Shivering from hypothermia, little Jordyn Grace was clutching her mother’s unresponsive body as the floodwaters rose around her.
A rescue team in a Zodiac boat, on the lookout for those in distress in Beaumont, Texas, spotted the small pink backpack the girl was wearing and pulled her and her mother aboard.
“Mama was saying her prayers,” the three-year-old, recovering on Wednesday in a Beaumont hospital, told a relative, Antionette Logan, 38.
“Jordyn told me they were in the yucky water for quite a while,” Ms. Logan said. “It’s a tragedy that her mama died, but it’s a miracle that Jordyn survived.”
With the death toll from Hurricane Harvey climbing to 38, those who survived the storm are just now learning the names of those who did not and the terrible ways in which they died.
Some episodes are particularly haunting, like the tale of Jordyn and her mother Colette Sulcer, 41, a nurse who died on Tuesday (local time) in the flooding in Beaumont, about 100 miles (166 kilometres) from waterlogged Houston, as her daughter clung to her body.
In a region where it is difficult to find a person without a harrowing story to tell, the story of Jordyn, the three-year-old who saw her mother die, moved all who heard it.
But it hit hardest within the large Beaumont family of nurses, pastors and military veterans who are relatives of Ms Sulcer and her daughter and who live not far from them.
Ms Sulcer, a surgical nurse, and her only daughter had tried to escape the flooding Tuesday in their car, taking a service road of Interstate 10. But the water caught up with them.
Relatives described Ms Sulcer as a dedicated nurse who entered the profession after the death years ago of her mother, who was also a nurse.“We’re a service family that takes pride in giving back to our community,” said Ms Logan, also a nurse.
Ms Logan said she and others in the family often referred to Ms Sulcer by a nickname, Nan Nan, adding that she enjoyed caring for her daughter, traveling, watching cooking shows and listening to music.
Ms Sulcer had recently driven to Houston to attend a concert of the British singer Ed Sheeran, and had kept in touch with relatives and friends through social media, texting and by phone. She kept them updated on Tuesday about efforts to escape the flooding. Then the messages suddenly stopped.
“We’re in absolute shock,” said Vanessa Jackson, 58, a cousin who is a retiree in Beaumont.
“You hear about stories like this in other places, other people’s lives. Not here, not us.”
The goal now was to calm a traumatised child. “We just need to be focused now on little Jordyn, who experienced something none of us should,” Ms Jackson said.
Another cousin, Sylvia Allison, 24, described Jordyn as “the only girl in our family of all boys, our lil tomboy at its finest.”
In a post on Facebook, Ms Allison expressed her grief, saying, “Our special little miracle, you survived all that water for hours holding on to my cousin.”
“I’m really having a hard time understanding today right now,” she wrote.
Co-workers at the Medical Center of Southeast Texas in Port Arthur where Ms Sulcer worked, had texted and talked to her on Tuesday morning as the rains were battering Beaumont.
“And one time she said, well, it looks like the weather is going to break, and we’re going stir crazy so we’re going to go out,” longtime friend and co-worker Michael LaBouef said.
The Beaumont Police Department said that Ms Sulcer and her daughter pulled into a parking lot when the waters began to rise, and then left their car. At some point, the police said, they were swept into a canal and ended up floating about half a mile.
At that point, it was too late for Ms Sulcer. But even as she succumbed to the floodwaters, she never let go of her daughter.
– The New York Times