When the tornado ripped apart his Iowa Boy Scout camp, Kevin Hanna lost consciousness for a little while. It was no more than a minute till he woke up again — but when he did, it was to a scene of death and devastation.
“I saw a whole bunch of boys. I saw some of them, they were going into shock. I saw others, some of them were bleeding real badly. I saw a couple, they had passed away,” the 13-year-old Scout told TODAY’s Ann Curry from the hospital where he is recovering from a broken pelvis and other injuries. With him was 15-year-old Scout Mason Flora, who was also injured in the disaster that killed four Scouts and injured 48 others.
Hanna and Flora were among 93 Scouts and 25 adults on a weeklong leadership outing at the 1,800-acre Scout camp in Iowa late Wednesday afternoon when a tornado watch was issued. They were gathered in the dining hall debating which movie to watch after dinner — “Young Frankenstein,” a Monty Python movie or a James Bond film.
Hanna went outside to use the bathroom, fighting through rain and wind as lightning bolts lit his way. He came back, and about five minutes later — at 6:35 p.m. — everything went pitch-black and the trees bent horizontal to the ground.
The camp’s tornado siren sounded just seconds before a funnel cloud was spotted bearing down on them. Scoutmasters yelled for everyone to take cover underneath the tables as the F3 twister packing 135 mph winds ripped through the camp.
Couldn’t stand up
“About two or three seconds later, I saw the entire building pretty much ripped apart from itself,” Hanna said. “I think the table I was underneath collapsed on top of me and caused me to be knocked out for about 30 seconds to a minute.”
When he came to, he tried to stand up, unaware that his pelvis had been broken in four places. He collapsed immediately, and when he hit the floor, he finally saw the extent of the devastation.
“I was looking around and I did not see any tents at all; they were all destroyed and up in the trees. Everything was just completely destroyed,” he said.
A chimney in the building had collapsed, crushing some Scouts underneath and trapping others. It is believed that the tornado threw a scoutmaster’s car against the stone chimney, knocking it over.
Ethan Hession, who talked with Curry on Thursday in Iowa, was one of the Scouts who worked desperately to try to free their trapped comrades.
‘Help me, I’m stuck!’
“We got the strongest kids and we all tried to lift it, but none of us could,” Hession said of the rubble. “I couldn’t do anything for them. The rocks were just too big. They were yelling and screaming, ‘Help me. Help me. I’m stuck. Help me.’ That really kills me.”
Hession said he did everything he could. “Guys were crying. I tried to kind of calm them down. I did my best,” he said.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Scout leaders have praised the Scouts’ levelheaded response to the tragedy. The Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” and the boys lived up to it. Those who were not injured immediately started to help their comrades, applying their first-aid training to perform CPR and setting up a triage system to treat the most desperately injured first. Officials say that the boys saved lives with their quick actions.
The dead Scouts were identified as Josh Fennen, 13; Sam Thomsen, 13; and Ben Petrzilka, 14, all of Omaha, Neb., and Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa. At least a dozen of the injured, including Hanna, remain hospitalized.
“I’m feeling pretty sore,” Hanna told Curry. “It hurt quite a bit to get up out of bed this morning.”
Grappling with grief
Flora, like Hanna, took refuge under a table and was also briefly knocked out. When he woke up, the wind was still howling and another boy was right in front of him. To protect him, Flora threw his jacket over both of their heads.
“I saw some people who were injured,” he said. “When the wind died down I ran for the main building.”
Flora suffered cuts to his head and face and was released from a hospital after treatment.
The boys said they’ve already had a counseling session to help them come to grips with seeing friends killed and badly injured.
“Yesterday afternoon, all the boys who were at the disaster, like Mason, they came to my room and a psychiatrist came in and we sort of like vented out our stories and told them to him,” Hanna told Curry.
Gov. Culver pledged the state’s support for the injured.
“It’s certainly a blow right to the gut,” he said. “But we’re gonna fight. We’re gonna be with those families.”