Return to Transcripts main page


Hurricane Harvey Makes Landfall; Trump Pardons Arpaio; Gorka Is Out. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired August 26, 2017 - 02:00   ET




ANNOUNCER (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): 2:00 am on the U.S. East Coast, welcome to viewers here in the United States and around the world. We're following several breaking news stories this hour here on CNN. I'm George Howell at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

Millions of people are in the path of a massive category 3 hurricane. It's been downgraded but bearing down on the U.S. state of Texas at this hour.

Also a major political storm to tell you about.

But first the very latest on Hurricane Harvey. Officials warn this could be the worst storm to hit the country since Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. The U.S. president has already declared it a major disaster. We'll have the latest on this storm, full coverage ahead this hour.

The other big story to tell you about, a major move by President Trump, pardoning a controversial former sheriff who critics accused of brazen racial profiling. Joe Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court about a month ago for defying a court order to stop illegally detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.

Also in Washington, another Trump official is out of a job. The president's counter terrorism adviser, Sebastian Gorka, an outspoken defender of President Trump, has left his position at the White House.

So as we mentioned, a great deal to cover this day. Let's start with this monster storm that's hitting the state of Texas this hour. Our correspondents on the ground in the middle of it all, Martin Savidge, following the situation in Corpus Christi, Texas, and our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, live in San Antonio with us this hour.

First, Martin, to you there on the coastline where we can see that the winds are strong.

What's the situation like right now? MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Situation's improving,, at least when we talk about the winds and when we talk about Corpus Christi here. Hurricane Harvey came ashore. It was a category 4 storm so it was a massive and major hurricane.

And it's quite clear that there has been damage done. Corpus Christi was not ground zero; that was actually about maybe 30 miles north of here, roughly 60 kilometers you can say, in Rockport.

There the city manager is saying, in that community, they have suffered damage in the downtown area. They were only able to do a very quick assessment. The eye of the storm went over them so it created a temporary calm.

The emergency crews went out and that's when they began to gauge that they do have serious problem but then had to scamper back under cover once more as the backside of the hurricane comes in.

So they know they've got real problems there. The problems here do not seem as severe, however, in the darkness; there are no emergency crews that have been really going out and doing assessments.

There was power out to thousands of people. But it's now down to a handful of people so that is good news. But there are other dangers that lurk out in the wind. Here's an for example, this is what fell a short distance a few feet away from our live location. This is why you don't go out in hurricane force winds because that will kill you if it falls on top of you.

So we enter now into the second phase of this potential disaster, that is as the winds subside here, it's going to continue with the rain. The rain is expected to go on for days and that could end up with just a monstrous proportion of water all over South Texas. The truth is, even if the storm lessens here, it just means it's going somewhere else.

So we're a long way from getting out of the woods with this one -- George.

HOWELL: Martin, just a few hours ago, we were watching you in that storm with my colleague, Don Lemon, and the winds certainly much stronger, this hurricane downgraded here just a short time ago.

But as do you point out, the danger still exists. We had some images from Rockport and, as you indicate, that's where a lot of damage has been seen. Martin Savidge, stand by with us. Let's bring in Derek Van Dam, live in San Antonio, Texas.

Derek, as we understand it, you know this better than I; it's your profession for sure, but this storm may be moving a little closer to you there in San Antonio.

What is the sense there, because that is the city where many people from the coast evacuated to get to safer ground.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you're right, George. In fact, San Antonio is the closest largest city to the numerous counties that were evacuated over the past 48 hours.

The thing about major Hurricane Harvey is that it just intensified so quickly, so rapidly, it caught a lot of people off guard and didn't give them the opportunity to actually evacuate or even board up their homes first and then take the opportunity to evacuate.

So that's the real concern here. We're going to figure out how many people stayed behind once we get that first glimmer of light --


VAN DAM: -- to see the damage that has been left behind of this landfalling, what was a category 4 hurricane. I am right now at the Riverwalk in San Antonio, downtown San Antonio. This is the quintessential backdrop to this large major metropolitan city.

