Eight of the children killed, ranging in age from 4 to 17, were in a vehicle from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, Garlock said. The youth ranch provides a home for neglected or abused school-age children, according to the Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches, the nonprofit that manages the Tallapoosa County girls ranch and others across the state.
A 29-year-old father and his 9-month-old daughter who were in another vehicle were also killed, Garlock said.
The accident happened on I-65 northbound at mile marker 138 on Saturday afternoon during storms that swept through the state, according to Garlock. A tropical depression that had been known as Tropical Storm Claudette dumped heavy rain across the Southeast on Saturday after it came ashore in southeastern Louisiana early that morning.
The driver of the small Girls Ranch bus was pulled from the burning vehicle, Garlock said, but rescue personnel were unable to reach the girls in time.
In the other vehicle, the father was pronounced dead at the scene Garlock said. The girl was taken to Regional Medical Center, where she was later pronounced dead. Garlock noted that she was properly restrained in a car seat, but said the impact was too powerful.
In a statement, Michael Smith, the CEO of the Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches, called the accident “a horrible tragedy and loss.”
“This morning, I have been thinking about how we do not always understand the reason things happen,” Smith said.
“However, we will continue to hold on to our God for peace and comfort as our hearts continue to break. Please continue to pray for us as we navigate this difficult time.”
People gathered at Reeltown High School in the east central Alabama town of Notasulga on Sunday afternoon to offer support and counseling to the families of some of those killed in the accident.
Principal Clifton Maddox told CNN people had gathered to “show families and students that they are not hurting alone.” Four students from his high school were killed in the accident, Maddox said.
The mood in the high school gym — now a makeshift counseling center — was heavy, with several people crying and many looking shell-shocked from the news.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has asked members of the public who may have photos or videos of the accident to submit them to law enforcement.