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A Winnebago overturned Friday night at a Cottonwood Point II campsite after a sudden downdraft of wind. At least 10 people were injured by the violent downdraft; six campers were taken to Hillsboro Community Hospital, two people were taken to Newton Medical Center, and two to four people were taken to St. Luke Hospital in Marion, according to Rebecca Lynch, a physician's assistant at Hillsboro Community Hospital.

Up to 12 hurt when storm slams reservoir campsite

Staff writers

At least 10 and possibly 12 people were injured Friday when a violent thunderstorm packing 60 mph winds swept across Marion Reservoir and flipped over three recreational vehicles in a campground at Cottonwood Point II. All were treated at area hospitals and had been released by Saturday.

“The wind came up all of a sudden — then boom!” recounted camper Ron Kaufman of Hutchinson, whose recreational vehicle was adjacent to the overturned ones.

Kaufman was cooking pork chops for him and his wife, Linda, when the storm hit.

“It came up so quick I couldn’t get to the camper,” he said. “I’m thinking it was like a microburst.”

Neither Kaufman nor his wife reported injuries, but he said he had to hang onto a shelter house pole and struggle against the wind to keep his feet on the ground.

When the first break in the wind came, he ran to his camper, where his wife pointed to an overturned unit adjacent to theirs.

“I don’t know how it happened, but ours was the only one that didn’t move,” he said.

One turned sideways. Another tipped onto its side. The third rolled over entirely, coming to rest atop another shelter house.

Kaufman said a family of five was trapped inside the camper that tipped on its side.

The family’s father opened a door on the top, which had been the side of the camper, and lifted the children out. They then were helped down by a neighboring camper.

The mother had to be rescued by emergency workers, who broke out a windshield.

Names of the injured campers still were not available Saturday. Both the Marion County sheriff's office and Marion Reservoir park rangers declined to release them.

“It was just a sudden downspout of wind,” said Rebecca Lynch, a physician assistant who helped treat some of the victims at Hillsboro Community Hospital.

Most of the injured complained of chest and head pain and some suffered abdominal complaints, Lynch said.

She said most had been camping at the reservoir.

“I’m not sure whether any were local or not,” she said.

Park Ranger Kyle Manwaring said Saturday that all of the injured had been released from area hospitals. Two of them returned to the reservoir briefly on Saturday, then returned to their home. Manwarning said one of the victims was in a neck brace but all others seemed to have suffered only cuts and bruises.

Two Marion ambulances, a Hillsboro ambulance, Marion firefighters, and law enforcement officers from multiple jurisdictions responded to initial reports of damage at 7:03 p.m.

Firefighters and an ambulance crew were dispatched even before confirmation, which came moments later, that anyone was trapped in the wreckage or injured.

A LifeTeam medical evacuation helicopter was requested for one of the victims, who had to be extricated from the overturned camper, but the helicopter could not fly because thunderstorms remained in the vicinity.

St. Luke Hospital in Marion also could not accept patients, at least initially, because of insufficient generator power during a one-hour blackout that hit Marion shortly after the storm.

The extricated victim, a 41-year-old woman with chest and neck injuries and breathing difficulties, was taken to Hillsboro Community Hospital by Marion ambulance.

At least four victims already had gone to the Hillsboro hospital in private vehicles before emergency workers arrived on the scene, according to monitored emergency broadcasts.

Four more victims — two adults and two children, ages 3 and 7, all reportedly from the same family — remained at the scene.

Most eventually were transported either to Newton Medical Center, after Hillsboro Community Hospital advised it was unable to accept additional patients, or by special permission to St. Luke, which reported it had some power but not enough for CAT scans, X-rays, or laboratory tests.

In all, Lynch said, six were treated at Hillsboro Community Hospital, two were taken to Newton Medical Center, and two to four were taken to St. Luke.

Already treating the four victims who had arrived by private vehicle, Hillsboro Community initially asked whether the extricated victim could be diverted to Newton as well.

However, emergency medical technicians tending to her in an ambulance en route to Hillsboro nearly an hour after the storm struck insisted: “She needs to come to you.”

Police and sheriff’s deputies quickly cordoned off the area.

The damage at Cottonwood Point II, which the first officer on the scene described as “a real mess,” was not the only concern caused by a series of storms that passed through the county.

According to the National Weather Service:

  • Many large trees were blown down, blocking a road nine miles northwest of Durham.
  • A few metal buildings partially collapsed, a transformer pole collapsed, and multiple branches, including limbs of up to 12 inches in diameter, were down four miles south-southeast of Tampa.
  • A tree, 30 inches in diameter, was reported broken off about 8 feet above the ground 6 miles north-northwest of Durham.
  • Tree branches and power lines were reported blown down three miles south of Tampa.
  • Power poles and lines were reported down four miles northeast of Marion.
  • One-fourth of a barn’s roof was reported blown off three miles northeast of Marion.

Emergency workers received numerous additional reports of utility cables and limbs down but had time to investigate only those considered urgent.

Even as rescuers were freeing and treating the wounded, additional law enforcement officers conducted an extensive check of other campsites and recreational locations around the reservoir.

Of particular concern were three boats thought to have been on the reservoir when the storm suddenly hit. All three were later accounted for.

Officers reported being approached by multiple campers and others who volunteered to assist with checks or cleanup.

Last modified Aug. 15, 2010

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