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.
Thomas White, a scout supervisor, said he dug through the wreckage of a collapsed fireplace to reach victims in a building where many scouts sought shelter.
"A bunch of us got together and started undoing the rubble from the fireplace and stuff and waiting for the first responders," White told KMTV in Omaha, Nebraska. "They were under the tables and stuff and on their knees, but they had no chance."
A search and rescue team deployed after the 6:35 p.m. twister had to cut their way through branches during a lightning storm 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 (730 hectares) of property that are destroyed right now."
Taylor Willoughby, 13, of Bellevue, Nebraska, said several scouts were getting ready to watch a movie when someone screamed that there was a tornado. Everyone in the building hunkered down, he said, but windows were breaking.
He said he saw another scout with his head split open.
"It was a pretty gruesome image," Taylor said.
Iowa Governor Chet Culver said three people were unaccounted for, but a spokesman for the rescuers, Russ Lawrenson, said all the victims had been found.
The weather service had issued two warnings minutes before the tornado hit, Culver said, but it was not clear whether the camp had sirens.
"Based on what we were seeing on radar it looked like it could have been a very powerful tornado," said Daniel Nietfeld with the National Weather Service.
At least 40 people who were injured in the storm were being taken to area hospitals, said Iowa Homeland Security spokeswoman Julie Tack.
Lawrenson, of the Mondamin Fire Department, initially said most of the kids who were hurt had been hiking when the tornado hit, but later said he could no longer confirm the victims' whereabouts.
The ranch about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Omaha, Nebraska, includes hiking trails through narrow valleys and over steep hills, a 15-acre (6-hectare) lake and a rifle range.
The camp was being secured by the National Guard and police.
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.
Tornadoes also touched down in central Kansas, southern Minnesota and eastern Nebraska.
A line of tornadoes has caused widespread damage across central Kansas. A tornado caused significant damage in Manhattan, Kansas, and Kansas State University, tossing cars.
At least one person was killed in Chapman, Kansas where part of the roof of the high school gymnasium was torn off, the Kansas Adjutant General's Department said.
From Wisconsin to Missouri, officials in the storm-ravaged Midwest on Wednesday fortified 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.
Officials in Wisconsin monitored dams and high water in Indiana burst a levee, flooding a vast stretch of farmland. In Minnesota and North Dakota, strong winds closed a highway.
Along the Mississippi River in Missouri and Illinois, the National Weather Service predicted the worst flooding in 15 years. Outlying areas could be inundated, but most of the towns are protected by levees and many low-lying property owners were bought out after massive flooding in 1993, officials said.
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