13 killed in Alabama as Tropical cyclone Claudette rages across the southeastern U.S.

Kirti Pathak
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Eight children 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 killed 13 people in Alabama as it caused flash floods and tornadoes that destroyed dozens of homes.

According to Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock, the collision occurred Saturday about 55 kilometers south of Montgomery on Interstate 65 after automobiles presumably hydroplaned on wet roadways. The vehicle, which was carrying youngsters aged four to seventeen, belonged to the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, a youth home run by the Alabama Sheriffs Association. The youth ranch's CEO, Michael Smith, said the van was returning to the ranch in Camp Hill, northeast of Montgomery, after a week at the beach in Gulf Shores.

After the crash, the van caught fire, and Candice Gulley, the ranch director, was the only survivor, dragged from the flames by a bystander. Gulley remained in a severe but stable condition in a hospital in Montgomery on Sunday. "She'll survive her bodily injuries," Smith said. Gulley's children, ages 4 and 16, were among those killed in the van. Smith stated that four others were ranch residents and two were guests.

"This is the biggest disaster I've ever been a part of," Smith said, driving to the ranch on Sunday to speak with the remaining residents, who had returned from Gulf Shores in a separate vehicle and had missed the wreck. Two additional people in a second vehicle were killed in the crash as well. Cody Fox, 29, and his nine-month-old daughter Ariana, both of Marion County, Tennessee, were identified by Garlock.


Several persons were also hurt. The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted on Sunday that it was sending 10 investigators to the scene to look into the incident, which left at least four charred cars, including two huge trucks. The investigation will focus on vehicle technologies such as frontal collision warning systems, gasoline tank integrity, and occupant survival, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, a 24-year-old man and a three-year-old son were murdered Saturday when a tree fell on their house just outside Tuscaloosa city boundaries, according to Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit Capt. Jack Kennedy. Makayla Ross, 23, of Fort Payne, died Saturday after her automobile drove off the road and into a swollen stream, according to DeKalb County deputy coroner Chris Thacker, who spoke to WHNT-TV.

The deaths occurred as a result of the tropical depression's torrential rains. Late Saturday, Claudette battered northern Alabama and Georgia. Rainfall of much as 30 centimeters was reported earlier from Claudette along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Flash flood warnings were issued for eastern Georgia, the southern two-thirds of South Carolina, and the coast of North Carolina on Sunday. From the Little River Inlet to Duck on the Outer Banks, North Carolina was under a tropical storm warning. Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning from South Santee River, South Carolina, to the Little River Inlet.

WBRC-TV reported that search operations were also ongoing for a guy who was believed to have fallen into the water during Birmingham's flash flooding. Boats were used to search Pebble Creek. The location of the multi-vehicle crash is "notorious" for hydroplaning, according to Garlock, because the northbound route curves down a slope to a small creek. On summer weekends, the stretch of I-65 is normally congested with holidaymakers going to and from Gulf of Mexico beaches.

"Butler County has experienced one of the worst traffic accidents," county Sheriff Danny Bond stated on Facebook.

Counselors would be available Sunday at the 225-student Reeltown High School, where several ranch inhabitants were students, according to the Tallapoosa County school system. Smith said the ranch, which is Christian-based, would most likely hold a memorial ceremony later, and he asked for prayers as he was dying.

Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch has put up a GoFundMe account to aid with burial expenses, medical expenditures for those harmed, and counseling for those affected. Gulley has worked with children for many years, beginning with seven years as a houseparent at the ranch with her husband.

"There have been 74 ladies who have walked through our house and called us mom and dad during those years," she told the Opelika-Auburn News in August 2019. She went on to say that she became a relief parent, working on fundraisers and getting active in the community before becoming the ranch director.


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