Texas family swept away in flood: ‘They went to heaven holding hands’

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HOUSTON -- As his brother tells it, Sammy Saldivar tried to maneuver around Harvey's floodwaters.

Sammy packed his elderly parents and their great-grandchildren, ages 6 to 16, into a van as water rose around their northeast Texas home Sunday.

As he approached a waterlogged bridge over Greens Bayou, he tried to turn around but his father yelled at him to keep going, his brother, Ric Saldivar, said. Even at 84, patriarch Manuel Saldivar was still demanding. The way they were raised, "Dad tells you to do something, you do it," Ric Saldivar said.

Sammy made it across the bridge only to encounter a dip in the road on the other side, Ric Saldivar told CNN's Erin Burnett, recalling what his brother told him. Sammy lost control and the van went nose-first into the bayou with the family trapped inside.

Sammy managed to wriggle out of his seat belt and through the driver's side window. He made his way to a branch in the rushing water and held on for his life, Ric Saldivar said.

The water was so deep the van bobbed up and down. Sammy could hear the children scream and cry as they tried to escape. He yelled out to them to go to the back of the van and open the door, but they never made it. The van plunged into the water as Sammy watched.

Ric Saldivar said a sheriff told him his brother was stuck in the water for 45 minutes. They still don't know where the van is, whether the current carried it away or if it sank close to where it went in. They'll have to wait for the storms to pass to look for it.

For now, all the Saldivar family can do is grieve and comfort their surviving relative.

"He's still blaming himself," Ric Saldivar said. "He was trying to do the right thing to get them out of the flood ... and it just happened."

Sammy had relocated from Missouri to live with his aging parents, who both had Alzheimer's, his brother said. He was with them the morning flooding began in their neighborhood. Ric Saldivar called his brother and told him to bring the family members to his house on higher ground. Sammy stopped at another relative's home to pick up Devy, 16, Dominic, 14, Javier, 8, and 6-year-old Daisy.

Ric Saldivar takes comfort knowing his parents died together. Belia and Manuel Saldivar would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in October. He didn't think they had much time left, but despite the ravages of Alzheimer's they were still as close as ever.

"I was really hoping they would somehow go together because I couldn't see one without the other. No matter who was left behind they weren't gonna last much longer without the other one."

Sammy told his brother their parents were holding hands as the car plunged into the water. It brings Ric Saldivar a small measure of comfort.

"They went to heaven holding hands."

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