Nine children and an adult were 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.
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.
‘Suffered a great loss’
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.
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.
Rescuers raced to save nearly 200 whales stuck in a remote Australian harbour on Tuesday, hoping to minimise the death toll of a mass stranding which had already killed 90.
Officials said at least 25 of the mammals had been freed so far.
A large pod of long-finned pilot whales is currently stuck on a sandbar in Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s rugged and sparsely populated west coast, scientists said.
Images from the scene showed a shallow body of water, thick with scores of the large slick-black creatures manoeuvering for space, and rescuers wading in as they worked to refloat the whales in deeper passages.
About 60 people — including volunteers and local fish-farm workers — are involved in the rescue attempt.
Government marine biologist Kris Carlyon said “about a third” of the 270 animals were dead by late Monday, and that rescuing survivors would be a challenging task likely to take several days.
But there were hopes Tuesday that efforts were already paying off, with at least 25 rescued and escorted to open ocean by boats, according to the official leading the operation.
“We have now freed a small number successfully that appear to have stayed out at sea, and are now scaling up that approach,” Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka said.
Though mass whale strandings occur relatively often in Tasmania, such a large group has not been seen in the area for more than a decade.
The animals are only accessible by boat, limiting the number of rescuers who can reach them.
They are battling chilly and rainy conditions as well as the harbour’s unusual tides, which are dictated by barometric pressure.
“In terms of mass whale strandings in Tasmania, this is up there with the trickiest,” Carlyon told reporters in the nearby town of Strahan.
However, Carlyon said many of the partially submerged whales should be able to survive for the several days it would take his team to complete the task, in part due to the inclement weather.
“It’s pretty ugly for people on the ground but as far as the whales go its ideal — it’s keeping them wet, it’s keeping them cool,” he said.
Carlyon said rescuers would still have to “triage” the whales, prioritising the healthiest and most accessible.
– ‘Notorious whale trap’ –
Most of a 30-strong group of whales on a nearby beach were found dead Monday, though two were saved and released.
About 60 others on the sandbar are also believed to have since died and Carlyon said it was “inevitable that we’ve lost more”, but a detailed assessment using infrared cameras from the air was planned for Wednesday.
Once the whales are returned to deeper water, Carlyon said, the biggest challenge is herding the social creatures out of the sandbar-riddled harbour — and hoping they don’t swim back to the remaining pod.
Scientists said it was unclear what caused the latest stranding, but Carlyon suggested the pod may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.
Karen Stockin, an expert in marine mammals at New Zealand’s Massey University, said Tasmania was a “particular hotspot” for pilot whale strandings in large pods.
“It seems to be a notorious whale trap… you do tend to get these mass stranding events there,” she told AFP.
Stockin said that while pilot whales were typically more resilient than other whale species, rescuers faced a race against the clock as the mammals can overheat, their muscles deteriorate and their organs become crushed outside their natural environment.
“Time is never your friend,” she said. “So without doubt, the more expedited rescue missions are, the more likely there is an increased (chance) of survival.”
Mike Double, the head of the Tasmania-based Australian Marine Mammal Centre, said it was “tragic” that such a massive pod had become stranded, but other whales had previously been saved from the same location.
“The state team responsible for responding are extremely experienced and they’ll be absolutely working incredibly hard to get the best possible outcome,” he said.
At least 43 bodies have been recovered after a massive landslide triggered by monsoon rains swept away dozens of tea estate workers in southwestern India, police said Sunday.
The landslide in Idukki district, around 250 kilometres (155 miles) from Kerala state’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, occurred Friday but the ongoing search and rescue efforts have been hampered by torrential downpours.
The toll rose to 43 on Sunday afternoon, Idukki district’s police chief, R. Karuppasamy, told AFP.
Twenty-six of the bodies were recovered on Friday night, a police official said earlier Sunday.
Local media reported that some 78 people were believed to live in the area, with many still missing.
Kerala has been hit by deadly floods during the annual monsoon.
At least 18 people died in a passenger jet crash in Kerala on Friday when an Air India Express jet overshot the runway while trying to land in a storm and plunged down a bank.
