Witness Recalls Deadly Tuscaloosa Tornado

Michele Norris speaks with Reginald Eppes, who survived the deadly tornado in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with his wife Danielle and three sons, RJ, James and Joel. Reginald is in the hospital recovering from fractured ribs and a deflated lung.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

When that storm system swept through the Tuscaloosa area yesterday, a fireman named Reginald Eppes was in his home in nearby Coaling. And today, he's in a hospital, and his home is no more. He's on the line with us now from his bed at DCH Health System hospital.

Mr. Eppes, thank you very much for taking time to talk to us. How are you feeling?

Mr. REGINALD EPPES (Fireman): I'm feeling really good, really am.

NORRIS: What happened yesterday?

Mr. EPPES: Alarms went off at 5 o'clock, and my wife got up. And she does her routine. She does her normal reading and praying in the morning, and I walked into the kitchen. And right when I did that, the wind started howling really good. And I said, well, where's the flashlights at? So she said in the toy room, so I go to the toy room. I get that flashlight, and I come back out. And my wife actually and she says we need to get the kids up, and I said oh.

NORRIS: The kids were still in bed at that point.

Mr. EPPES: The kids were still in bed, and I said oh. And right when I said oh, the wind picked up, and the wind blew in the kitchen. So we run to the boys' room. She gets the baby boy. I get the middle child - I have three sons.

And I said, R.J., which is my older son, get up, son. And right when I said get up and I put my hands on him, the walls went, and he went. He just - he left. The tornado took him right then. I held onto what I have which is James Peter, and my wife held onto my other son, which I could hear her praying to my left. And I was praying over my boy, and I said -and I could see his little face (unintelligible) I could see him. He was looking up. I said it's OK. It's OK. And I was getting hit, you know? I was just shielding him. And my wife yells - she said: Do you have R.J.? I said no. I said I don't. And then, I heard her get louder praying. And then, I started - I kept going, and I look up, and my oldest son come walking right through the rubble. And I got...

NORRIS: He walked back.

Mr. EPPES: He walked back the rubble.

NORRIS: How old is R.J.?

Mr. EPPES: R.J. is eight. My boys are eight, six and four.

NORRIS: So when you described this, the wall came down, and you said your boy just zoom.

Mr. EPPES: Yes. When...

NORRIS: Just was pulled out of the opening created by the wall. What happened?

Mr. EPPES: It was like somebody just had a slingshot on him, a rope or a rubber band and had traction on that rubber band and pulled him away. It was just that quick. And you could see nothing. You just feel I got - I think I got hit by the washing machine because that's what I could see beside me because I got fractured ribs and a deflated lung from it.

NORRIS: A washing machine is not a small appliance.

Mr. EPPES: I guess not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EPPES: And my oldest son when he came back, I looked at him. He had a couple of knots and bruises on him. He had three knots in his head and one on his neck, but, you know, he got discharged.

Well, you know, when we was in the E.R., the nurses come back in the room, and they said you have a wonderful kid. I said, well, what happened? I said I know he's great. She said, well, he was telling us what happened. He said he went up, and he said he just floated back down to the ground.

He said I saw the light, those flashlights that I had early in my hands, that he saw the beams of those lights. And he walked back to them. That's how he found us, you know, but I don't know how far he went out. We - when I got on the ambulance and came in to the hospital, my wife, she went back out and surveyed the place. And there's nothing on the -there's nothing on our concrete. There's nothing.

NORRIS: Just a concrete slab.

Mr. EPPES: Just a concrete slab, you know, and then, I tell you, I'll tell you this. I felt really bad for a lot of people who lost lives. I have my son, and I lost all my material stuff, all that's gone. But, dude, I feel great, you know, with my kids and my wife are still here. And I do know that my wife I nor I would have lost any of our faith behind the incident if we lost any of our children.

NORRIS: Mr. Eppes, where will you and your family go now?

Mr. EPPES: I guess, we'll rebuild. I don't know. My little boy asked me on the way in the ambulance. He said, Daddy, he said, do we have to move? And I said, yeah, man. I said we might have to move. He said, well, can you buy me a basement? I said, baby, if I got to dig your basement, I'll put you a basement in this next house.

NORRIS: Reginald Eppes is a fireman in Coaling. That's a town near Tuscaloosa. He was talking to us about his experience in the tornadoes that ripped through his area.

All the best to you and your family, Mr. Eppes, thank you very much.

Mr. EPPES: Yes, ma'am.

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