Tropical Depression Claudette devastated the Alabama area Sunday night, leaving at least 13 people dead as it strengthened, moving along the east coast of the United States. Claudette has not yet strengthened into a tropical storm but is predicted to over North Carolina before becoming a post-tropical cyclone Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
At least 10 of the people killed were victims of a collision involving 18 vehicles Saturday that is currently being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, according to the Montgomery Adviser. The victims included nine children, and Butler County Sheriff Danny Bond told the paper that the "horrific scene" was the worst traffic accident he'd ever witnessed.
Eight of the children were members of the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, which is part of the nonprofit Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches. The nonprofit provides homes for needy, neglected and abused school-age children and shared confirmation of the incident on its social media page. "Our hearts are heavy today. Our ranch has suffered great loss. As some of you may have heard, one of our ranch vehicles was involved a multiple car accident this afternoon," the organization wrote on Facebook of the loss. "Please send prayers our way as we navigate this difficult time. We will update information as we are able, and if you have any questions feel free to contact us. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and respecting the privacy of our large and extended families."
Michael Smith, youth ranch CEO, told the Advertiser that the camp's van was heading back after a week at the beach in Gulf Shores when it was involved in the crash. After the wreck, the van caught fire, and Candice Gulley, the ranch director, was the van’s only survivor after being pulled from the flames by a bystander. "This is the worst tragedy I’ve been a part of in my life," Smith said.
The crash also resulted in the death of two other people in a separate vehicle, identified by authorities as 29-year-old Cody Fox and his 9-month-old daughter, Ariana, both of Marion County, Tennessee. Outside of the crash, Claudette wreaked more havoc outside the Tuscaloosa city limits, killing a 24-year-old man and a 3-year-old boy Saturday when a tree fell on their house, according to USA Today. Makayla Ross, a 23-year-old Fort Payne woman, also died Saturday after her car ran off the road into a creek that had risen with the rains, DeKalb County Deputy Coroner Chris Thacker also confirmed.