The hurricane season couldn't wait until summer to start striking the United States. On the final day of spring, Tropical Storm Claudette reintroduced the Southeast to the horrors of hurricane season in deadly fashion.
The storm burst onto radars last week before being dubbed Potential Tropical Cyclone Three on Thursday. By Saturday, the system had strengthened enough to be given the name Claudette, becoming the third named storm of the 2021 season. The storm struck along the U.S. Gulf Coast and killed over a dozen people in the Southeast.
The death toll was raised to at least 14 people on Monday after authorities in Birmingham, Alabama, confirmed the fatality of Timothy Bragg, 31, who died after falling into flood waters, USA Today reported. Sebastian Carrillo, of the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service Department, said during a news conference that his body was recovered after a two-day search.
It made the rare move to restrengthen to a tropical storm Monday after having previously weakened over land. The tropical storm-turned-depression regained strength reaching tropical-storm force and drenched North Carolina before it departed and moved out to sea.
Several homes were damaged near Pensacola, Florida, on Saturday morning as Claudette moved inland. (AccuWeather/Bill Wadell)
The majority of the fatalities stemmed from one tragic car accident in Butler County, Alabama, on Interstate 65. Amid torrential downpours Saturday afternoon, the multi-vehicle accident claimed at least 10 lives in what Butler County Sherrif Danny Bond called "the worst traffic accident I've witnessed in my life," according to USA Today.
One of the vehicles involved was carrying children from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, a program part of the Alabama Sherrifs Youth Ranches, which provides homes for needy, neglected or abused children. Along with the eight children killed from that vehicle, 29-year-old Cody Fox and his 9-month-old daughter Ariana also perished in the 18-vehicle pileup. Fox's fiance remains in intensive care.
Elsewhere in Alabama, heavy rains triggered extensive flooding while extreme wind gusts downed trees. In Tuscaloosa County, a 24-year-old father and his 3-year-old son were killed when a tree fell on their home on Saturday, according to Tuscaloosa News.
Jessie Kingsmill points out crickets to her daughter Marina, 8, in the receding floodwater in front of their home, after Tropical Storm Claudette passed through, in Slidell, La., Saturday, June 19, 2021. The National Hurricane Center declared Claudette organized enough to qualify as a named storm early Saturday, well after the storm's center of circulation had come ashore southwest of New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Reports of evacuations, rescues, a mudslide and overturned vehicles kept first responders busy in the county, with many of the area's roads became impassible due to flooding.
The flash flooding potential grew dangerous enough for the National Weather Service to issue a warning to residents, urging residents of flood-prone areas to move to higher ground.
Multiple areas in the state broke daily rainfall records, according to the NWS, including Anniston, Birmingham and Mobile. Mobile's Friday total of 3.81 inches broke its record by nearly an entire inch, a mark that had stood since 1920.
Danny Gonzales walks in his flooded house as water recedes, after Tropical Storm Claudette passed through, in Slidell, La., Saturday, June 19, 2021. The National Hurricane Center declared Claudette organized enough to qualify as a named storm early Saturday, well after the storm's center of circulation had come ashore southwest of New Orleans.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
The storm left its rainiest mark on DeKalb County, where one area recorded 9.83 inches of rain. Overnight rescues were required in parts of southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
High-water rescues were also necessitated in areas surrounding Slidell, Louisiana, where up to 8 inches of rain fell. Homes throughout the area were inundated with floodwaters and cars on streets stalled out in the rain.
In a Facebook post, Slidell police said that as many as 50 cars and trucks were flooded and among their rescues was a woman "who was on her way to the hospital, possibly going into labor."
Claudette also spawned multiple tornadoes as it trekked across the Southeast, leaving countless families with plenty of cleanup work on Father's Day.
In Escambia County, at least 50 homes were badly damaged or destroyed, according to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. The twister, rated an EF2 by the NWS, injured 15 to 20 people, two seriously, in the towns of Brewton and East Brewton, Alabama News reported. Peak winds reached up to 127 mph.
A mobile home was completely destroyed by the twister, which tossed the home's frame more than 100 yards away from where it once stood. The owner suffered serious injuries after being thrown from the mobile home, according to the NWS.
Ahead of being named, Claudette triggered winds that reached a peak of 81 mph in Pensacola, Florida. Over 90,000 sandbags were distributed to residents in the southern and southeastern portions of Mississippi, while residents in Lake Charles, Louisiana, were still feeling the sting of last hurricane season.
Mayor Nic Hunter posted to Facebook on Thursday that the city was requesting additional help from FEMA ahead of landfall.
"To my knowledge, FEMA has never dealt with one community that has endured four federally declared, natural disasters over the course of less than a year," Hunter wrote on social media. "The people who need FEMA's help the most are the most vulnerable population, many of whom have endured multiple disasters with multiple applications for assistance."
Ahead of the season, AccuWeather meteorologists forecast a busy 2021 season, with 16-20 forecast named storms and a forecast ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy) value of 120-160, above the 30-year average of 123.
Danny Gonzales, right, stands in front of his flooded house with his neighbor Bob Neal, upset with power company trucks driving though the flooded neighborhood pushing water back into his home, after Tropical Storm Claudette passed through, in Slidell, La., Saturday, June 19, 2021. The National Hurricane Center declared Claudette organized enough to qualify as a named storm early Saturday, well after the storm's center of circulation had come ashore southwest of New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Claudette continued stirring off the coast of the mid-Atlantic on Monday, but quickly encountered conditions that caused the storm to lose its tropical characteristics late Monday evening.
"Claudette encountered harsh conditions as it moved over the cooler waters of the North Atlantic Ocean on Monday evening which caused the storm to lose a substantial amount of wind intensity," AccuWeather Meteorologist Mary Gilbert explained.
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