WASHINGTON - Boy Scouts in Iowa are being called heroes for aiding each other while their camp site was destroyed by a tornado, Wednesday night.
Panic swept through the Little Sioux Boy Scout ranch when witnesses first spotted the funnel cloud forming. But camp leaders say the boys remained strong.
"Last night, the agencies and the scouts were prepared," Lloyd Roitstein of the Mid America Council of the Boy Scouts of America said. "They knew what to do, they knew where to go, and they prepared well."
Close to 100 boys, ages 13 to 18, and 25 staff members were visiting the 1,800 acre campground for a week-long training in leadership when the tornado hit.
The storm took four lives and injured 48 others. Killed were Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa, and Josh Fennen, 13, Sam Thomsen, 13, and Ben Petrzilka, 14, all of Omaha, Neb.
Roitstein said all four had taken shelter in a building that was leveled, and all of them were found near its collapsed stone chimney. The governor said the cause of death had not been determined.
At least a dozen people remained hospitalized Thursday with everything from bruises to spine and head injuries.
One survivor, Ethan Hession, 13, climbed under a table with his friend when he heard the storm outside.
"I just remember looking over at my friend, and all of a sudden he just says to me, `Dear God, save us,"' he said. "Then I just closed my eyes and all of a sudden (the tornado was) gone."
"It was like raining hard... and then all the wind got sucked out of my lungs and...it started blowing so hard I couldn't stand up," Scout Master Thomas White remembered. "I just laid in the ditch and covered my head and then a log fell."
Scout Master Bruce Van Zuiden said, " We deal with tornados and they go through tornado drills when they're out at camp and they have pre-designated areas, low spots to go to."
And had it not been for the training, the tornado quite possibly could have claimed more lives.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver praised the boys for "taking care of each other."
A Mass Response
Emergency crews immediately responded to the call at the Boy Scout camp. Fire trucks and ambulances piled up in a 2 mile long line ready to act.
"I was told by a first responder you needed all the manpower you could get," said one EMT.
The storm packed a violent punch, at first making it hard to even get in.
"I realize that everybody's coming to help, but it's just so congested in there that we need to get people out," a state trooper said.
When rescuers and volunteers finally made their way in, they found many of the kids trapped under toppled buildings and debris.
"We got together and started undoing the rubble from the fireplace and stuff and were pulling kids out and waiting for the first responders," White said.
Worried Parents Play the Waiting Game
Word quickly got out to worried parents who raced to the scene to find out what happened to their children.
"We were hoping and praying it wasn't him. We didn't want it to be anybody, but we just didn't know," the father said.
Officials say all of the kids and staff members have been accounted for, but the camp is destroyed.
"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."
The twister that struck The Little Sioux Camp was just one of dozens of reported tornadoes that swept through Kansas, Nebraska and Minnesota with little to no warning at all.
Miles away, several cities are still underwater.