The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 1, 2011

College student survives Tuscaloosa, Joplin tornadoes

JOPLIN, Mo. — Emily Fuller missed the fury of the Tuscaloosa, Ala., tornado by about two blocks.

Weeks later, she found herself in a hauntingly familiar situation as she missed the fury of the Joplin tornado — again, by about two blocks.

“This time, I was way more scared,” she said. “When the lights went out, it was like deja vu.”

Fuller, 20, has lived through two of the worst tornadoes Mother Nature has unleashed on the United States this spring. The Joplin native was in Tuscaloosa in April when an EF-4 tornado ripped through the town, killing dozens of people as part of a larger storm system that overall killed hundreds. As fate would have it, she was in Joplin on May 22 when an EF-5 tornado struck her hometown, destroying about one-third of the city and killing at least 134 people.

“To know that they both missed me by about two blocks is unbelievable,” she said.

On April 27, Fuller was at her duplex in Tuscaloosa, where she is a student at the University of Alabama, when she heard the wail of the tornado sirens. It wasn’t until her older sister, Jane, called from nearby Birmingham, Ala., that Fuller realized she should take cover.

“It’s the same in Tuscaloosa as it is in Joplin — you don’t really pay attention to the sirens,” she said.

Fuller and her roommates squeezed into a closet as the tornado passed, just blocks from her undamaged house. The university canceled the remainder of the semester, so she packed her belongings and drove home to Joplin.

Fast-forward about three weeks to the late afternoon of May 22. Fuller was home with her parents. She said that as the storm approached and the thunder swelled, she heard the tornado sirens, and this time she sprang into action.

“By that time, I was already scared because of what happened (in Tuscaloosa),” she said. “I actually took it seriously this time. I went downstairs and made my parents come with me.”

As the scene outside turned blacker, the three huddled in a closet in the basement of their home in Arbor Hills, a neighborhood across Schifferdecker Avenue from the heavily damaged Sunset Ridge neighborhood. The Fullers’ house survived, with the wind knocking down a few tree limbs in the yard.

Fuller, who was unscathed physically after both tornadoes, acknowledged that she carries a bit of survivor’s guilt.

“I do feel guilty because I still have a house, and it’s happened to me twice,” she said. “I didn’t have any damage to either place that I lived, so I do feel guilty that I have a bed to go home to.”

She said she’s more aware of the dangers of extreme weather, and she now knows that the warning sirens are there for a reason.

“I think definitely now I’m going to be a lot more cautious when there’s a warning,” she said. “I’m going to immediately go somewhere safe. It kind of taught me to respect the weather a little more.”

She also had nothing but optimism for her hometown as she returned Wednesday to Tuscaloosa to begin summer school.

“I think that Joplin’s going to be OK,” she said. “Joplin will rebuild and hopefully make it better.”

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