Manuel and Belia Sandivar (top left) and their four great-grandchildren: Xavier, top right, Dominic, and Devy and Daisy Saldivar. Pictures: Courtesy of Ric Saldivar and family

Houston - Ric Saldivar, 53, has a big family - lots of brothers, spread over east Houston and beyond.

After floods stranded them in their respective homes, a chain of phone calls between the brothers and their wives informed Saldivar that, suddenly, his family may be much smaller. This is what he learned:

His mother and father, both in their 80s, were missing and presumed dead, he told The Washington Post. So were four young relatives, ages 6 through 16 - all of them trapped in a sinking van as they tried to reach his house through Sunday's floods.

His parents, Manuel and Belia, lived about 10 miles away, he said - across a bayou in northeast Houston.

"They both have Alzheimer's," he said.

His brother Sammy had recently moved down from Missouri to care for the couple. "He was doing a real good job," Ric Saldivar said.

Sammy, 56, had tried to prepare for the storm. He had resolved to stay up all night Saturday, watching the rising waters of Halls Bayou a few blocks away, ready to flee at a moment's notice. "But he fell asleep. . . . The neighbours woke him up," Ric said. "They said the water was coming up."

Several family members lived in that flooding pocket of Houston. Danny Saldivar and his wife lived one street over from the parents. Danny's daughter lived on yet another street - but she had gone out that night, leaving her 16-year-old to watch her three younger children.

"The kids were freaking out," Ric said.

So as Danny and his wife made their own plans to escape, he told Sammy: Take the keys, take the van, take them to Ric's house.

Also read: Woman gives birth as hurricane makes landfall, names him Harvey

Sammy loaded his parents into Danny's van. He loaded the children into the back - Devy and Dominic, both in their teens, and 8-year-old Xavier and his 6-year-old sister Daisy - and set out into the torrential rain on Sunday afternoon.

The bridge over the bayou on Green River Drive was covered in water, but the guard rails were peeking over the tops, so it didn't look too deep.

"Sammy said, 'Well, maybe I should go back,' " Ric said. "Dad said, 'No, you can cross.' . . . Sammy always listened to his daddy."

The van made it across the bridge. But the road dipped sharply on the other side, and before Sammy could do anything, the van was floating.

It bobbed left and right. Sammy pressed the gas, but the wheels just spun underwater.

"He panicked," Ric said. "He got out of the seat without even undoing the seat belt, and squeezed through the window."

Sammy clung to a tree branch in the water and tried to open the doors. But the doors wouldn't open. The children were in the back, behind a storage cage, and there was no way to get to them.

"He was yelling at the kids to climb out of the back of the van. I'm sure they couldn't reach it," Ric said. "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."

Sammy held onto that branch in the raging water for the better part of an hour, Ric said, yelling and screaming - until sheriff's deputies finally came along in a boat and threw him a rope. But by then, it was too late.

Without naming the children, the Pasadena Independent School District confirmed that "four … students and two of their great-grandparents were swept away by the floodwaters of Greens Bayou while trying to escape the floodwaters of Harvey."

"Our deepest sympathy for the family," the district's statement read.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office also confirmed that deputies rescued Sammy Saldivar on Sunday from Greens Bayou. A sheriff's spokesman told The Post that a search for the van was not possible in the storm. No deaths had been confirmed and no bodies were likely to be found until the flood subsides.

"They basically let us know they're not going to be able to do anything until the water goes down," Ric said. "I understand. It's not going to change the outcome. And the longer I don't see them, the longer it's not true."

But he's heard enough to believe the worst.

Deputies took Sammy to a shelter after pulling him from the bayou Sunday. There, he borrowed a phone and called his brother Danny and told Danny what had happened.

Then Danny told his wife, who told Ric, who called Sammy, who was crying. "He kept saying he was sorry, he was sorry," Ric said. "We kept trying to tell him it wasn't his fault."

And that's how the Saldivars mourn now - stranded in their respective corners of a flooded city, commiserating via phone calls, without even bodies to figure out how to bury.