The tornado that plunged an Iowa Boy Scout camp into chaos and terror, killing four Scouts and injuring dozens, struck with virtually no warning, survivors of the deadly twister said Thursday. But they also told tales of heroism, describing how older boys shielded younger ones with their bodies and — remembering their motto when it counted most — used their training to save lives.
“Our scoutmaster busted in and yelled, ‘Get under the tables!’ Less than two seconds later it hit and everything blew away,” 13-year-old Scout Christian Jones told TODAY’s Ann Curry from the devastated site in Blencoe, Iowa. “I was praying like heck: ‘My God, please save me.’ I was hanging on for dear life.”
But even in the midst of a terrifying maelstrom, Boy Scout training — and the motto “Be Prepared” — held true. “There was blood,” Jones said. “We just used our first-aid skills. It happens no matter where you are. You have to realize that and be prepared.”
There were some 93 Scouts ages 13-18 at the camp, gathered for a week of leadership training. Because much of the remote camp is out of cell phone range, tornado warnings issued 12 minutes before the twister struck at 6:35 p.m. didn’t reach many of the Scouts.
“We were about to watch a movie,” said Taylor Willoughby, another Scout who survived. “The lights went out. Our scoutmaster came screaming in: ‘Get down on the ground!’ We all did, and about five seconds after that the roof was ripped off and everything was gone.”
The tornado destroyed four cabins, the boys said, partially burying boys under the rubble. Those who weren’t hurt rushed immediately to the aid of their fellows, using their Scout training.
“When the tornado was gone, the first thing I saw was a guy on the ground with his head split open. There was blood everywhere,” Willoughby told Curry. “The scoutmaster yelled to get help. I was one of the first five people to get up and sprint down to the main office building to get help and try to call 911.”
Another Scout, Ethan Hession, confirmed that the Scouts lived up to their motto. “We were prepared,” he said. “We knew that shock could happen. We knew to put tourniquets on wounds that were bleeding too much. We knew we needed to apply pressure and gauze. We had first-aid kits. We had everything. We knew about this. We knew how to do it.”
Hession said he helped an adult scoutmaster treat the boy whose head was cut open, holding the Scout down while the adult applied pressure and gauze to the boy’s wound.
Quick reactions“Just how fast these people reacted and how they reacted was amazing to me,” Willoughby said. “You wouldn’t expect that from a normal 13-year-old boy, but being Boy Scouts, we knew what we were doing.”
Another Scout, Zach Jessen, spoke to Curry after being treated at a hospital for a bruised arm. “We saw the funnel coming toward us,” he said. “By that time, it was almost here.”
He said he dove under a table and threw himself over another Scout to shield him. Jessen said he got hit in the back by some falling stones and in the arm by a chair.
“He’s an incredible boy,” Zach’s mother told Curry. “Just an incredible boy.”
The tornado destroyed all the buildings and ripped up most of the tents on the 1,800-acre camp. The four dead boys were killed by a chimney and fireplace that collapsed on them, Scout officials said.
Iowa Governor Chet Culver confirmed to Curry on the scene that the four dead were Scouts.
“All four of the young men who were killed are Scouts,” he said. “These young men, these Scouts, were the most outstanding leaders in their communities. We’ve very proud of those young men. They responded as quickly as they could. Think lives were saved. They were the real heroes of this story.”