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At least 12 people have been killed as Tropical Depression Claudette swept across the southeastern US, causing flash flooding and spurring tornadoes that destroyed dozens of homes.
Ten people, including nine children, were killed Saturday in a 15-vehicle crash about 35 miles (55 kilometres) south of Montgomery on Interstate 65, according to Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock.
He said the vehicles likely hydroplaned on wet roads, with eight children, ages 4 to 17, killed in a van belonging to a youth ranch operated by the Alabama Sheriffs Association for abused or neglected children.
Two people died in separate vehicle, Garlock told local news outlets – 29-year-old Cody Fox and 9-month-old Ariana Fox, both of Marion County, Tennessee. Multiple people were also injured.
Meanwhile, a 24-year-old man and a 3-year-old boy were killed when a tree fell on their house Saturday just outside the Tuscaloosa city limits, Captain Marty Sellers of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit told The Tuscaloosa News. Sellers did not immediately identify the victims and a medical examiner could not be reached early Sunday.
The deaths occurred as drenching rains pelted much of northern Alabama and Georgia late Saturday. As much as 12 inches (30 centimetres) of rain was reported earlier from Claudette along the Mississippi Gulf 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, South Carolina, to the Little River Inlet, forecasters said.
The eight children killed in the van were returning to a youth ranch operated by the Alabama Sheriffs Association near Camp Hill, northeast of Montgomery, from a week at the beach in Gulf Shores, youth ranches CEO Michael Smith told The Associated Press news agency.
The van caught fire after the wreck. Candice Gulley, the director of the Tallapoosa County ranch, was rescued and was hospitalized in Montgomery, Smith said. Her condition wasn’t immediately available. At least one of the dead was Gulley’s child, Smith said.
“This is the worst tragedy I’ve been a part of in my life,” said Smith, who was driving Sunday to Camp Hill 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.”
Here are the 11 AM EDT Sunday Key Messages for #Claudette. 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. https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/qwMv7aKL5T
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) June 20, 2021
Top winds remained near 30mph (45m/h). National Hurricane Center forecasters predicted Claudette would strengthen back to tropical storm status Monday over eastern North Carolina as it went out to sea in the Atlantic Ocean.
Flash flood watches on Sunday were posted for northern Georgia, most of South Carolina, the North Carolina coast and parts of southeast Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
More than 20 people were rescued by boat due to flooding in Northport, Alabama, WVUA-TV reported. The Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency tweeted that local Red Cross volunteers were on hand to help those who were affected. A shelter was opened in Northport.
Village Creek in Birmingham rose above flood stage to 13 feet (4 meters), the National Weather Service in Birmingham tweeted.
The system was located about 25 miles (35 kilometres) west of Atlanta. It was moving east-northeast at 13mph (20km/h), the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory Sunday morning.
Claudette was declared organized enough to qualify as a named tropical storm early Saturday morning, well after the storm’s centre of circulation had come ashore southwest of New Orleans.
Shortly after landfall, a suspected tornado spurred by the storm demolished or badly damaged at least 50 homes in a small town in Alabama, just north of the Florida border.
Sheriff Heath Jackson in Escambia County said a suspected tornado “pretty much levelled” a mobile home park, toppled trees onto houses and ripped the roof off of a high school gym. Most of the damage was done in or near the towns of Brewton and East Brewton, about 48 miles (77 kilometres) north of Pensacola, Florida.
“It kind of affected everybody,” Jackson said. “But with those mobile homes being built so close together it can take a toll on them a lot more than it can on houses that are spread apart.”
Tornadoes were also reported in southwest Georgia.
Damage from the storm was also felt in north Florida, where winds — in some cases reaching 85mph (137km/h) — caused an 18-wheel truck to flip on its side.
The storm also dumped flooding rains north of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana and along the Mississippi coast, inundating streets and, in some areas, pushing water into homes. Later, the storm was drenching the Florida Panhandle and, well inland, a broad expanse of Alabama.
Forecasters said the system could still dump 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimetres) of rain in the region, with isolated accumulations of 8 inches (20 centimetres) possible.
Separately, Tropical Storm Dolores made landfall on Mexico’s west coast with near-hurricane force. As of Sunday morning, it had dissipated over Mexico. Its remnants had maximum sustained winds of 25mph (35km/h), and it was centred about 170 miles (275 kilometres) east of Mazatlan, Mexico.
Heavy rainfall totals up to 15 inches (38 centimetres) were expected across the southwest and western coastal areas of Mexico throughout the weekend. Forecasters were warning of the potential for flash flooding and mudslides.
Source: Al Jazeera