Kings Bay base digs out after Elsa tornado rips through RV park

EF-2 tornado carved destructive path from one end of base to the other

Residents of an RV park at Kings Bay Navy base started digging out of the rubble after their homes were damaged by an Elsa-spawned tornado.

Tropical Storm Elsa carved a destructive and soaking path Wednesday, spinning up a tornado at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay that flipped recreational vehicles upside-down and blew one of them into a lake.

Capt. Chester Parks, the base’s commanding officer, said Thursday that nine people, including a pregnant woman, were injured and transported from the base. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening but the extent of their injuries was not known.

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Parks said the tornado -- an EF-2, according to the National Weather Service -- struck the base just before 6 p.m. Wednesday, starting on the south side of the base and then heading north, shredding through the RV park before exiting the north side of the base.

“The tornado did go from one end of the base to the other,” Parks said, leaving downed trees and power lines and damaging at least 12 RVs in the park.

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One of the overturned RVS blew about 200 feet into a lake, the NWS said in a preliminary report early Thursday after its employees surveyed the damage. Debris from the RVs was strewn throughout the park, the agency said.

The owner of the RV in the lake told News4Jax she has lived on the base for nearly four years with her husband and two grandchildren -- thankfully none of them were home during the tornado.

“We had taken my grandson, whose 11th birthday was yesterday, to (Kingsland) and we started getting texts from neighbors because, of course, our camper is in the lake and they were looking for us. We were not accounted for. So we came back and this is what we came back to,” Missy Lattanzie said.

An RV was flipped into a lake by a tornado at Kings Bay Navy base during Tropical Storm Elsa (WJXT)

She said they found a few clothes items and a blow dryer on the land but they’re hoping to recover some personal valuables from the lake.

“We’re alive. It could be worse. I can replace most of this stuff,” Lattanzie said, adding that the destruction is a lesson: “One day at a time. You can’t take it with you.”

Sergio Rodriguez, who lives near the RV park, said he raced to the scene fearing friends staying at the park might be hurt. The area was under a tornado warning Wednesday evening.

An EF-2 tornado struck Naval Sub Base Kings Bay on Wednesday (WJXT)

“There were just RVs flipped over on their sides, pickup trucks flipped over, a couple of trailers had been shifted and a couple of trailers were in the water” of a pond on the site, Rodriguez said in a phone interview.

Cellphone video he filmed at the scene showed trees bent low among scattered debris. He said ambulances arrived and began treating dazed people trying to understand what had happened.

“A bunch of folks had lacerations and were just banged around,” Rodriguez said. “A majority of folks were in their trailers when it happened.”

Parks said some of the people affected by this live in this RV Park while others were just visiting. He said the base will work with the families who were displaced to meet their needs as quickly as possible. A crisis call center has been set up to help families report needs.

“Right now, we’re providing the basics -- food water and shelter -- to get them through the initial impacts here, and then looking to help them with their long-term needs and that will be through the crisis call center,” Parks said. “The impact is really to the families here and their belongings and we want to help them out.”

IMAGES: Camden County storm damage

National Weather Service said 17 reported injuries were blamed on tornado that blew through RV park

Anyone who may need assistance as a result of the impacts of the storm can call one of the following numbers: (912) 573-0434, (912) 573-0436, (912) 573-0437, (912) 573-0443, (912) 573-0450, or (912) 573-0453.

The community will be able to help with needs if people want to contribute. The way to do that will be posted on the Naval base’s FaceBook page and other social media accounts.

“It means a lot (to get the community’s help), especially when you’re sitting like this. My husband works and we’re not destitute, but we’re starting completely over, so it’s very overwhelming,” Lattanzie said. “It feels good to know that there are people who are out there willing to help.”

Parks said he’s just grateful things were not worse.

“Thankfully, there was no loss of life here last night. This tornado that came through could have been a lot worse,” Parks said.

He said several buildings and facilities were damaged throughout the base and personnel were taking a look in the light of day Thursday to assess that damage and the impacts to the base’s mission.

He said no submarines or “sensitive military assets” were damaged.

“Day-to-day operations we are able to support all of our missions -- it’s now just shifting into the recovery and really helping these displaced families put their lives back together,” Parks said.

Camden County was under a tornado warning from about 5:45 p.m. until about 6:30 p.m.

It was at least the third tornado confirmed Wednesday in the Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida area. The NWS estimates an EF-0 tornado touched down Wednesday morning in Columbia County. There were also reports of damage in Jacksonville after a confirmed tornado early Wednesday evening.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.