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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Hurricane sends Troop 13 Scouts home


Be prepared.

A group of Chippewa Falls Boy Scouts never though following their Scout creed would involve preparing an evacuation due to a hurricane.
But that was the case Wednesday with Troop 13 of Chippewa Falls, which found itself in the path of Hurricane Charley while at the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, about 25 miles north of Key West near Big Pine Key.

Tom Dachel and the rest of the Boy Scouts of Troop 13 were snorkeling and getting ready to do some deep-sea fishing.

But there was a long delay, and the group began thinking that something had come up, said Wade Gilbert, who accompanied his son, Josh, on the trip.

That something was then a tropical storm circling the Grand Cayman Islands. The National Hurricane Center was predicting the storm would become a hurricane as it passed over Cuba and would soon be hitting the Florida Keys -- and a check of the direction of the storm quickly turned that delay into an evacuation.

Scout officials said there would be no fishing trip -- or any other adventures, for that matter.

"They said we had to get back now. There were no if, ands or buts about it," Gilbert said.

Two days earlier the local scouts arrived at the Sea Base. They paddled kayaks and war canoes (two canoes rigged together to seat up to eight) for almost three hours in the Atlantic Ocean, said Dave Marten, a Scout leader. The Scouts eventually arrived at Big Munson Island, over 100 acres that's pristine and in its natural state.

The Scouts brought their own food and shelter to the island. They also went out on the reefs. "That's where you snorkel," Dachel said. They went shark fishing from the docks and were supposed to leave there Wednesday morning for deep-sea fishing.

The Scouts were surprised to learn that they would be heading to the Mainland for a drive to Miami, instead.

"It was nice and sunny on the island, and really hot, so we thought they were joking when they told us," said Adam Kern, a Scout who was accompanied on the trip with his father, Al Kern.

"We had been on the island and weren't even aware that there was a hurricane. We knew there had been an (storm called) Alex, so when they told us we were in the path of Hurricane Charley we wondered had happened to the 'B'," Gilbert added, referring to Tropical Storm Bonnie, which was passing over Florida's west coast at about the same time.

But the sense of urgency regarding the evacuation convinced the Scouts it was a reality.

"I was really surprised by the suddenness," Gilbert said.

The Scouts were packed up all their supplies and loaded them on rafts, Marten said. The boys were then asked to dismantle the whole camp before heading to shore.

"We were asked to take everything that wasn't planted in the ground," Marten said.

That included tents and picnic tables, which the boys loaded onto big boats, he said.

"The boys worked hard, and never complained," Marten said. "When we told them we had to get going, they stayed very calm and were supportive."

And not even for a minute were the boys scared, Adam Kern said.

"We were too busy to be scared because we had to go so quickly and had to make sure everything was done so we could leave," he said.

The scouts scrambled once the decision to evacuate was given. It took about 1 1/2 hours to pack up everything into the boats. "We had to paddle back," Tom Dachel said, and that took another two hours.

They paddled back with an added incentive, Adam said.

"We all wanted to take showers," he said.

Fortunately the boys were able to avoid a big crash by a jackknifed truck that caused a huge backup of traffic on one of the few roads out of the Keys. They made it to Miami by Wednesday night and flew to Dallas on Thursday. From Dallas, they flew to the Twin Cities and returned to Chippewa Falls on Thursday night.

Dachel said the Scouts were disappointed their stay was cut short but understood why it had to happen. He said the Sea Base told the scouts if they would pay the cost of air fare they can return next year for a full week.

"If another hurricane doesn't come," Dachel added.

Gilbert and the adult leaders were also disappointed to see the trip end prematurely.

"It was supposed to be a high-adventure trip that only older Scouts could go on. It was definitely that," he said.

Staff writer Rod Stetzer contributed to this report.

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