Campers return to Cherrystone to clean up, evaluate damages

Battered and weary campers returned to Cherrystone Family Camping Resort on Friday afternoon to hitch their trailers and limp out past the destruction.

By noon, the worst damage had been hauled away. A platoon of workers wielding chain saws hacked at the shattered pine trees and bunched busted branches onto flatbeds.

At the same time, drivers headed out with their trucks showing the scars inflicted by Thursday’s EF-1 tornado. Some sized up dings and dents while other owners swept and scrubbed.

Others left their vehicles outside the campground for insurance companies to assess.

Randy Johnson and his wife spent the morning at Cherrystone emptying out their camper, which was destroyed by a fallen tree, and loading whatever they can salvage into his truck.

As he taped a piece of a tent to cover his shattered window, Randy holds back his tears and says he’s thankful to be alive.

“I’m feeling lucky that we didn’t get hurt. We are just, I don’t know, kind of like seeing your home go away,” he says.

He says Friday was much worse than Thursday because now those images of people running and screaming throughout the torn up campground are just sinking in.

“It’s just hitting me today. Yesterday it was all new and today it’s sinking in,” he says.

Other campers, like Rudy Draper, also spent the morning salvaging whatever he could from his destroyed campsite.

A large tree crashed onto Draper’s truck leaving a gaping hole in the windshield. He was in a camper with his fiance and family and luckily everyone escaped without major injuries.

Unfortunately, the campsite next to Draper’s wasn’t as lucky. That’s where Lord Balatbat, his wife Lolibeth and their three children were camping.

Balatbat and his wife were killed when a tree fell on their tent during the storm. Their children were all hospitalized — with their 13-year-old son remaining hospitalized in the ICU in very critical condition.

“They needed a lot of help and quickly and the screams, we were right there beside them,” Rudy said, “A little boy obviously needed help. We did CPR. He came back and had injuries very serious so we got him help. We got him out immediately. My heart really goes out to the boy.”

Now as Rudy is packing to go home, he says he will say two prayers, one for the little boy and his family and the other thanking God that he and his family are okay.

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