Gerald Herbert / AP
ATLANTA – Tropical Depression Claudette took 12 lives in Alabama as a storm hit the southeastern U.S., causing flash floods and triggering tornadoes that destroyed dozens of homes.
Ten people, including nine children, were killed Saturday in a 15-vehicle crash about 55 miles south of Montgomery on Interstate 65, according to Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock.
He said the vehicles were probably hydroplaned on wet roads, with eight children, ages 4 to 17, killed in a van belonging to a youth ranch run by the Alabama Sheriffs Association for abused or neglected children. A man and a 9-month-old baby died in a separate vehicle. More people were also injured.
Meanwhile, a 24-year-old and a three-year-old boy were killed when a tree fell on their house just outside the city limits of Tuscaloosa on Saturday, Captain Marty Sellers of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crime Unit told The Tuscaloosa News.
The deaths occurred as heavy rains rained down on northern Alabama and Georgia late Saturday. Earlier, 30 inches of rain was reported from Claudette along the Mississippi Bay coast.
Flash clocks were set Sunday for North Georgia, much of South Carolina, the North Carolina coast, and parts of southeastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. A tropical storm warning was in effect in North Carolina from the entrance of the Little River to the city of Duck on the outside banks. Tropical storm forecasters have been released from the South Santee River in South Carolina to the mouth of the Little River, forecasters said.
Eight girls killed in the van were returning to a youth ranch run by the Alabama Sheriff’s Association near Camp Hill, northeast of Montgomery, since a week on the beach in Gulf Shores, youth ranch executive director Michael Smith told the Associated Press. He said the Tallapoos County Ranch Director survived the crash and was hospitalized in Montgomery. At least one of the dead is a child director, Smith said.
“This is the worst tragedy I’ve been a part of my life in,” said Smith, who drove to Camp Hill on Sunday to talk to the remaining residents, who returned from Gulf Shores in a separate van and saw no wreckage.
“Words can’t explain what I saw,” Smith said of the crash site, which he visited on Saturday. “We love these girls like they’re our own kids.”
Garlock said the location of the wreck was “infamous” for hydroplaning, as the highway headed north down the hill to a small stream. The traffic on that stretch of I-65 is usually filled with hikers who drive to and from the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico during summer weekends.
“Butler County has experienced one of the worst traffic accidents,” County Sheriff Danny Bond wrote on Facebook, adding, “I believe it’s the worst ever in our county.”
The Tallapoosa County School System said counselors will be available Sunday at Reeltown High School, where some of the ranch residents were students. Smith said the ranch, which is based on Christianity, will probably serve a memorial service later, asking for prayers when he started crying.
The highest wind on Sunday remained close to 30 km / h (45 km / h). Forecasters from the National Hurricane Center predict that Claudette will strengthen back to tropical storm status over eastern North Carolina on Monday before heading out to sea into the Atlantic Ocean.
More than 20 people were rescued by boat on Saturday due to flooding in Northport, Alabama, WVUA-TV reported. Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency tweetao that local Red Cross volunteers were available to help those affected. The shelter is open in Northport.
The center of Claudette’s disorganized circulation was on Sunday morning, about 20 kilometers east-northeast of Atlanta. It was moving east-northeast at a speed of 28 km / h, said the National Hurricane Center.
Claudette was declared sufficiently organized to qualify as a named tropical storm early Saturday morning, after the storm’s circulation center came ashore southwest of New Orleans.
Shortly after the crash, a suspected tornado triggered by the storm knocked down or severely damaged at least 50 homes in a small town in Alabama, north of the Florida border.
Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson said the tornado suspect “pretty much leveled” the mobile home park, knocked down trees on the houses and ripped the roof off the gymnasium. Most of the damage was done in or near the towns of Brewton and East Brewton, about 77 miles north of Pensacola, Florida.
“It kind of affected everything,” Jackson said. “But given that these mobile homes are being built so close to each other, it can have a much higher toll than on houses that are widespread.”
A tornado was also recorded in southwestern Georgia.
The damage from the storm was also felt in North Florida, where winds – in some cases up to 137 km / h – caused the 18-wheeler to turn sideways.
The storm also spewed flood rains north of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana and along the Mississippi coast, flooding streets and, in some areas, pushing water into homes. Later, the storm flooded the Florida Panhandle and, inland, the vast expanse of Alabama.
Forecasters said the system could still shed 5 to 10 centimeters of rain in the region, with possible isolated clusters of 20 centimeters.
Separately, Tropical Storm Dolores crashed on the west coast of Mexico with the force of an almost hurricane. As of Sunday morning, it had scattered over Mexico. Its remains had a maximum maintained wind of 35 km / h, and was concentrated about 275 kilometers east of Mazatlan in Mexico.
Heavy rains totaling up to 38 centimeters were expected across the southwestern and western coastal areas of Mexico over the weekend. Forecasters have warned of the potential for floods and landslides.