CAPE CHARLES, Va. — A New Jersey couple has died and their son is critically injured after a tornado touched down Thursday in an Eastern Shore campground, Virginia officials said.
Three dozen people were injured and transported to area hospitals, Corrine Gellar, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman, said in a press conference outside Cherrystone Family Camping & RV Resort. More than 1,300 vacationers and staff were at the campground when the storm hit; all have been accounted for. The town of Cape Charles, just south of the campground, has about the same number of year-round residents.
Lord Balatbat and his wife, Lolabeth Ortega, both 38 of Jersey City, N.J., were killed when a tree fell on their tent, Gellar said. Their 13-year-old son, who was in a nearby tent, has life-threatening injuries.
The area around the campground where the twister touched down was under a tornado warning at the time, according to the National Weather Service. Weather service radar had shown a waterspout over Chesapeake Bay a little before 9 a.m. ET that prompted the alert.
"It came in real quick," said Brittney Eder of the Eastville Volunteer Fire Co. here. "The sky turned jet black."
Preliminary data from the National Weather Service storm survey team in Northampton County, Va., show both tornadic and straight-line wind and hail damage from the storm, an EF1 with winds of 86 to 110 mph on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Investigators said the tornado was on the ground for about 8 miles with part of the path over water.
"All hell broke loose," said Joe Colony, who has been coming to Cherrystone beside the Chesapeake Bay 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."
Eder said she left the campground before the full force of the storm. From the scene, her father told her that the storm felled trees and flipped at least two trailers.
This is the first killer tornado in Virginia since April 2011 and one of deadliest in the state since 1950, AccuWeather meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said.
Hospitals about 45 miles across the bay in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Va., are caring for three of the most seriously injured victims, officials said.
Twenty-six patients are being treated at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital on the Eastern Shore in Nassawadox, Va. Most of those storm victims have broken bones, lacerations and cuts, spokesman Peter Glagola said.
The tornado also caused a truck to overturn north of Cape Charles along U.S. 13 in nearby Cheriton, Va., The driver was transported to a hospital with minor injuries, Geller said.
Immediately afterward, U.S. 13 was littered with debris and hail that ranged from the size of a quarter to a golfball, witnesses said. Heavy rain accompanied the storm.
"Debris was flying down the street — our chairs, beach balls. We lost power," said Linda Wenners Zaremski, who lives at Marina Villages across Kings Creek from Cherrystone campground. She saw large pieces of hail fall in her yard.
Campers listened and watched as hail pounded their camper during a tornado in Virginia Thursday.
Coast Guard crews responded to reports of boats overturned in the water in the area, Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert said. People pulled at least three boaters from the water; their conditions are not known.
The Northampton County Board of Supervisors declared a local state of emergency later Thursday morning, shutting down regular county government functions to concentrate on storm recovery, said Janice Williams, assistant to the county administrator. With about 12,000 population, it is among the smallest of Virginia's 93 counties.
The Virginia governor's office has been monitoring the situation.
More than 150 Cherrystone campers who lost their shelter were taken to nearby Northampton High School, Geller said.
The 50-year-old campground has 725 sites including cottages, camping cabins and rental trailers in addition to providing camping for tents and recreational vehicles. It sits 300 acres along the Chesapeake about 15 miles from the southern tip of the Eastern Shore that divides the bay from the Atlantic Ocean.
Earlier this month, Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory named Cherrystone campground one of three top RV parks for 2014.
Contributing: Malissa Watterson, Jim Diem, Connie Morrison, Ted Shockley, Carol Vaughn and Jeremy Cox, The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times; Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.