CAPE CHARLES, Va. (AP) — Speaking a few dozen yards away from where two people were killed in a tornado that swept through a campground on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Friday it’s a blessing more people didn’t die in the storm given the short notice that campers had to seek shelter.
McAuliffe toured the Cherrystone Family Camping and RV Resort on the Chesapeake Bay, a day after a fast-moving storm created a tornado that knocked down large pine trees, demolished some campers and flipped over others on Thursday morning. A married couple from Jersey City, New Jersey was killed when a tree fell on their tent. McAuliffe said their three children were also injured, and their 13-year-old son is in critical condition following surgery.
“This was a very freak accident that occurred here,” McAuliffe said of the storm. “It’s an incredible sight to see.”
The tornado traveled about eight miles, with some of that over water. Most of the damage occurred at the campground, but McAuliffe also said hundreds of acres of corn, soybean and cotton crops were also damaged.
The popular, 300-acre campground hosts small cabins, campers and tents that are surrounded by massive pine trees. More than 1,300 people were checked into the campground when the tornado struck. The National Weather Service’s preliminary report says the tornado hit between 8:25 a.m. and 8:40 a.m., with winds reaching up to 100 miles per hour.
Many people at the campground said they were alerted to the tornado warning only a few minutes before it via emergency messages on their cell phones.
“At 8:30 in the morning, luckily I think most people were up. But had they been asleep and more people in their tents and their campers, I think what occurred here yesterday would’ve been much worse. It is a tragedy, but as I say, the good Lord was watching out,” McAuliffe said.
State police said 36 people were injured during the storm. Many people began returning to their homes on Friday, while others cleaned up debris and tried to salvage whatever belongings they could find. McAuliffe, who was not accompanied by reporters on his golf cart-tour of the campground, said many people he spoke with said they would return to the campground again.
Many families have been coming to the campground, which has a fishing pier, swimming pools and a basketball courts, for decades.