A five-year-old boy told his mum ‘just be calm’ as he clutched onto her hand before being swept away by torrential floods in California.
Lindsy Doan’s SUV was pinned against a tree as she was driving Kyle to school during an epic winter storm in the US.
The car was carried off the road after the water in a creek was much deeper than she first thought.
The mum-of-three said her final words from her son were ‘Mom, it’s okay….just be calm’ before the water took him from the back seat of the Chevy.
Horrendous downpours in the States have lead to heavy flooding on California’s central coast near Paso Robles.
A team of National Guard troops, divers and other rescue teams have been using dogs and drones to try and find Kyle after he went missing on Monday.
Volunteers have been picking through shoulder-high piles of driftwood on the banks of San Marcos Creek and so far, they’ve found only one of his blue and gray Nike trainers.
The storms that have relentlessly pounded California since the end of last year have claimed at least 18 lives.
Most of the deaths have been caused by falling trees and people driving on flooded roads.
His mum said: ‘Yesterday I got to the point where I think I ran out of tears… I just don’t know what to expect anymore.
‘I mean, I’ve tried to do a Google search: How long can a child not eat? How long can they be in wet clothes? … We’re worried because I don’t know if they’re going to be able to find him.’
Kyle and his mum were driving the youngster back to school after his Christmas holiday and it was going to be his first day he could play with friends for months after recovering from a broken leg.
They had made the same journey just the day before and didn’t have any issues.
But when Lindsy approached the crossing this time she found the water was much deeper.
After Doan’s car came to a rest against the trees it began taking on water, so she decided to abandon it.
The windows wouldn’t go down, but she was able to open her door and hug a tree.
With the current pinning the rear door closed, she told Kyle to leave his belongings and climb into the front seat.
‘I don’t care about your backpack,’ she said. ‘I just want you to come to me.’
She was able to grab his hand but her grip was loose and the current swept Kyle around the other side of the tree.
‘I could feel his fingers slipping from mine,’ she said.
As the water pulled them apart, she let go of the tree to try to get her son, who couldn’t swim.
She said: ‘I saw his head kind of floating and he was looking at me because he was going backwards,’ she said. ‘I was trying to keep my head above the water, but the currents kept pulling me down. And after a while I didn’t see Kyle or what was going on.’
Others living nearby heard Lindsy’s screams as she tried to get help.
Neil Collins and his wife, Danielle, who own an orchard off San Marcos Road had gone down to the creek that morning to see if they would be able to get out across the floodwaters
He missed seeing Doan drive into the creek. But her screams caught his attention.
He said: ‘I looked at my wife and said, ‘That sounds like a human…I heard a second scream and just ran up the river.’
In a typical winter, the river may be waist deep, but he guessed it was up to 12 feet (3.6 meters) deep and four times its width when it’s running.
After he spotted Lindsy struggling to stay afloat, Collins noticed another body floating in the middle of the creek and thought it looked lifeless. So he focused on Doan, who was closer to shore.
He ran alongside her downstream while his wife called 911 and some orchard workers brought a rope.
Eventually, Doan managed to grab some branches of bushes underwater and Collins and his crew tossed her a life line.
Doan was hysterical when she made it to shore, Collins said. It was only then that he realized the other figure that washed by was her little boy.
If Doan had floated another 100 yards, he’s not sure he could have helped her. An embankment and barbed wire fence would have prevented him from running alongside her.
‘Time was running out,’ he said.
Mrs Doan said: ‘In the back of your mind, it’s like, ‘Well, what if, what if, what if I just turned around and went back the other way?
‘What if, what if I had just decided, ‘Hey, you know, let’s not go down this road this day?’ I don’t know that that’s ever going to disappear.’
When asked what her son might say to her in this time, Doan took a breath and collected her thoughts before saying that Kyle always wanted his family to be happy and feel good.
She said: ‘Maybe he would say something like … ‘There’s nothing that you can do, Mom, it’s OK. Everything will be OK.’
Speaking of Kyle she said: ‘He loves making everyone laugh. He wanted to make everyone smile. He loves to please people.’
Scotty Jalbert, emergency services manager for San Luis Obispo County, said river crossings can be deceiving and people can run into trouble after successfully fording them several times.
As little as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of water is enough to knock a person off their feet and can even push a car off course if it’s moving rapidly.
‘We use the term, ‘Turn around, don’t drown,’ Jalbert said. ‘With this tragedy, when the responders got to the scene, the water was over the vehicle. Obviously, that kind of energy is going to cause a bad situation.’
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