And San Antonio is actually recognized as a federal and state city of refuge. So in a disaster like this, this is where people come to, to seek refuge. In fact, FEMA has set up staging areas here, they're saying shelters can handle up to 20,000 people. They've had over 96,000 leaders of water shipped in. Several tents, tarps as well and plenty of meals to help feed people who come to these shelters.

So they well equipped, well prepared for an influx of people that have already arrived on scene.

The other important thing here, too, and, George, you're a Texas native so you probably know this, but San Antonio is well prepared for flooding as well. If we get the upwards of 12 inches of rainfall here, a foot of rain, there is actually tunnels, dams and levies that help alleviate the water within the city confines in San Antonio.

What I'm particularly concerned with, however, is the suburbs where the low lying areas are and the flooding can take place. Remember, George, it only take 6 inches of rain -- of rushing water to actually knock an adult off their feet. It only takes 12 inches of rushing water to float a small vehicle and wash it downstream.

So the point here is, turn around, don't drown if you see flooded roadways. But another key message here is just because you're 100 miles inland in San Antonio, if you've come here to evacuate from the coast, that doesn't mean that you're spared from the greatest threats of this storm. There's still plenty to come, heavy rain, flooding and more wind -- George.

HOWELL: Derek, I am a Texas boy but didn't know that fact. That is some good news to share with our viewers as we get a sense of San Antonio as a shelter for people. Derek Van Dam, thank you for being with us.

Martin Savidge, live for us as well in Corpus Christi. Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you for the reporting from both of you.

Let's now get the very latest on this storm's path. Our meteorologist, Karen Maginnis, tracking Harvey.

Karen, what's the latest on the storm?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We just got an update from the National Hurricane Center, it has been downgraded but I hesitate to use that word because it sounds like maybe the coast is clear pretty soon. It is not. I'll give you a breakdown of what's going to happen for the next several days, if, in fact, not months.

Here's the latest information, 125 miles per hour; that makes it a category 3. When it made landfall in the vicinity of Rockport, it was a category 4. We haven't seen anything like that since 1961 and that was Carla.

Still very impressive, still lots of deep tropical moisture. It still has a clearly defined eye. But as we go through the overnight hours into the early morning hours, we're looking at this going down maybe to category 2, category 1 as we head in late in the day on Saturday going into Sunday.

These winds are expected to drop off. But, in Rockport, the city manager says, if during the calm of being with the eye of the storm over them, they were sending crews out to assess the damage. I will tell you, there is a lot of information that you'll see over on the Internet, that gives lots of descriptions of damage.

But they are saying, may not want to say some of those things because we need to assess that. So they were sending folks out, they do have lots of wind damage, a lot of reports. And they're going to tell us specifically what has happened.

You take a look at this, I showed you this last night. There are no clear steering currents in the atmosphere for this to move out, to sweep it to the north, to sweep it towards the northeast. There's not a consensus for our spaghetti models, meaning they plug all kinds of data in and hey spit out and generate what they anticipate the hurricane will do.

So, Chad Myers, my esteemed colleague, was doing some of the math and they were saying that the state of -- the size of the state of South Carolina, if you covered the entire state with 20 inches of rain, that's about what East Central, Coastal Texas is looking at, George.

It's going to be catastrophic for months. This is not an exaggeration. I'll send it back to you.

HOWELL: Very important words there. I'm just hoping people take heed here. This is a storm that will linger, stick around. I was looking at that spaghetti model a moment ago, Karen. Yes, this is not going to leave anytime soon. Karen, thank you so much for the reporting there.

Let's now go to a storm chaser that --


HOWELL: -- we're keeping in touch with, Ben McMillan. Ben is in Corpus Christi, Texas. Right now we're looking at the front dash of his car to get a sense of what's happening there in Corpus Christi.

Ben, what's the situation as you see it this hour?

