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. Stan

    Play her off, keyboard cat

    June 1, 2011 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. erin

    I'm so glad she took the warnings seriously! It is my understanding that many in Joplin did not, as there were frequent "false alarms" prior to the EF5.

    June 1, 2011 at 1:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. josh farmer

    this young woman must be living a charmed life. how lucky she is to have survived both tornadoes-then get to head back to college. i'd be thanking God if I were her [and she probably is]

    June 1, 2011 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
    • chris

      A CHARMED LIFE! lololoololol...too funny. If I didn't know better, I'd say God was tryin' to chase her down with those tornadoes! lol.

      June 1, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  4. pointless1

    7 Lives left for that kitty kitty...

    June 1, 2011 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. Shawn

    "On May 22, Fuller was working out at Joplin's gym."

    We only have one gym in Joplin? Who wrote this crap? We have a half dozen gyms AFTER the tornado. Do your research instead of making Joplin seem like a backwater town with a single gym in town.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jeremy

    This spring has been a trial for this young lady. I only hope she takes these events in her life to make her strong. A little therapy might be needed. The article mentioned she always got nervous during storms. When you combine that with being through two powerful tornados in such a small time frame there is a great potential for some psychological problems to develop. I'd hate to see her anxiety over storms to develop to the point that it hinders her ability to carry out everyday activities.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. Spaceman

    OMG – whats with the tatoo's – skin graffiti – destruction !

    June 1, 2011 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  8. Al Wore


    June 1, 2011 at 4:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. chris

    Home depot and Walmart were made of concrete and cement. They were both destroyed. Most of the people in home depot were killed by the walls collapsing

    June 1, 2011 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
    • nikki

      Only 7 people died at Home Depot, idiot.

      June 1, 2011 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
    • RIALgal

      Of the 7 who died in Home Depot, most were killed by the walls collapsing. Who's the idiot, Nikki??

      June 1, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  10. Habte

    I love America and Americans. I really feel pain whenever sth bad happens to this great nation and great people. Prayer is power,let's pray. God Bless America.

    June 1, 2011 at 5:59 am | Report abuse |
  11. Wow

    I shouldn't read the comment sections of stories. It just ends up making me worry about the human species.

    June 1, 2011 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. xyarx

    To all those wanting to make a comeback stronger than ever, please invest your time in monolithicdome homes. You have seen what happens to stick houses.

    June 1, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. jannty

    I dont think it would have really mattered what type of home they were in when its your time to go there's no structure that will safe you. Her family was truly blessed God has a reason for her to have not survived on but two deadly tornadoes and her sister also lived in Birmingham, which was also hit the same day as Tuscaloosa

    June 1, 2011 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Wow

      Yes, God killed hundreds of people in multiple tornadoes in order to "bless" her family and her. God needs to find a hobby...other than blessings.

      June 1, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. usmc63

    To bad about the damage, but thank god she had enough money to get those Tramp Stamps all over her arms....I wonder which nudie bar or fast food place she'll work for after she finishes school.?

    June 1, 2011 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
  15. gunnar

    thats just terrible i feel very bad 4 her also alot of u need spell check lol

    June 1, 2011 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
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