4 dead, 40 hurt as tornado slams into Iowa Boy Scout camp
By TIMBERLY ROSS, Associated Press
Last update: June 12, 2008 - 12:52 AM
BLENCOE, Iowa — A tornado tore through a Boy Scout camp in the remote hills of western Iowa on Wednesday, killing at least four people and injuring 40, and setting off a frantic search to reach others in the piles of debris and downed trees.
A search and rescue team deployed after the 7 p.m. twister had to cut their way through branches during a lightning storm to reach the camp where the 93 boys, ages 13 to 18, and 25 staff members were attending a weeklong leadership training camp.
"All of the buildings are gone; most of the tents are gone; most of the trees are destroyed," Lloyd Roitstein, president of the Boy Scouts of Mid-America Council, told CNN. "You've got 1,800 acres of property that are destroyed right now."
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said three people were unaccounted for, but a spokesman for the rescuers, Russ Lawrenson, said all the victims had been found.
The weather service had issued two warnings minutes before the tornado hit, Culver said, but it wasn't clear whether the camp had sirens.
"Based on what we were seeing on radar it looked like it could have been a very powerful tornado," said Daniel Nietfeld with the National Weather Service.
At least 40 people who were injured in the storm were being taken to area hospitals, said Iowa Homeland Security spokeswoman Julie Tack.
Lawrenson, of the Mondamin Fire Department, initially said most of the kids who were hurt had been hiking when the tornado hit, but later said he could no longer confirm the victims' whereabouts.
Burgess Health Center in Onawa, Iowa, had treated 19 people from the camp and were warned to expect a bus carrying up to 45 more with cuts and bruises, said spokeswoman Beth Frangedakis.
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 camp was being secured by the National Guard and police.
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.
Lawrenson said parents will be reunited with their children at a community center in nearby Little Sioux.
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 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.