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Wilderness camping trip turns perilous for a group of fathers and sons when severe weather moves in

Richard Reeve
Created: July 12, 2020 12:43 PM

It was supposed to be a father-son group wilderness getaway in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. 

But that was before severe weather moved in, with destructive power. 

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“Oh my God, oh my God,” cried 16-year-old Jake Bell, of St. Paul, while shooting cell phone video of a Trout Lake campground, littered with fallen trees. 

 "It was very loud, very thunderous,” his father David Bell recalls. “Freight-train like going by." 
 
The sudden storm triggered a drenching downpour and 60 mile-per-hour winds. 

Trees along the shoreline snapped like matchwood. 

“Oh my God, that tree’s in half!” Jake declared to a friend on the video.  
 
"As I was running back, trees were coming down, branches were falling,” says Jason Busch, of St. Paul, another camper. “I felt like I was going to get blown over." 
 
The trip began with the group arriving at Trout Lake on Wednesday evening. 

Four fathers and five sons, aged 16 to 20, were planning several days of camping and fishing in the area. 

At first, the weather appeared perfect. 

"Actually the sun was coming through the trees, and shining on the other side of the lake,” David Bell remembers. “I told my son ‘let’s get the boats ready, let’s go for a little night time fishing.’” 

But then his phone pinged with a weather alert, “severe thunderstorm watch until midnight.”

And around 7:15 p.m., there were signs something was wrong. 

 “All of a sudden, the wind picked up,” David Bell says. “There was this roar. This wall of white water."

The campers say in seconds, trees began falling; twenty-five in all. 

Many toppling on the group’s pitched tents. 

"So the three unoccupied tents were pretty much wrecked,” Bell declares. “If people had been in there, people probably would have been hurt. The two occupied tents were unscathed."

Tree trunks and some several feet thick, branches and camping gear were scattered everywhere. 

The group scrambled to safety. 

"We had kind of a clear rocky point in our campsite with no trees around it,” Busch says. “We all ran up there, and thankfully did a quick headcount and everybody was there, everybody was okay.” 

The winds died down but picked up again around four in the morning. 

The campers, roused by an alert member of the group, were again forced to flee the remaining undamaged tents. 

"You could hear the cracks of the trees continuing to make their descent to the ground,” Busch says.

“My tarp that I was holding onto, basically picked me up off the ground and blew me backwards,” David Bell adds. 
 
 Left behind, nature’s wreckage. 

Tree roots, dwarfing a grown man. 

“So new found respect for mother nature?” Busch was asked. “Absolutely,” he says. “It was harrowing, humbling.”
 
 A whistle may have saved some lives during this outing. 

An alert camper roused the others, when that second burst of high winds came through. 

Amazingly, in the end, no one was hurt. 

David Bell says the storm won’t deter the group from going back to the Boundary Waters--- but he says they will be watchful. 

"I'll tell you, in my 53 years of living, I appreciate mother nature more now than ever,” he says. “So you can never be too cautious." 


Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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