The 5-year-old boy who disappeared in California was torn from his mother’s arms in the middle of the floods

(CNN) — As central California floodwaters swept away his truck in the morning, 5-year-old Kyle Doan, now missing, encouraged his mother.

“Don’t worry, mommy,” the boy said, as his father, Brian Doan, recalled this Wednesday.

“He wasn’t understanding what was going on,” Doan told CNN. “But he was so calm talking to my wife while they were still in the car.”

A powerful storm, one of the last to hit the West Coast, turned streets into rivers and forced the closure of major California highways. Almost 20 people have lost their lives during the record-breaking series of storms in recent weeks. To the point that a spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services described the phenomenon this Wednesday as “one of the deadliest disasters in the history of our state.”

Authorities have been searching for Kyle on and off since Monday.

missing child california floods

Kyle Doan was looking forward to starting school this Monday after the holidays. (Credit: SLO County Sheriff)

Kyle’s mother, a special education teacher at the same school in San Miguel, San Luis Obispo County, that he attends managed to get him out of his car seat when water flooded the vehicle on the way to school.

“‘Only you. Not your backpack. Put it down,'” she told him as they prepared to escape, according to Doan.

Kyle’s mom clung on to him as water pooled over the low point of the country road and began to drive the vehicle forward.

Pieces of debris mixed with the rising floodwater as Kyle’s mother grabbed the boy, along with a small bag containing IDs and his phone.

“She tried to hold on to him and it was hard to steady things with the current,” Doan said. “And they parted.”

No one can question his actions, he insisted.

“He made the best decisions he could,” Doan said, his voice cracking. “I have to keep emphasizing that. She couldn’t stay in the car with him. The water was going to dominate the car shortly after… They got out. It was what had to be done.”

The SUV was later found upside down and covered in mud and debris, Doan said. His wife was rescued from the water safely.

The search for Kyle continued Wednesday, with the help of other law enforcement agencies, after it was halted the previous afternoon due to poor visibility. The initial search was called off Monday afternoon due to severe weather, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

Doan regretted not having hope.

“The hard thing to tell a lot of people right now is that it’s not a bailout. It’s a recovery,” she said, her voice cracking again. “And that’s something no parent wants to admit. And he knew after the first night… And it’s a very, very difficult idea, especially when it comes to your son.”

Doan said no one has officially called the search a recovery operation.

“I’ve seen enough, you know? It’s tough,” she 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 so hard, she was just thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, why couldn’t they have found it by now?'”

The last year has been difficult for Kyle, his father said. The boy tripped and fell at the preschool. He suffered an injury that required surgery and the placement of rods in his broken leg.

“He was cool about it,” Doan recalled. “He was very adaptable. He started walking a couple of months after that. It was like no one knew he had rods in his leg.”

In November, the rods were removed. There was a six week healing period and the restrictions on her movement were now ending. Kyle was looking forward to starting school this Monday after the holidays.

“He’s a great kid and he liked to dance,” Doan said. “He was very talkative, very outgoing. He liked to play the fool and try to get attention in all those ways that he likes to do to a five year old. He likes to play soccer and he liked his Paw Patrol”.

He added: “I was looking forward to going back to school.”

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Cheri Mossburg, Taylor Ward, Raja Razek and Stella Chan contributed to this report.

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