Nightly News   |  April 29, 2011

In hard-hit Tuscaloosa, survivors take stock

Tornado survivors thank their prayers, and their neighbors, for saving them from the deadly storm. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> folks here in western alabama knew they were in for bad weather . for that matter, "nightly news" had been covering this same basic storm system for several days, tracking it across the country. but then the storm blew up right here, and suddenly, it was upon them. those who weren't hit, they all know somebody who was, and some lost everything. they are the ones who will be spending another night in shelters like the one we visited here today. the new center of the community in this part of tuscaloosa these days is this shelter because it's all the shelter these folks have.

>> i got a blue 5.

>> we met stephanie here and find out she's now a two-time tornado survivor. she rode one out back in '07, and this time around, she had to cover up her two children inside her home, praying all the way.

>> i was saying, lord, please protect us, and shield us from any harm and danger. that was about it. i kept saying it over and over . protect us and watch over it. i kept repeating it.

>> reporter: sounds like it might have worked.

>> it did, it really did. we didn't get -- as much as people's houses were blown away, he protected us. he was a shield for us.

>> reporter: because you're all together, alive. we also met suzanna and her husband, joe. both of them are with the red cross . both rode it out in their tub with their two dogs and their neighbors huddled in the same bathroom. by the time they took shelter, the local news coverage was getting frantic.

>> it seemed so unreal to you. you're sheltered, but you think, oh, this isn't going to come that close. then you hear the freight train sound they always talk about.

>> reporter: your job now is comfortabing and helping and filling of needs. meanwhile, who is taking care of you and the damage you suffered?

>> the neighbors we were helping are now helping us.

>> reporter: that's how it works.

>> that is how it works in tuscaloosa . rrtd and over on the floor, we met the card shark who invited me to deal the next hand and casually mentioned why he's here with his three siblings.

>> our house broke down.

>> reporter: what happened to your house?

>> a tree fell on it.

>> reporter: did a big storm come? a big storm, but you're okay.

>> yeah.

>> reporter: but your house isn't okay? thered cross told us his house has been destroyed. he doesn't know that, and for now, seems happy playing card . this is just the heart of it, the absolute core of the tornado passed right where we're walking. this looks like the wizard of oz . disabled army veteran tony shealy showed us where he was going. he ran across the street to the piggly wiggly supermarket to buy food and was rushed into an adjacent drugstore as the manager was locking the sdoor door. that's what saved his life. his apartment, his neighborhood all destroyed.

>> this used to be my place.

>> reporter: how many times have you said thank god i went to the market?

>> i would have been trapped dead.

>> reporter: how are you going to process all that?

>> i'm going to pray about it, brian. that's all i can do. that's all i can do now.

>> reporter: we wanted to share some of the wonderful people we met here in tuscaloosa today. remember, even as they now get used to their new existence and the new landscape