UPDATE ― Aug. 30: The Harris County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Wednesday that it had found the bodies of six people, including four children, who had been missing since Sunday.
“Our worst fears have been realized,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters.
Law enforcement officials found a van earlier in the day. Six members of the Saldivar family had been in the vehicle when it was inundated by floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey.
Six people in the same family, including four children, are presumed dead after floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey inundated their van on Sunday afternoon.
Samuel Saldivar had been driving his relatives to safety when rising floodwaters suddenly “overcame” their van, according to CBS affiliate KHOU-TV, which first reported the tragedy in northern Harris County, Texas.
Saldivar said the victims were his elderly parents, who both had Alzheimer’s, and his four great-nieces and nephews, who were between the ages of 6 and 16, KHOU-TV reported, citing Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jason Spencer.
Texas officials have yet to confirm the deaths, saying they haven’t located the submerged van. Authorities did say there had been “six suspected flood-related deaths” in Harris County, but it’s not clear if they were referring to the Saldivar family.
As the vehicle began to sink, Saldivar managed to climb out of the driver-side window and shouted at the children to escape from the back, a relative told The Associated Press. He survived the ordeal by hanging onto a tree limb, KHOU-TV reported.
Virginia Saldivar, who identified herself as the driver’s sister-in-law and the children’s grandmother, said the kids and their great-grandparents weren’t able to escape in time.
“Sam calls my husband and tells him, ‘They’re gone,’” she told the AP. “That’s when my husband dropped the phone and started screaming.”
Ric Saldivar, Samuel’s brother, said it all happened extremely quickly. Samuel heard the children scream as the van was rapidly swept away, Ric told KTRK-TV.
Ashley Hiser Jackson, a California-based relative, confirmed the identities of the six missing family members as Manuel Saldivar, 84; Belia Saldivar, 81; Daisy Saldivar, 6; Xavier Saldivar, 8; Dominic Saldivar, 14; and Devy Saldivar, 16.
Jackson said her family is “heartbroken” and never expected the storm to “be this bad.”
“We are a strong family and have many people around us lifting everyone up in prayers,” Jackson told HuffPost in an email Tuesday. “Our need right now is for everyone’s continued safety and the recovery of our family.”
A GoFundMe page to support the Saldivar family raised over $1,400 in less than 24 hours.
Speaking to NBC News, Virginia Saldivar called her grandchildren “the sweetest kids.”
“Devy loved animals, Starbucks and thrift store shopping. She was my sunflower, my sunshine. Xavier was the sweetest boy. He loved anything Army and playing video games,” she said. “Daisy was our princess. She was Grandpa’s girl. She loved kittens and dressing up, and watching YouTube videos. Dominic was my heart. He was the most amazing, loving boy. He loved playing his trombone, watching YouTube and playing video games. He loved his family and he would defend them against anything.”
Manuel and Belia Saldivar would’ve celebrated their 60th anniversary in October. The two were holding hands when the car was overtaken by the flood waters, according to CNN.
“I was really hoping they would somehow go together because I couldn’t see one without the other,” Ric Saldivar told CNN. “No matter who was left behind they weren’t gonna last much longer without the other one.”
“They went to heaven holding hands.”