June 11, 2008
Hundreds of Boy Scouts from several states were at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, situated on the bluffs of the Missouri River, attending a week-long leadership course. There was a tornado watch in effect, but this is part of Tornado Alley, during tornado season; you're always under a tornado watch. You just keep your eyes and ears open, and go about your business.
Late in the afternoon, a string of supercell thunderstorms fired up in Nebraska, and headed east.
As the Scouts finished dinner, they broke up into a few groups. About half went to the North Shelter, to watch a film. A few boys went for a hike in the woods. Most of the rest just hung around the camp, doing chores and taking it easy.
As the thunderstorms approached the Missouri River, they grew in size and strength, and started dropping twisters out of their wall clouds. Warning sirens began to sound in nearby communities.
About 6:30, the boys in the shelter were getting ready for the film. The camp warning siren started to sound, meaning a tornado was somewhere nearby. One of the boys happened to look out and saw the tornado as it came around the bluff. He shouted a warning, and everyone hit the floor, under the heavy tables. Things might have been more-or-less okay, but as the tornado went by, it picked up the camp ranger's pickup truck and threw it against the fireplace chimney, knocking it down. several boys were hit by the bricks and stones as the chimney collapsed onto them. Four died as a result, while others had serious injuries. Two members of my grandsons' troop were inthis shelter, but by good fortune were on the opposite side of the room and emerged without serious injury.
The group that was hanging around the camp heard the sirens, and high-tailed it to the South Shelter, their designated spot. One of our troop's boys, who was there on Staff, was herding his patrol to the shelter, running at the rear of the group, said all of a sudden he felt like he hit a brick wall, and found himself sitting on the ground beside another staff member. They couldn't figure out what they had hit, until they realized the funnel had dropped down right in front of them. And now they were sitting directly underneath, looking right up into the center of it. They knew that if they stayed where they were, they would be sucked up and killed, so they decided to try to break through the wall of wind. The first boy jumped through okay, but when Ian jumped, he only got partway. His arms and head were outside, and he was holding on to the ground for his life, as his feet were still inside, and were now pointing straight up the funnel. His friend grabbed his arms, and was able to yank him the rest of the way out. When they made it to the shelter, it was virtually collapsed, but the boys inside were relatively unhurt.
The group that was out hiking had sheltered in a ditch, and also came out relatively unscathed, as the tornado didn't come as close to them.
With the tornado past, the Scouts assessed the situation, and took action. First concern was rescuing their fellow members who were buried in the rubble in the North Shelter. Others grabbed chainsaws and began clearing fallen trees from the roads leading from the camp, as any rescue vehicles would need to get through. Yet another group headed for the Ranger's cabin, as it had been reduced to a pile of wood and masonry. Inside was the Ranger, his wife, and their young children.
The Ranger had taken his family to the safest part of the house, but when the tornado made a direct hit, no place was safe. He and his wife sheltered their children with their own bodies. But when the cabin collapsed on them, they couldn't move. Their two-year-old son had gotten a baby formula can jammed onto his face, and was just minutes away from suffocation. Then the Scouts arrived and began to clear and search the wreckage. They family escaped with just cuts and bruises.
When the rescue crews from nearby towns got to the camp, they didn't find a bunch of boys, scared witless by what they had been through. They found a group of young men, calmly doing what they had been trained to do in an emergency.