March 1st, 2012
12:11 PM ET

Storm survivors recount horror: 'Half the roof was coming off the house'

Editor's note: The death toll from the enormous storm system that plowed through parts of the Midwest and South stands at 13, authorities said Thursday. Hardest hit was Harrisburg, Illinois, a town thrashed by a pre-dawn EF4 killer tornado that packed 180-mph winds. Six people were killed in the southern Illinois city. Below are some of the harrowing and unbelievable stories from storm survivors:

Son: 'I saw nothing - literally. Her house is literally gone'

When the tornado ripped through Harrisburg, Darrell Osman ran toward his mother's house.

"There were red and blue lights everywhere," he said. "Other than that there was nobody else here."

He wanted to check in on his elderly mother. But when he got there, he said he was shocked by what he saw - or didn't see.

"I saw nothing - literally. Her house is literally gone, nothing there but the car that was sitting in the garage."

Luckily, he came upon a police officer while he was looking at the destruction.  The officer told him his mother was in a nearby ambulance, and Osman was able to speak to her for a few minutes, but it would be the last time he would talk to his mother. His wife, Carolyn, a nurse, rode in the ambulance with her mother-in-law to a hospital badly damaged in the storm.

"She had a laceration on her head and she was in quite a bit of pain," Carolyn Osman said. "Every time the ambulance bounced, she cried out in pain."

At the hospital, Darrell Osman learned his mother might not make it. He called his sister, who rushed to drive over from Indiana. But Mary Osman did not survive, becoming one of six people from this town to die from the storm.

Later, Darrell's sister, Dena McDonald, said the destruction overwhelmed her as she made her way through Harrisburg.

"There really aren't any words to describe when I drove through town and saw this," McDonald said. "I thought, how terrifying. I knew by that time that more people than just my mom had perished. And so I wasn't just heartbroken for my mom, I was praying for everyone who had lost a loved one."

Darrell Osman grew emotional as he stood amid the rubble that remained of his mother's house.

"The only thing getting me through this is knowing she's in heaven," he said as tears rolled down his face.

Part of Illinois development like 'a slate wiped clean' after tornado

Photos:  Tornadoes take deadly toll

Survivor: 'We had about two minutes to get in the bathtub'

Pat Anslinger heard the warning sirens just after 4 a.m. and rushed into action. Her first concern was protecting her mother, Thelma Wiley. The twister hit her house in Harrisburg two minutes later.

"I heard the sirens and could hear a locomotive sound coming straight at us, and I went ahead and put her in the bathtub and made her squat down, and I laid on top of her and we held on to each other in that tub," Anslinger said.

Anslinger pulled towels over her and her mother, she explained from her mother's home, which was wrecked by the tornado. Windows were shattered, and her mother's belongings were strewn through the house and frontyard.

"I had to hold onto her. I could feel all the forces pulling on my body, trying to take us out of here," Anslinger said.

Survivor: 'I noticed the walls separating from the house'

Justin Hicks and his family had little time to escape when the storm came barreling toward his Harrisburg home early Wednesday.

"When we woke up, half the roof was coming off the house," Hicks said. "We managed to get the small children in the closet, and about the time the small children were in the closet, my wife and I noticed the walls separating from the house."

Hicks' home was destroyed, but he said it could have been much worse.

"We're very lucky to be alive," he said. "It happened so fast. I woke up to a chaos, and I'm sure a lot of people woke up to chaos. I wasn't expecting it to be that bad."

Man who was tossed downhill in trailer:  'I don't know how I'm here'

Steven Vaught of Greenville, Kentucky, said he is lucky to be alive to tell how he survived the storm.

"Why? I don't know," he said. "But I did."

He teared up while recounting the moment the storm came rolling through in an interview with CNN affiliate WSMV-TV in Nashville, Tennessee.

"I was laying on the couch and all the sudden I start hearing a train," he said. "I got up and took two steps off the couch and then me and the two dogs I have and the trailer started rolling down the hill."

Five times. That's how many times he and his trailer flipped continuously down the road as the storm tore through, he recalled.

"Once it hit the ground on the fifth time, I saw daylight and I was sitting up against the stove like I was sitting in a chair," he said.

Vaught had to get stitches in his bloodied chin and staples in his head from some of the injuries he sustained. But those were nothing, he said, compared with what he went through.

He shook his head as he took stock of the destruction around him.

"I don't know how I'm here," he said as his eyes welled up with tears.

Find out how to help storm victims with Impact Your World.

soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. Name*Rob

    God is still in controll. My prayers are with all of you.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • EvolveNow

      Blaming your 'God' for planetary weather formations that seek only to create a ballanced atmosphere, is like saying like saying that an asteroid hitting the Earth and killing off dinosaours was controlled by the combined will of the millions of small mamals who wanted to evolve into mankind! Yes, damage was done. No, we do not know all the reasons behind it, but it was tragic that a loss of life occurred. Now, lets leave the explinations at that and work on better warning systems, as the survivors had only a 2 minute warning and 5-15 minutes would be a much better warning time range; in which everyone might have survived. (Assuming they sought shelter and did not just kneel where there stood and begin praying...)

      March 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • mslman

      EvolveNow – is your aim to teach all of these poor people the error of their ways or to simply put to words why you think your line of thinking is superior to theirs? Either way, don't you think you could find a better venue/story than this one? Being a self-anointed person of reason, tell me what affect any degree of faith would have on this event after the fact? None. So your comments serve no outside purpose, other than to make you look like an ***. All hail internet anonymity.

      "Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking." J. Watts

      March 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean in AZ

      Evolvenow: Could you please evolve into a person that uses spell check; it comes standard on all computers now. Good Lord man, it was like reading a book report written by a drunken 4 year old.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kris

      Typical BS replies to someone who doesn't believe in god. "OH NOEZ SPELLCHECK LOL!"...yes, because all religious people are clear, concise, and intelligent beyond any measure of normal man.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • mslman

      Kris – Talk about a weak statement; a strawman plus advocating all communications be reduced to the lowest common denominator.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Recipe for getting a lot of Replies to a Post:
      1) insert the word God in any part of your post
      2) Use said God word in positive way
      3) Evo-God haters come with lame condescending rhetoric

      March 1, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't know why anyone gets bent out of shape over what other people believe. It's like those people who had a problem with a cross being put up as a war memorial in a remote section of a national park. As long as they're not hurting anyone else, I don't care. And neither should you.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. David

    Wow. Incredible stories. I cannot imagine going through what these survivors experienced. How fast everything happened. The one survivor heard the sirens...seconds later the twister hit. Crazy. God bless.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • EvolveNow

      Yes, crazy that humans would both state that "God is still in control" and "God bless". The same mythical being that destroyed homes and lives is now supposed to take pitty on and protect the surviors of his previously displayed rage?! The warning systems are not yet good enough, people. They rely on humans to both sight and report a tornado, burning up precious time. This system could so easily be updated with barametric and wind presure sensors placed everywhere there are people, such as in the handy 'smart' phones we all seem to be carrying, and linked to an app that will show you the way to the closest shelter; all while it sends valuable data to the current warning system. (Someone please pick up that idea and run with it, I'm asking for no compensation or copy rights. Just a quicker warning than the one starts as houses begin comming apart...)

      March 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      He was wishing them well, unlike you, who had to go and about *your* beliefs.
      So he said 'God Bless'. BFD.

      My thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • SoulVomitor

      Wow, 4 typos...& copyright is one word, MacGyver.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • AncienAlien

      Evolve, its pity, not pitty; barometric, not barametric; coming not comming, and you'd probably want royalties instead of copyrights unless you're going to sing a song or write a book about your app idea. And there's one small flaw with your app – it will only work provided that the tornado hasn't knocked out the power to the local wireless towers on its way through the neighborhood or worse still, bent them in half.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Uh oh, you got a Evo-god hater on your sorry butt now. This guy has nothing better to do? Guess he's in between evolutionary steps with a lot of time on his hands LOL

      March 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ex-618er

    I grew up in a small town a few miles southwest of Harrisburg. This tragedy will be painful in the short-term, but I have no doubt that the community will rebuild and come back stronger. I haven’t lived in that area in several years but know that the people who live in that part of the country are resilient and will refuse to give up. I wish everyone the best.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JM

    Oh my goodness. So unbelievable. Many people are praying for all of you.

    March 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ken in Atlanta

    I have lots of family in the area and have been visiting there since I was a small boy. I was able to call everyone to make sure that they were safe, but the town has been completely devastated. This is not the first time that Harrisburg has faced disaster – there was a horrible flood there in the late 1930's that did extensive damage to the town and the surrounding area. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone there, but I now the people will come together and aid those in need. I have lived in several places during my lifetime but have never met nicer, harder working people than those that live in southern Illinois.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Hanki

    Whats great about the midwest is that we are going to take care of it ourselves. NO one here standing in the streets screaming for help or breaking into stores for shoes ad TV's and I dont see Obama rushing out here anytime real soon......

