Families pick up pieces after Tropical Storm Claudette kills 14, destroys homes


NORTHPOINT, Ala. (NewsNation Now) — Tropical Storm Claudette is blamed for killing at least 14 people across Alabama including nine children who died in a fiery highway crash.

A local coroner explained the fiery highway crash was caused by multiple vehicles likely hydro-planed on wet, slick roads Saturday.

Girls have often lived a life of abuse, abandonment or neglect by the time they land at a Christian youth home in rural Alabama, but an annual trip to the beach with the director and her family offered them a bright spot in otherwise tough times.

This year’s trip to the Gulf Coast ended in disaster when four residents of the Tallapoosa County Girl’s Ranch, two of the director’s children and two guests were among 10 people killed in a fiery crash on a rainy highway.

“I know that we lost eight of our children. That’s what I know,” said Michael Smith.

Smith said there were two vans from the camp along with a car pulling a trailer loaded with suitcases. The lead van was involved in the crash, he said.

“Many of our children have never even seen the beach, so it’s an annual event that we’re able to take these children down there,” he said. This was the first visit back to the beach after the COVID-19 pandemic, “and we were so excited.”

Smith said victims included Ben Gulley, who would have turned 4 on Tuesday and was the son of ranch director Candice Gulley, the van’s only survivor, who was pulled from the flames by a bystander. Another of her children, age 16, was also killed.

A 29-year-old Tennessee man and his 9-month-old daughter died in a separate vehicle.

Claudette spawned dangerous flooding and tornadoes. It carved a 20-mile path of destruction through southern Alabama.

In Tuscaloosa, a father and his 3-year-old son died when a tree fell onto their home.

An EF2 tornado ripped through Brewton, Alabama, about 8 miles north of the Florida border.

It tossed one man’s mobile home hundreds of feet sending him flying across the yard. He’s now recovering in a hospital.

“I knew he was dead until I saw his head pop up. I was scared to death until I seen him and then I got happy that he was alive,” said the victim’s grandson, Brandon Thompson.

Family members are salvaging what’s left of the home.

“It’s just devastating to see after you work so hard for everything you have, and my daddy is a good man and I’m still in shock to tell you the truth,” said the victim’s daughter, Charlotte Collins.

Nearby neighbors also lost everything. One family took cover under a mattress as their home crashed on top of them.

“When it lifted us off the floor, it was pulling us off the floor, and you just didn’t think it was going to stop,” said Mary Carmichael.

Alabama homeowners are now expecting months of rebuilding.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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