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. samantha

    i couldnt believe what i just read. im praying for every1 and i hope the town gets put back together soon.

    June 1, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. Morgan

    yo, Peter Goesinya, Its not funny. When you die I hope people laugh at you.

    June 1, 2011 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      I'll laugh more when his children die.

      June 1, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. St3ve

    As a fellow tornado survivor, I can empathize with this poor girl. Remember the tornado that destroyed half of McConnel AFB in Wichita, KS? I rode that sucker out! At 3 years of age, I clung to my teddy and it saved me. However, my teddy got sucked out after the roof was ripped off my house ;(

    June 1, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. GMC

    How is this funny? Have you ever been tthrough a tornado? If not you really have no idea.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  5. Me

    I've seen 4 tornadoes and sat through countless tornado warnings. I take every warning seriously even though I've never taken a direct hit from one.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. ginalyn

    I feel for everyone affected by the storms...God bless them. And to these idiots on here making stupid comments I really hope u never have to live through something likebthis...its horrible. And the guy (Peter G) that made the comment about the tattoos...what is the matter with u? Didnt your parents love u enough as a child or something....who cares if she had anyone had tattoos that doesnt make them any less worthy of life you inconsiderate jerk.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. Thomas, Baton Rouge, LA

    Emily's either had a bad year, or ridiculously good one.
    One fortunate girl...

    June 1, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. tommy

    If you value your property don't let this chick move Into your town! Tornadoes follow her wherever she goes

    June 1, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  9. Grumpster

    Ya know I just can't understand why people don't build storm shelters more. They're about $1500 for a basic one that will do the job. If you don't have a basement, you're just plain stupid thinking that your prayers are going to spare you from 200+ MPH winds and that shard of glass about to go through your spleen.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      I need you to tell me where you can get a $1500 storm shelter. The cheapest I've been able to find after delivery and installation is about $3000.00 and it's about as big as a super small closet.

      June 1, 2011 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Littleroo27

      I know, I think it should be illegal to build a residence in tornado ally that lacks a storm shelter. I've lived in Kansas almost all of my life and several nights as a child sleeping under the basement stairs while the storms passed through!

      June 1, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  10. Alonso

    Very touching story I pray that everyone will be able to return to some type of a normal life, we all should keep in mind whenever you come out alive from a storm of that magnitude. that means that you have a purpose on this earth.

    June 1, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  11. HPNIII

    Hey if you don't have the money for a shelter, do as I did. Find an old freezer or refrigerator with magnetic doors, dig a hole and drop it in the ground, attach a couple of chains to the door and some hooks inside to secure the door shut. If you need more room get more than one unit.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. kassandra

    q esten bn q se recuperen

    June 1, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. countryboy

    We are glad that student made it out alive http://WWW.CDBABY.COM/ALL/NUMONE bye now.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. chris

    Thanks RIALgal. 7 or 70, people still died because of the walls. With an EF5, it doesn't matter what kind of walls.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Erin T.

    That was the hand of God at work. Make no mistake about that.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
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