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Scouts 'prepared' for tornado

BLENCOE, Iowa - Boy Scouts who came to each others' aid after a tornado that killed four of their comrades and injured 48 people were hailed as heroes Thursday for helping to administer first aid and search for victims buried in their flattened campsite.

Iowa rescue workers cut through downed branches and dug through debris amid rain and lightning Wednesday night to reach the camp where the 93 boys, ages 13 to 18, had huddled for safety through the twister. They and 25 staff members were attending a weeklong leadership training camp.

Lloyd Roitstein, an executive with the Mid America Council of the Boy Scouts of America, reminded reporters at a news conference Thursday that the Boy Scouts motto is 'Be Prepared.'

'Last night, the agencies and the scouts were prepared,' he said. 'They knew what to do, they knew where to go, and they prepared well.'

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver praised the boys for 'taking care of each other.'

Boy Scout officials said the scouts and their leaders were aware of weather alerts, but decided not to leave the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, in the Loess Hills, because of the bad weather on the way.

'They were watching the weather and monitoring with a weather radio, listening for updates,' said Deron Smith, a national spokesman for the Boy Scouts. 'The spot they were at was the lowest spot of camp; it was deemed to be the safest place.'

A group of scouts that had set out on a hike had returned to the camp before the storm as a safety procedure, Smith said.

On the other side of the state Thursday, 3,900 homes were evacuated from Cedar Rapids, where rescuers removed people with boats, officials estimated 100 blocks were underwater, and a railroad bridge over the flooded Cedar River collapsed.

'We're seeing very substantial flooding,' said Craig Hanson, the city's public works maintenance manager.

In Albert Lea, Minn., 90 miles south of Minneapolis, a man died Thursday when his vehicle plunged from a washed-out road and was submerged in floodwaters.

Also Thursday, several Kansas communities tried to begin the recovery from tornadoes a day earlier that killed at least two people, destroyed much of the small town of Chapman and caused extensive damage on the Kansas State University campus.

The tornado through the scout camp killed three 13-year-olds and one 14-year-old, Roitstein said. A tornado siren went off at the camp, but the scouts had already taken cover before the siren sounded. There was no time to remove them from the isolated retreat, he said.

Boy Scout officials identified the dead as Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa, and Josh Fennen, 13, Sam Thomsen, 13, and Ben Petrzilka, 14, all of Omaha.

At least 14 of the injured remained hospitalized Thursday morning, with everything from cuts and bruises to major head trauma, said Eugene Meyer, Iowa's public safety commissioner.

Three were flown to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, and a fourth was taken there by ambulance. All were listed in serious condition.

All the scouts and staff were accounted for, Meyer said, adding that searchers were making another pass through the grounds to make sure no one else was injured. The camp was destroyed.