Tornado victims remembered as 'sweet, loving'

Tornado victims remembered as 'sweet, loving'

Tornado victims remembered as 'sweet, loving'

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by Martin Cornick

Connie Morrison, DelmarvaNow

Posted on July 29, 2014 at 7:12 PM

Updated Saturday, Aug 9 at 9:50 PM

To people on the Eastern Shore, Lord Balatbat and Lolibeth Ortega were victims of a freak storm that spawned a tornado that took their lives.

But brother Luis Balatbat Jr. says the Jersey City, New Jersey, couple were "sweet, loving" people, central to every circle in which they moved, and a unifying force within the family.

"When you need help, he was always there," Luis Balatbat Jr. said. "That is my brother."

Lord Balatbat and Ortega, both 38, were killed when a tree crushed the tent in which they had sought shelter from a sudden, severe storm the morning of July 24.

The bodies of Balatbat and Ortega were returned to Jersey City on Monday. Funeral services had not yet been arranged.

A trip to Cherrystone Campground – which is slated to reopen Friday – to swim, fish and crab was an annual summer event, and this year's trip was to celebrate Ortega's birthday.

"They went every year to celebrate her birthday or his birthday," said Deidra Baisden, manager at the Walgreens where Balatbat was assistant manager.

Balabat's birthday is Aug. 15.

"He was a proud father," she said. "His children are scholars."

Balatbat and Ortega's three children were all injured in the storm, along with 33 others. The oldest child, 13-year-old Lheandrew Balatbat, remains in a coma at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk.

Luis Balatbat Jr. said the family does not yet know whether he will recover.

"Please pray for him," he requested.

The two other children, ages 12 and 7, returned to New Jersey on Monday, along with a brother who was at the campground with them and who was left to break the tragic news to family members over the telephone.

Lord Balatbat said Ortega's niece also suffered a hip injury.

Baisden said the couple spent two weeks in Paris in June, leaving children in the care of family members, an arrangement foreboding of challenges and choices the extended family now faces.

The Paris trip was emblematic of the couple who together and individually enjoyed life and poured themselves out for the benefit of those around them, friends said.

Luis Balatbat Jr. described Ortega as the first to corral family members to mark special occasions, like the dinner gathering she orchestrated at a restaurant for her mother-in-law's birthday.

She was also quick to good-naturedly tease those around her and quick with a smile. She was born in the Phillipines and worked as a lab technician at Quest Diagnostics.

Beside his family, Lord Balatbat's passion was motorcycle racing, something both Baisden and Luis Balatbat Jr. mentioned.

Lord Balatbat's Facebook page contained a video of him tumbling over motorcycle handle bars during a race. The nasty spill was one of two, said his brother, but neither deterred him from getting back on a motorcycle.

"He was not afraid to die," said his brother. "He always said, 'If it's your time to die, we can't stop it.' "

Walgreens customers sought him out because of his customer service, and co-workers loved his playful sense of humor.

"He kept everyone's spirits up," Baisden said. "He made work fun."

Luis Balatbat Jr. said the tragedy has been especially hard on his mother, who wakes up crying every morning.

"It is very, very hard to accept because theirs are the first deaths that have happened in the family," he said.

Lord Balatbat was the last born of six children, who emigrated from the Philippines in 1991, Luis Balatbat Jr., said in halting English.

He finds himself talking to his brother now and then. "I say, 'You were the last to come, but the first to go,' " he said.

Balatbat said he and his brother had planned to to hang out together in a "man cave" in their old age. That plan, like so many others, "is all gone," he said.

"Our plan is changing."

cmorrison2@dmg.gannett.com

757-787-1200, ext. 112

On Twitter cmorrison_esn

To donate

Pamela Barefoot of Blue Crab Bay Co. established a fund for the family at PNC bank after receiving calls asking how to help.

Chad Ballard, part of the family that owns the campground, is co-administrator, she said, and all funds will be turned over to the children's court-appointed legal guardian.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the PNC fund topped $1,000. An online "Go Fund Me" account was established by a co-worker from Walgreens at http://www.gofundme.com/c40u9s. That fund was nearing $20,000.

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