'A true testament to a mother's will' — saving her daughter, but not herself, from Harvey's floods

Rescuers who spotted a child’s bag floating in East Texas floodwaters near Interstate 10 on Tuesday afternoon soon made a grim discovery: a 3-year-old girl clinging to the lifeless body of her mother.

“They saw the little pink backpack sticking out of the water,” Beaumont Police Officer Hailey Morrow said.

The pair were floating dangerously close to a trestle, Morrow said, but shortly before 4 p.m. rescuers “were able to get to them before they went under.”

The woman had been driving on a service road next to the highway when she stopped, left her sedan with her daughter and was washed into a nearby canal, Morrow said. She was identified as Colette Sulcer, 41, of Beaumont.

Morrow said it wasn’t clear why Sulcer got out of her car as Tropical Storm Harvey battered the city of about 120,000, blocking the interstate to the east and west.

“Essentially, Beaumont is an island right now,” Morrow said. “She got out of the vehicle, and everything is so flooded here that you can’t see if it’s a road or a ditch.”

At least two people have died in the Beaumont area, including Sulcer, whose body was recovered on the west side, and a second woman whose body was found on the north side of the city at 7:25 a.m. Wednesday, Morrow said. The other woman’s name had not been released, pending notification of relatives, Morrow said

She said that when a team of four police and firefighters in a Zodiac rescue boat saved the 3-year-old, she had been washed about half a mile off the interstate and was about to be swept under a trestle.

The girl had been clinging to her mother’s back for about an hour, Morrow said.

“It’s a true testament to a mother’s will, that motherly instinct we hear about, her will to save her child’s life,” Morrow said.

An ambulance couldn’t initially reach the rescue boat, but a good Samaritan with a truck gave the group a ride, and paramedics got the girl to a hospital, Morrow said.

“She was suffering from a little bit of hypothermia, but once she got to the hospital she was chatting with the nurses,” she said.

She was in stable condition Wednesday.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Twitter: @mollyhf

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UPDATES:

11:10 a.m.: This article has been updated with the mother’s name.

This article was originally posted at 9:35 a.m.

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