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. chrissy

    @ banasy, im glad youre ok my sista from anutha mutha, and that evolved dude musta bought that evolution for dummies book. And yes, there is such a book!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. chrissy

    I totally agree BOMBO, im a believer in God but not neccessarily religion, & that is my choice. And i dont feel anyone else needs 2 shove their beliefs down anyone elses throat! Plus everyones interpretation is different, doesnt make them right or wrong!

    March 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dreamer96

    I'm sorry for the deaths and the losses...but

    It seems every time I see pictures like this, I don't see tie down straps for the walls to the foundation, .or the walls to the homes with no anchors for the floors, walls, or roofs...flat metal brackets or straps holding the homes together, and I wonder about building codes in the areas, and what the insurance companies are going to say to the owners..

    March 1, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Brown

      Everybody is always trying to save a dollar. This is what you get.

      March 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • N

      With the strength of the tornadoes, even brick homes were no match for the winds. The building codes in that area do not require tie-downs and therefore the contractors do not use them. Even with tie-downs, mobile homes are no place to be in a severe storm, tornado or hurricane. People did not have time to get any place else, and frequently, had no other place to go.

      March 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. olayinka

    the same thing happened in lagos nigeria......God shld pls help us and am very sorry for the losses

    March 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. john cougar mellencamp

    I live in tornado alley and my whole house is underground. Not only am I protected from tornados but I keep cool in the summer and stay warm in the winter.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Smart move!

      March 1, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      Aren't you afraid of being attacked by the mole people?

      March 2, 2012 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. Angela

    My prayers are with all of you who have lost! May GOD replenish you quickly! GOD does not make people suffer, in the end everything is for the good. Learn from your loss. If it means to slow down and spend extra time with your family or treat your neighbors as yourself. Peace be with all of you!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Name*Holly

    My prays are with all those went through that. I lived through a f4 it tore my house to peices. I still don't how I lived, everything was gone but the place I was hiding. I know how they feel , and I would not wish that on anyone.

    March 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. kate

    I too am from there, Marion actually, and I posted this on Facebook along with lots of other people. Word is spreading very quickly. I'm not sure if these evil people are ready for SoILL folk. I hope and pray that these so called "Christians" will be deterred from devastating the lives of those who's lives have already been devastated enough. There are talks of a human shield to protect the grieving families at funerals Saturday and Sunday and many other counter protests. Hopefully, they will just crawl back under the rock they crawled out of and none of this will be necessary. Even with support of the community, human shields, and counter protests, these funerals will be turned into circuses. It's a lose/lose if they do show up.

    March 1, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • kate

      Where did the comment before mine go, from a girl named Kaylee I think? About the WBC protesting the funerals of the victims?

      March 2, 2012 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. Terry s.e. MO.

    First I would like to say regardless of how above ground homes are built and of course mobile homes are for the people like me who can not afford a house, WILL NOT STAND in a tornado period. If you make it through one you have someone looking out for you above. The only protection is underground in a shelter or earthbuilt homes. Tornados kill more and destroy more than a hurricane. At least you have ample time to prepare. As far as the people left to suffer we should be there helping in some way. The comment by mr brown about saving a buck and that is what they get. You should realize we all want safe homes and how can you/we save a buck when we do not have one to save. Your comment was very rude and unthoughtful. Sir it is comments like that-that hurt the suffering people more than you not saying how can I help. Watch what you speak because you sir could be in their shoes one day.

    March 2, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  10. Crocker's Common Sense

    Did Obama make time to stop by?

    March 2, 2012 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  11. Crocker's Common Sense

    Did Obama make some time to stop by or is he busy campaigning?

    March 2, 2012 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. H peltan

    From the uk, our thoughts are with the good people of these southern and Midwest states who endure this as part of their lives.

    March 2, 2012 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
  13. KCWaldo

    What a nice editing job on this piece. The background music really underscored the tradegy and heartbreak of the situation.
    Great work, CNN!

    March 2, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  14. the real deal

    dont worry obama will fly over the area when hes done campaning i wont expect anything less

    March 2, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. the real deal

    and no one would know better about a book for dummies than you sissy oh i mean chrissy

    March 2, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
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