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Scouts Grapple With Grief After Tornado

First came the shock. Then the grief.

As dozens of people injured in a deadly tornado at an Iowa Boy Scout camp recovered, families and friends tried to make sense of the tragedy that claimed the lives of four teenage Scouts who had gone to the elite camp to learn how to be leaders.

At a memorial vigil held in an Omaha park Thursday evening, people wiped tears from their eyes as Scout leaders weaved through the crowd asking: "Did you have any there?"

"It's hard to wrap your brain around it," Scoutmaster Doug Rothgeb said earlier. "It's something that as parents and scouters, we know the risks. We know the boys know what they're doing. Those four boys ended up in the wrong spot at the wrong time. It's all Mother Nature."

Rothgeb's troop spent Thursday in Omaha, comforting the family of 13-year-old Josh Fennen, who was a member of the troop and one of teens who died after the twister. The tornado - which the National Weather Service said packed winds of around 145 mph - destroyed a building where the group had taken shelter.

The family of another victim, 14-year-old Ben Petrzilka, put grief into action. They planned to raise money to build underground storm shelters at the 1,800-acre Little Sioux Scout Ranch.

The family set up funds at Omaha State Bank and First National Bank, Petrzilka's uncle John Nordmeyer said.

The camp is in the Loess Hills in westernmost Iowa, about 40 miles north of Omaha.

Others killed in Wednesday's tornado were Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa and Sam Thomsen, 13, of Omaha. All four were found near the collapsed stone chimney of the multipurpose building where Scouts gathered to socialize, said Lloyd Roitstein, an executive with the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Late Thursday at least 12 remained hospitalized, including four who were in serious but stable condition at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

"All things considered, they're doing well," said hospital spokesman Mike Krysl. "Our doctors are optimistic that they'll be recovering."

Dozens of the Scouts, ages 13 to 18, were hailed for their bravery and resourcefulness Thursday, the morning after a twister flattened their camp in Iowa.

"There were some real heroes at this Scout camp," Gov. Chet Culver said, adding that he believes the Scouts saved lives while they waited for paramedics to cut through the trees and reach the camp a mile into the woods.

The 93 boys, all elite Scouts attending a weeklong leadership training session, had taken part in a mock emergency drill with 25 staff members just a day before the twister hit.

"They knew what to do, they knew where to go, and they prepared well," Roitstein said.

Boy Scout officials said the campers had heard the severe weather alerts but decided not to leave because a storm was 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 organization. "The spot they were at was the lowest spot of camp. It was deemed to be the safest place."

A group of Scouts who had set out on a hike had returned to the camp before the storm hit, Smith said.

The camp includes hiking trails through narrow valleys and over steep hills, a 15-acre lake and a rifle range.

The National Weather Service said it was an EF3 on the 1-to-5 Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado intensity. The twister cut a path estimated at 14 miles long.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff toured the camp and said it appeared that the Boy Scouts "didn't have a chance" and that the tornado came through the camp "like a bowling ball."

Thomas White, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout, told CBS News' The Early Show that just before the tornado he had gone back outside to make sure no one was left behind. When the winds picked up, he and another scout lay down in a shallow ditch and the tornado passed right over them.

"At first we had a little laugh like, oh man, you just survived a tornado," White said, "but then once we got up and saw what really happened and all the devastation, that's when it really hit me that this is way more serious than I thought."

Roitstein said a group of scouts pulled the camp ranger and his family from their destroyed home. Rothgeb of Omaha said his 15-year-old son emerged from a ditch where he had taken cover, then joined other scouts to break into the equipment shed.

Fourteen-year-old Zach Jessen of Fremont, Neb., said that before the storm struck, someone spotted the rotation in the clouds and a siren sounded in the multipurpose building, which had tables and a TV in addition to a fireplace. Jessen said he and others managed to get Scouts out of their tents and indoors just before the tornado hit. According to Roitstein, the Scouts took shelter in three buildings.

Jessen said shortly afterward, the door on the multipurpose building flew open and he heard someone yelling to get under the tables.

"All of a sudden, the tornado came and took the building," Jessen said. "It sounded like a giant freight train going right over the top of you."

"We barely got under the tables and then it just came down on us," 16-year-old Jacob Porto told Harry Smith. "It was just insane while it was happening, you know, like the freight train and everything flying around. And it passed in a matter of seconds and it was complete devastation. And I remember, I was like having to hold people down because we were going to get blown away."

Ethan Hession, 13, said he crawled under a table with his friend.

Lisa Petry, the mother of 13-year-old Boy Scout Jose Olivo, said she had a bad feeling Wednesday morning when she heard reports of possible severe weather. "I thought, `Should I call the scout camp and ask if there's severe weather, where will they go?"' she said.

The governor would not address questions about whether the scouts should have remained at the campground after severe weather alerts were issued.

"There's always lessons learned from any natural disaster, from any tragedy," Culver said. "We need to focus on the victims, the families affected."