    March 1, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Casey

      Lives have been destroyed and the only thing that you can think of is someting hateful. My God give it a rest already. Oh by the way the last big disater tornado in the midwest Obama was there. I see you have selected memory

      March 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. EvolveNow

    I've lived through not one, but two tornadic events. The first tore the side of the appartment building I lived in off (thankfully just after we had moved and it stood empty) and the second nearly wiped the next town off the map. Winds of over 150 miles per hour rammed straw, solid core wire and two by fours through seeming solid objects, lifted whle buildings 10+ feet into the air before crashing them and their occupants to the ground and barrel-rolled cars down the road as if they were just toys. In both cases, several people died. The culprit was not 'God', or the winds, but flying debris and the sudden stop it makes when impacting a soft human body. A longer warning time would have allowed the people who died to get to their basements and get under or inside of a small cement or steel structure already built there.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      It was the tot's wether.
      We get it.
      You hate God, or don't believe; whatever floats your boat.

      I am glad you and your family were not harmed by your close calls.

      Making this about religion is making you look rather petty, and is of no comfort for the ones who have lost loved ones who may read this.
      I hope *you* feel better about being a dick to people you don't even know.
      You're're *so* evolved.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      First sentence should read: It was the weather.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      Actually it was the wind...the wind that blew said objects through the other said objects. No wind, no damage. You can't have a tornado without wind.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ok

      Also your enlightened mind should know that Mythbuster totally busted the whole "Straw through solid stuff" thing with tornados. I've never seen it either. So in keeping with the whole "I can't see it so it doesn't exist" line we have going here, I don't think your harrowing story actually happened.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Banasy: I think you nailed it. I'm rolling on the floor. Why so much hate? It's like they go out of their way to find a fight about religion so they can spout their scientific knowledge. They all have evolution essays that they copy from and paste here. Just sit tight, you'll see a reply to this soon enough. Condescension is coming...

      March 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • tb3326

      Swear there ain't no heaven and pray there ain't no hell?

      Only dying will tell.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      Is a "tornadic event" anything like a tornado?

      March 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      Why didn't I click on this story earlier? This thread is great. And God bless us, every one.

      March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    Wrong thread, nick.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ken

    Wow, this season is starting off with a bang. This will be a terrible storm season for the US. Many will pay dearly. Water temps are up, and I predict an extra warm and long summer. Global warming is a reality, the cause can be hotly debated though. I'm sure man hasn't exactly helped the global warming cycle with carbon emissions. Add to that, building in low lying areas that are flood prone and coastal population. Yep, all in all, it will be an entertaining season for natural disasters.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Karen

    they should make a mandatory law the requires all houses where tornados are going to hit, to build those underground shelters and we will save thousands of people instead of those hiding in the middle of their house......

    March 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • g

      people that live in trailers can't typically afford underground shelters

      March 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      People in general can't typically afford underground shelters.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dowdotica

    ...UH...hmmmm, i missed where you interject your concern over the poor souls that just got whooped by some scary frikin weather. prayers to all...

    March 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. nick

    While we still welcome Mitt Romney's testimony about his beliefs as he has been invited to share since 2008, his lack of response isn't a surprise because question 17 is one that Mormons avoid.

    A belief system that teaches Jesus – the perfectly holy Creator – to be the brother of Satan – the perfectly evil creature – is an abomination (evidence) that blasphemes Jesus. And the fallacy that a creature can become the Creator is precisely what turned Lucifer – the angel of light – into Satan and is therefore Satanic.

    As a business consultant, Mitt Romney tailored products to appeal to customers, and tailored his views to retain corporate customers (he will worsen our economic crisis due to this reason).

    As a presidential candidate, he has flip-flopped 180 degrees in an effort to tailor his image to appeal to conservative voters. But convictions about principles and values cannot be peddled as products and his liberal record betrays his new conservative facade.

    Even if Mitt Romney spoke from true convictions, Christians cannot vote for someone who not only belongs to but leads as High Priest a Christ-dishonoring cult (here is why) that tries to pass itself off as Christian while teaching Satanic lies about Jesus (evidence).

    Our rating of the Romney candidacy remains an F for 2012.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Still on the wrong thread, nick.

      March 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |

    when your times up ITS UP

    March 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |

    Terrify,horrible moment.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bill

    sorry to say, but don't expect very much help from fema, fema is a farce

    March 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
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