Tragic: Twelve dead as Tropical Storm Claudette lashes southeast US

Debris covering the street in East Brewton, Alabama [Alicia Jossey via AP Photo]
Debris covering the street in East Brewton, Alabama, USA

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.

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.

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