When Harris County Sheriff’s deputies found Sammy Saldivar on Sunday, the Houston resident had been clinging to a tree limb for nearly an hour.
He’d been trying to drive a van full of his flooded-out relatives — his parents, 84-year-old Manuel and 81-year-old Belia, and four of the couple’s great-grandchildren, ranging in age from 8 to 16 — to dryer ground.
Relatives told NBC News that Saldivar had just crossed a bridge over a swollen bayou when the road dipped and the vehicle was swept into the fast-moving floodwaters.
Saldivar managed to wriggle out of his seat belt and escape the sinking van through a half-open window, he told family members.
He grabbed onto a tree branch and urged the others to try to escape.
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"He could hear the kids screaming and crying, trying to get out of the van," his brother, Ricardo Saldivar, told NBC News on Tuesday.