Nine children die in Alabama crash

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Nine children and an adult have been killed in a fiery multi-vehicle crash on an Alabama highway as heavy storms lashed the southeastern US, authorities said Sunday.

Saturday’s 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 told AFP.

Storm Claudette dumped up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain in the Gulf Coast region Saturday. It was blamed for at least two other deaths.

The dead in the crash included a father and his nine-month-old daughter in an SUV, and eight occupants of a van — aged four to 17 — from a “girls ranch” for neglected and abused children, local media reported.

“This was probably the most horrific accident in Butler County history,” Sheriff Danny Bond told the al.com website.

He said at least two of the vehicles involved were 18-wheel trucks, and that four or five other people had suffered nonfatal injuries.

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The driver of the van was pulled out alive by a bystander, witnesses said. The bystander then tried to help the children but was prevented by a fierce fire engulfing the vehicle, Garlock said.

The van driver was identified as Candice Gully, director of the girls farm in Tallapoosa County, an official with the state ranch system told al.com.

The SUV driver was identified as Cody Fox, 29, an emergency management worker from Tennessee. His fiancee was injured in the wreck.

Garlock said the crash scene was in an area notorious for hydroplaning as Interstate 65 curves down a steep hill.

Northbound and southbound traffic on the busy highway was halted for hours by the accident, but both had reopened by Sunday, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said on Twitter.

The Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch said it was providing grief counselors for children there.

“Our hearts are heavy today. Our ranch has suffered great loss… Please send prayers our way,” the ranch’s account said on Twitter.

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The van in the accident was one of two bringing children back from a weeklong beach outing to nearby Gulf Shores, al.com reported. The other van was unscathed.

Storm Claudette, later downgraded to a tropical depression, has dumped heavy rain across the southeastern US.

The Tuscaloosa News said two people died — a 24-year-old man and his three-year-old son — when a tree fell on their house.

Claudette is forecast to return to tropical storm status on Monday over eastern North Carolina, before weakening again by Tuesday.

The system has washed out roads, trapped motorists in their cars, and flooded residential areas in the region, and the National Hurricane Center warned that further flooding was likely.