Chicago-area student survives Tuscaloosa tornado

May 2, 2011 4:47:46 AM PDT
A University of Alabama sophomore from suburban Evanston captured images of the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa.

Adam Watt told his story after returning to Chicago on Saturday.

"I have never seen a tornado in my life and i thought it was going to be a small tornado with not much damage, but something like this, it was a monster," said Watt.

The university campus was not hit but other neighborhoods were devastated. The death toll from Wednesday's storms in the south has reached 337 across seven states, including at least 246 in Alabama.

Survivors are preparing for the victims' memorial services in what officials are calling the second deadliest single-day tornado outbreak in U.S. history.

When the college sophomore saw the massive funnel cloud that was brewing in the sk, he grabbed his cell phone and immediately started shooting video.

"I saw that big tornado, took a quick look at it and we went and hid in my friend's laundry room. We knew when it passed us because it sounded like a train," Watt said.

Watt took some photos of the aftermath: a house torn apart with its roof resting on the front lawn; a compact car smashed underneath the weight of a large tree; and downed power lines mingling with trees snapped in half next to several homes.

"It looked like the tornado was coming right at us and it ended up missing us by 100 yards, so we're very fortunate," he said.

Once the twister had passed, Watt began helping people. "Right after the tornado hit, we ran across the street and helped a couple people get out of the rubble," he said. Seeing the tornado damage across the south is like touring a battlefield that spans seven states.

"My dad was in the house with my son and they were both flown and scattered through this debris and they were found down in the creak," said tornado survivor Ernie Gunter.

The worst devastation in 80 years has left hundreds of casualties.

"Our search and rescue efforts continue. We are now up to five cadaver teams that are scouring the city, going through the rubble, looking for those who are missing," said Mayor of Tuscaloosa Walt Maddox.

One of the 11 confirmed tornadoes that ravaged Alabama this week destroyed much of the tiny town of Phil Campbell. Many of the 1,000 people who live there have been left with nothing. Volunteers have been doling out basic supplies to help people who lost their homes.

"We've been really blessed. There have been a lot of donations brought in," said volunteer patsy Brown.

Right now, the University of Alabama has canceled final examines, and the spring graduation ceremony will happen later this summer.

"I'm going back in a couple of weeks for my internship and I'm going to be volunteering as much as I can during weekends," Watt said.

While all of the buildings at the University of Alabama are intact, classes have been cancelled. ABC7 was told that the university had a great emergency preparedness plan. One parent said that he was getting constant text and e-mail messages from the university keeping him informed.

Meanwhile the University of Alabama Alumni Association here in Chicago plans to hold a fundraiser next Friday at the Houndstooth Saloon. All of the proceeds will be donated to the Alabama Red Cross.