Tropical depression Claudette kills at least 13 in Alabama as storm lashes southeastern U.S.

World

Eight children in a van from a youth home for abused or neglected children were killed in a fiery multi-vehicle crash on a wet interstate that also killed a man and his baby in another vehicle, the most devastating blow from tropical depression Claudette.

Debris covers a street in East Brewton, Ala., on Saturday, as authorities said a suspected tornado spurred by tropical storm Claudette demolished or badly damaged at least 50 homes in the small town just north of the Florida border.(Alicia Jossey/The Associated Press)

Eight children in a van from a youth home for abused or neglected children were killed in a fiery multi-vehicle crash on a wet interstate that also killed a man and his baby in another vehicle, the most devastating blow from a tropical depression that claimed 13 lives in Alabama as it caused flash floods and spurred tornadoes that destroyed dozens of homes.

The crash happened Saturday about 55 kilometres south of Montgomery on Interstate 65 after vehicles likely hydroplaned on wet roads, said Butler County coroner Wayne Garlock.

The van, containing children ages 4 to 17, belonged to the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, a youth home operated by the Alabama Sheriffs Association. Michael Smith, the youth ranch's CEO, said the van was heading back to the ranch near Camp Hill, northeast of Montgomery, after a week at the beach in Gulf Shores. It caught fire after the wreck and Candice Gulley, the ranch director, was the van's only survivor — pulled from the flames by a bystander.

Gulley remained hospitalized Sunday in Montgomery in serious but stable condition. "She's going to survive her physical injuries," Smith said. Two of the dead in the van were Gulley's children, ages 4 and 16. Four others were ranch residents and two were guests, Smith said.

Here are the 11 AM EDT Sunday Key Messages for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Claudette?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Claudette</a>. The system is still producing heavy rains with possible flash floods over much of the southeastern U.S. A few tornadoes are also possible today across parts of Georgia and the Carolinas. <a href="https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB">https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB</a> <a href="https://t.co/qwMv7aKL5T">pic.twitter.com/qwMv7aKL5T</a>

&mdash;@NHC_Atlantic

"This is the worst tragedy I've been a part of in my life," said Smith, who drove Sunday to the ranch to talk to the remaining residents, who had returned from Gulf Shores in a separate van and did not see the wreck.

"Words cannot explain what I saw," Smith said of the accident site, which he visited Saturday. "We love these girls like they're our own children."

The crash also claimed the lives of two other people who were in a separate vehicle. Garlock identified them as 29-year-old Cody Fox and his nine-month-old daughter, Ariana, both of Marion County, Tenn.

"He was a great guy and we're really gonna miss him," said Aaron Sanders, who worked with Fox at the emergency management agency in Marion County. He said Fox also ran a hot tub business with his father and doted on his daughter. "He just loved her to death and that was his life."

Multiple people were also injured.

Danny Gonzales, right, stands in front of his flooded house with his neighbour, Bob Neal, after Claudette passed through in Slidell, La., on Saturday.(Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted that it was sending 10 investigators to the area Sunday to investigate the crash, photos of which showed at least four burned vehicles, including two large trucks. It said the inquiry would focus on vehicle technologies such as forward collision warning systems, fuel tank integrity and occupant survivability.

Meanwhile, a 24-year-old man and a three-year-old boy were also killed Saturday when a tree fell on their house just outside the Tuscaloosa city limits, said Capt. Jack Kennedy of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit. Makayla Ross, a 23-year-old Fort Payne woman, died Saturday after her car ran off the road into a swollen creek, DeKalb County deputy coroner Chris Thacker told WHNT-TV.

The deaths occurred as drenching rains from tropical depression Claudette pelted northern Alabama and Georgia late Saturday. As much as 30 centimetres of rain was reported earlier from Claudette along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Flash flood watches were posted Sunday for eastern Georgia, the southern two-thirds of South Carolina and the North Carolina coast. A tropical storm warning was in effect in North Carolina from the Little River Inlet to the town of Duck on the Outer Banks. A tropical storm watch was issued from South Santee River, S.C., to the Little River Inlet, forecasters said.

Pickup trucks pass each other on the flooded Cedar Lake Road in Biloxi, Miss., on Saturday, as water from Claudette begins to recede.(Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press)

WBRC-TV reported that search efforts were also underway for a man believed to have fallen into the water during flash flooding in Birmingham. Crews were using boats to search Pebble Creek.

Garlock said the location of the multi-vehicle wreck is "notorious" for hydroplaning, as the northbound highway curves down a hill to a small creek. Traffic on that stretch of I-65 is usually filled with vacationers driving to and from Gulf of Mexico beaches on summer weekends.

"Butler County has had one of the most terrible traffic accidents," county Sheriff Danny Bond wrote on Facebook.

The Tallapoosa County school system said counselors would be available Sunday at the 225-student Reeltown High School, where some of the ranch residents were students. Smith said the ranch, which is Christian-based, would likely have a memorial service later, asking for prayers as he began to cry.

Rhiannon Corrall and her husband, Ian Corrall, observe the wave action from Claudette's winds as they take their daily walk on Front Beach in Ocean Springs, Miss., on Saturday.(Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press)

A GoFundMe account was set up for Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch to help offset the costs of funeral expenses, medical costs for the injured and counselling for those impacted.

Gulley had worked with children for years, beginning when she and her husband were house parents at the ranch for seven years.

"During those years, there have been 74 girls that have come through our house and called us mom and dad," she told the Opelika-Auburn News in August 2019. She said she then became a relief parent, working on fundraising and being involved in the community, before she became the ranch director.

"My heart goes out to the loved ones of all who perished," Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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