The danger lurking along a rural road in central California’s wine country was unclear to Lindsy Doan as she drove her five-year-old son to school Monday morning.

The region, like much of the state, had been hit by a series of deadly storms, but the family had traveled through the area the day before, her husband told The Guardian, and countless times before on their daily trips. Initially nothing seemed amiss and unlike on previous occasions there were no signs to indicate that the trail was closed.

It only became clear that the road was unsafe when floodwaters began carrying the vehicle into a creek near the town of San Miguel. Kindergartner Kyle Doan was calm and told his mother, “Don’t worry, Mom. It’s okay, everything will be fine, ”according to his father, Brian Doan. As they got out of the vehicle together, rushing water, fast currents and debris carried him out of his mother’s arms and forced Lindsy under. Nearby residents were able to rescue her with a rope, but the water carried Kyle away too quickly.

With the help of the national guard, law enforcement search and rescue teams have spent days searching for the 5-year-old boy, whom his father described as a loving and bright child who loved to dance, play with cards, Pokémon and watch Paw Patrol. The search is one of several that have been carried out in recent weeks as a devastating series of storms hit the state. Rains and winds have downed trees and power lines and flooded rivers and streams, killing at least 18 peopleincluding three in Sacramento County who were found dead in or near their cars.

California has more recently become accustomed to disasters due to drought and wildfires, but the latest change in extreme weather has highlighted the challenges that come with such a rapid deluge. It has also raised questions about how the state will manage the risks of catastrophic megafloods It is expected to be more common due to the climate crisis.

A rescue team searches for Kyle Doan in San Luis Obispo County, California.
A rescue team searches for Kyle Doan in San Luis Obispo County, California. Photo: San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook/Reuters

In San Luis Obispo County, where Kyle went missing, and in the Sacramento region, the rapid onset of flooding caught people off guard.

Locals who more easily navigate back roads in rural Sacramento County said drivers there never stood a chance. Driven by rain, the River Cosumnes burst its banks and the waters rose fast and furiously, plunging large stretches of road under a vast brown-tinged sea.

There were no visible signs in the dark on New Year’s Eve night and the next day, the vehicles followed one by one into the flood. Dozens had to be rescued. Some from the top of their floating chariots. Others could not escape. Three people died after being swept off roads or thrown into torrential waters.

Cosumnes fire crews responded to 259 calls for service from December 31 to January 1. That’s double the amount in a typical 48-hour period. We are grateful to our local, regional, and state public safety partners and dispatchers who helped us serve and protect our community during these winter storms.

—Cosumnes Fire Department. (@CosumnesFire) January 7, 2023

“Those poor people had no idea where to go, and there were no signs,” said Liz Ehlers, whose property borders the area where levees breached near Highway 99. She and her husband Tim rushed to evacuate during the point height of the storm, piling furniture and other belongings on tables as water seeped into his home.

Even on his ranch, with a strong familiarity with the streets and byways that meander through the area’s pastures and farmlands, the escape was harrowing. “The water on the train tracks was 4 feet deep, and that was before the levees broke,” he said. When the main route flooded and the road was closed, people relied on navigation apps to get through “and that tells you to go straight,” he said.

In the dimly lit area, the torrential waters mixed with the darkness. “It went up over 99 so fast that those people didn’t have a chance, there was no warning,” added her husband, Tim Ehlers.

Lindsy and her son were caught off guard on a road they had traveled frequently; the family had toured it the day before. It was meant to be the couple’s first day of school since winter break (Lindsy is a special education teacher at her son’s school) and Kyle was excited to be back, having recently made a full recovery from a broken leg. leg that required multiple surgeries. .

“My wife was driving a 4,000 pound SUV. It wasn’t until she was in the water that she realized how different she was in 18 hours and there was no sign telling her not to take this path,” Brian said.

Image of a boy smiling at the camera.
“I’m optimistic today, maybe we’ll find it,” Brian Doan said. Photograph: Courtesy of the Doan family

The water quickly pushed his vehicle off the road into the trees and he began to fill with water. Lindsy motioned for her son to unbuckle and go through the gate. He was as calm as when he broke his leg, his father said. But the waters and debris immediately overwhelmed Lindsy and his son, separating them.

“People don’t understand that when there’s fast-moving water with debris, it’s impossible to swim. You can’t keep control. My wife was being shot down underwater,” she said. “[Kyle] he was lower down, his back was turned, and they couldn’t reach him. Jogging is enormously difficult. The ground is a lot of chocolate pudding in many places. There is so much water saturation.”

The vehicle was later found overturned, Brian saying, “It was the right thing to get out of that car.” Authorities told him they recovered debris from the vehicle up to two miles away, he said.

The search has continued daily since Monday, though authorities called off the search several times earlier in the week due to severe weather. Her family hopes that she will return home, but she is prepared for the fact that it won’t happen.

“I’m optimistic today, maybe we’ll find it,” Brian said. “We won’t be able to get to the next phase until we find it. I’d love to have some good news, but I’ve been preparing. I have to be strong for my family.”

The family has been overwhelmed by the support they have received from the community, he added, and the efforts to find their son. “He’s a really good five and a half year old,” she said, her voice cracking.

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