Stories of survival

University of Alabama students with ties to the Augusta area share accounts of the tornado in Tuscaloosa.



The sophomore, who is majoring in communication studies, is the son of Jeff and Katherine Knox and graduated from Augusta Prep.

"I'm in Athens now, because late last night (Thursday), they told us to get out of the city. ... Sirens went off about 45 minutes before the tornado hit, and we didn't realize it was going to be right over us. We went down into the basement and we took a TV down there with us, and watched it on the news. We saw the path and watched everything happen. Then the power went off and we just sat in the dark. We had dead-bolted the door and we could hear it rattling. There were seven of us, and we were down there about 30 minutes.

"I texted my parents before it happened, but once it hit, service was terrible, probably because so many people were using it. I was at a friend's house off campus. It hit about a half-mile from where we were. When we came out, everything was flattened, and trees were on top of cars, and debris was everywhere.

"It was shocking. I didn't know what to expect. I knew tornadoes were powerful and caused harm, but I never experienced anything like that. It was scary, like nothing I've ever been through before. I got a nice taste of what Mother Nature can do. I'm just grateful to be alive. Every time I hear a siren from now on, I'll be taking cover."


The junior, who is majoring in restaurant and hotel management, is the daughter of Kathy and Pierce Marks and a graduate of Aquinas High School.

"I was at the Innisfree Irish Pub, which is where I work downtown, and I saw it hit. We heard it was coming and watched it on TV, and then we looked outside and we could see it. The manager told us to get in his office. There were about 10-15 of us. Everybody was silent because we were praying. We had surveillance cameras, so we could still see what was going on. We saw it heading toward us, then it turned and took another path. It was really scary because we were in that office, watching it on the cameras, and there was nowhere else, really, for us to go.

"Yesterday we went on 15th Street, and it was surreal. It was terrifying. I had friends whose houses were completely demolished. It skipped over us, I think because Bryant-Denny Stadium was right there.

"My boyfriend came and got us after it was over, and we heard that they thought a second one was coming, so we went to a friend's house with a basement. It was better there, sitting in the basement. In the restaurant, it was really loud wind and the lights were flickering. We didn't know if it was going to be on top of us in any second. I tried to keep calm, because some people were upset, so I was trying to keep calm."


The junior, who is majoring in interior design, is the daughter of Beth and Barry Storey and graduated from Augusta Prep.

"I'm one of the lucky ones. It missed us by four blocks. We've had warnings all season, so nobody really took it very seriously. Then they said it was really coming, so we went to the sorority house and got in the basement and listened to the radio. We were there for about an hour-and-a-half, and then the power went out and everything went black. When we went back upstairs, it was a madhouse. Main Street, which is like the busiest street in Tuscaloosa ... everything is flat and completely gone.

"They told us we had to leave because search and rescue is getting their work done and we needed to be out of their way. The power is out, so I'm staying in Birmingham until the power is back on.

"There were about 80-85 of us down in the basement, and we were really scared. I don't think we expected it to be the extent that it was. The sorority house is three streets over from where it hit. I have several friends' houses that were destroyed and their cars.

"The tornado happened around 4 or 5 p.m., and there was no phone service available until later that night, so I couldn't call my parents. The power was out, so we had no computer and there was no way to even charge our phones, except by car, and a lot of people's cars are gone."


The freshman art major is the daughter of David and Shane Claffey and graduated from Academy of Richmond County.

"I was in my dorm. We have had a ton of warnings this year, and we always end up just sitting in the lobby for nothing. So it was like they were crying 'wolf.' So we rented a movie and my friends and I went upstairs to my room to watch it. We put the blinds up so we could see if anything happened. I live on the 10th floor, so you can really see everything for a long way out the window.

"We were watching the movie, and my friend was looking out the window and she said, 'I think this one is serious. It's coming to a point on the bottom.' And we looked out and saw a huge mass spinning. We ran downstairs, and when I got to the second floor I realized I didn't lock my door or pick up my wallet or have my phone and I wouldn't be able to call my mom. So I stepped back into the stairwell to go up and get it. You could hear all the windows shaking really bad. It was creepy. And it was really black, so we were tripping.

"No one knew how bad it was, because our phones and the TV weren't working. But people started driving up saying everything was completely flat, and everybody started getting freaked out. Before, everyone had been calm, but then we were all in shock as we learned what happened. I had a friend, Jackie, who was at her friend's apartment, and they were in the bathtub with a mattress over their head, and the wind blew the doors opened and a bunch of dogs ran in. Then she went outside and saw mangled bodies all over the ground and mangled trucks."


The junior, who is majoring in food and nutrition, is the daughter of Kathryn and Don Walker and graduated from Aquinas.

"I was at this clothing boutique called Solo, and my dad called because he was watching the news, and he was like freaking out and he was nervous for me. So I had about a 30-minute window before it was supposed to hit, so I had time to drive to the sorority house. That's a good thing, or I probably would've been in the store by myself.

"They canceled dinner at the house, and we all went down in the basement, and our house mom, Miss Sarah Beth, she was keeping us calm and she had a radio. We really didn't know how bad it was because we couldn't see it. Even when we looked out, we couldn't see because of the stadium. Right after it was over, my friend and I got in a car and drove around, but the roads were blocked. We couldn't get to 15th Street because it was blocked. But, usually you see buildings and billboards everywhere, but it was all gone and it was flat, and it was really weird.

"The next morning, we walked all through the neighborhood and it was sad. There really aren't words to describe it. It was awful. It was upsetting, but it had a wow factor to it, too. Really, it was beyond sad."