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Survivors of Tornado in Mayflower, Arkansas, Recount Ordeal

"Trees were really bending and the light poles were actually shaking and moving," one woman recalls.

A survivor of Sunday's deadly tornado outbreak in the Plains and South told of the struggle to hold a cellar door shut as the storm roared overhead.

Becky Naylor, 57, of Mayflower, Arkansas, said her family heard reports of tornado debris falling nearby before rushing to their storm cellar where they were "packed like sardines."

Naylor told The Associated Press that there were more than 20 people in the cellar as several passing residents also dived in for shelter.

"Everyone is welcome to come into it," she told the AP. "In fact, people were pulling off the highways and were just running in."

She said the men of the group held shut the cellar doors while the tornado did its best to pull them open.

"It sounded like a constant rolling, roaring sound," she said. "Trees were really bending and the light poles were actually shaking and moving. That's before we shut the door and we've only shut the door to the storm cellar two times."

Business owners look over damage in Mayflower, Arkansas, on Sunday evening.GENE BLEVINS / Reuters

Mark Ausbrooks was at his parents' house in the area when the storm came.

"It turned pitch black," Mark Ausbrooks told the AP. "I ran and got pillows to put over our heads and ... all hell broke loose. My parents' home, it's gone completely."

Mayflower resident Jacci Juniel went to find her son as the storm approached and was caught away from her home when it hit.

She told the AP her 96-year-old mother was still in the house and suffered cuts when the storm blew out a window.

"We had to climb over trees and power lines and underneath trees. I was just trying to get home to my mom," Juniel said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

- Alexander Smith