Tales of drama, heart­break as wa­ters re­cede

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

As Har­vey’s flood­wa­ters started drop­ping across much of the Houston area Wed­nes­day, the storm be­gan to give up its dead. Au­thor­i­ties con­firmed the deaths of six mem­bers of the Sal­divar fam­ily — Manuel and Belia Sal­divar, both in their 80s, teenagers Devy and Do­minic, eight-year-old Xavier and six-yearold Daisy — who were at­tempt­ing to flee a flash flood when the van they were rid­ing in was sub­merged in wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to Ric Sal­divar, who is one of the elder Sal­divars’ sons.

The group had piled into a van be­ing driven by Sammy Sal­divar, 56, one of Ric’s brothers, on Satur­day night as the nearby Halls Bayou be­gan to flood.

As they ap­proached a bridge, Sammy saw that it was cov­ered in wa­ter. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Ric Sal­divar, they kept driv­ing, be­cause the guardrails were still show­ing.

But the road dipped sharply on the other side of the bridge, he said. Sud­denly, the van was float­ing and tak­ing on wa­ter. Sammy Sal­divar,

SKIES CLEAR­ING, BUT HOUSTON AWAK­ENS TO A DARK RE­AL­ITY IN STORM’S AF­TER­MATH

the driver, squeezed out of a win­dow and clung to a tree branch. No one else made it out of the van.

“He was yelling at the kids to climb out of the back of the van; I’m sure they couldn’t reach it,” said Ric, re­lay­ing the nar­ra­tive pro­vided to him by Sammy. “He could hear the kids scream­ing, but couldn’t push the doors open. That’s what he keeps hear­ing in his head. And the van just went un­der­wa­ter and was gone.”

On Satur­day, Alexan­der Sung, 64, was busy rac­ing around his clock re­pair store, lay­ing down news­pa­per and lift­ing the most valu­able time­pieces to the high­est shelves he could reach.

“Sweetie, I have to call you back!” he fran­ti­cally told his 20-year-old daugh­ter, Ali­cia Con­tr­eras.

Later she re­ceived a text. “I love you sweetie,” Sung as­sured his daugh­ter. “You guys are all I have.”

He promised he would call soon. The call never came.

His body was re­cov­ered from his shop on Sun­day.

In a rain-swollen canal in Beau­mont, Texas, au­thor­i­ties found a shiv­er­ing tod­dler cling­ing to the body of her drowned mother af­ter the woman tried to carry her child to safety from Har­vey’s floods.

Capt. Brad Penis­son of the fire-res­cue depart­ment in Beau­mont said the woman’s ve­hi­cle got stuck Tuesday af­ter­noon in the flooded park­ing lot of an of­fice park just off In­ter­state 10. Squalls from Har­vey were pound­ing Beau­mont with up to five cen­time­tres of rain an hour at the time with 60 km/h gusts.

Penis­son said a wit­ness saw the woman take her 18-month-old daugh­ter and try to walk to safety when the swift cur­rent of a flooded drainage canal next to the park­ing lot swept them both away.

The child was hold­ing onto the float­ing woman when a po­lice and fire-res­cue team in a boat caught up to them down­stream, he said. Res­cuers pulled them into the boat just be­fore they would have gone un­der a rail­road tres­tle where the wa­ter was so high that the boat could not have fol­lowed.

First re­spon­ders lifted the child from her mother’s body and tried to re­vive the woman, but she never re­gained con­scious­ness.

Penis­son said the child was in sta­ble con­di­tion in hospi­tal.

Ruar­idh Con­nel­lan, 26, a Lon­don-born free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher who lives in New York but was cov­er­ing the Houston hur­ri­cane, suf­fered a 12-hour or­deal that also left four men miss­ing.

Con­nel­lan, and an Amer­i­can col­league, had found a group of five men pre­par­ing to launch their boat into flood wa­ters that had stranded one of the men’s grand­moth­ers in her house.

“We got in the boat with them and be­gan head­ing to­ward her house to res­cue her,” said Con­nel­lan. “We thought it would be a good story; good pics.”