BEN MCMILLAN, STORM CHASER: Yes, good morning, George, it's just after 1:00 am on the Texas coast. And you're looking at what we call storm surge. It's a lot of wind-driven water, which is coming up, out of Corpus Christi Bay, onto Highway 181 here, which is separating the highway between the city of Portland and the city of Corpus Christi.

This is going to be the first threat in a range of threats to deal with water over the next week here, for this weekend because of all the rainfall that is forecast. Some models indicating over 30 inches a rain, obviously an immense amount of water coming into this region. And we'll be here monitoring it.

HOWELL: Driving around, talk to us just about what you have seen as far as, I guess, what would be the standard fare when a storm like this comes in?

Downed power lines, any infrastructure that has been damaged, what is the sense of the situation right now as far as damage?

MCMILLAN: The biggest inconvenience is just the lack of normal necessities that people are used to, all that infrastructure, power, running water and things people take for granted these days.

When these significant storms, the major hurricanes come in, they shuts a large percentage of that infrastructure down, that makes it very difficult for folks to go about their daily routine.

And that's why a lot of those mandatory evacuations were issued for a lot of the coastal areas to get people out so they don't have any issues.

HOWELL: Ben, do you get a sense a lot of people stayed there in Corpus Christi?

And, just by the way, we're looking at another image right now, coming to us from Rockport, Texas, and you can see the storm is still in effect there as it is throughout that part of South Texas.

But do you get a sense that many people decided to stick around with this storm or did people heed warnings and get out of the way?

MCMILLAN: In the areas where mandatory evacuations were issued, oversight of the folks heeded those and left; however, some stayed. And you mentioned Rockport, that was the city that sustained significant structural damage because the eye of Hurricane Harvey came on land right in that area.

And when you have -- there was 120-130 mph wind, that's why they issued those evacuation orders (INAUDIBLE) had roofs peeled off of buildings, walls come crashing down, obviously a dangerous situation that many officials here in Texas were hoping people would avoid.

HOWELL: We're just going to hope for the very best for anyone that may be watching this broadcast or anyone that may be in their home, sitting through this storm, we're just going to hope for the very best and, of course, keep everyone informed as we continue to monitor it.

And, Ben, thank you for being with us as well.

So as this storm bears down on the U.S. state of Texas, the Trump White House had a busy Friday night, including a controversial pardon for the man once known as the toughest sheriff in America, known for racial profiling. We'll have that story ahead.

Also we'll speak to a resident in Texas, who is riding the storm out from home.

Live around the world, this is NEWSROOM.





HOWELL: Live images this hour of this category 3 storm, it's been downgraded just recently but the storm certainly in effect over the U.S. state of Texas. It made landfall as category 4. Hurricane Harvey is hitting the Gulf Coast and the extent of the damage won't be clear of the damage until the storm passes. That could take several days because the storm is lingering in the area. It's unclear exactly which path it will take.

The city manager in Rockport, Texas, says there is intensive damage in that area already. Experts say this could turn out to be the worst storm to hit the country in more than a decade. The U.S. president, Donald Trump has already approved a disaster declaration.

Speaking of the U.S. president, Donald Trump, a political hurricane also hit the White House today. The U.S. president has pardoned the former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, a staunch Trump supporter.

Arpaio was recently convicted of criminal contempt for refusing to obey a court order to stop racial profiling. He was awaiting his sentence also.

Controversial presidential adviser Sebastian Gorka is out of a job. That move was not a complete surprise, though. Critics say that he lacked the credentials to be a counter terrorism expert. We get the latest from CNN's Alexander Marquardt.


ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is no coincidence that the Trump administration decided to drop not one, not two but three major stories as Texas braced for a massive hurricane and a disaster to follow. White Houses have long been known for dumping stories negative for them on Friday nights. But the Trump administration has become notorious for it in the past few weeks.

Now first, a presidential pardon for the highly controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of criminal contempt for refusing to stop racially profiling Latinos. The president had hinted strongly that he would do it.

