Below is a first-hand account from Troop 1358 leader Jody on how her Girl Scouts remained calmn during a dangerous storm and helped out others remain calm through the experience.
Our Girl Scout troop, 1358, went to Washington, D.C. and camped at Greenbelt State Park in Greenbelt, MD. We had a great time touring our nation’s capital. After our third day there, we were hot and tired, so we decided to go out for dinner instead of cooking at the campsite. After dinner and upon arrival at our campsite, a neighboring camper’s daughter came over to warn us of a sudden incoming storm. We knew there was 20% chance of scattered storms from the earlier weather reports but nothing like what she was talking about. The police had come through to warn of the sudden storm heading our way with 80mph winds. They were trying to get everyone to evacuate the park. They told us we had about 40 minutes to evacuate.
Our four girls (1 who is a Cadette and 3 girls who are Seniors) went right to work. They paired off and worked together to break our camp and get all the gear into the cars. We had a large tent and a smaller tent. As we were packing, the Volunteer Ranger came through to warn us of the storm and suggested we try to head to the hotel across the highway to wait out the storm. Our girls kept packing as I talked to the Ranger. They got everything, including the tents and ourselves, into the cars within 10 to 15 minutes. They asked the two neighboring campers if they needed any help. The couple with the camper next to us was tying everything down to stay. One of our girls gave them our rope. The other campers, the one with the girl who had warned us, were just finishing stuffing things into their car. We all finished and got into our cars to leave to go across the campground to the hotel where if we could not get a room, we could at least ride out the storm in their lobby. As we got into our cars, the rain started. We drove out of our loop onto the camp’s main road when the winds picked up. Tree branches started falling in the road. There were about six cars in line with us. As we rounded the corner to get out of camp, we found a huge tree had fallen and was blocking the road. We turned around and headed towards the nearest bathhouse. Our girls yelled out my window for the other cars to go back to the bathhouse. We safely made it to the nearest bathhouse, a cement structure. As we made the run for it from our car, one of our girls grabbed the battery lantern which they had kept on top of the pile (just in case).
Once in the bathhouse, they hugged each other and sat down and worked to keep each other calm by singing songs. The Volunteer ranger came in with us and she asked if we were all ok. We were. She begins getting calls from other campers who were trapped in vehicles. She quickly called the police for help getting the right people to come clear the road so we could get to safety. One of our girls and our co-leader started working on trying to get us a hotel room to go to as soon as it would be safe to move. I told the Volunteer ranger that I was first aid/ CPR certified and had been trained as a professional rescuer through a local Volunteer fire department and would be willing to help if needed. One of our girls also stood up and told her that they also knew first aid and were Girl Scouts and would be willing to help wherever needed. All the other girls agreed with her. She thanked us and took my phone number then left to check on others.
When the storm let up, one of the girls mentioned that we could get some blankets and the other lantern from the car while there was a lull in the storm. She pointed out that we could tell the storm had moved away by the sounds. We looked outside and assessed that the way was safe to the car, so we quickly went to the car. We retrieved the second lantern, blankets, pillows, and the first aid kit. Our calls for a hotel room failed as everything was either booked or without power. Several hours later, the volunteer ranger of the camp had gone across the street from the park and had found us the last hotel room in DC. She stood at the counter waiting as someone called in to cancel their reservation. When we found out that we had a place to go, the girls were concerned for the family who had warned us as they had no place to go. They asked if we could share our space with the mom and her two small children. So we all agreed. We checked into the hotel about 2:30am and the family got up at 7:30am and left to check out their campsite. We only had one day left so we decided to stay in the hotel.
We spent our last day in DC, touring the museums. Once back at our hotel, we discovered that it was without power. We knew that many roads were closed, and many places were without power so we decided to stay where we felt safe. Then the pool started leaking into the conference room which was caused by damage from the storm the night before. This caused the fire alarm in the hotel to go off. Once again our girls went straight into action and quickly got out and the two who had gone to the lobby for the free food the hotel was giving out found out what was going on and came to the back to tell us. I left the girls in the back with our co-leader and was walking up to the front where I met the girls and they told me that the hotel staff said it was safe and everyone could come back in. The fire department had cleared it. The only problem was that due to the power outage they could not get the fire alarm to reset. It continued to go off for several hours. The girls did not complain. They got a soccer game going outside in the courtyard for themselves and other kids. Two of the other girls read with headphones in their ears to block out the noise. After several hours of the alarm going off, the hotel began to evacuate as they could not get the alarm off. My co-leader and I discussed our options and we decided to leave DC early and go home. Our girls were informed of the hotel’s evacuation and went straight to work packing up the cars. While we were packing a young man about our girl’s age had cut his foot and two of our girls came and got the first aid box and helped him bandage his foot while I supervised.
Through all of this, all four girls remained calm. They saw what needed to be done and did it. If they had a question, they asked but they did not need much instruction. They showed concern for others. They assessed each situation handed to them and tried to make the right decisions to ensure everyone’s safety; not just their own. They did not complain or panic; even when they were sitting on the bathroom floor with nothing and the Daddy long leg spiders and bugs where in there with us. It turned out that the storm was a rare Derecho storm and was compared to a category 1 hurricane only without the warning that we get with a hurricane. Our area had a tornado touch down from the storm. I am extremely proud of how our girls demonstrated a clear presence of mind and a calm head in what has been declared a state of emergency for that area.
New Hanover County
Girl Members: Kathleen, Sarah, Rachel, and Amanda.