July 31, 2021

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Deadly Claudette strengthens, regains tropical storm status after 13 die in Alabama – USA TODAY

4 min read
  • A tropical storm warning was in effect from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to the town of Duck on the Outer Banks.
  • The storm was expected to move into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Claudette’s apparent death toll stood at 13.

Claudette grew more powerful as it roared off the coast of the Carolinas on Monday, regaining tropical storm status after a deadly race through Alabama.

Claudette’s apparent death toll stood at 13, including nine children who died in a multi-vehicle crash Saturday that also claimed the life of a 29-year-old father of one of the children.

Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock said vehicles likely hydroplaned on a road overwhelmed by floodwaters, although a team of National Transportation Safety Board investigators was investigating whether the conditions were the cause of the crash.

Monday morning, Claudette had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. The storm was located 65 miles east-southeast of Raleigh, North Carolina, and moving east-northeast at 25 mph, forecasters said. A tropical storm warning was in effect from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to the town of Duck on the Outer Banks.

But the havoc Claudette wreaked appeared to be ending.

“Tropical Storm #Claudette will exit off the NC coast this morning, with mostly sunny conditions expected behind her,” The National Weather Service office in Morehead City posted on Twitter.

13 dead in Alabama due to Claudette: Storm to strengthen on way to East Coast

The storm was expected to move into the Atlantic Ocean, then roll toward Nova Scotia on Tuesday.

In Alabama, what was supposed to be the end of an exciting beach trip ended in a horrific 17-vehicle wreck on I-65 just south of Montgomery. One week after their trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, began and less than two hours from home, a Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch van caught fire, killing eight children inside.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said the minor victims were a 3-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old, two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old. They were pronounced dead at the scene, according to ALEA. 

Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches CEO Michael Smith said two children of ranch employee Candice Gulley, who was driving the van, were among those who died in the crash. Gulley, the director of ranch life at Tallapoosa, was pulled from the wreck and has been hospitalized.

“Candice has been with us for years as a house parent, and she has raised over 80 children who have called her mom,” Smith said. “She’s a super lady who has given her life to raising not-so-fortunate children.”

The wreck also Cody Fox, 29, of Marion County, Tennessee, and his 9-month-old daughter, Adriana Fox. They were traveling in another vehicle with Fox’s fiancee, who was hospitalized in critical condition. 

The crash, which left 17 vehicles strewn along the interstate, happened at about 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Butler County, south of Montgomery. 

“It was a horrific scene,” Butler County Sheriff Danny Bond said. “It was the worst traffic accident I’ve witnessed in my life.”

The ranch, a nonprofit, provides “Christian, family-style residential homes for Alabama’s needy, neglected, or abused, school-age children in an atmosphere where they may grow spiritually and physically into productive, responsible, and happy adults,” according to its website.  

“We are going to have to keep moving forward because there are a lot of children in Alabama that need our help,” Smith said. “It’s not just a ranch tragedy, not just an Alabama tragedy – it’s a national tragedy.”

Also in Alabama, 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. And a 24-year-old man and a 3-year-old boy were 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.

‘Our hearts are heavy today as we’ve learned of 2 fatalities last night in Tuscaloosa,” the National Weather Service in Birmingham tweeted. “Rescue efforts continue in Jefferson Co for a man believed to be swept away by flood waters. Our thoughts & prayers go out to these families.”

Last week, forecasters had been monitoring three disturbances at the same time, including one that briefly became Tropical Storm Bill off the Carolina coast.

NOAA predicts another busy Atlantic hurricane season: Up to 20 named storms

This hurricane season could bring a record sixth consecutive year of above-normal activity. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that up to 20 named storms will develop, starting with tropical storms driving wind speeds of 39 mph or higher. Storms become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph.

As many as 10 hurricanes could form, NOAA said, including three to five possibly “major” hurricanes with wind speeds of 111 mph or higher. An average season typically spawns seven hurricanes and peaks in August and September.

Last year, NOAA predicted 13 to 19 named tropical storms would spin up, of which six to 10 would be hurricanes. Instead, a record 30 named storms formed, including 14 hurricanes, of which seven were major.

Contributing: Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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