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Texas Braces For Catastrophic Floods From Hurricane Harvey; Navy Readiness Questioned After Ship Collisions; NOAA Hurricane Hunter On Going Inside Harvey. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:35] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Harvey is intensifying and heading towards the Texas coast.

This is what the massive storm looks like from space. The International Space Station capturing these imagines of the powerful storm.

CNN's Nick Valencia is back on earth. He is live in Corpus Christi and can tell us how it's looking there. Hi, Nick.


This city, Corpus Christi, for all intents and purposes, is shut down at this hour. Schools are closed, businesses are boarded up. Even flights into and out of the airport, as of 6:30 local this morning, have stopped until Monday.

And just take a look at how fast this water is starting to rise here. We're on the bank of the bay just outside of our hotel room here.

When we arrived from San Antonio yesterday we were driving down into the interstate and we were one of the only cars driving into the city. Many of those residents took the voluntary orders from the mayor seriously -- got out of town to places like San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth.

The evacuations also affected local hospitals. We understand at least 10 babies from a neonatal unit were evacuated to neighboring Fort Worth.

The city mayor and city leadership here warning the residents that this is going to be a very serious storm. I was speaking to the police department earlier. They say they are all hands on deck as of about 30 minutes ago, starting their 12-hour shifts. They believe this will be a very big event -- David.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Nick, thanks so much in Corpus Christi. Keep an eye on all of this for us. We'll be checking back with you.

One city that could see more than a foot of rain is Houston, which is one of America's most flood-prone cities. So how is the city preparing now? Let's talk with Chief Rick Flanagan. He heads up the Houston mayor's office of emergency management. Rick, thanks for joining us.


GREGORY: I know in some of your discussion with our control room this morning you talked about the flooding you've seen, even over Memorial Day weekend, with heavy rain activity.

What are you expecting this go-round?

FLANAGAN: Well, the forecast says that we could get up to 20 inches of rain. That really impacts us a great deal. That impacts the roadway access and sometimes we have a saturation of trees, loss of power, so it could be the gamut of things.

GREGORY: So how do you approach this in terms of evacuations or preparations for a big city that's used to a lot of rain, used to flooding, and may think OK, you know, we're just going to have to deal with this as we've dealt with other storms, maybe not appreciating that this is a hurricane event that's not only a storm with major wind but with a stalled system that brings so much rain and flooding?

[07:35:12] FLANAGAN: Well, when you -- in the Houston area with such a flat terrain itself, we try to make sure we put out a high capacity of information for the general public. We want them to make sure that they understand what the potential rainfall may be, to consider what they need to do to provide for their family and plan for their family.

Keep documents at hand so in case they do -- your home is impacted that you have your insurance papers and all of those things ready. Have a kit, make a plan, stay informed, and know your neighbors. Just an information network is so important.

GREGORY: What about daily activities. I mean, I've been on Houston highways during what we'd consider normal big rain events where you have so much flooding on the highways.

What are you advising residents there to be thinking about and preparations to take?

FLANAGAN: Well, when we -- when we look at the high water impact and where we live, we know that there's a high probability that -- we have our mission statement that we put out to the general public, if you see high water turn around, don't drown. It only takes about six or eight inches of water for you to lose control of your car when you're operating on the roadways.

Our roadways fill quite a bit. We monitor those roadways and we make sure that we maintain a high capacity of information inside those emergency centers. We put that information out where people should not drive.

We look at our high water areas that often flood and we put our barricades there to make sure that we can keep the general public out of harm's way.

GREGORY: It's important, I think, for accountability when it comes to how local authorities are in conversation with state authorities and with federal authorities. How is that going so far as this storm bears down?

FLANAGAN: Well, we look at that front line group that we have inside of our center and those persons that are going to be providing front line service -- police, fire, EMS, rescue, public works, engineering, health department.

And also the American Red Cross because if we have high areas of flooding in residential areas we have to get those people out and get those inside of a shelter.

And we network not only with just the city, the county, and the state so that we can talk about assets, asset utilization, and what our needs are to continue to provide the general service to the public.