Now the Justice Department making clear they had no role and a source telling CNN, this is the president's pardon. Arpaio thanked Trump on Twitter. Trump called him "a worthy candidate" for a pardon after a, quote, "life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration."

Then another bombshell: senior White House counterterror aide, Sebastian Gorka, out. He was a vocal and high-profile spokesman for the president, firmly in the camp of Steve Bannon at the White House and with Bannon out, it was believed it would just be a matter of time before Gorka was as well. Part of the house cleaning that chief of staff John Kelly has undertaken since he took the job.

And with no fanfare, a third major piece of news, a signed memorandum by President Trump, blocking transgenders from joining the military. It's a reversal from an order from President Barack Obama. President Trump ordered a six-month study of transgenders in the military to be carried out by Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

In the meantime, it is unclear what that means for transgender troops currently serving. Much of it will be up to the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. So while many questions still loom, it is little mystery why these three stories broke tonight -- Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Thank you, Alex.


HOWELL: And again, this story broke tonight as we continue to monitor this hurricane that's bearing down on the U.S. state of Texas. Joe Arpaio, a little more about him, a controversial and divisive figure in Arizona politics for decades. CNN's Sara Sidner has a closer look now at his legacy and his relationship with President Trump.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The case against Arpaio and his department's behavior began in 2007. A class action lawsuit accused him of implementing a policy of racial profiling and unlawful traffic stops of Latinos.

Arpaio was sued, accused of encouraging his deputies to detain people for no other reason that they were suspected of being in the country illegally. Known for his tough speak, his department's workplace raids, the tent city where inmates were housed and the pink underwear he made inmates wear, Arpaio argued his department was simply enforcing the law.

JOE ARPAIO, FORMER ARIZONA SHERIFF: I'm the elected sheriff, I report directly to the people and I'm not going to be subservient to the federal government when they have come up with no proof.

SIDNER (voice-over): But Arpaio lost his argument in a civil lawsuit. In 2013, a federal judge put an injunction in place, ordering the department to halt unconstitutional policing practices.

According to prosecutors and a federal judge, Arpaio and his deputies defied the order. Arpaio claimed the order wasn't clear and he didn't mean to violate it. But a federal judge found Arpaio showed a flagrant disregard for the court's order. His critics cheered the decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Racism in any form is wrong and Joe Arpaio, again, has been the center of racist policies and racist attitudes and he has been criminally convicted.

SIDNER (voice-over): From the start in 1999, when Sheriff Joe Arpaio was elected to office, he began an crusade against undocumented immigrants. His deputies' actions terrified not only the undocumented but anyone who looked like they could be.

ARPAIO: Donald Trump will build a wall.

SIDNER (voice-over): Arpaio's fiery speech and immigration policies gave him a kind of celebrity status in conservative circles and a kinship with the man who would become the 45th president -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.


HOWELL: And a little more background, important to note that Arpaio is also noted for the support of the birther movement during the former president, Barack Obama's administration. That movement sought to cast doubt on the first African American U.S. president's legitimacy, alleging that he was not born in the United States.

Alleging that he was not an American. He is an American. It was an allegation that was repeatedly proven false.

President Trump also found a kindred spirit in Arpaio's hard line against undocumented immigrants.

Arpaio spoke with another network as well after his pardon. Take a listen.


ARPAIO: I'm going to have a news conference early next week and get to the bottom of this, show the abuse of the judicial system and politics. I'm not going down without trying to defend myself to all those people that don't like what I've done.

I'm going to discuss all that with my lawyer, I think people will be shocked. They probably won't believe that certain news media, they're trying to destroy me, all these years. But we'll see. We'll get the -- try to get the message out Monday or Tuesday.


That was Sheriff Arpaio on one side, the great journalist there at FOX News on the other, covering the hurricane.

Let's break all of this down now with Michael Genovese, the president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University, live with us in Los Angeles.

It's good to have you with us, sir. So let's talk more about this, we're keeping an eye on what's happening in the U.S. state of Texas. But you've got to question the timing here of what's happening on this day, the president choosing to pardon Arpaio just as the storm is bearing down on the Gulf Coast.

What do you make of the timing?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, LEGAL ANALYST: Well, news dumps aren't new to this administration. They've done for years and years. This administration seems to be especially keen on getting the story out on a Friday when it might be buried.

But this story can't be buried. Sheriff Joe is the poster boy for bad behavior. He's the exception, the exception to the rule, which is most members of law enforcement are really wonderful people; they obey the law.

And Sheriff Joe's just not that guy. He's a man who has a history of racial insensitivity, of profiling and he's defied a court order. So this is a huge story. It can't be buried.

HOWELL: Also important to point out the president went with about this pardon without deferring to the Justice Department, which is standard procedure. This was Donald Trump's decision and his alone, those he's facing some criticism from members of his own party, including John McCain, who tweeted, quote, "A pardon of Joe Arpaio, who illegally profiled Latinos, undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law."

And this was from Jeff Flake --


HOWELL: -- who said on Twitter that he would have, quote, "preferred that the president honor the judicial process and let it take its course."

So given the criticism that we're seeing for President Trump, what are the implications, just given this decision?

GENOVESE: This normal process is a lengthy one and it goes through the Justice Department. This was truncated. This was simply done by the White House. And so I think what you're seeing is that the difference between President Obama, who had a double blind search, and President Trump is that Trump personalizes politics.

But one of the things that we have to remember about this pardon is that it's not just about Sheriff Joe; this is sending a very loud message to others.

For example, those who are now in the noose of special prosecutor Mueller, who's investigating people like Mike Flynn and Manafort and others. The strategy that Mueller uses is very typical, which is go for the outside people and then you bring it in closer and closer and closer. And you try to get those outside people to give up people closer to the top and you offer them basically a good deal.

With this pardon, I think one of the things that we're seeing is the message is to those folks like Manafort, Flynn and others, don't make a deal, don't give up any information. You'll get a pardon.

HOWELL: OK, that's a pretty important point that you're making there. But so let's talk about the macro here, the big picture that many people take from this pardon; this is coming off the heels of Charlottesville, the white supremacist rally, the president's controversial response of "many sides," good people, the fine people that he pointed out. Fine people, I guess, among white supremacists.

How is this response affecting the fabric, the feeling of Americans?

GENOVESE: In and of itself, this is a bad deal for America to pardon -- the person who is supposed to be the lawmaker and law enforcer is the lawbreaker.

But on the heels of Charlottesville, and the very, very disturbing things that Trump said, it fits the narrative that Trump's critics are supplying. It makes him look very, very bad, it makes him look like he's on the side clearly of white supremacists or at least white Americans against Hispanics.

This is pouring fuel onto the Hispanic community and lighting a match. This is going to incite a lot of opposition and maybe it's designed to.

HOWELL: Michael Genovese, we appreciate your insight this hour. Live from Los Angeles. Thank you.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

HOWELL: Still ahead on the program, much more ahead on Hurricane Harvey, this major storm making landfall and hitting the Texas Gulf Coast.

Also, later this hour, we speak to the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA as it's know, about what kind of response this storm could warrant. Stay with us.


[02:30:00] (MUSIC PLAYING) HOWELL (voice-over): Welcoming back viewers in the U.S. and around the world. We are monitoring the situation along the coastline of Texas, the breaking news this hour on CNN. Hurricane Harvey, which has made landfall as a category 4 storm, now it is a category 3 storm.

Its winds up to 125 miles per hour or 200 kph and right now the storm is hitting with hurricane force winds. It's hitting with torrential rains. Harvey marks the first category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Charlie back in 2004. Keep in mind again, though, the storm has been downgraded. The storm we're seeing right now, a category 3 storm.

But the storm will linger around and the question now, what will be the extent of the damage?

We understand from the city manager of Rockport, Texas, there is extensive damage already.

Let's now bring in the fire chief of Rockport, Texas, Steve Sims, on the phone with us live.