But he said as soon as the boat en­tered the wa­ter it veered out of con­trol and im­me­di­ately started head­ing to­ward some low-hang­ing power lines.

“Ev­ery­one jumped ship but we got zapped. I was in the wa­ter right by these power lines and I just felt this elec­tric cur­rent go through my body. I thought I was done for. Then it stopped but it started again. I could see four of the men ly­ing in the wa­ter — one of them, float­ing on his back in his life-jacket.”

Con­nel­lan, his col­league Alan But­ter­field and one other man were pulled along by the cur­rent. The three clung on to the up­turned hull of the mo­tor­boat. “Even­tu­ally there was this tree ap­proach­ing out in the mid­dle of the wa­ter and Alan said to grab hold and ditch the boat. We were hang­ing on to a branch with this mad flood wa­ter rush­ing past.”

But­ter­field and the other man man­aged to climb the tree, but Con­nel­lan said the flood wa­ters were too strong.

“I tried a cou­ple of times but fell back in the wa­ter and thought I was go­ing to drift off again, but I man­aged to hold on to the branch.”

It was late af­ter­noon and Con­nel­lan would cling on un­til the early hours of the morn­ing while the other men sat in the limbs of the tree above him.

“I’d pretty much con­vinced my­self I was go­ing to die at this point,” he said. “The only thing that kept me go­ing was think­ing about my girl­friend and my dog. That’s what gave me these scars, be­cause I was grip­ping so hard.”

His hands are scarred red. He has ad­di­tional scar­ring on his head, legs and feet. “It got re­ally rough be­cause it kept rain­ing and the pres­sure just in­creased,” he said. While it was still dark, and the only sound was the wa­ter rush­ing across his body, the branch Con­nel­lan was cling­ing to snapped.

Think­ing there was noth­ing left he could do to save him­self, he reached for a bush and held on, man­ag­ing to kick his legs in the wa­ter to pro­pel him­self for­ward enough to bury him­self in­side its branches.

Once dawn broke, he re­al­ized the bush he’d been hold­ing on to was close to some other trees, so he moved across and man­aged to climb on to one. He spent an­other four hours in the tree, be­fore res­cuers fi­nally ar­rived.

Con­nel­lan said he was too weak to pull him­self into the res­cue boat. “I just broke down and cried. I thought that was it; that I wouldn’t make it out alive.”

While con­di­tions in Houston ap­peared to im­prove, the dis­as­ter took a turn for the worse near the Texas-Louisiana state line.

The Texas com­mu­ni­ties of Beau­mont and Port Arthur strug­gled with ris­ing flood wa­ters and worked to evac­u­ate res­i­dents af­ter Har­vey rolled ashore early Wed­nes­day for the sec­ond time in six days, hit­ting south­west­ern Louisiana as a trop­i­cal storm.

For much of the rest of the Houston area, fore­cast­ers said the rain is pretty much over and the wa­ter is al­ready back within its chan­nels in some places. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city’s two ma­jor air­ports would re­open late in the af­ter­noon.

“We have good news,” said Jeff Lind­ner, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist with the Har­ris County Flood Con­trol District. “The wa­ter lev­els are go­ing down. And that’s for the first time in sev­eral days.”

Emer­gency au­thor­i­ties said more than 1,000 homes were de­stroyed and close to 50,000 dam­aged, and over 32,000 peo­ple were in shel­ters across the state.

Au­thor­i­ties ex­pect the death toll to rise as the wa­ters re­cede and bod­ies are found in cars and homes. Har­ris County of­fi­cials said they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing 17 deaths — on top of an of­fi­cial death toll of 21 — to de­ter­mine whether they were storm-re­lated.

GER­ALD HER­BERT / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Emer­gency re­spon­ders from Louisiana and Florida help trans­port an el­derly woman from the Golden Years As­sisted Liv­ing home, which was flooded Wed­nes­day from Trop­i­cal Storm Har­vey, in Or­ange, Tex.

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