GREGORY: All right. Rick Flanagan, good luck to you and all the best in your preparations and in dealing with the storm. We really appreciate you taking time this morning.

FLANAGAN: Thank you. Good day.


Another story that we've been following.

Two recent deadly Navy collisions raising serious questions. What's going wrong? We're going to ask the chief of Naval Operations, next.


[07:41:21] GREGORY: The deadly collision of the USS John McCain this week, the fourth major accident this year, is sparking a new round of questions about the Navy's readiness.

The House Armed Services Committee is demanding answers now. They will hold hearings right after the Labor Day holiday.

CNN's Diane Gallagher has more.


CYNTHIA KIMBALL, MOTHER OF MISSING SAILOR JOHN HOAGLAND: That's not supposed to happen. You just don't -- you don't think it's going to happen to your -- to your child.

DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her son, John Hoagland, one of the 10 presumed dead in the USS John S. McCain collision. Cynthia Kimball is yet another grieving military mother this summer whose child was killed in a non-combat accident.

In just five of the major accidents since May, more than 40 servicemen and women have died -- REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I think it's probably approaching a readiness crisis.

GALLAGHER: -- stemming from a variety of issues including the 16-year war on terror, increasing conflicts and tensions around the globe, and budget caps tied to sequestration.

Military leadership has been sounding the alarm for years.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think our competitive advantage has eroded right now. We would be challenged in projecting power today.

ADM. BILL MORAN, VICE CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS: The unrelenting pace, inadequate resources, and small size are taking their toll.

GALLAGHER: And while still under investigation, a series of incidents involving Navy warships based in Japan, including the two deadly collisions this summer, could be evidence of strain.

KINZINGER: We have the smallest Navy we've had in a very long time but we still have the same size ocean. And now, you have actually more issues popping up all over the globe so you're going to have to deploy Navy assets.

GALLAGHER: The Navy ordered a rare pause in operation --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're doing terrific, guys.

GALLAGHER: -- and in an unprecedented move dismissed the 7th Fleet commander, Joseph Aucoin.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: We can keep, you know, disciplining some of these bad officers, but at the end of the day we need to have a military that is fed, trained, and ready to go, and we're not doing that right now.

GALLAGHER: The military says more than half of Navy aircrafts can't fly right now. That's twice the historic norm.

In the Army, just three of 58 brigade combat teams are considered fully ready and able to fight tonight.

The Air Force is short more than 1,500 pilots and nearly 3,500 aircraft maintainers. The average age of their aircraft, 27 years old.

And, Marine fighter pilots are often not able to meet minimum monthly flight hour requirements, something the Corps blames on budget constraints.

The Marines issued a one-day ground stop of all aircrafts this month following two deadly crashes.

GALLEGO: If you want the amount of military you have to spend the money to do. The days of trying to do this on the cheap are gone. Even if we get rid of sequestration and we put the investments that we need to modernize our military it's going to take probably a total of 10 years for us to catch up.

GALLAGHER (on camera): Now, House Republicans did pass a proposal for the 2018 Defense budget. That includes a much bigger increase than even the president's did but those are just proposals. They're bound to change.

And now with talk of a looming shut down here in Washington, military officials are focusing on what they can. Adjustments to leadership and training, and just waiting to find out what Washington will do.

The House Armed Services Committee has scheduled a hearing for its first read back in Washington. The topic may be readiness and those two deadly collisions from this summer.

Diane Gallagher, CNN, Washington.


CAMEROTA: While the Navy confirming the deaths of two sailors aboard the USS McCain now, searchers suspended the search and rescue mission for eight other sailors who are still missing following that collision in the South Pacific. They have shifted to a recovery operation.

[07:45:00] The crash of the USS McCain comes after another crash on the USS Fitzgerald that killed seven sailors in June.

For more on the cause of these crashes we are joined by Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy.

Admiral Richardson, thank you so much for being here.

I don't know if you can see our screens there but we were putting up the pictures -- the photographs of these young men lost in these two collisions and, of course, their families want answers. So what do you think caused these collisions?

ADM. JOHN RICHARDSON, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS, U.S. NAVY: Well, Alisyn, before I get started let me just make clear that our top priority is the -- to recover our fallen sailors -- our fallen shipmates, and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.