The monsoon across South Asia is critical to replenishing rivers and groundwater, but also causes widespread death and destruction.
More than 300 people have died in floods and landslides in eastern and northeastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal in recent weeks.
Avalanches, flooding and harsh winter weather has killed more than 110 people across Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent days, officials said Tuesday, as authorities struggled to reach people stranded by heavy snowfall.
At least 75 people died and 64 were injured across Pakistan, with several still missing, while a further 39 people were killed in Afghanistan, according to officials in both countries.
Forecasts suggest more harsh weather is on the way.
Pakistani Kashmir was the worst-hit area, with 55 people killed and 10 others missing, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement.
In the picturesque but conflict-riven Neelum Valley in Kashmir, heavy snowfall triggered several avalanches, including one that killed at least 19 people.
“An avalanche hit their village, 10 people are still missing,” the NDMA said.
Frequent avalanches and landslides occur in Kashmir during the winter, often blocking roads and leaving communities isolated.
Authorities have shuttered schools, while several highways and roads were closed across the country’s northern mountainous areas, according to officials.
To the southeast in Balochistan province, at least 20 people had been killed in separate weather-related incidents.
“Most of those who died were women and children,” said Mohammad Younus, an official with the provincial disaster management authority, adding that hundreds remained stranded.
Across the border in Afghanistan, more than 300 houses were either destroyed or partially damaged throughout the country, said Ahmad Tamim Azimi a spokesman for the Natural Disaster Management Authority.
“A cold snap, heavy snowfall and rains that started two weeks ago have caused damage,” he said, adding that most casualties were caused after roofs collapsed under thick snow.
Hardest hit were southern Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and western Herat provinces.
In Herat, seven people — all members of the same family and including children — died when their roof caved in, Azimi added.
Harsh winters often take a heavy toll in mountainous Afghanistan, and the country remains poor despite billions of dollars in aid from the international community.
Fourteen people died and more than two million others spent a night huddled in storm shelters as Cyclone Bulbul smashed into the coasts of India and Bangladesh with fierce gales and torrential rains, officials said Sunday.
The cyclone packed winds of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour when it hit late Saturday, closing ports and airports in both countries.
Seven people were killed in India’s West Bengal state, the Press Trust of India reported, including two after uprooted trees fell on their homes and another after being struck by falling branches in Kolkata.
An eighth person died under a collapsed wall in nearby Odisha state.
In Bangladesh, six people were killed — five by falling trees — and at least 20 people were injured.
Five others are missing after a fishing trawler sank in squally weather on Meghna river near the southern island of Bhola, district administrator Masud Alam Siddiqui told AFP.
The cyclone also damaged some 4,000 mostly mud and tin-built houses, disaster management secretary Shah Kamal told AFP.
In coastal Khulna, the worst-hit district in Bangladesh, trees swayed violently and were ripped from the ground in the fierce storm, blocking roads and hampering access to the area.
Some low-lying parts of the district were flooded, disaster management minister Enamur Rahman told AFP.
Authorities said the cyclone was weakening as it moved inland.
“It has turned into a deep depression, causing heavy rainfall,” Bangladesh weather bureau deputy chief Ayesha Khatun told AFP.
Bulbul hit the coast at the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest which straddles Bangladesh and India, and is home to endangered species including Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins.
The mangroves shielded the coast from the storm’s full impact, Khatun said.
‘Trail of destruction’
Some 2.1 million people across Bangladesh were relocated to cyclone shelters.
Troops were sent to coastal districts while tens of thousands of volunteers went door-to-door and used loudspeakers to urge people to evacuate their villages.
“We spent the night with another 400 people,” said Ambia Begum, who arrived at a shelter in the port town of Mongla late Saturday along with her family.
“I am worried about my cattle and the straw roof of my house. I could not bring them here. Allah knows what is happening there,” the 30-year-old mother of three told AFP.
Around 1,500 tourists were stranded on St. Martin’s island off southeastern Bangladesh after boat services were cancelled.
In India, nearly 120,000 people who were evacuated started to return home as the cyclone weakened, authorities said.
