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Storm Claudette kills over dozen including eight kids in van crash

The crash on an interstate highway near the city of Greenville involved at least 15 vehicles and was “probably” caused by hydroplaning under torrential rains, Butler County coroner Wayne Garlock said.

Emergency personnel work at the accident site as smoke rises from the wreckage after about 18 vehicles slammed together on a rain-drenched Alabama highway during Tropical Storm Claudette, in Butler County, Alabama, US, on June 19, 2021
Emergency personnel work at the accident site as smoke rises from the wreckage after about 18 vehicles slammed together on a rain-drenched Alabama highway during Tropical Storm Claudette, in Butler County, Alabama, US, on June 19, 2021 (Reuters)

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 in US state of Alabama.

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It was 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.

Wet roads

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 ranches 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 hospitalised 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.

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 9-month-old daughter, Ariana, both of Marion County, Tennessee.

Multiple people were also injured.

Claudette to strengthen again

Tropical depression Claudette has strengthened a little and is expected to become a tropical storm again by early on Monday over eastern North Carolina, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Sunday.
The system is located 240 km west-northwest ofCape Fear, North Carolina, packing maximum sustained winds of 55 km per hour the NHC added.

Investigation launched

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 3-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 centimeters of rain was reported earlier from Claudette along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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