And, of course, they have a lot of questions as to how this happened. We and everybody in the Navy and in the nation has those questions and that's why we've commissioned a series of investigations to get to the bottom of this.

CAMEROTA: We had a U.S. Navy official tell CNN that the McCain suffered a steering casualty, meaning a loss of steering right before the collision. What can you tell us about that?

RICHARDSON: I think that that and every other question, every possible factor, will be investigated thoroughly. And when we see, you know, the entire investigation come together we'll be in a position to talk about that.

CAMEROTA: I know that you had tweeted out -- just a clarification -- about whether or not it was possible that there was some sort of cyber hack or intrusion or some sort of sabotage. What's the update on that?

RICHARDSON: Alisyn, we have no evidence to date that there has been any kind of cyber intrusion or cyberattack. But I do want to make clear that, you know, in this digital world that we live in right now this -- it will be a more routine part of investigations going forward.

We're going to have to, as a matter of course, investigate the digital and the cyber aspects of these problems and so you can probably see this becoming a more routine part of all future investigations.

CAMEROTA: But it sounds as if what happened on the McCain might not be something newfangled. It might be as old as shoddy maintenance.

I mean, this is the -- "Navy Times" had this article recently in which they criticized the maintenance. Let me just a read a portion of this.

"Under former Secretary Ray Mabus, the Navy made a policy of directing money away from operations and maintenance in order to keep funding shipbuilding, an effort to arrest the precipitous decline of the fleet's size, which has dropped from more than 500 ships at the end of the Cold War to today's 274.

The Navy's leadership is lining up behind a unified message: fix our fleet, focus on war fighting, then grow the Navy."

Has the maintenance on these ships fallen behind?

RICHARDSON: Well, you can see that there is just a lot of concern around the nation and the Navy -- a lot of people with knowledge of how the Navy operates. They're concerned and they want to get to the bottom of it. But it would be just too early to speculate on those types of factors until we see the full body of evidence, so we're going to take a look at everything.

CAMEROTA: Well, I understand. I mean, look, I'm not saying -- I'm not asking you today to give us definitely what happened but I am asking you to say do you think that the maintenance of these ships, as the "Navy Times" reports, has fallen behind?

RICHARDSON: We continue to maintain ships to standards. That is, you know, what we expect our commanders to do and we hold them accountable to do that. And we'll take a look at the specifics of, you know, that standard as it applies to these accidents.

CAMEROTA: The president tweeted about the loss -- the tragedy onboard the McCain twice. I believe he's not spoken about it publicly. Do you think that it would help Americans and these families to hear from the president? RICHARDSON: Well, the president has been very clear about how he feels about the loss of these shipmates and that he, as well, supports their families. And we need to do everything we can to support them consistent with the president's thoughts there.

CAMEROTA: Admiral John Richardson, thank you very much for taking time to be on NEW DAY.

RICHARDSON: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: David --

GREGORY: Alisyn, we're still watching our big story this morning. Hurricane Harvey barreling toward Texas.

So what's it like inside the storm? We're going to talk to a hurricane hunter who has some pretty amazing video to show us. That's coming up next.


[07:53:32] GREGORY: Ongoing coverage of Hurricane Harvey this morning. Seventeen million people are under hurricane watches and warnings this morning as Hurricane Harvey bears down on the Texas coast.

So, how do meteorologists get the information to update the forecast? Hurricane hunters who fly into the storm provide vital information.

Commander Justin Kibbey is a pilot for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He joins us now on the phone.

Commander Kibbey, good morning. Thanks for taking the time.


GREGORY: You went out just yesterday to observe the storm. You flew into it and it was only a tropical storm.

What did you observe and what made that -- what information then influenced the change in the forecast?

KIBBEY: Sure. Yes, it was a -- it was a relatively strong tropical storm that we flew into and as we like to call it, it was getting its act together. It was becoming a more concentric eyewall.

And as we were in the storm making our first pass it was -- it was -- it was classified as a category one hurricane while we were in the storm. It was just a -- it was a very strong tropical storm that was in the process of becoming stronger.

