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Boy Scouts To Raise Millions for Tornado Shelters

Carrie Murphy

Boy Scouts To Raise Millions for Tornado Shelters

CREATED May. 15, 2013

Little Sioux, IA - Five years ago, an EF3 tornado hit the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, north of Omaha. 

After the storm, the scouts pledged to rebuild Little Sioux and have storm shelters at all its camps. The Boy Scouts Mid-America Council will begin a campaign to raise millions of dollars to make that possible.

In the first frantic hours after the tornado touched down, scout leader Thomas White got the first video inside the camp. Tents collapsed, trees shredded, buildings destroyed.

White was one of the first leaders to get out of the camp and describe what happened, "We were watching the funnel cloud forming right there, so I told them, hit the siren. We have a siren on the admin building. We turned that on and if we had been five seconds later, there would be way more people gone."

Four young scouts died that night; dozens were injured. The camp did not have tornado shelters.

"The power went out," said scout Zach Jessen. "The doors flew open and all we heard was get under the table, get under the table, get under the table."

Tornado safety became a priority as the scouts cleaned up and rebuilt Little Sioux.

Now, five years later, the scouts are ready to make safety improvements at Camp Cedars, 640 acres in Saunders County, Nebraska. Thousands of boys will spend part of their summer at the camp. The goal of the new capital campaign is to raise three million dollars to build four new tornado shelters.

"It's hard to get everyone to a shelter so quickly so you need options available to them," said Mid-America Council CEO Eric Magendantz.

Last August, Camp Cedars' first tornado shelter opened. It's big enough for 600 people and strong enough to withstand the strongest tornadoes.

"It's a FEMA-rated F5 tornado storm shelter and above it is actually a trading post, so we make these buildings multi-purpose," said Magendantz.

Camp Cedar also has emergency warnings sirens now and advanced communication systems.

Parents like the improvements. A survey taken last summer showed they think their sons are safer when severe weather threatens.

Training and fast actions saved lives at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in the summer of 2008. The lessons learned about camp safety could save many more.

"Thank God, we were watching lightning or else who knows what would have happened, there was no warning. We were just Boy Scouts being prepared," said White.

To volunteer to help with the fundraising campaign or donate, visit this website: