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.
"He could hear the kids screaming and crying, trying to get out of the van," his brother, Ricardo Saldivar, told NBC News on Tuesday.