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. fritz

    Can't do anything about the weather. Just stay out of its way when it gets rough. Unfortunately, if it comes to you without much warning, there's not much you can do but hope it spares you.

    March 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ken

    Rolling over 5 times? That must have been a wild ride. Glad the dude made it out ok. Furniture and nascar memorabilia rolling all around him. I bet he saw the number 3 flash before his eyes a few times. Seriously though, glad he's ok.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. passing the time @ work

    prayers to all those involved in these awful's heartbreaking to read...hoping all the help is coming to your communities to help rebuild. that's how some of the tax dollars should be working. here in the USA. prayers for your loss & loved ones

    March 1, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • WDL

      How in the world do we actually prepare for these storms? If one is in the area, do you get in the car and make a run?

      March 1, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. John Gets

    I hope these events will make the Americans realize how the others feel when their countries are bombed by the US and innocent people are killed and their homes destroyed. The destruction from this tornado is no different than the destruction caused by US bombing.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Wow, you laid that on pretty thick. It is a point that will get flagged. You can't post anything anti-military or anti-US-bomb-the-hell-out-of-whoever-we-want. Lotta military dudes on here. You must comply or get hushed! 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • baatman74

      OUCH, John, (you don't) Gets, it! Wars bomb folks enemy runs to innocent folks homes, bombs can't tell which is the enemy. god blows folks away with storms, god is supposed to know all, who is innocent and who is the devel, mean varmits and the like. Now, if I'm wrong, bring god and jesus over for a beer and I will interrigate them for you!!

      March 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • justdontknow

      you just don't get it John Gets and I don't think you ever will.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • JustMyOpinion

      @John Gets.....Apparently you have already forgotten September 11th, 2001.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Gets

      The US attacked Iraq first in 1991 or have you guys forgotten that. The US' unconditional support for Israel was before 911 also. You people are so pathetic. Don't worry Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran may not get their revenge but a tornado or hurricane will do the job for them.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Corey

      Oh yes, because everyone in Harrisburg and Ridgway, Illinois, and Missouri and Kentucky where they were effected, we're all in the Middle East dropping bombs on them.

      Seeing how my mom was about 300 feet from having her house receive "exacted revenge upon for bombings," then don't mind me as I promptly tell you to go make a pipe bomb, put it under your seat, and light the fuse. Now THAT'S revenge exacted for bombings.

      Or is your life somehow more precious than people in the Heartland?

      March 2, 2012 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
  5. baatman74

    Prayers for all those who lost loved ones? Prayers? PRAYERS????????? How about holding that sob god to the fire and asking him what and WHO the hell we are?????? Prayers????? Loving jusus and the lord and praying to them is like liking congress while they destroy us.
    Reality check, folks!!

    March 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jhgtg

    my friends granda pa liveis in harrrisburg, and he surived! amen!!

    March 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. AnotherAtheist

    @evolvenow, your idea of a smartphone loaded w sensors is agreat idea! And while I completely agree with your philosophy, this probly ain't the best place to air the message ; )
    My deepest sympathy to those who lost their loved ones.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Shay

    Our prayers go up for those in the path of this latest storm. Our pastors from Joplin arrived in Harrisburg this morning with a truckload of relief kits put together last night by our youth to give to residents of this devistated area. We know the pain and grief and fright you are going through. I lost a student in the May 22 tornado, one of the 161. We are former Joplin residents now living outside the city limits. My daughter works in the remaining hospital here. We live with the ruin in our town. With storm warnings the other night, residents of Joplin were reliving the terror. God Bless Harrisburg, Branson, Pittsburg, Cassville and God Bless Joplin. Donate to Convoy of Hope. The Red Cross is good but more of your money donated to COH goes to reflief. In fact, they say $1 donated = $7 from gifts in kind. They were on the road to Joplin within one hour May 22.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bvanman

    That's what I like to do...relive the horror by telling my story!

    March 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ma & pa

    God bless all of you. Earths in another warm-up cycle. Bad weather will probably get worse. It would help if all new rebuilding was, at least partly, earth-sheltered but people aren't used to looking at that. It would be good if everyone had a tiny safe-room to enter in center of their unit, that would not destruct and maybe would float. We don't.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sasha

    May all the departed souls rest in peace.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CJ Edwards

    Our prayers are with you. Stay strong!

    March 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ma & pa

    You guys blaming God would do better using the unseeable wind as a "whipping block".

    March 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rob

    It's god's wrath to those that claim god's wrath anytime something bad happens to people on the east or west coasts. For your immoral judgements of others.

    March 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sheila

    My heart and prayers go out to all the families affected by this tragedy. I lost a grandmother, uncle and 7-year old cousing in a tornado in 1973 and I know the sorrow. The only consolation was knowing that all three had made it to heaven.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
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