CAPE CHARLES, Va. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two New Jersey residents were killed and more than three dozen others were injured Thursday morning after an estimated EF-1 tornado struck at a campground in Virginia.
At around 9 a.m., the sky turned black and cellphones pinged with emergency messages. Moments later, a fierce storm tore through the sprawling, carnival-like campground of Cherrystone Family Camping & RV Resort, snapping dozens of trees and flipping over RVs.
A tree toppled onto a tent, killing Lord Balatbat and his wife, Lolibeth Ortega, both of Jersey City.
All three of the couple’s children — ages 6, 11 and 13 — were hospitalized, CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported. The oldest suffered critical injuries, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
“Their 13-year-old son was in a neighboring tent. A tree fell on that tent,” said Corinne Geller, with Virginia State Police. “He was one of three transported to King’s Daughters hospital. He has life-threatening injuries.”
An additional 36 people were hurt, officials said.
The trip was one Balatbat, Ortega and their kids looked forward to every year, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
“They’re just the greatest people that I’ve known,” Carlyle Bascoe, a close friend of the family, told Haskell.
“They’re great parents,” Bascoe added. “They bend over backwards just to spend time with their kids.”
Ortega was a lab tech at Quest Diagnostics, and Balatbat was a manager at Walgreens, Bascoe said.
Melissa Lopez said Balatbat was an amazing boss.
“His whole persona, personality — came into work, was happy, so energetic,” she told 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria. “We always crack jokes and make fun of everything.
“Everybody’s devastated,” Lopez told Haskell. “Everybody was crying at work. We’re still there in shock. We can’t believe it.”
The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area around 9 a.m.
About 1,300 people were at the campground, readying for a summer day of swimming pools, mini-golf, pier fishing and other activities at the 300-acre resort.
“All hell broke loose,” said Joe Colony, who has been coming to the Chesapeake Bay campground for the last 30 years. “We got an emergency message on a cellphone, and within 30 seconds, the thing hit and it blew down 40, 50 trees in the park.”
Winds estimated between 85 and 100 miles per hour slammed the campground on Delmarva Peninsula — about a six-hour drive south of New York City, Aiello reported.
“So I’m in my camper right now. Something crazy is going on outside!” said a woman who recorded the ordeal.
The sound of hail pounding on her shelter could not drown out the panic in her voice, Aiello reported.
“It’s hailing and my awning, and my — there’s a tree down, fell on that guy’s camper. Oh my God!” she shouts as the storm made its way through the campground.
Witnesses said the tornado came off the Chesapeake Bay, cut across the campground, and then turned and doubled back across the property, Aiello reported.
“The tornado actually came in off the bay — the southwest corner of the campground — proceeded northeast through and made a ‘V’ heading southeast back through the campground,” Geller confirmed during a news conference.
Joe Micucci said he and his wife couldn’t escape in their car because hail was the size of softballs. The couple rode out the storm in their camper.
“We saw at least five (campers) that were flipped over. One was completely gone and only had its wheels left,” said Micucci, of Washington Township, New Jersey.
Peter Glagola, spokesman for Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, said the hospital had treated more than two dozen patients as of Thursday afternoon. Glagola said more patients were expected to be brought to the hospital.
Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert said crews also responded to reports of boats overturned in the water in the area. Good Samaritans pulled at least three people from the water, he said, though their conditions were unknown.
Micucci and others were evacuated from the campground to a nearby high school. He said he wasn’t sure when he would be able to go back and survey the damage.
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