UW-Platteville student's courage saves campers during tornado - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UW-Platteville student's courage saves campers during tornado

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A bent light pole lies across seating at UW-Platteville's Pioneer Stadium A bent light pole lies across seating at UW-Platteville's Pioneer Stadium

David Ababio knew he couldn't let his fear show.

The 19-year-old University of Wisconsin-Platteville student and Platteville, Wis. native was a counselor for Exploring Engineering, an overnight camp for high school students, when Mother Nature took a terrifying turn.

One week ago, two tornadoes tore through Platteville. One of them, an EF-1, ripped the roof off an apartment complex in the city's northeast side.

The other tornado, however, was more ferocious. It was an EF-2 and pummeled its way through Platteville's southwest side, injuring at least five people, destroying 12 houses and seriously damaging more than two dozen other homes, businesses and buildings.

The more than 50 high school students enrolled in UW-Platteville's Exploring Engineering camp were staying on the top floor of Rountree Commons residence hall that week.

The time was 10:50 p.m. Monday, and many of the students were getting ready for bed.

At the time, Ababio was the only counselor on the top floor, when the storm outside caught his attention.

"I noticed that the storm, you know, was getting a little more intense," Ababio recalled one week after the event. "I looked out my window and I actually saw the swirling winds and everything."

That's when, he said, "My ceiling caved and my window also just burst."

He immediately sprang into action, running out into the hallway and alerting all the high school campers.

"I was, you know, just knocking on every single door, just, 'Get out! Get out! We have to get out right now! We need to get out!'" Ababio said.

He managed to get all the campers who were on that top floor down to the second floor, where counselors had been instructed to take the teens in the event of severe weather. Rountree Commons doesn't have a basement, Ababio said, and the first floor is filled with windows.

Through the efforts of Ababio and his fellow Exploring Engineering counselors, all the high school campers were safe, along with a group of middle- and elementary school students staying in Rountree for a basketball camp. Ababio said many of the Exploring Engineering campers comforted the younger basketball campers while everybody was taking shelter on the second floor.

Ababio said he's "very thankful that those students were out when they were, because you just look at the aftermath damage and it's astounding."

The tornado damaged two other UW-Platteville residence halls as well, both of which had several dozen people inside at the time.

Alisha Slowey is the resident director for one of the halls, Bridgeway Commons, and was in her room when the tornado hit.

"The power went out. My windows blew open," Slowey recounted. "I was able to shut my windows and exit my apartment in order to help our students in the building."

Coree Burton is resident director for the other one, Southwest Hall. He said the most frightening part of the ordeal was not the tornado itself.

"I think the scariest moment was the fear that other people were injured or hurt," Burton said.

Altogether, six buildings are damaged on campus: the three residence halls, the campus greenhouse, Engineering Hall and Pioneer Stadium. The tornado also heavily stripped UW-Platteville's Memorial Park of its trees.

Many windows are boarded up at those buildings and debris still litters much of the southwest portion of campus. Some of the most dramatic-looking damage is at Pioneer Stadium, where giant light posts are bent in half, as though the tornado manipulated them as easily as paper clips.

The university has set up the Pioneer Relief Fund, to help support students and displaced faculty and staff members affected by the storm. The money will go toward buying them temporary housing, clothing and other immediate needs.

The UW-Platteville foundation will be matching donations, up to a total of $10,000. Information on the fund is HERE: https://www.uwplatt.edu/foundation/pioneer-relief-fund

In addition to that fund, the city of Platteville has established the Platteville Tornado Relief Fund. On its Website, the city says the fund is set up at Mound City Bank at 25 East Pine Street. That information is HERE: http://platteville.org/?post=12341

A local theater program called the Heartland Festival will be holding a special benefit performance of its musical Next to Normal on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at UW-Platteville's Center for the Arts at 755 West Main Street. Tickets are $10, and all the proceeds will go to the Platteville Tornado Relief Fund.

People can call the University Box Office for tickets at 877.727.1232 or 608.342.1298. UW-Platteville advises the musical is for mature audiences.

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