4 Dead, 40 Injured As Tornado Hits Boy Scout Camp

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

BLENCOE, Iowa (AP) -- Four people were killed and 40 more injured after a tornado razed a Boy Scout camp in western Iowa, swooping down on frightened scouts who likely had little warning the twister was upon them until it was too late.

Tornadoes also touched down in Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska on Wednesday, killing at least two people in northern Kansas and destroying much of the small town of Chapman.

In Iowa, rescue workers cut their way through downed branches and dug through debris Wednesday night to reach the camp where the 93 boys, ages 13 to 18, and 25 staff members were attending a weeklong leadership training 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 struck at 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.

Russ Lawrenson, of the Mondamin Fire Department, said warnings had been issued before the tornado hit the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, but he doubted the campers had time to seek shelter.

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

Taylor Willoughby, 13, of Bellevue, Neb., said several scouts were getting ready to watch a movie when someone screamed that there was a tornado. Everyone in the building hunkered down, he said, but windows were breaking.

He said he saw another scout with his head split open. "It was a pretty gruesome image," Taylor said.

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

At least 40 people who were injured in the storm were taken to area hospitals, said Iowa Homeland Security spokeswoman Julie Tack. Besides Burgess, victims were also taken to Alegent Health Clinic in Missouri Valley, and Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha.

Burgess spokeswoman Beth Frangedakis said 19 victims arrived at the hospital around 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.

She wouldn't release the nature of the victims' injuries.

Gayle Jessen of Fremont, Neb., said her 19-year-old son Zach is a staff leader at the camp. He called his parents to say he had a bruise on an arm and was being treated at a hospital.

"I'm so relieved my son is OK," Jessen said. She said her husband was headed to the hospital to pick up their son.

David Hunt, chairman of the Mid-America Boy Scout Council's Goldenrod District, which covers several eastern Nebraska counties, said he believed the boys were from eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

The ranch about 40 miles north of Omaha, Neb., includes 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.

Meanwhile, a line of tornadoes cut a diagonal swath across Kansas, causing widespread damage. The Kansas State University campus was hit especially hard.

Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General's Department, said one victim was found in a yard in Chapman, in Dickinson County, and the other was found outside a mobile home in the Jackson County town of Soldier.

The most extensive damage from the tornado outbreak appeared to be in Chapman, a town of about 1,400.

Watson said more than 60 homes were destroyed and numerous buildings damaged. All three of the town's schools were damaged, and the high school gymnasium lost part of its roof.

"It went through the heart of the community," Brad Homman, director of administration and emergency services for Dickinson County, said of the tornado, which hit around 8:20 p.m.

Homman said three people were critically injured and taken to Geary Community Hospital in Junction City.

Electricity was out across town, and Homman said the search continued for other possible victims. "We're still going through methodically one residence at a time," he said.

A tornado also hit the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan, damaging several buildings and tossing cars. The university said no injuries were reported.

In Minnesota, a twister ripped a house from its foundation, leaving a bathtub protruding from a back wall near Fulda, 140 miles southwest of Minneapolis. A woman inside at the time suffered a knee injury.

Another struck a farm near Springfield, Minn., causing extensive damage to outbuildings, but no injuries to people or livestock.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the Nebraska twisters, though a lightning strike knocked out radar at the National Weather Service's office in Valley, about 30 miles northwest of Omaha.

From Wisconsin to Missouri, officials in the storm-ravaged Midwest spent Wednesday fortifying levees with sandbags, watching weakened dams and rescuing residents from rising water.

High water in Indiana burst a levee, flooding a vast stretch of farmland. In Minnesota and North Dakota, strong winds closed a highway and even sent a cow into the air, a witness said.

Along the Mississippi River in Missouri and Illinois, the National Weather Service was predicting the worst flooding in 15 years. Outlying areas could be inundated, but most of the towns are protected by levees and many low-lying property owners were bought out after massive flooding in 1993, officials said.


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