Taken by the Wind—and Back to Earth

The Eppes and new homePhotographed by Tamara ReynoldsDanielle and Reginald Eppes with their sons, Joel, R.J. (center), and James-Peter in front of their new home.
Thunder was drumming in the distance when Reginald Eppes woke up at five in the morning on April 27. He checked the weather forecast on his phone. A cluster of storms was coming, but it sounded like his small town, Coaling, near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, wouldn’t be hit too hard. But Eppes, a seasoned firefighter, knew better than to underestimate the power of these huge electrical storms.

“Know where the flashlights are?” he asked his wife, Danielle. By the time he located them, thunder was booming all around them. The instant he switched the flashlight on, the house lights went off. A second later, the kitchen windows blew out.

Eppes and Danielle ran to protect their boys — R.J., eight, James-Peter, six, and Joel, four — still sleeping in their bedroom.

“Get up, get up, R.J.!” Eppes shouted, waving his flashlight. The sleepy boy roused himself and teetered on the edge of the upper bunk of his bed. Eppes held out his arms and called to his son to jump. He was too late.

The roof tore away; the walls of the bedroom dissolved around them. R.J. was sucked up into a roaring swirl of debris.

I’ve lost him, Eppes thought. In desperation, he threw himself over James-Peter, lying on the lower bunk, to shield him. Glass, wood, and plaster hit them like shrapnel. Eppes heard his wife praying. Then something huge, heavy — he thinks the washing machine — slammed into him. He wound his arms tightly around James-Peter, still grasping the flashlight in one hand.

After an agonizingly long period (Eppes guesses it was anywhere between two and five minutes but says it felt like forever), the wind began to die down. Eppes found himself standing in the ruins of his home. Darkness lay all about him. Then he thought he saw a shape moving over the rubble straight toward him.

It was R.J., guided home by the beam of his father’s flashlight.

At the hospital later, R.J. described what had happened to him. “I floated out when the wall started moving. I think I was above the trees. I was scared. My mom and dad were gone. Pieces of glass went across my back, and something hit my neck really hard.”

R.J. had been snatched up into the funnel of a fierce tornado that had just as capriciously set him back gently on the ground. Amazingly, R.J. sustained only bumps and gashes. Of all his family, Eppes was hurt most severely. The heavy object that crashed into him as he shielded James-Peter fractured his ribs and deflated his lungs. But he and his family were alive.

Others in the Tuscaloosa area were not so lucky. The F4-force tornado, with winds up to 190 mph, killed 65 people and injured more than 1,000. Reginald and Danielle Eppes are convinced that R.J. survived his ride in the maelstrom only by some miracle. As they build a new house with a storm shelter, they are looking forward to the sweetest Christmas ever. “I really believe,” Eppes says, “that God was watching over us.”

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you the newsletter each week, and we may also send you occasional special offers from Reader's Digest. For more information please read our privacy policy.

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.

From clientsfromhell.net

Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.