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Boy Scouts shine during a night of terror

Ethan Hession wasn't scared until the windows shattered.

Sirens had blared. Lights in the cabin had blinked out.

The Scoutmaster yelled, “Everybody under the tables!”

Within seconds, Ethan heard the sound of smashing glass and the locomotive roar that means tornado.

The 13-year-old crouched in a corner of a spare cabin at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, elbows pressed against the concrete floor, hands covering his face. About 50 or so other Scouts did the same.

Ethan felt his body lifted up, as if he were flying. He looked up, through a blinding white mist, and saw that the cabin's roof was gone.

“God help us!” yelled the boy next to Ethan.

Then it was over. As quickly as it had come.

The tornado that ripped through the Boy Scout camp, killing four Scouts, showed the boys and their leaders just how fierce Mother Nature can be.

Earlier this week, before the tornado drilled the camp, the Scouts drilled on what to do ina tornado.

So Wednesday night, they applied tourniquets and gauze to the injured. Some began digging victims from the rubble of a collapsed chimney. And others broke into an equipment shed, seized tools, and started clearing fallen trees.

Dozens of the Scouts were hailed Thursday for their bravery.

“There were some real heroes at this Scout camp,” Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said, adding that he thinks the Scouts saved lives while they waited for paramedics.

On Thursday, the four who died were identified as Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa, and Josh Fennen, 13, Sam Thomsen, 13, and Ben Petrzilka, 14, all of Omaha, Neb.

Problem in the sky

About 6 p.m. Wednesday, 14-year-old Zach Jessen could spot the problem in the sky. A huge, dark, low-hanging cloud – slowly starting to swirl.

Soon, the weather radio was blaring sounds of a tornado warning. The caretaker called with word that tornadoes had been spotted about 15 miles to the south.

Suddenly, Rob Logsdon said, storm clouds shifted between two bluffs, near the entrance to the camp.

“We could see a funnel cloud drop down, and it was heading right for us,” the high school sophomore said.

Staffers sounded the alarm.

Rain picked up. Air pressure dropped. The tornado roared.

Scurrying for safety

In the north shelter, kids were scurrying for safety.

Zach dove under a table. Scouts and leaders rushed everywhere – most of them trying to get under tables.

The wind roared. The cabin doors blasted open.

“Just hold on. Just hold on,” Zach told his buddies and himself. “It's almost over.”

The aftermath

When it was over, Ethan Hession struggled to his feet. He joined an effort to free Boy Scouts trapped under the pile of rubble in the center of the destroyed north cabin.

A second boy had a gaping wound on his head. Ethan ripped off his shirt and handed it to another Scout trying to stanch the blood.

The trapped boys screamed for help, but Ethan and the others couldn't reach all of them.

Rescue crews ran in – maybe 10 minutes after the tornado hit, Ethan said.

They moved the uninjured Scouts off to the side. Only then did he look around.

The walls had crumbled. The tables were smashed.

Zach emerged from under his table to survey the damage – and to count his eight-Scout patrol. Seven answered.

McClatchy Newspapers and The Associated Press contributed.

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