Tornado kills 4 at Boy Scout camp
BLENCOE, Iowa — Frightened Boy Scouts huddled in a shelter as a tornado tore through their western Iowa campground, killing four people and injuring 48 more who had little to no warning of the approaching storm.
Amid rain and flashes of lightning, rescue workers cut their way through downed branches and dug through debris 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.
The boys were split in two groups when the storm hit — one batch managed to take shelter, while the other group was out hiking.
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 or identify the dead.
"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 completely destroyed.
"We need daylight to help us complete that search and rescue mission," said Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt.
The tornado hit just hours after the scouts conducted an emergency preparedness drill at the camp.
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.
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.
White said the storm’s force was overwhelming.
"It was so fast and so forceful," he said. "They (the kids) were under the tables and on their knees, but they had no chance; ... the fire place collapsed on them and killed those four kids."
At the hospital in Onawa, scout staff leader Zach Jessen said the scouts had staged an emergency preparedness drill at the camp earlier in the day, so the group was ready when the storm hit.