Steve, we're looking at a live image here from affiliate KSAT. We're getting a sense of what it's like there on the streets. But you know this city. Talk to us about what you've seen, the extent of damage.

STEVE SIMS, FIRE CHIEF, ROCKPORT, TEXAS: Well, as being a firefighter, of course, we're still bunkered down in our station, we have hurricane force winds outside. But we do know we have significant damage throughout the area. We are inundated with calls, with people needing help. But we're waiting on the weather to allow us to do it.

HOWELL: Looking here at the image of the storm and it seems you're just to the south of the eye of this storm. But you're certainly within these bands, those strong bands of rain. You mentioned there were people who decided to stay, to stick around in the storm.

Do you have any indication of how people are managing the situation at hand right now, those who decided to stay?

SIMS: Well, that I really don't know, because, like I say, we've not been able to get out and start doing any kind of search and rescue or seeing what we got and how many homes we got that need our help. It's -- the eyewall actually came right over Rockport.


SIMS: And we had some severe winds on that, you know the oncoming of the eyewall.

HOWELL: Steve, obviously you have to wait just a moment, you know, you have to wait some time when it's safe.

SIMS: Yes.

HOWELL: We're look at this image of the vehicle that's driving the streets right now. In Corpus Christi, Texas, and again that's only to the south of you in Rockport.

The storm has already come through there. You get a sense of the things that were knocked over, blown over on the streets there.

Your emergency crews, when they go through, how long do you think it will take for them to safely go through and get a sense of what happened there?

SIMS: Right now we're anticipating, we're hoping within the next six to eight hours we can get out and start our search and rescue.


SIMS: We do have multiple calls that, you know, people requesting help. But right now, we're just in no -- you know, we can't get out and do it.

HOWELL: Steve, of course, we wish the very best for you, for the emergency officials there on the ground, for the people who decided to wait this storm out. And we'll stay in touch with you, as you and your crews learn more about what this storm has done there in the city.

Let's switch over now to our national correspondent, Martin Savidge. Martin is in Corpus Christi, Texas, this hour.

And, Martin, I'm looking at the radar, it seems that the bulk of the storm just a little bit to the north of you now. But you have certainly experienced a great deal with this storm passing through.

SAVIDGE: Yes. We still are. (INAUDIBLE) of us here is really fooling you because on the side of this building, it's a very large hotel, it is still (INAUDIBLE) in this area. I mean wouldn't be able to stand up on the other side of this building, so that's the false impression you get.

We took a little foray down to the side of the building here and you literally get knocked off your feet. That's how intensive the hurricane force winds are.

We say this storm has been downgraded to a category 3; (INAUDIBLE) as 4, it's a 3 now. Remember Katrina was a category 3 and that killed over 1,000 people. So this storm by no way has become less dangerous or in any way has slackened off as far as the potential to kill and cause harm. It is still very much a huge and dangerous storm.

So don't let this kind of image here, because I'm in the lee of the building, the shadow of the wind, fool you. On the other side it is madness, it is mayhem and it is still potentially deadly, even inside of this city.

Now when you start talking about Rockport, what they face (INAUDIBLE) the fire chief is hunkered down with all of their emergency responders because the storm has (INAUDIBLE) and it died down with the eye (INAUDIBLE). But now they're on the backside of the storm with just as fierce if

not worse but magnify all the debris that's been caused as (INAUDIBLE) and you can see why it would be (INAUDIBLE) and it would be almost suicidal to try and go out there.

And think also of their position, they're in the emergency center. They're hearing these frantic calls for help coming in from their community and they know there's nothing they can do at the moment. They have to wait for daylight and they've got to wait for things to subside.

The only problem is, we may still be in hurricane force winds 12 hours, maybe even 24 hours from now and we haven't even started to talk about the rain. Feet of rain that should follow after the devastating winds. But frankly it's a one-two punch of a (INAUDIBLE) storm we have not seen for a long, long time, George.

