who was out running errands. "I told her to just get home," she said.

Stephen Fuller, Emily's father, was at home. He knew his daughter was getting worked up.

"When she was a little girl and there was a thunder storm, she liked to gather all her blankets and come sleep next to us," Emily's father Stephen Fuller told CNN.com. "Emily was very, very anxious when this storm rolled in."

She didn't want to see a familiar big black blob hovering closer and closer to Joplin. She didn't want to hear the wind screeching or watch the thick, strong trees that had stood for years in her yard bend like rubber.

When the first of two tornado sirens went off, Emily's parents didn't act very alarmed. They weren't moving very quickly.

The lights went out.

"I begged them to come with me to the basement," she said.

It was 5:45 p.m., she recalls. The tornado was on top of them. "It happened very quickly - bad to very bad," he said. "I thought, 'This is it. She's right.' "

Emily Fuller knew how little time they had.

Her father opened a basement closet that he had intended, when he furnished the space, to be an ideal tornado shelter.

"Turns out we were storing all our china in there," he recalled. "So I said, 'Okay, that's not going to work.'"

The basement had another closet so the three dove in.

Minutes passed. The sound of a storm can be deceptive. And to Stephen Fuller's ear, it seemed for a brief time that the storm was ebbing. Out of curiosity, he stuck his head up high enough to look out of window. The winds were blowing at maddening speed. He said loudly, 'Hey, I don't see a tornado.'"

Emily ordered him to get down.

When the twister passed, her phone rang. It was her sister calling from Birmingham, Alabama. "She said she was watching the news and all of Joplin was gone," Emily said. "I just couldn't believe it."

The Fuller family was lucky. Emily and her parents were uninjured. Their house, less than a mile from the town's most ravaged neighborhood, was untouched.

Emily is driving back to college Wednesday to start summer school. On the long ride, she'll be thinking about other people in Joplin, everything they've endured. There are still 10 people who are missing. At least 142 people have died. The Tuscaloosa News is reporting damage costs could exceed $75 million. Joplin's tornado costs could reach $3 billion.

"We'll come back," said Stephen Fuller. "When we see how Tuscaloosa is rebuilding, it inspires us even more."

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Filed under: Joplin • Missouri
soundoff (82 Responses)
  1. Jinx

    Hello, Kitty!
    This girl is charmed!

    May 31, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bob2Bob

    Wait till Big Ellis gets here.

    May 31, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ellis-From Panama

    I'm so glad that this poor student survived. Hi Bob,how's it going.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bob 2

    I'm very disappointed, I taught you were going to use new stuff, but you keep on with the same. Do you need my help?

    May 31, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. benmshields

    It has been my understanding that the tornado DID NOT 'rip through campus' in Tuscaloosa. Any map of the destruction path shows that the tornado ventured SW to NE and missed the main campus by several blocks. If I am mistaken, my apologies, but if not, please do your homework, CNN Robot (can't find an author for this piece).

    May 31, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harry Bolzak

      The robot is an Ashley Fantz 3000 model.

      May 31, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • mappy

      You are correct, it missed the campus in Tuscaloosa. However, several of the destroyed neighborhoods were full of students.

      May 31, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. edward

    I am very sorry to hear that. that's very unfortunate. really. how many people can actually get impact twice by tornado both campus and home? I feel really sorry for her. I hope that she will get better later. I don't know what to say.

    May 31, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dennis

    ROLL TIDE!

    May 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. patrick

    I wouldn't want to be within a 50 mile radius of that girl

    May 31, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jackalope

    @patrick: no kidding!

    @Bob2: it's THOUGHT, not taught, you ass. You've done it on all the threads. What are you, Tweety Bird? Moron.

    May 31, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sean

    very blessed. Good to hear a story like this amid all the tragedies

    May 31, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ogre68

    Jackalope: LMAO

    May 31, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Debbi Shertz

    To: Edward above~ we have many in Joplin who have been 'impacted' more than once by a Tornado.. One sweet man and his daughter barely survived this one, losing their home and cars, and lost his wife *(her mother) in our 2008 May 11 Tornado in a nearby community.. there are many stories like this.. you just do not see it on the news.. God bless Tuscaloosa and God bless Joplin now forever linked by tragedy.. ♥

    May 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jimh77

    My personal beliefe is Emily was sent home to save her family which is exactly what happened. God Bless her and her family. She was there to take control. And to survive through 2 tornadoes. Man, someone is watching her back. And she listened. Awesome. I experienced an EF2 in 98. That was enough for me.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emily's mom

      Jimh77 – thank you for your comments. Emily is very brave and we are very lucky to have her around!

      May 31, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SAM

    Yah good for them...think about the young lad that got sucked out of the vehicle after his graduation with his Father hanging on to him Thank god she can carry on..Carry him and his family in your thoughts.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Faith

    Wow; lousy luck. Poor thing. I bet next time she gets freaked by a possible tornado her parents will take it seriously. Maybe it's time to get the china out of the tornado shelter? A tornado like that comes around every few years.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
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