Tornado slams Virginia campground; 2 dead

Last Updated Jul 24, 2014 8:45 PM EDT

CAPE CHARLES, Va. -- A tornado toppled trees and flipped recreational vehicles at a popular Chesapeake Bay campground, killing a couple from New Jersey and injuring three dozen other people, officials said Thursday.

Virginia State Police said the a tree fell on a tent, killing husband and wife Lord Balatbat and Lolabeth Ortega, both 38, from Jersey City, New Jersey. Their 13-year-old-son, who was in a tent next to theirs, was seriously injured. He was one of 36 other people who were hurt.

The storm slammed into the Cherrystone Family Camping & RV Resort shortly before 9 p.m. EDT on Wednesday. The sprawling campground on the Chesapeake Bay has pools, mini-golf, cabins and several piers for fishing. More than 1,300 people were there when the storm hit, according to the state Emergency Management Department.

"All hell broke loose," said Joe Colony, who has been coming to the campground for 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."

"It was a disaster. I don't ever want to do that again," said Colony, of Stephensville, Maryland.

Injuries ranged from minor cuts and bruises to life-threatening. State police said 21 people were taken to Riverside Hospital. Most of those were treated and released.

One person was flown to VCU Medical Center in Richmond. Three, including the 13-year-old boy whose parents were killed, were transported to Children's Hospital of the Kings Daughters in Norfolk, state police said.

CBS affiliate WTKR reported that Shore Memorial Hospital in Nassawadox also treated injured victims.

The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area. An NWS team later confirmed that an EF-1 tornado hit the campground.

"It came in real quick," Eastville volunteer firefighter Brittney Eder told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The sky turned jet black."

Eder said she left the campground before the full force of the storm hit.

Joe Micucci said he and his wife couldn't escape in their car because of hail the size of softballs, so they rode out the storm in their camper. He said he felt fortunate they weren't hurt.

"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.

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.

Some took to social media to describe the scene.

"It looks and feels like hell. Everyone is crying and running," tweeted Jordan Bertok, who said her grandparents were injured at the campground:

The 50-year-old campground is located on 300 acres in rural Northampton County, according to its website.

The campground register said there were 1,328 adults and children and an additional 44 staff members at the campground at the time of the tornado.

A tractor-trailer driver traveling on Route 13 just east of the campground was also hurt when the tornado threw his vehicle into the median, state police said. The driver suffered minor injuries and was taken to Riverside Hospital.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert said crews also were responding 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.

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