Michael Lucas said the tornado hit them so quickly that very few of his fellow RVers at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay were able to respond, he wrote on his Facebook page.
He and his wife had just enough time to pull away from their Airstream trailer at the Eagle Hammock facility after the St. Marys, Ga. Base issued the warning at 5:48 p.m. Wednesday.
The tornado hit two minutes later, and it came back in under five minutes and it took its toll.
“Huge damage. Lots of injuries,” Lucas said. “… Many RVs destroyed … The first responders to the subbase were the heroes of the day.”
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It was a strong storm, National Weather Service chief meteorologist Scott Cordero said.
“Looks like a high end EF-2 tornado hit this area at Kings Bay,” he said. “You’re talking about the 120 mph mark.… Trailer parks have larger surfaces and it’s really easy to catch those winds.”
Nine people were taken to hospital after the tornado ravaged parts of the base. In the end, 12 RVs were damaged or destroyed in the grounds of the USS Daniel Webster Road, with one apparently being pushed into the nearby lake, base spokesman Chris said. Tucker.
“None of these injuries are life threatening, which is definitely a blessing and we’re happy to know that,” Tucker said. “… Several vehicles were also destroyed.”
Base officials said they issued a tornado warning to camper staff and guests via text message and the public address system, telling everyone to take cover immediately. Then the tornado hit the lakeside RV park and some military installations at the south end of the base. The RV park is used by military families and Navy retirees who visit the base.
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The tornado was spawned by the remnants of Tropical Storm Elsa and came after another tornado warning was issued for Duval and Nassau counties earlier today by the National Weather Service. Radar had tracked a tornado cell through Jacksonville that damaged businesses and apartments on Powers Avenue.
The weather service issued a tornado watch for Camden County, Georgia just after 5 p.m. and then tweeted a confirmed tornado moving north at 50 mph and causing ground damage.
Tucker said Camden County first responders came quickly to the base to help the injured. Photos taken by Lucas show fire trucks and rescue units among some RVs overturned or eviscerated to the ground and wheels.
It will be a “massive” cleanup, Tucker said.
“Right now, our priority before we get to the cleanup stage is to take care of the families who have been displaced,” Tucker said. “Some of the families are staying at our Gateway Inn, a military-run hotel on the base. Others have chosen to stay with friends and family in the surrounding area.”
The base is working with the Red Cross and Salvation Army on relief efforts for those affected and helping victims with insurance claims.
Some buildings near the RV park were also damaged by the tornado, and the Navy is inspecting them, although Tucker cannot say what they are for safety reasons.
This is the second tornado to hit base in the past four years.
The weather service said an EF-3 tornado hit the base on December 2, 2018, injuring four people. The tornado blew winds of up to 144 mph, “the strongest tornado in recent memory in the National Weather Service Jacksonville area of responsibility,” according to this report.
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