12 dead in Alabama due to Claudette, including 9 children in multi-vehicle crash; storm to strengthen on way to East Coast

  • Alabama officials said 10 people, including nine children, died in a crash that was likely caused by the storm. Separately, a 24-year-old father and his 3-year-old son died in their home when a falling tree struck the residence, according to authorities.
  • The storm was predicted to restrengthen Sunday night, according to the National Hurricane Center, becoming a tropical storm either late Sunday or Monday.

Tropical Depression Claudette left at least 12 dead in Alabama, as the storm continued to batter and flood parts of the U.S. Southeast as it moved toward the Atlantic Coast.

The storm was predicted to restrengthen Sunday night, reported the National Hurricane Center, becoming a tropical storm either late Sunday or Monday over eastern North Carolina. It’s expected to become a post-tropical cyclone on Tuesday.

The storm is forecast to produce additional rainfall totals of 2 to 4 inches, with isolated highs of up to 6 inches, across the eastern portions of the Florida Panhandle into North Florida, southern Georgia, central and coastal South Carolina into eastern North Carolina through Monday morning, the hurricane center advised.

Tropical storm warnings and watches were in place for both Carolinas until Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning, the weather service said. Locally heavy rainfall and gusty winds are forecasted for the states. 

Ten people, including nine children, died in a multi-vehicle collision on Saturday that was likely caused by storm-related hydroplaning, Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock told local media. Garlock did not respond to a voicemail left Sunday.

The National Transportation Safety Board is launching an investigation into the crash, and an investigator is expected to be at the pileup location on Sunday night, said NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway. Ten NTSB investigators will coordinate with the Alabama Highway Patrol.

Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, located south of Montgomery, confirmed that one of its vehicles was involved in the crash. The program is part of the Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches, a Christian nonprofit that provides homes for needy, neglected or abused school-age children. 

“Please send prayers our way as we navigate this difficult time,” the Tallapoosa ranch said in a Facebook post.

A website for the ranch shows the children attend Reeltown School. A Facebook post for the high school said it planned to offer counseling support and a prayer session on Sunday afternoon. 

The crash occurred on Interstate 65 at around 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Butler County, south of Montgomery. The wreck blocked traffic both directions for most of the day.

Butler County Sheriff Danny Bond told the Montgomery Advertiser, part of the USA TODAY Network, that the “horrific scene” was the worst traffic accident he’d ever witnessed. He said the tragedy involved 18 vehicles and caused multiple injuries.

National Transportation Safety Board investigations typically involve close examination of accident sites and efforts to reconstruct the circumstances. The investigations often continue for months before the likely cause is identified and made public. 

Separately, a 24-year-old father and his 3-year-old son died in their home when a falling tree struck the residence, Capt. Marty Sellers of the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office told the Tuscaloosa News.

In a Facebook post, Tuscaloosa City Council President Kip Tyner also confirmed the father-and-son deaths and said more than 7 inches of rain had produced widespread flooding, evacuations and trapped motorists.

Claudette brings flooding to Southeast, heads toward East Coast

The deaths came after Claudette battered parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle with high winds on Saturday, tearing roofs off houses and flipping an 18-wheeler and a mobile home. The storm also sparked reports of multiple tornadoes.

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More than 20 people were rescued by boat due to flooding in Northport, Alabama, WVUA-TV reported. Additionally, Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service Capt. Bryan Harrell told news outlets a search was underway for a man who was possibly swept away by flooding.

Storm total rainfall of 5 to 10 inches with isolated 15 inch amounts was observed in southeast Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and the western Florida panhandle, the National Hurricane Center reported Sunday afternoon.

Claudette continued to produce heavy rains and the threat of flash floods across much of the Southeast, the report said. It carried maximum sustained wind of 30 miles per hour on Sunday afternoon.

A flooded neighborhood is seen after Tropical Storm Claudette passed through in Slidell, La., Saturday, June 19, 2021.

Bands of heavy rain will occur across portions of central and southern Georgia, central and coastal South Carolina, and eastern North Carolina through Monday morning as the weather system tracks north and east, the report said.

Flash, urban and small stream flooding impacts, as well as new and renewed minor river flooding are possible across these areas.

Additional strengthening could occur over the western Atlantic Ocean early on Tuesday.

Tropical Depression Claudette’s strength:High winds, tornadoes and drenching rain reported as Tropical Depression Claudette batters parts of Gulf Coast

Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY; Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser; Associated Press

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