June 11, 2008
Account of Dennis W. Crabb, M.D.


            The day started inauspiciously with a rather severe thunderstorm which blew in about 0630H, pretty much soaking everything and everyone.  Up until then, my duties in the medical ward had been particularly quiet, with only those needing their routine medications stopping by on a daily or twice daily basis.  After that early am thunderstorm, I became quite busy with Scouts suffering various vague maladies, consistent mostly with homesickness and nervousness over the storms. 

            Things calmed down a bit in sickbay after mid-morning as the weather improved and the Scouts went about their activities.  The afternoon’s weather became rather hot and sticky with the sun shining and only a few clouds around.

            During the early morning thunder, I had listened to the weather radio, as I did every morning so as to give the SPL’s and TG’s an idea of what to expect for the day.  The reports had indicated that conditions would improve during the day, but that there were chances of thunderstorms later in the day, possibly severe, with hail and high winds, including the possibility of tornadoes.   Throughout the day, I would listen to the current broadcast to stay up to date with the forecast. 

            We adult leaders discussed the situation regarding the participants’ morale and the events of the day, and decided we would provide them with supper, rather than make them prepare it in their Patrols, as was customary.  This resulted in our taking the spaghetti supper to them, serving them in their Troop shelters at 1700H and, in retrospect, helped keep them all together such that when the tornado hit, they were not in their campsites, most of which were devastated by falling trees.

            About 1815H I again listened to the NOAA broadcast, this time from Sioux City (Lawton), as I could not get the Omaha station – it seemed that one had gone off the air.  [Note: Brian Smith of the Omaha NWS office tells me they were out of range of the Omaha weather radio - which was not off the air.] The report at that time was issuing a severe thunderstorm warning for Monona County, as the storm was over Tekamah, NE, at that time and was expected to be near Pisgah, IA, about 1835H.  I mentally calculated that course of travel and figured that LSSR was right in the path of that storm.

            I called Nathan on the walkie talkie and advised him of the report – he indicated he was tracking the storm on the radar over the internet and that it seemed to he headed right for us.

            Nathan called back a short time later with the report that there had been “rotation” spotted over the town of Little Sioux, IA, and that the storm was headed our direction.  It was at this time that I activated the warning siren (more about that later on), letting it run for what I’d estimate to be 60-90 seconds.  Simultaneously, A.J. Losen, Quartermaster, was out on the road near the HQ building taking cell phone video of the approaching tornado – on that video you can hear the siren’s wail and its decrescendo when I turned it off.  (The time-stamp on that video is 1838H, so I’d be fairly accurate in stating that the tornado hit camp at 1840H plus or minus a minute or so.)

            After turning off the siren, I went out on the porch of the HQ building, with a couple of the other adult leaders to see what things looked like.  We were joined then by AJ who stated he’d seen the tornado coming around the corner and we should seek shelter.  When I was on the porch, I looked up towards the camp entrance (to the west) and could see a wall of grey extending from the cloud base to the ground, rotating counterclockwise. 

            We all went into the HQ building and sought shelter in the furnace room, the smallest, most interior room available.  The east and west doors in the HQ main room then blew open and slammed closed, the electricity went off, and then insulation from the attic began to shower down on us through the small holes in the ceiling through which ran various pipes, vents and conduits.  We decided we did not wish to breathe this into our lungs and proceeded towards the handicapped bathroom, the only other “interior” room available – it was at this time that I could see out of the window on the north side of the bathroom entrance area (the one over the freezer) and I observed the tops of trees twisting around like helicopter blades then blowing off to the east.  I also observed the 50-100 foot tall trees along the east side of the north valley road topple over, one after the other, towards the west, onto the youth staff tents, effectively blocking the north valley roadway.

            It seemed like it took only about 10 seconds for this all to occur, after which we all went out of the building to check on the others in camp.  We dispatched Linda Chaney (I believe) to the South Shelter to check on those folks.  I was unable to reach Nathan on the radio, there was a constant noise on-channel, making it unusable, and so AJ and Patrick Henry Mason decided to run up to the ranger’s home to check on him.  A couple of Scouts then came running down from the North Valley, stated that the North Shelter had been destroyed, there were injuries and my presence was urgently requested at that location.

            I was told later that AJ and Patrick Henry had found the ranger’s home flattened, that they had to move debris off of Nathan and his family and do so hurriedly as the propane tank had been “ripped open” and was spewing vast clouds of propane, causing what they perceived as a great danger of explosion.  They extricated Nathan, Tammy and the children, got them across the entrance road to the south and sent them out on the first ambulance to arrive on the scene.

            As I departed for the North Shelter, Jeff was calling 911 on someone’s cell phone, I instructed him to ask for as many chain saws as could be rounded up and for heavy equipment to move the trees, as there was no access to the North Valley at present.

