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.
Most of the injured had been on a hike when the tornado struck, authorities said, leaving them without protection from the deadly winds.
A search and rescue team deployed after the 7 p.m. twister had to cut their way through branches and debris 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.”
All of the children had been accounted for late Wednesday, said Russ Lewrenson of the Mondamin Fire Department.
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.
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.
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.
Iowa Homeland Security spokeswoman Julie 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.
Tornadoes also touched down in southern Minnesota and eastern Nebraska.
A tornado ripped a house from its foundation, leaving a bathtub protruding from a back wall near Fulda, Minn., 140 miles southwest of Minneapolis.
Another struck a farm near Springfield, Minn., causing extensive damage to outbuildings, but causing no injuries to people or livestock.
Other tornadoes in Minnesota damaged trees, pushed a manufactured house off its foundation and knocked down outbuildings.
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 on Wednesday were fortifying levees with sandbags, watching weakened dams and rescuing residents from rising water.
But Iowa was bearing the brunt of it. Inmates in black-and-white-striped uniforms were rescued from a jail by boat as the raging Cedar River flooded Vinton and forced evacuations in Waterloo.
“Everything is flooded – everything is up to knee-high,” said Patrice Calhoun, of Waterloo, Iowa, who rolled up her pants and waded through water to get home Wednesday morning. “You could actually swim in it.”