“The storm has left a trail of destruction as it’s crossed the coastline of West Bengal,” the state’s Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said.
Bangladesh’s low-lying coast, home to 30 million people, and India’s east are regularly battered by cyclones.
Hundreds of thousands of people living around the Bay of Bengal have been killed in cyclones in recent decades.
While the frequency and intensity of the storms have increased, partly due to climate change, the death tolls have come down because of faster evacuations and the building of thousands of coastal shelters.
Cyclone Fani was the most powerful storm to hit the area in years when it struck in May, killing 12 people.
A woman in her 60s was found dead after her home was buried in a landslide in the southern port city of Busan and around 600 rescue workers were trying to locate three others believed to be trapped beneath the rubble.
Park Young-hak was inside his tool shed — later buried in the landslide — and said he escaped after hearing a loud “roar”.
“When I ran out to see what it was the house next to me had already disappeared,” Park told AFP.
More than 1,000 homes were damaged and over 1,500 people evacuated their houses in advance, the ministry said.
Mitag is the 18th typhoon this year and seventh to hit the Korean peninsula.
Hurricane Dorian bore down on Puerto Rico Wednesday as residents braced for a direct hit, the first since the island was ravaged two years ago by Hurricane Maria.
Even before the storm hit, an 80-year-old man was killed in a fall from a ladder while fixing a roof in a San Juan suburb, police said.
US forecasters said Dorian was upgraded to a hurricane from a tropical storm as it chugged near St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and was expected to make landfall in populous eastern Puerto Rico later Wednesday.
The latest path also puts Dorian on a trajectory to strike the Atlantic coast of Florida or Georgia by the weekend, with few obstacles to weaken it after Puerto Rico.
Residents of the seaside town of Fajardo, hard hit by Maria in 2017 and now directly in Dorian’s path, scrambled to get ready, fueling their vehicles and stocking up on basic necessities.
Miguel Melendez joked that the popular tourist area has become a “welcome committee” for hurricanes.
“I went to bed more or less at ease,” the 63-year-old retiree said. “But my sister woke me at 7:00 am to tell me: ‘Look, this has changed, this is headed to the house again.'”
Carmen Donos exited a Fajardo supermarket Wednesday morning with a shopping cart loaded with “my little basic things, and some sweets for when I’m anxious because the lights have gone out.”
The 49-year-old said she lost “absolutely everything” to flooding during Maria. “I definitely don’t want to go through that again.”
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, which is a US territory, authorizing federal assistance even as he lashed out at the island as “one of the most corrupt places on earth.
“Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt,” he said on Twitter.
Evacuations were getting underway, starting with people living in Maria-damaged homes that still have blue tarps for roofs, Carlos Acevedo Caballero, head of the local emergency management agency, told reporters.
Some 30,000 houses in Puerto Rico have blue tarps where once they had roofs.
Maria, a Category 4 hurricane, shattered the island’s already shaky power grid, overwhelmed public services and left many residents homeless.
A study accepted as valid by the government, which initially put the death toll at 64, estimated that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the hurricane and the months of disruption that followed.
Dorian, though far less powerful than Maria, looms as the first major test of the island’s halting recovery.
As of 1800 GMT, the storm was over St Thomas, packing 75-mile-an-hour (120-kilometer) winds.
It is forecast to dump four to six inches of rain on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Agents ‘ready to respond’
Forecasters project that after it crosses Puerto Rico, the storm will move into the Atlantic. It is expected to follow a trajectory north of the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos before swinging west toward Florida sometime over the weekend.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned that Dorian could grow into a major hurricane as he warned people to get ready.
“All Floridians on the East Coast should have 7 days of supplies, prepare their homes and follow the track closely,” he tweeted.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said some 3,000 agents had been deployed in Puerto Rico and were “ready to respond.”
“Emergency communications, logistics & transportation teams are also positioned on the island,” it said Tuesday on Twitter.
Puerto Rico’s new governor, Wanda Vazquez, said the island was better prepared this time to respond to any contingency.
Former governor Ricardo Rossello was forced to resign last month in part because of criticism of his handling of the emergency created by Maria.