"I didn’t want to die." A tractor-trailer driver describes a harrowing encounter, driving into the path of a Minnesota storm

[anvplayer video=”5079695″ station=”998122″]

One week ago, the first tornadoes ever recorded in Minnesota in December touched down.

According to the National Weather Service, there were at least seventeen twisters in the southeastern and south-central parts of the state.

Tractor-trailer driver Eric Moore found himself right in the path of all that violent weather.

"The rain was so heavy you could actually hear the whistling noise from inside the cab of my truck," he recalls. "You could see debris, or I like to call it, a cloud of smoke, but it’s like a cloud of wind."

Moore, 29, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was driving his rig westbound on Interstate 90 through Freeborn County, near Oakland, Minnesota.

"Roughly around 7 PM is whenever I received an alert on my phone," he says. "Basically that there was a tornado warning in the area and to seek shelter."

Moore says he started driving toward a truck stop and called his uncle, also a truck driver, on the phone.

Quickly, high winds began tugging at his empty trailer.

"A fully loaded truck is 80,000 pounds," John Hausladen, the President of the Minnesota Trucking Association, explains. "If you have an empty trailer, you’re about half the weight, and it becomes a big sail."

"It’s like a cloud of wind from the storm and actually lifted the back of my trailer up and dropped it," Moore adds. "By this time, I was panicking. I told my uncle it just picked the trailer up, and I’m like, I’m right here in the tornado."

Then it got worse.

His whole rig went airborne.

"Maybe fifteen seconds later, it picked the whole truck up and tilted it to the right," Moore remembers. "I’m panicking, I’m screaming inside the truck. It threw the truck and then the truck dropped, and when it dropped, it slid into the grass off of the highway."

He says his truck plummeted like a rock, crashing into the ground, landing on its side.

"These drivers practice all the time, and they drive in all conditions, but when it lifts off the ground like that, just hold on, because there’s not a lot you can do," Hausladen says.

Moore was belted in, but the impact smashed his face.

He climbed out and began running for shelter— all in the midst of howling winds and stinging rain.

"The wind was so strong it was knocking me down. I felt like I was running forever, trying to get to the rest area," Moore says. "I remember me just digging into the ground for help and basically saying I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want this to be the end."

We asked KSTP’s evening meteorologist Wren Clair about what Moore was up against.

"We saw peak wind gusts in the state of Minnesota up to 78 miles per hour," she says. "Straight line winds and embedded tornadoes, which we saw in numerous reports, especially in this location across south central and southeastern Minnesota, with a number of EF-0 and EF-1 tornadoes. Absolutely powerful stuff."

With no real shelter in sight, Moore says he wrapped his arms around a tree and hung on for dear life.

"This was a limb maybe about this big," he says, spreading his arms. "I just grabbed it, and was just holding onto it, praying that the storm would slow down, that someone would see me. At this time, I’ve got my eyes closed, I’m crying, I’m praying."

After a time, the winds subsided, and he flagged down a passing tractor-trailer.

The driver brought him to a nearby rest stop and called for help.

Moore says a responding ambulance crew told him he was lucky.

"They just told me it’s a miracle you’re still here because those trees aren’t even up no more," he says.

Moore was treated at the Mayo Clinic for a fractured cheekbone and is now recovering at home in North Carolina.

He’s wearing an eyepatch because of some swelling around his right eye.

Moore says he’ll still have to get surgery to implant a metal plate in his face— that will likely happen in the next week or so.

He’s still coming to terms with what happened to him.

"I remember waking up crying after like two days later," he recalls. "I just woke up crying, I couldn’t stop crying. It’s definitely scary."

Now surrounded by his girlfriend Samina Moses, his daughter Merayah, and his mother Lisa Ellison, Moore says he’s just grateful to be alive.

And yes, he says he wants to drive a truck again, after some time to heal.

I definitely will be afraid of driving at night," Moore says quietly. "It’s definitely going to take some time, maybe some therapy or something like that. It was a lot. I thought it was over—I thought it was over."