WASHINGTON — Gerardo Ramirez, a central Texas dairy worker, was near his home but taking an unusual route to a children’s hospital in April when he drove his Volkswagen Jetta into a flooded section of road, not seeing in the pre-dawn dark that heavy rains had turned a tiny creek into a death trap. Ramirez survived, but his wife and two children drowned.

In March, 800 miles away in Lee County, Ala., 23 people ranging in age from 6 to 93 were killed in a 170 mph tornado — despite an evacuation warning by local authorities just like ones that many residents had heeded in previous storms this year.

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