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Six unbelievable stories of tornado survival

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 8:42 PM -

Tornado season has definitely begun in North America.

While we've not yet seen any significant twisters in Canada, an outbreak last weekend killed at least 17 people in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and wrecked numerous homes.

The chances of a deadly tornado occurring in the United States during the season are always high - but amid the stories of destruction, sometimes there are tales of hope, and a surprising number of them.

Here are just six.

Woman survives 2 tornadoes

After nearly being killed in two tornadoes in the exact same town, you might say Wilma Nelson is an old hand at survival.

News9.com - Oklahoma City, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports |

She was only 23 years old when, in 1947, a massive twister roared through the Oklahoma town of Woodford. As she scrambled under a table, she couldn’t know that the tornado would prove Oklahoma’s deadliest, going on to kill more than 100 people and leave more than 1,000 homes and businesses in ruins.

It’s almost as though the weather gods felt they had unfinished business, coming back for round 2 in April 2012, when Nelson was 87 years old.

She was prepared this time, with a chest full of emergency supplies and a bedside weather radio, which crackled to life just enough in advance that she had time to get out of bed and into a closet.

RELATED: Where's Canada's tornado alley? Read Dayna Vettese's analysis of everything you need to know about Canada's tornadoes.

She barely made it. The twister’s severe winds wrecked her home, and at one point a wall panel fell on her head, and when she looked up to where the roof used to be, she could see the sky above the ruins of her home.

But she survived … unlike six others who lost their lives in the same storm.

Woman finds her dog on live TV

We’re a couple weeks shy of a deadly anniversary for our American neighbours.

On May 20, 2013, an EF-5 tornado – boasting winds of more than 320 km/h – wreaked havoc in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore. When it passed, it left 24 people dead, and hundreds more injured, the United States’ deadliest tornado of 2013.

But amid such destruction, there were a few tales of survival, and arguably, there were none more dramatic than in the video above.

That was Oklahoma grandmother Barbara Garcia, speaking of her lost dog Bowser in front of the ruins of her home, just before finding out her pooch managed to survive the carnage.

RELATED: Space tornadoes: The perspective you need to see.

We’d have told you where to jump forward in the video for the heart-warming moment, but we figured, as with us, the sheer unbelievable nature of the moment hits even harder when you don't know when it's coming.

The incredible story made headlines worldwide, and when it emerged the woman’s home was uninsured, people acted by pouring $21,000 into a fund to help out.

It doesn’t take away from the devastation and the deaths … but it does show that, even amidst the rubble, there can still be a few bright spots.

Woman survives after her house falls on her

We’re also a little past another bitter anniversary: the early April “super outbreak” of 1974.

Around 148 tornadoes touched down in 13 states, leaving 330 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.

And Linda Speakman-Yerick of Noble County, Indiana, was one of the survivors, and boy, did she have a story to tell.

Speakman-Yerick was in the shower when a twister started lifting her trailer park home from the ground. As soon as she realized that was happening, out the door she went, ducking and covering next to her car.

She landed next to her car, and could only watch as her home was lifted several metres off the ground, with her then-husband inside. 

Then it fell down. On top of her. Well, more accurately, it fell on top of the car she was seeking refuge beside, leaving her safe within a v-shaped alcove.

RELATED: Read about six kinds of freaky severe weather.

Her husband suffered serious injuries, but she was mostly unharmed. Goes to show: Shelter is everything. 

Student survives being blown 400 m

Matt Suter of Fordland, Missouri, is a living record-holder.

He is a survivor of the March 2006 Tornado season in that state. Here’s a look at the kind of twisters that touched down that month in Missouri:

Suter was sucked out of the trailer he was in at the time, and carried almost 400 metres before bring set down with minor injuries in a field far from his home.

This local newspaper account shows how surprised he was to find out his grandmother and uncle, also in the trailer, had survived as well.

A National Weather Service investigator confirmed the distance he’d been blown was a record – surpassing by almost 100 metres the previous record.

That had been held by a nine-year-old girl who, in 1955, had been carried with her pony a little over 300 metres before being set down in a field almost completely unharmed.

The Mud Baby

This would be a heck of a story for Aleah Crago to tell at parties, if she could only remember it.

News9.com - Oklahoma City, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports |

Although around 14 years old now, she was only 10-months old when, in 1999, an Oklahoma tornado ripped her from her mothers arms and carried her into oblivion.

Her mother, on the way to hospital, begged a local deputy to find her…and find her he did, face down in the mud several metres away from where the elements had plucked her.

She was an incredible survival story, out of several in the wake of the twister that killed 44 people in Moore (yes, Moore again), with winds likely in the EF-5 range.

Man finds his wife's wedding ring amid the rubble

Cody Schleuning's family was hard-hit by a tornado in 2012.

The twister demolished his home, and scattered his wife and children in different directions. It killed 15 people, including his neighbour, and to add insult to injury, their shed caught fire in the aftermath.

They can rebuild, but still, there are some things you can't replace, like the engagement ring Schleuning gave his wife 10 years ago.

So it must have been a huge comfort when Schleuning somehow managed to find it, sifting through the rubble.

Add to that the fact the family's dogs were also okay, and we can't help but wonder if Schleuning thought to buy a lottery ticket as well.

RELATED: Read about the 2011 outbreak that killed more than 300 people.

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