Tornado Kills New Jersey Couple at Virginia Campground | NBC New York

Tornado Kills New Jersey Couple at Virginia Campground

The couple's 13-year-old son was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries

(Published Friday, July 25, 2014)

A married couple from Jersey City was killed Wednesday and their three children were injured when a tornado ripped through a campground in Virginia, authorities said.

Lord Balatbat and Lolibeth Ortega, both 38, were camping at Cherrystone Campground along Chesapeake Bay when an F-1 tornado devastated the area shortly before 9 a.m., Virginia state police said.

A fallen tree landed on the couple's tent, killing them. Their children had been camping next to them and a 13-year-old son was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries when his tent was struck, police said. The couple's 11-year-old and 6-year-old daughters were also injured but not critically. 

Ortega had just celebrated a birthday on Wednesday, according to family friends.

"They're just the greatest people I've known," said friend Kharl Ibasco.

Hermine Garcia said "they were so kind. So kind." 

The family goes camping every year, and had been to that campsite in the past, friends told NBC 4 New York. Family friends were flying from New Jersey to Virginia Thursday to stay with the children and help them in their recovery. 

Aerial footage from an NBC affiliate showed a swath of destruction as trees were toppled, tents and cabins crumpled and RV campers were blown on their sides.  Thirty one people were hospitalized, police said.  About 1,300 were staying at the campground.

A funnel cloud was first reported at 8:31 a.m., police said.  Another camper from New Jersey, 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.

Micucci and others were evacuated from the campground to a nearby high school. 

Balatbat was a manager at a Walgreens drugstore in Jersey City, and Ortega was a lab technician. A coworker at Walgreens said the news of Balatbat and his wife's deaths "broke our hearts."

"We're walking around at work like zombies because we still can't even take it all in yet," said Melissa Lopez. "Everybody is devastated. Everybody is crying at work." 

Family friends said the couple lived for their children.

"They're great parents," said Ibasco. "They bend over backwards just to spend time with their kids." 

-- Michael George contributed to this report. 

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