By Jon Kelvey, Wiley Hayes, Pamela Wood and Colin Campbell, Baltimore Sun Media Group
3:24 PM EDT, July 9, 2014
One child was killed and eight others were injured by falling tree branches at a Christian summer camp in Carroll County during Tuesday night's storm, a fire department spokesman said.
The children were on their way inside at River Valley Ranch in the 4400 block of Grave Run Road in Manchester around 7 p.m. when heavy winds brought branches from several trees down on top of them, said Donald Fair, public information officer for the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department.
Fair called the storm "very sudden" and said it caused "massive damage to the trees" in the area.
The child who died was not identified, and the conditions of the injured campers were not released. The injured campers, all younger than 13, were taken to area hospitals for treatment, Fair said.
He said parents were called and all of the more than 100 other children at the camp were accounted for.
According to a press release from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office that was sent at 11:43 p.m. Tuesday, 114 campers ranging in age from 7 to 12 were attending a program under a pavilion on a hill when the storm approached. Camp staff directed the campers to an enclosed building but the storm hit before they could reach shelter.
"From what I was told, it was almost like a shearing," said Cpl. Jon Light, a spokesman for the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, of the storms causing the trees to break and fall. "The trees weren't uprooted, rather chunks snapped off."
Six other children were transported to area hospitals for the treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, according to the release, and two additional children were treated at the scene.
Five campers were brought to Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster Tuesday night, according to hospital spokeswoman Selena Brewer. All five have been transferred to other hospitals or released, based on their condition, as of Wednesday morning, Brewer said. She said she could not give specific numbers on how many were released and how many were transferred.
According to its website, River Valley Ranch is a nonprofit, western-themed Christian summer camp offering overnight programs for children ages 7 through 17.
Jon Bisset, the camp's executive director, issued a statement on its website: "It is with a very heavy heart that I share with you a tragedy that occurred at RVR tonight. Around 7 pm our Fort Roller and Arrowhead Woods campers were gathered for meeting in the Arrowhead Woods pavilion. Our staff noticed a storm that was quickly approaching and immediately began moving the campers from the pavilion to the nearest secure building, Hilltop Hall. The storm came upon them in a very quick and severe manner before all the children reached the building. The intense storm knocked down numerous tree's and limbs in a matter of seconds and 9 children were injured. I am sad to say that one of the children died from his injuries. Please pray for all of these children and their families."
Doug High, of Manchester, said that he discovered his daughter Kirsten was one of the children injured in the storm when he received a call from a nurse at Carroll Hospital Center at around 11 p.m. Tuesday night saying that Kirsten was being held with a concussion.
"I was told she was running for cover and was struck in the head," he said. "There are multiple camps [at River Valley Ranch] and the one that was struck hardest was Fort Roller … that's typically ages 9 to 12 and my daughter is 11."
High lost power at his home during the storm and said he planned to take his daughter to a hotel for the night. He said that his daughter loved attending camp at River Valley Ranch and that he could not find out if the program will be canceled.
Parents of campers at the Fort Roller and Arrowhead Woods campsites have been contacted and told to pick up their children at the camp, according to the Sheriff's Office announcement.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service tracked Tuesday's storm as it moved eastward into Maryland. "It had a long history of producing damaging winds, all the way from West Virginia," said Amy Bettwy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington forecast office.
At 5:06 p.m., the entire region — including Carroll County — was put under a severe thunderstorm watch. A watch means that weather conditions are favorable for a severe thunderstorm to develop, Bettwy said. The watch lasted until 11 p.m.
Then at 6:39 p.m., the weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Carroll, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties, Baltimore City and Loudon County in Virginia. A severe storm warning is issued when wind gusts of 60 mph or greater, or hail at least the size of a quarter, is expected.
"It means a severe thunderstorm is occurring or is about to occur," Bettway said. "When a warning is issued, we recommend you take shelter immediately."
The warning lasted until 8:15 p.m.
The storm brought strong winds to Carroll, with a National Weather Service cooperative observer recording wind gusts of 63 mph at 6:58 p.m. four miles northeast of the town of Millers -- not far from the River Valley Ranch.
The weather service did not have rainfall reports for Carroll County, but reports throughout the region ranged from one-tenth of an inch to about four-tenths of an inch of rain, Bettway said. BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport in Linthicum recorded 0.19 inches of rain.
The state's Environmental Health Bureau, a division of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, regulates more than 800 summer camps, bureau director Dr. Clifford Mitchell said.
State law requires camps to have a written emergency plan that includes procedures for camp staff to ensure camper safety during natural disasters, severe weather and other emergencies.
Officials have begun an inspection of the camp and will look to see whether River Valley Ranch had such a plan, Mitchell said.
The camp had not yet been inspected this year, which is not unusual, he said.
"All the camps tend to open up within the same generally short window," Mitchell said. "In many cases they don't really exist until after school ends. In reality it's just not possible nor have we ever inspected them all before they open."
BGE reported more than 7,700 power outages, affecting roughly 13 percent of customers, in Carroll County as of 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, though the number had dropped to about 4,700 by early Wednesday morning. By early Wednesday morning, more than 5,000 people remained without power in Harford County and more than 7,000 remained without power in Baltimore County. Nearly 42,000 of the region's 1.2 million customers were out of service Tuesday night.
Tuesday's incident was the second camp death in five years in Carroll County. In late 2009, a 9-year-old Noah Asid died days after a tree fell on him at the Hashawha Environmental Center, a county-owned facility in Westminster. Noah and other children and counselors were preparing for a hike as part of a holiday-week nature camp when a 60-foot hickory tree fell on them.
Noah's family sued Carroll County in 2011, seeking $12 million on a wrongful death claim. The lawsuit claimed the county and camp employees were negligent by not cutting down the tree and not keeping campers inside during windy weather. A judge ruled in favor of the county in 2013.