Tornado survivor: ‘We could feel the air sucking’

April 28, 2011

Shaken residents of Alabama on Thursday described feeling the powerful suction of the massive tornadoes that swept through the state on the previous day and witnessing huge pecan trees uprooted. When they came out from shelter, they saw startling emptiness: brick houses were completely gone.

In the wake of Wednesday’s deadly twisters, the surviving victims assessed who was missing and how long power would be out. Their mourning has just started.

Residents of Blountsville, a town of 5.5 square miles and 1,800 people an hour north of Birmingham, said the direct hit of the storm on their town was a shock. Digital cable had been scrambled and reports that the tornado had turned toward them did not come through.

“We had two tornadoes we had to outrun. One of them that was right beside us,” Tiffany Weaver posted on the local Fox news station’s Facebook page. “I had my son in my arms and I’m pregnant.”

Misty Mayes Quick responded to Weaver’s post through her mobile phone, saying she too was caught off guard while visiting her brother-in-law in Blountsville. Making calls was difficult, so social media served as a community bulletin board and place to share.

“We got into the hallway, and as soon as we did the power went out and we could feel the air sucking from under the bedroom doors,” Quick said in a e-mail interview.

Her children sat through the storm quietly until they heard the sucking sound.

“I think once they felt the suction coming from under the door they started to panic,” Quick said. “All I could do was hold on to my family and pray God would keep us safe.”

When it ended, the family went outside.

“We saw a huge pecan tree that was in front of their bedroom [had been] uprooted and landed on the neighbor’s house,” Quick said.

The big brick homes on the road adjacent from the Quicks were also gone. Power lines were down. Trees were on top of cars.

At the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Brandi Freeman was in her sorority house when she received an e-mail from university officials suspending classes due to the storm. She rushed to her hallway for safety. After the storm subsided, she went out to get food and turned on to the main streets.

“There was nothing,” Freeman said. “That’s when it got real for us. It really hit us when we saw people walking” wearing tattered clothes. Some were bleeding, she said.

Jennifer White, who lives near the small towns of Athens and Tanner, grabbed her iPhone Thursday to document the scene. A storage facility had its red roof knocked off and an electrical pole was titled like a bent straw. Parts of the Swan Creek mobile home park looked like a junk pile with shredded roofs and walls. A white pickup truck had been decapitated: its front cab was nowhere near its rear bed.

People who had been spared the destruction were moved to help. Emily Thomas, a junior at the University of Alabama, went to a local church Thursday to lend a hand, but there were plenty of volunteers already. “Everyone’s organizing,” she said. “People don’t have homes. They don’t have clothes.”

Staff writer Michael Bolden contributed to this report.

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has covered local businesses, traveled to El Salvador and Guatemala to tell stories of immigrants’ connections to their home countries and reported from the newsroom’s Prince George’s County bureau. More recently, she has written about civil rights, race and politics.
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