GREGORY: We're looking at the images provided from your plane.

What made it a category one for you? What is it that you observed and how are you making measurements on the storm, on the air, on precipitation to change the classification?

[07:55:07] KIBBEY: First, so it -- we're looking at specifically the wind speed of the storm, and when those speeds start to increase and meet certain wickets they'll go through the tropical storm to category one and category two, and so on.

And we have a wide array of equipment on the plane. One thing that we do have is an instrument called a dropsonde, which is launched out of the plane and just provides instantaneous feedback to us of temperature, pressure, wind speed, and humidity. And we drop these all throughout the storm and that information goes straight to the National Hurricane Center to help better predict intensity forecasts and track forecasts.

GREGORY: How does -- Commander, how does your mission change today given what we know about the storm?

KIBBEY: Well, today we know it's a -- it's a category two. We know it's forecast to strengthen to a category three, you know.

We have procedures and policies in place to fly these -- fly these things safely. And nothing changes beyond the fact that we know that it could -- it could pack a little bit more of a punch and have some deeper convection. And, as always, it can be challenging to fly.

GREGORY: Yes. I mean, I was just going to ask -- I mean, as a nervous flyer, I look at that and think that's not exactly my first choice as recreational activity but this is, of course, science.

But there have to be safety concerns as you fly into an intensifying storm in what is after all, as we look at these images, a very loud, slow prop plane.

KIBBEY: Absolutely. It's a -- it's a well-constructed plane and we feel very safe in it.

And it's definitely a crew intensive environment between the pilots, the meteorologists onboard, the scientists, and we're all working together to, first and foremost, keep us safe, but to ensure that the plane's put in the right position to get the data out to the public. So we definitely are trained well and we work together as a team in order to keep us safe and, like I said, get that information out there.

GREGORY: So again, today, as you've got local officials and national officials gathering information, trying to relay that to local residents, also local forecasters, what's most important about what you're gathering today?

KIBBEY: I think today is going to be one of the -- one of the final flights for hurricane hunters going in before it makes landfall, and that's the critical information before it actually reaches land.

So I think the data that we provide today is -- will be obviously ingested into models, ingested into the intensity forecast and track forecast with the hope that it goes out to the public and it -- and it -- you know, it saves lives. So I think we're at the critical moments before landfall and the information provided by the planes is kind of the last peek we'll get at it before it does come ashore.

GREGORY: All right.

Commander Kibbey, thanks so much for your time this morning. Best of luck with your flight this morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time to get the very latest information and gather as much data as you can on Hurricane Harvey. We appreciate it very much.

KIBBEY: Absolutely. You guys take care.

GREGORY: We are following a great deal of news here as we approach the top of the hour. Let's get right to it.


RON NIRENBERG, MAYOR, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS: The storm has the potential to be a weather event that we talk about for years to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This could be the first major hurricane to make landfall in the last 12 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no need to panic. Get a plan. Prepare to protect your personal property.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For our friends in the Senate, oh boy.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Any time you threaten a government shutdown is dumb.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He's not the first president to use the bully pulpit to try to push the country in a particular direction.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the ability nor some of the competence he needs.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's a ridiculous claim and doesn't dignify a response.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, August 25th, 8:00 here in the East.

Chris is off, David Gregory joins me.

This storm is changing by the moment.

GREGORY: It is. We're learning a lot and it's so important to convey that to people who've got -- really got to make preparations now as this bears down on Texas. CAMEROTA: OK, so let's do that because we have breaking news.

Hurricane Harvey has gained strength. It is now packing maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour. The storm is roaring towards the Texas coast and the storms outer bands, as you could see there from the satellite, are starting to drench the coastal cities.

Harvey is on track to become a major hurricane before making landfall tonight. Right now, 17 million people are under hurricane and tropical storm warnings.

GREGORY: Yes, and it's catastrophic flooding, as we've been saying all morning, that is the real concern here, not just wind damage that would be associated with the hurricane. Forecasters expect this storm to stall -- to just stay put over Texas for a matter of days, dumping two to three feet of rain -- even more than that in some areas.