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 "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. Jimh77

    Before anyone jumps on my spelling. New computer, different keyboard. Don't like it, but Like the computer. Just can't do 72wpm with this...

    May 31, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. 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.Thank god your family and yourself are well and alive xoxoxxo You have angels

    May 31, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LMNOP

    She should come with her own tornado warning system. Every time she shows up somewhere, everyone should start running for the shelters.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • jake

      I hate to say but that is a stupid and insensitve statement to make....

      May 31, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Jake – chill out, it was a joke.

      June 1, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. Wanda

    this young lady is very blessed, as is her family

    May 31, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. guzman

    MY GOD have a heart all those pep. who have been threw so much. and have lost everything or some1. stay strong my prays go out to u all

    May 31, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. tzvikf

    It is interesting that in many parts of the world including Florida, they build homes from concrete, stone or concrete block (Florida). I bet that the destruction would be a lot less if our homes were made from durable materials and not wood. We know how to do it and we have labor that works with concrete block. The only thing missing is leadership (government at all levels in the USA).

    May 31, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sydney

      The school I teach at is made out of concrete blocks. 3 years ago it was hit by a tornado and damaged badly enough that we spent the rest of the year having class every other day at another school in our system. It took the entire summer to repair the building. Don't for a minute think that concrete block with automatically save you.

      May 31, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sydney

      That should be will not with! (I should do what I tell me students- proof read!)

      May 31, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • LP

      Houses in Alabama are made from brick. It's rare to see a house that isn't 3/4 brick at the very least. A lot of subdivisions have rules that all of the houses must be brick. Think that saved any houses around here? Not one. The brick houses were ripped apart just like everything else.

      June 1, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • denco8

      We are talking about over 200 mph winds. The storm was so strong is ripped the bark off trees. I don't think concrete would have made much of a difference.

      June 1, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Gaurav

      Being a Civil Engineer, I would like to suggest that Reinforced cement concrrete (RCC) structures will have the least amount of damages in case of Tornado. I don't say that we can fight mother Nature but I strongly believe that it can save lot of lives.

      June 1, 2011 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Pro1iFiK

      Brick really has no structural value at all in most residential homes. It's just basically a fancy cover.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bud36290

    Totaly agree about clearing the china out of the safe room. Good to hear they had a backup! Truely blessed! Glad everyone made it out safe. Make a plan!

    May 31, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Al Gore

    This is what happens when people ignore or mock me.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |

    bad karma!!...she should see Barbara Bush or Nancy Reagan for a karma hare rama hare kristna hare rama !!

    May 31, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. tonyizlar

    thats my worst fear to b caught in a f5 tornado ....god bless the dead

    June 1, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  11. Kay

    The CLEAN UP costs in Tuscaloosa are estimated at 75 million, not the damages.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
  12. scaredofstorms2

    Emily, thoughts and prayers for you, your family, your friends and everyone else at home and at school.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ralph Miller

    All of that broken everything must be removed from the area before much starting over. There are a few items still useable. Looks like less than 1%. What will they do with all of it? They cannot burn it anymore.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. melissa

    im truely sorry about all the devestation. im from texas and im in fear of hurricanes every year. there isnt a safe home in natures paths. god bless u. have a safe trip

    June 1, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. Manu

    CAn anyone please tell me that incase of Ef5 will just going in the basement won't help...I read many others saying that they hid in closet in basement...

    June 1, 2011 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
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