Cherrystone campers reflect on tornado destruction

NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — On the Eastern Shore, locals worked to make a home away from home for those devastated by an EF-1 tornado that ripped through Cherrystone Campground Thursday morning.

“It is amazing,” said one volunteer at Northampton High School, where an emergency shelter was set up for victims temporarily. “Everybody has poured their heart out for this.”

All day, people dropped off food, water and clothing.

“What was scary is that I ended up helping a lot of people who were bleeding and walking around injured,” Thomas Raile said.

13-year-old Thomas has helping in his blood. He comes from a family of firefighters back home in Delaware, and was camping with that family when the tornado hit.

“Once you came outside and the storm lifted, that’s when you really recognized the destruction,” Tom Raile, Sr., Thomas’ father, told WAVY.com. “We started going camper to camper, checking to see if people were in them.”

Tornado victims gathered at Northampton High School Thursday, July 24, 2014, after an emergency shelter was set up there to house those affected with no where to go. (WAVY/Ferlon Webster)
Tornado victims gathered at Northampton High School Thursday, July 24, 2014, after an emergency shelter was set up there to house those affected with no where to go. (WAVY/Ferlon Webster)

Thomas Sr. then found a couple tents with trees lying on top. He knew right away a man and woman were dead. His next thought was to help their children.

“The fire department took a chainsaw and cut the legs off a picnic table,” Raile added. “We put her on the picnic table and with the firefighters carried her out to a waiting ambulance. The girl we took out was, I think, about 18 or 19, and then there was a younger one there that was still next to her father. She was seven or eight, and that’s why it hit home, because I had a seven-year-old sitting back in the camper.”

The campground was torn apart by the twister. Many of the campers were trapped inside their RVs.

“I thought we were going to die,” said Virginia Beach’s Kim Strange. “I just saw everything flip, and it’s scary. I just can’t believe it, because you always think you get a tornado warning and it’s not going to hit us.”

The emotions took some time to sink in, but when they did, they hit just as hard as the storm that quickly moved overhead.

“I just called my sons, because I was so scared,” added New Jersey’s Rose Chiesa. “I thought I was calm, but I’m not calm anymore. It was very scary to see these people lose everything, their campers, lives, everything.”

“I hope I can sleep at night, because it was that scary, and my husband is not here,” said New Jersey’s Joanne Luster.

“Considering what we saw and what we heard, we are the lucky ones,” added Maryland’s Caren Henderson.

The camping community is like a family, and everyone is feeling the loss, a loss no one will forget.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff in the fire service, but I’ve never seen a government and fire service from start to finish pull though the way this county did today,” Raile said.

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