DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (AP) — Coast Guard crews searched for five people missing Sunday after recovering two bodies following a powerful weekend storm that capsized several sailboats competing in a regatta near Mobile Bay.
One body was discovered after Saturday’s storm and another Sunday morning, said Major Steve Thompson, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety’s Marine Patrol Division.
Authorities said crews used boats and planes to search the Alabama waters, including areas near Dauphin Island where anxious family members have gathered at a Coast Guard station awaiting updates. Red Cross volunteers and an ambulance also were at the site.
Names of the missing and deceased were not immediately released Sunday. One person was rescued Saturday evening.
More than 100 sailboats and as many as 200 people were participating in the 57th running of the Dauphin Island regatta in Mobile Bay when the storm hit Saturday.
Gary Garner, commodore of the Fairhope Yacht Club which organized the race, said members are “heartbroken.”
“We are helping and cooperating fully with the U.S. Coast Guard and other authorities in accounting for all of the sailors,” he said in an emailed statement.
Officials on Sunday said not all of the missing were taking part in the regatta.
Speaking at a news conference in Dauphin Island, Thompson called Saturday’s events “an awful tragedy.”
“Our hearts go out to the families, and we are using all available resources,” he added.
Coast Guard Capt. Duke Walker said officials are focused on finding the missing. Walker said conditions were “optimal” for Sunday’s ongoing search, with light winds and sunny skies on smooth water.
Spokesman Seth Johnson said earlier Sunday that the Coast Guard will investigate the weather conditions and the decision to go ahead with the regatta.
The conditions were calm early Saturday before the storm, according to tourists Joe B. Stuard and Andrea Stuard of Wilmer, who were watching Sunday as search boats moved offshore.
They were riding their bikes on Dauphin Island as the storm blew through around 4 p.m. Saturday. “We wouldn’t have been out on our bikes if we knew it was going to come in like that. It was fast and quick. We made a dash for shelter,” Joe B. Stuard said.
National Weather Service Mobile meteorologist John Purdy said Sunday that the storm moved eastward through Louisiana and Mississippi quickly, prompting a severe thunderstorm watch at 1:36 p.m. Saturday and a warning less than an hour later.
The NWS then issued a special marine warning around 3 p.m. for boaters on several waterways including Mobile Bay, warning of a line of thunderstorms producing gusty winds, high waves, dangerous lightning and heavy rains. The notice urged boaters to “seek safe harbor immediately.”
“When storms are moving quickly as in this case, things will change very rapidly especially if you are on a boat in the open waters,” Purdy said.