PHS grad recalls deadly twister

Pelham High School graduate Chelsea Thrash was thrown from the second floor of her boyfriend's apartment in Tuscaloosa's Charleston Square apartment complex during an April 27 tornado. (Contributed/Susan DeBruin)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Pelham High School graduate Chelsea Thrash doesn’t remember much after she heard the deafening roar of an F-4 tornado quickly approaching her boyfriend’s apartment in Tuscaloosa’s Charleston Square April 27.

Her ears popped violently, the building began to blow apart and then she woke up several minutes later in a different location.

“I was on the second floor hiding in the bathroom,” said Thrash, who was studying for exams alone when the devastating twister struck the city. “I heard a huge roar, and the atmospheric pressure got really heavy.

Chelsea Thrash

“I saw the door fly off, and then I lost consciousness,” she added.

When she awoke, she was lying in the apartment’s courtyard, and did not recognize anything around her.

“I looked up and just saw complete destruction. There were no supporting walls, no roofs, nothing. Everything was gone,” Thrash said. “I just started screaming for help.”

As she laid on the ground, one thought kept filling her mind. As a biology major at The University of Alabama, she knew the potential danger she could be in.

“I couldn’t feel my legs, so I knew it had to be a spinal cord injury,” she said. “I knew if I tried to move, it could only do more damage.”

People who began pouring out of the apartment complex and the surrounding buildings gave Thrash a sense of relief, but they also brought bad news. Soon after Thrash’s rescuers made contact with her, they began telling her another tornado was possibly on its way.

“The sky was gray, so we were really starting to worry,” Thrash said.

After the group of volunteers found her, they used the top of a table to form a makeshift stretcher and lift Thrash into the back of a waiting pickup truck. The truck then drove her to the triage center at Druid City Hospital, where doctors discovered her L1 vertebrae had been shattered “into a million pieces,” and her spine had been shifted out of alignment, said Thrash’s mother, Kelle Thrash.

After spending more than a month in the hospital and in an inpatient rehabilitation facility, Chelsea Thrash returned home to Pelham on June 4, where she is currently recovering and still attending outpatient rehabilitation sessions.

She said she is hoping to be able to walk unassisted by the end of the summer, and is looking to return to UA as soon as she can.

“She has just been great through this whole thing,” Kelle Thrash said. “We are glad to have her home.”

Looking back on the incident, Chelsea Thrash called the incident “surreal,” and said she did not fully comprehend the destruction in Tuscaloosa until she saw news reports in the days after the tornado.

“When we got put under a tornado warning that day, I didn’t think much about it,” she said. “It seemed like we had been under tornado warnings all week.

“It was like a dream,” Chelsea Thrash added. “I didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw it on TV.”