'I held on to the dryer': Nebraska tornado survivor says she was buried alive during storm

Marcia Nelson said she had just remodeled her home of 34 years before the storm. Now, she's not sure if she'll rebuild.

ELKHORN, Neb. – A Nebraska woman said she is happy to be alive after surviving an EF-3 tornado that collapsed her home on top of her.

"I'm down here, I'm fine, luckily, somehow, I don't know how," Marcia Nelson remembered calling out to her neighbors checking on her after the tornado ravaged Elkhorn, a suburb of Omaha.

She was buried alive Friday during a deadly tornado outbreak across the America's heartland.

Nelson said she started watching TV as the sky darkened Friday afternoon. The news anchor said a tornado was coming her way. So, she took shelter in the basement, which she admits to not always doing. The lights started flashing while she was talking on the phone to her daughter, so she walked over to the laundry area to get a flashlight.

"And then all of a sudden, I could hear all the debris, I guess, hitting my house," she said. "I'm like, 'Oh my gosh! It's going to hit. It's going to hit.' So, I put my flashlight or my phone light on, and then it was like the wind just forced me back to the dryer, and I held on to the dryer for dear life, and there's not much to hold on to on a dryer."

Nelson said the water heater crashed down next to her. Then, she watched the main steel beam of her home land near her.

"And none of those things hit me," she said. "I can't believe it." 

Nelson said she was trapped. Her daughter called back because their call was disconnected.

"I said, ‘Megan, it hit hard here.’ And I said, ‘I can see outside.’ She said, ‘Get away from the window.’ I said, ‘I am not by the window,’" Nelson recalled. "The house had shifted off the foundation, so I was seeing out that hole." 

According to Nelson, the neighbors came by to check on her, and she called them. They found fire crews who lifted brick after beam after drywall chunk for at least 20 minutes to get to her.

"They helped me get out, and they had to lift me out," she said, remembering that they put a yellow hard hat on her. "I got part of the way, crawled up that beam, and then they lifted me up."

Nelson said she still can't believe she escaped without injury.

The home shielded her for 34 years and protected her until its very last day. 

"I just got it upgraded. I redid my kitchen, which I wanted to do for a long time," she said. "A new kitchen, new carpet and a brand-new car, five months old."

FOX Weather's Nicole Valdes asked her if she had a chance to think about rebuilding or moving on.

"No, that's too overwhelming, and I don't make decisions easily," Nelson said. "So I don't know if I will rebuild or just get something. I need something without steps, I'm getting older, my knees are getting weaker."

In the meantime, Nelson and her friends have been digging through the debris of her old home, looking for any treasured items and photos that may have survived. Despite the ordeal, she hung on to her sense of humor.

"I know I'm not the only one that saves stuff because I see all the stuff around here," she said, pointing to debris down the block. "A lot of the neighbors’ stuff is at my place."

She said she has been moved by all the help from her community.

"It's overwhelming and just so heartening. Everybody has come through," she said. "And I've heard from people that I totally, kind of, forgotten about."

That may make it difficult for her to leave, Nelson said.