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k0127 BC-NE-Tornado-WesternIo 5thLd-Writethru 06-12 1424

Four scouts killed in Iowa twister

Eds: RECASTS lead to delete reference to warning siren, as scouts now say a siren was sounded at the camp just before the tornado hit; CORRECTS throughout that emergency drill was held Tuesday, RESTORES background. Will be led from planned 8 a.m. news conference.

By TIMBERLY ROSS

Associated Press Writer

BLENCOE, Iowa (AP) — Frightened scouts huddled in a shelter as a tornado tore through their western Iowa campground, killing four boys and injuring 48 other scouts and staff who just a day earlier had gone through an emergency preparedness drill.

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Amid rain and lightning, rescue workers cut their way through downed branches and dug through debris Wednesday to reach the camp where the 93 boys, ages 13 to 18, and 25 staff members were attending a weeklong leadership training camp at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in Iowa’s Loess Hills.

Names of the victims were not immediately released, but scouting officials said the dead included three 13-year-old scouts and a 14-year-old scout.

At least 42 of the injured remained hospitalized Thursday morning, with everything from cuts and bruises to major head trauma, said Gene Meyer, Iowa’s public safety commissioner. At least four of the injured had been airlifted from the camp, but Meyer refused to elaborate on their conditions.

The boys were split in two groups when the storm hit — one batch managed to take shelter, while the other group was out hiking.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families of the victims," said Gov. Chet Culver. "We continue to do everything we can to make sure those injured are going to recover."

All the scouts and staff were accounted for, Meyer said, adding that searchers were making another pass through the grounds to make sure no one else was injured. The camp was destroyed.

"We need daylight to help us complete that search and rescue mission," said Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt.

A Boy Scout official familiar with the camp said the grounds had no safe storm shelters.

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"Absolutely not," said Lloyd Roitstein, an executive with the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The council oversees scout operations in parts of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

"There’s no building that could stand the force of that tornado," he said, adding that the camp is a place where scouts "rough it."

Roitstein said scouts had a weather radio, were aware storms were coming, and prepared for it the best they could under the circumstances. He said a tornado siren was sounded, but scouts had taken cover before it went off.

Tales of heroism were emerging from the disaster. Roitstein says a group of scouts pulled the camp ranger and his family from their destroyed home at the camp. Elsewhere, another scout ducked under a table in a building as the twister bore down and helped cover another boy.

"They did everything they were taught to do," Roitstein said.

Thomas White, a scout supervisor, said he dug through the wreckage of a collapsed fireplace to reach victims in a building where many scouts sought shelter.

"A bunch of us got together and started undoing the rubble from the fireplace and stuff and waiting for the first responders," White told KMTV in Omaha, Neb. "They were under the tables and stuff and on their knees, but they had no chance."

The tornado formed about 6:35 p.m. White said he and other camp officials saw a funnel cloud forming and tried to sound a siren attached to the camp’s administrative building, but it wasn’t clear if they hit the alarm.

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The nearest tornado siren is in Blencoe, but that siren sounded only briefly after the storm cut power to the town, said Russ Lawrenson, of the Mondamin Fire Department.

"The tornado came in pretty fast, ahead of the storm," Lawrenson said.

Workers initially had difficulty reaching those injured because of downed and twisted trees and other debris.

"There had to be sawing and stuff to get to the scene," Lawrenson said.

Rescuers called off the search late Wednesday after determining that everyone was accounted for.

White rushed a camper to a shelter, then dove into a ditch when the tornado hit. After it passed, he and others ran to a large fire place that he said had collapsed.

"A bunch of us got together and started undoing the rubble like from the fire place and stuff and started pulling kids out and waiting for the first responders and stuff to get there," White told KMTV.

Taylor Willoughby, a 13-year-old from Bellevue, Neb., said he and several others were in a building preparing to watch a movie when someone screamed that a tornado was coming. They hunkered down in the building as windows shattered.

He said he and other boys tried to patch each other up with bandages and gauze as they waited for rescuers, but "there wasn’t much to work with."

Taylor was treated a Burgess Health Center in Onawa, Iowa, for a bruised back.

Rick Emas of Omaha said he learned of the tornado when his 14-year-old son, Hal, called to say he was OK and needed a ride home. When they arrived hours later at Alegent Health Clinic in Missouri Valley, Iowa, their son was "so deeply dirty. He had grit blown right into his scalp. He was wet and cold."

As the storm hit, Hal ducked under a picnic bench in an outdoor eating area, grasping onto table legs that were bolted into the ground.

"The walls of the area had all blown out," Emas said. "We’re very fortunate he’s not hurt."

In addition to Burgess and Alegent, victims also were taken to Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha.

Burgess spokeswoman Beth Frangedakis said 19 victims were the first to arrive at the hospital about 8:30 p.m. Their ages ranged from 2 months to 15 years, plus three adults.

Frangedakis said four were admitted to the hospital, one was taken by helicopter to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, and the others were released.

Frangedakis wouldn’t release victims’ names or their injuries.

David Hunt, chairman of the Mid-America Boy Scout Council’s Goldenrod District, which covers several eastern Nebraska counties, said he didn’t know specifically where the boys lived but thought they would have come from eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

Parents were told to go to Nealy Hall, a community center in Little Sioux. From there, many of them drove in a convoy to a nearby West Harrison High School in Mondamin, where they streamed into a high school about midnight.

More than 80 children were driven on school buses to the school. And more than 150 volunteers helped at the school, given children drinks and snacks before helping then find their parents.

By 2 a.m., only three children remained, waiting for their parents.

At the hospital in Onawa, scout staff leader Zach Jessen said the scouts had staged an emergency preparedness drill on Tuesday, so the group was ready when the storm hit.

"We got people to the shelter just in time," said Jessen, 19, who had a lump on his right arm and a bruise on his back. "Just before the tornado hit."

Zach said when the tornado came in, the door in the building flew open and all he heard was someone yelling, "Get under the table, get under the table."

So he ducked under a table and helped cover another boy.

"All of a sudden, the tornado came and took the building," he said.

Zach said he really didn’t see much when the storm hit because he was under the table. But after the storm, the building was "one giant pile of stuff."

The 1,800 acre ranch is about 15 minutes east of Interstate 29, about 40 miles north of Omaha, Neb. Its amenities include hiking trails through narrow valleys and over steep hills, a 15-acre lake and a rifle range.

The tornado touched down as Iowa’s eastern half grappled with flooding in several of its major cities. The storm threatened to stretch Iowa’s emergency response teams even further.

Tack said officials were confident that the state’s emergency response teams could handle the crisis because western Iowa had been largely unaffected by the recent flooding.

———

Associated Press writers Henry C. Jackson in Des Moines, Josh Funk in Onawa and Anna Jo Bratton and Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.

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