Dennis Hinton’s house on Cedar Crest off 15th Street was ravaged by a tornado hours after he found out he’d passed the bar exam after graduating from UA’s law school in December.
His father, David Hinton, works at Druid-City Hospital and said he was looking out of the window in the cancer center where he works when he saw the tornado close to his son’s neighborhood.
“As soon as the tornado passed, I got down here and started looking for him,” he said.
Dennis Hinton said he and the two other people in the house were watching the live feed of the tornado coming in.
“We walked out on the porch for the last time, and we saw it out there,” he said. “Part of the sky was completely blue and part of it was completely black.
“We went in the little center room and shut all the doors, and we got a mattress in there with us and we started hearing the roar come … That’s when we knew it was real,” Dennis Hinton said.
“It just got closer and closer and louder and louder, and our hearts just started pumping. It was just an adrenaline rush. The closer it got the scarier it was. Then we started hearing glass break. There was just tons of wind. We had the mattress in front of us, but still, debris was flying in through the sides. The fiberglass insulation was flying in through there, sawdust flying in, dirt flying in. It was probably on top of us for five or 10 seconds, but it seemed like a really long time.”
After the tornado passed, Dennis Hinton said, his cousin looked out and saw that their back bedroom was completely gone.
“We could see the tornado leaving us,” he said. “We were afraid it was going to come back.”
As soon as they escaped their shelter, they heard gas leaks.
“I thought the whole place was going to go on fire,” Dennis Hinton said. “We just started going down the houses [on our road] counting and saying, ‘Are you all right? Are you all right?’”
Though Dennis Hinton said he found most people on his street in good condition, his neighbors across the road had been lifted from their homes and carried into a nearby house, resulting in their deaths.
Meanwhile, David Hinton said, he was walking down the road trying to find his son.
“The first thing I did when I got out of the house was look over to DHC, because that’s where [my dad] works,” Dennis Hinton said. “It was still standing, and I see him a couple hundred yards away and he’s just bawling his eyes out, crying. And I’m trying to get his attention, waving, trying to let him know we’re OK. It was just very emotional.
“He sprinted toward me and we just hugged and told each other we loved each other,” he said. “I felt worse for him than us. We had survived; we knew we were fine. The not knowing I think is the worst part. It was like nothing I’ve ever been through or, hopefully, will ever go through again.”
Alana Karl, a 24-year-old Campus Crusade for Christ member, said she and her husband were watching TV when they first saw the tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa Wednesday afternoon.
Karl said her husband put a coffee table against their sliding glass door in the back of their apartment, which is part of Cedar Crest Apartments off 15th Street. He then grabbed their dog and a comforter, and they went into the downstairs bathroom.
“Our ears were popping,” Karl said. “It was just really weird. We heard what we thought were trees falling down—but it actually turned out to be the walls getting ripped off of our apartment.”
After the tornado has passed their apartment, they saw that the coffee table Karl’s husband placed in front of the window had been blown into the bathroom. Later, they noticed that their bikes had been lifted into their neighbors’ apartments.
“Both of our cars are gone,” she said. “But the most important thing is us—we’re fine. My dresser is in the front yard, so I lost all my clothes except the ones that were hanging in my closet.”
Karl called herself and her husband “nomads” for now, though Campus Crusade for Christ Director Jeff Norris has opened his home to them until they are able find something more permanent.
“We’re just thankful we’re here,” Karl said. “We’ve had about 30 students and at least 100 texts asking if we’re OK.”
Norris said he was touched by how the Tuscaloosa community has responded.
“It’s cool to see how people rally and help,” he said. “So many people have come to aide.
“We’re getting [Karl and her husband] taken care of, then trying to help whoever else we can.”
Brianna Parrales, a sophomore at Shelton State University, said she was listening to the radio at her home on 15th Street when they heard that a tornado was rapidly approaching. Parrales said she walked out onto her front porch and looked to the right to see a tornado tossing debris.
“I was talking to my dad on the phone and he told me to get in the bathtub,” she said. “I got a mattress, and me and my roommate got into the tub, and I pulled the mattress in toward us and she was holding onto my arm.
“We just heard a loud roar coming toward us,” she said. “I never heard a tornado before but I knew that that’s what it was.
“After it happened, we walked out on the front porch and there were just people running around. There were people screaming for help. There were people trapped in houses. It’s nothing I want to be part of again.”
Though Parrales’ house is still standing, she said the windows are busted and there is interior damage.
“I’m just going to put garbage bags over the windows to keep out rain and go back home until we figure something else out,” she said.