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Witness Account

Tabatha Henry, 18, lost her home to a tornado. Here, she tells her amazing tale of survival and recovery from a storm that killed 36 people across five states.

Tornado movies might look real, but they can't compare to the fright of a house collapsing around you. That's what happened to my family on November 10, 2002. That was the night we were within an inch of death.

During that day, it was unusually hot and muggy in my hometown of Mossy Grove, Tennessee. My parents were watching heat lightning flash over the sky. It hung in the air for a really long time. Then, Aunt Linda called. She warned us that there were tornadoes headed our way.

My parents didn't take her warning very seriously. But I turned on the TV and saw the tornadoes heading for our town. I was terrified. I had to get out of the house. I ran to get my mom.

"Mom, we've got to get out of here!" I shouted.

"No, Tab, it's not going to hit here," she told me. "If you're scared, you can get a mattress and hide underneath it in the hallway."

"Momma, I can't!" I yelled. "We've got to get out of here!"

"Tabatha, you're scaring your little brother to death," she said. I looked over at Justin, my 9-year-old brother. He was as white as a ghost.

"I've got a feeling we're going to die!" I yelled. Finally, my dad said we could go down to the neighbor's house. We raced there in the car. We huddled together under the steps in the basement.

As soon as we hid under the steps, the tornado hit. It lasted only a couple of minutes, but it seemed to stretch on forever.

The wind was pulling the whole house up. I thought my head was going to explode from the heavy air pressure.

The top part of the house caved in. The brick wall beside me collapsed. The tornado lifted my little brother into the air. I thought he was going to get sucked away, but my mom grabbed his arm and lay on top of him. I cradled my dog, Chipper, and we all held on to each other.

I never prayed so hard in my life. I was just waiting for us to be sucked up into the wind or buried alive in rubble. Bricks were flying around and hitting us. I thought we were about to die. In the next minute, there was silence. The tornado had passed. But what remained of the house started shifting. It was going to collapse!

My dad was pushing the bricks off me. I was trying to get up, but my leg was swelling and I had blood all over my hands. We had to crawl out through a hole in the rubble. My brother couldn't climb, so I had to drag him out. Somehow, we all survived.

The Fujita Scale is a way to measure the power of a tornado. It is based on the storm's destruction. They said the damage that day was like an F5, the most severe tornado possible. The storms killed 36 people in five states and injured at least 200 more.

When I saw my house the next day, it was in ruins, totally destroyed. I only found one thing of mine left behind. It was the first doll that I ever had. It was lying there, totally undamaged. That felt so good, just being able to find something. When we found Justin's bed, it was like somebody had twisted it into a pretzel.

We also found the mattress we were going to hide under. It was on the other side of the road. If we had stayed at home, the tornado would have killed us.

Our new house is supposed to be ready this spring. It will have a big storm shelter underneath it. We're making it comfortable.

The whole experience made me realize what's important in life. It showed me how fast everything can be taken away from you. We lost all our things, but I consider myself lucky. I still have my family.