NJ couple killed, dozens hurt after tornado hits Va. campground

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A couple from New Jersey was killed when a tree fell on their tent. (WPVI)

A New Jersey couple was killed and three dozen people injured, including several from the Delaware Valley, after a tornado ripped through a popular campground along the Chesapeake Bay on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

It happened Thursday at 9:00 a.m., when more than 1,300 people were at Cherrystone Family Camping and RV Resort, a 300-acre playground of swimming pools, mini-golf, pier fishing, crabbing and other activities.

Lord Balatbat and Lolabeth Ortega of Jersey City, New Jersey were killed and their three children hospitalized. The injuries to the couple's 13-year-old son were said to be life-threatening.

Luis Balatbat Jr., 47, told The Jersey Journal that his family was shocked to learn of the death of his brother and sister-in-law.

"We are a close family, and this is very bad for us," he said.

Lord Balatbat's father, Luis Balatbat, 78, told the newspaper that all three of the couple's children are hospitalized. He said his grandson is in a coma, his 12-year-old granddaughter suffered a leg and ear injury, and his 7-year-old granddaughter was struck in the stomach by a tree limb.

"I'm struggling," the grandfather said. "I wanted to go there, but my doctor said do not go there because I am not well enough to travel. My wife is the same way."

The couple had been married 14 years and both were born in the Philippines, the newspaper reported.


The emergency coordinator for New Castle County Delaware, Dave Carpenter, was hurt along with his wife.

They told Action News they were trying to close the door to their trailer when the storm blew through Cape Charles.

"I looked at her and said, 'Hold on!'" Carpenter said. "My wife went flying back toward the other side of the camper."

Carpenter sustained minor back injuries, and his wife fractured her hip. Their children were not hurt.

Volunteer firefighters from Delaware City drove all the way to Virginia to transport the couple to Cristiana Hospital in Wilmington for treatment.


There were dozens of other survival stories as well.

Albert Thorn awoke in his rental cottage Thursday to the sound of heavy rain and wind. Then, there was screaming. Within minutes, the sky turned dark, cellphones pinged with emergency messages and a tornado tore through a popular campground, ripping awnings from trailers and flipping RVs on their sides.

"I love thunderstorms, and I went out to see it," said Thorn, of Monroeville, New Jersey. "There was a wall of gray - wind and rain. It was coming through the trees right at us. By then, we shut the sliding door and it was pounding them windows like you couldn't believe. You could hear people screaming before it even got to us."

Hospitals prepared for mass casualties, but they did not come. Injuries ranged from cuts to broken bones to life threatening, said Virginia State Police Spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

"All hell broke loose," said Joe Colony, a Stephensville, Maryland, resident 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."

Larry LeMond, chairman of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors, said a local high school would be used as a shelter for those who had nowhere else to go. Churches and other groups donated food and clothing. Weekends would typically draw 2,000 people to the campground, he said.

"In the summertime, it's the biggest town on the shore," LeMond said.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area about the time it struck. Many at the park said they had only a few minutes of warning.

"The people who were in their tents had no chance to get out of their tents to go for shelter," said Tori Thomas, of Monroeville, New Jersey, who was staying in a cottage with her two children, ages 1 and 3.

Joe Micucci said he and his wife rode out the storm in their camper as softball-sized hail fell.

"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 treated more than two dozen people. One patient in critical condition was flown to VCU Medical Center in Richmond, he said. Most at Riverside had been released, according to state police.

The Coast Guard said good Samaritans pulled at least three people from the water.

Across the country in Spokane, Washington, severe thunderstorms knocked out power to more than 60,000 customers and damaged dozens of homes Wednesday. One driver suffered life-threatening injuries when a tree slammed onto his car, impaling him. Severe thunderstorms were forecast for the northern Plains on Thursday and could threaten the Deep South and mid-Atlantic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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