At least 178 people are believed to have died in one of the South's most vicious tornado clusters ever recorded.
These are the stories of those who escaped that fate.
University of Alabama student Adam Melton was sitting on the porch of his off-campus house in Tuscaloosa when the storm hit.
Melton and his roommates made a mad dash for the basement of a house nearby -- and got there just in time.
"When it hit, the house lifted up off of us, and then a Jeep Cherokee came right over us and hit me in the head. We were underneath of the Jeep on our knees and chest for the end of it. After we got hit, we pulled five or six people out, but it was gone," he told the paper. "The house was gone."
Miraculously, Melton's bump on the head from the flying Jeep wasn't severe, and he scrambled to help as many other injured people as he could. While the UA campus nearby wasn't hit, the surrounding areas looked like something out of a disaster movie, Melton said.
"There were people stuck under debris and yelling for help," he told The Crimson White. "We went over and helped as many as we could. It's just, everything has been completely demolished. The houses are gone, the business are gone. It's something that I'll never be able to forget."
All the windows and the roof in Pearline Hinton's Tuscaloosa apartment were completely ripped off by a tornado that nearly took her life.
She climbed into the bathtub, while her 16-year-old son Kendrell hugged the floor and toilet.
"I was just saying Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," Hinton told the paper. "I was just praising the Lord, and that thing was just coming."
With her home destroyed, Hinton now has nowhere to go. And she's worried about relatives she can't get through to.
"I'm trying to call my siblings, ain't nobody picking up," she said, according to the News. "I ain't got nowhere to go."
A shirtless, injured father wept uncontrollably, pointing firefighters toward the spot -- a pile of debris in his Tuscaloosa neighborhood -- where he last saw his son alive.
Volunteers jumped in to help. "Watch your step!" they cried. Firefighters gingerly lifted the boy onto a makeshift stretcher made from a wooden door and ferried him into an ambulance already crowded with two other victims.
He was on his way to the hospital. At least one more death had been averted.
At the local Steak-Out fast-food joint in Alberta, Ala., employees survived by hiding in the restaurant's walk-in freezer.
"It happened too fast to be scared," Steak-Out driver Henry Nixon, who moved to Alabama from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, told The Tuscaloosa News. "This is exactly what New Orleans looked like, but on a smaller scale."
Nixon's manager, Ellis Ball, said he spotted a tornado "spinning across the street," grabbed his employees and dove into the freezer, hoping its metal frame would withstand the impact better than the restaurant's glass and plaster walls.
"The next thing you know, the building was crumbling down all around us," he told the paper. "Then we just climbed out of the rubble."
Emergency workers are still sifting through debris at Steak-Out and neighboring businesses, calling out to anyone who might still be trapped.
"This is like a nightmare, I just want to wake up," said Carolyn Forkner, who worked at the nearby Full Moon Barbecue, according to the News. She was still wearing her drive-through headset when she stumbled out of the wreckage.
Prayers and panic rang out in the halls of Reese Phifer, a building next to the University of Alabama's football stadium, where students took refuge from tornadoes whirling outside. A professor told them to utter their last words, and a female student burst into tears.
He said that his professor was "the most agitated" he'd ever seen and that even the "police looked panicked."
"I couldn't believe it touched down," Amato told WBRC. "It looked like somebody bombed 15th Street."
All the students who took refuge with Amato were safe, he said. The university has canceled classes for today and opened the student recreation center for storm victims and counseling.