            I was forced to proceed around the downed trees by going around the west end of the biggest one nearest the HQ building, then I had to go down into the ravine at the narrowest point of the north valley road at the north end of the ravine – from there it was necessary to walk in the valley rather than on the road as it was covered with debris and trees.

            Upon my arrival at the North Shelter, Fred Ullrich and the other able Scouts were removing debris from atop those in the debris field.  I quickly walked around and examined all those in the area trying to determine the extent of injuries, essentially doing triage, as my resources were limited to what was present on scene.  I determined we did, in fact, have fatalities, then identified those I felt were most severely injured so I could pass that information on to EMS upon their arrival.  We put those who were uninjured/slightly injured to work stabilizing and supporting, physically and mentally, those who were more severely injured.  Those who could be were shunted off to the side, held in reserve for anything we might need.  Some Scouts had ended up north of the shelter.  When they walked down to the shelter, one seemed to be in shock, so we laid him down on the ground with his feet up on a chair and had one of the others stay with him.

            It was approximately 15-20 minutes later that the first EMS personnel arrived at the North Shelter, I believe it was the Little Sioux Fire and Rescue Chief – I briefed him on what I had done and indicated to him those I felt were the most severely injured, stating that “He’s first, he’s second, he’s third, etc,.” pointing to each in turn as I spoke.  I also told him, and indicated which, that we had fatalities and that we’d need the Medical Examiner to be notified.  He was in contact by his cell phone with the dispatcher at the time.  We also requested air-evac helicopters be brought in as well.

            Initially, we used able-bodied Scouts to assist as litter bearers, but eventually enough EMS personnel arrived that they were no longer required for that duty.  We then took all who could walk down the valley and established a secondary staging area – they were then carried or walked down to the main triage station which had been set up by the EMS in the youth staff campsite along the north valley road.  From there injured were staged either to the helicopters or ground ambulances for delivery to the various hospitals in Onawa, Missouri Valley, Sioux City and Omaha.

            The response by EMS was tremendous, I personally saw units from as far away as Cherokee to the north, Underwood to the south and Denison to the east.  All points in between were represented as well.

            Once the response by EMS, fire and law enforcement was in full swing, I became somewhat superfluous and returned to my post in the HQ building and assisted as I could with identification of Scouts, “directing traffic”, answering questions, and final head count as we eventually put the Scouts on the school busses to get them to the school to be reunited with their families.

            A word about the warning siren – LSSR has never had any means of warning anyone of impending danger, be that weather or fire, etc., other than having the Camp Ranger drive up and down the camp roadways honking his horn.  His truck does not even have a siren or PA system installed in it. 

            I sit on the LSSR Committee for MAC, as well as the LSSR Conservation Committee.  We had, in the past, discussed this oversight but no plans were ever brought to fruition. 

            I took it upon myself to purchase a used CD siren which I then rebuilt and, with the kind assistance of Petersen Mfg. Co. here in Denison, had it powder-coated a bright yellow.  One of my Assistant Scoutmasters in Troop 55 and I then installed the siren on the post and wired up the power and switch in the HQ building in April, 2007.  Little did I know how glad we would be that this project had been completed.

            A few years ago, the 185th Fighter Wing in Sioux City donated several VHF radios, mostly handhelds, but there were a few mobiles as well.  I worked with them to reprogram them, putting one frequency in channel 1 for use around camp, and four NOAA weather channels programmed into channels 2-5.  I installed one in the Ranger’s truck and one each in the HQ building and the Ranger’s home.  We gave the third one to Camp Cedars.  The handhelds proved to be of little use, but the other radios with the NOAA weather channels remain and have been greatly useful.  I will continue to try to maintain them in a useable state, as they proved invaluable in this instance.

            One of the casinos more recently donated quite a few UHF handheld radios, which have proven to be of greater value in communicating around camp, as they seem to have much greater range.  Unfortunately, the two systems are on different bands and cannot communicate one with the other.  We do not have any mobile radios matching these frequencies which could be mounted in the Rangers’ trucks.  It was with these handhelds Nathan and I were communicating during the storm, but I fear at least 2 or 3 were lost in the storm and will need to be replaced from stock in the basement of Cedars’ dining hall.  It would be ideal to obtain a repeater system, which could be used to extend these UHF handhelds’ range even more, making communications even more reliable.  Another consideration would be to put communications capability in each of the three shelters.

Respectfully submitted by:
Dennis W. Crabb, M.D.
Pahuk Pride NYLT Staff Physician
Troop 55 Scoutmaster
MAC Trustee
LSSR Committee member
LSSR Conservation Committee member
MAC Health and Safety Committee member