As the central California flood swept away his SUV on Monday morning, 5-year-old Kyle Doan, now missing, encouraged his mother.
“Don’t worry, Mommy,” the boy said, his father Brian Doan recalled on Wednesday.
“He wasn’t quite processing what was going on,” Doan told CNN. “But he was so calm talking to my wife while they were still in the car.”
A severe storm, one of the last to hit the West Coast, turned streets into rivers and forced California’s major highways to close. Nearly 20 lives have been lost during a series of storms in recent weeks, which a spokesman for the California governor’s Office of Emergency Services on Wednesday called “one of the deadliest disasters in our state’s history.”
Authorities have been looking for Kyle intermittently since Monday. More than 100 National Guard members arrived on the scene to help search for the missing child on Wednesday, and more troops are arriving to help on Thursday, the county sheriff said.
Kyle’s mother, a special education teacher at the same school in the village of San Miguel, San Luis Obispo County, where he attends kindergarten, managed to remove the boy from his car seat when floodwaters broke into their SUV on the way to school. .
“‘Only you. Not your backpack. Leave him,’” she told him as they prepared to escape, according to Doan.
Kyle’s mother held him like water it poured over the low point on the country road and began to boost the vehicle.
Pieces of debris mixed with the assembly flood as Kyle’s mother held the boy, along with a small bag of IDs and his phone.
“She tried to hold him and it was difficult to stabilize things with the current,” Doan said. “And they broke up.”
No one can question his actions, he insisted.
“She made the best decisions she could,” Doan said, his voice cracking. “I have to keep emphasizing that. She couldn’t be in the car with him. The flows would dominate the car later… They got out. That was the right thing to do.”
The mother described the harrowing moment her son escaped her after they got out of the car.
“I was basically at that point hugging the tree and trying to grab Kyle’s hands, but the current pushed Kyle out and our hands slipped,” Lindsy Doan told CNN affiliate KSBY.
The SUV was later found upside down and covered in mud and debris, Doan said. The mother was safely pulled out of the water.
The search for Kyle continued on Wednesday, with help from other law enforcement agencies, after being stopped the previous afternoon due to poor visibility. The initial search was suspended Monday afternoon because of bad weather, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
Crews combing the area with K-9 dogs were focusing primarily downstream from where the mother was rescued and where Kyle was last seen, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Commander Michael Manuele told KSBY.
Video of the scene showed rescuers examining an SUV that was partially submerged in mud and debris on Wednesday.
Brian Doan lamented that he is not hopeful.
“The hard thing to say to a lot of people right now is this is not a rescue. It’s a recovery,” he said, his voice cracking again. “And that’s something no parent wants to admit. And I kind of knew after the first night… And it’s a difficult, difficult concept, especially when it’s your child.”
Doan said no one has officially called the search a recovery operation.
“I’ve seen enough, you know. It’s difficult,” he said. “You know what the odds are. And as much as people try to be optimistic – and I support my wife – it’s hard. The first night was really hard – just thinking, ‘Oh my God, why didn’t they find him sooner?’”
The past year has been difficult for Kyle, his father said. The boy tripped and fell in preschool and suffered an injury that required surgery and the placement of rods in his fractured leg.
“He was good at it,” Doan recalled. “He was very adaptable. He started walking a few months after that. It was like no one knew he had rods in his leg.”
In November, the stems were removed. There was a six week healing period and the restrictions on her movement were ending. Kyle was looking forward to starting school the Monday after the holiday.
“He’s a great kid and he liked to dance,” Doan said. “He was very talkative, very outgoing. He liked to be silly and try to get attention in all the ways a five year old likes to do. He likes to play football and he liked his Paw Patrol.”
He added: “He was looking forward to getting back to school.”
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