And again, I don't want to give anybody the false impression that just because it's gone from a 4 to a 3 things are (INAUDIBLE). It's extremely dangerous (INAUDIBLE) in Texas -- George.

HOWELL: Martin, it's so important to point that out. Yes, we see your image and I understand what you're talking about, you're on one side of the building. This storm certainly raging on. You know I'm looking at the radar and, yes, you're within the southern bands of that storm.

We're getting an image, as you were explaining the situation there, Martin, we're looking at the situation from a dash camera from affiliate KSAT in Corpus Christi, Texas. You've seen things blowing over and knocked over on the road. This storm certainly still bearing down in that part of the state.

Let's bring in Nick Bignac (ph), he decided to remain in Corpus Christi to ride the storm out, Nick is live with us on the phone.

Nick, I want to ask you first of all, what this experience was like. We're thankful to be chatting with you here to get your assessment of what happened.

How intense was the storm when it came through?

NICK BIGNAC (PH), RESIDENT: Hi, there, I'm glad to be talking with you, too. I have to agree with the gentleman who was just speaking a few seconds ago. It's interesting that this thing is turning into quite the marathon. You expect these things to be a quicker flash than they are.

To be honest, the intensity still hasn't let up. As the storm came in earlier this evening, things were a little lighter than they are now. And you'd expect it to get intense and then let up. But things have not let up at all. It's lasting for hours and it's quite interesting.

HOWELL: Nick, talk to us about the decision that you and your family made to stay there.

How did you reach that conclusion?

You know that city --


HOWELL: -- you know this area and I'm sure you've seen your share of storms come through.

How did you reach that decision?

BIGNAC (PH): Well, yes it was a tough decision. A number, actually probably the majority of my friends and family have left town, left town as early as Thursday. And my children actually were able to leave town with their mother.

However, I happen to have a mother who have a surgery on her neck scheduled for a number of months, on Thursday. So she was in the hospital on Thursday and, interestingly enough, the hospital evacuated Friday morning, she was due to be discharged but she was not in shape to leave the city.

So me and a few other of my family members were kind of obliged to stay here and make sure that she was taken care of. And, again, you know, we have been through a number of storms here, we knew this was going to be a big one and the intensity and duration was going to be longer than before.

But we had -- we were privileged enough to have a -- be in a home, although close to the water, that had survived a number of these storms.

We had the correct amount of protection on our windows and things like that and we kind of prayed for the best. Although we're hearing rumors of quite a bit of damage happening around us.

HOWELL: Nick, the word from officials is always to get out of those areas, to evacuate but, as you point out here to our viewers, these are very personal decisions.

And you have -- you know, you had a lot on the line there. We're just thankful that you and your family are OK. Thank you for being with us this day and we'll stay in touch with you as we continue to keep up with what this storm is doing. Thank you, Nick.

BIGNAC (PH): Thanks a lot. Thanks for having us.

HOWELL: You're watching CNN news, continuing coverage of the storm that's hitting South Texas. Stay with us.




(MUSIC PLAYING) HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

We continue following this breaking news story on the coastline of Texas. This category 4, now a category 3 storm that is hitting the state at this hour. We know that there are many people who decided to evacuate. There are also those who decided to ride this storm out. We'll have continuing coverage throughout the hour and the next hour here on CNN.

Now we also want to show you the look at some early damage from the storm, this was the scene from Corpus Christi, Texas. Right now, Harvey is hitting the coast, its millions of residents with hurricane force winds, torrential rains and deluging streets.

The National Weather Service warns that parts of South Texas could be uninhabitable for weeks or even months once the storm passes. We'll continue of course to cover these events in Texas.

But some other major stories we're following around the world.

North Korea, first, the U.S. says that Kim Jong-un's regime launched three missiles from this southern province just hours ago. This a couple of weeks after threats by Pyongyang and a week of ongoing military drills between the U.S. and South Korea.

The U.S. reports two of the missiles traveled about 250 kilometers, that's a little more than 150 miles before one exploded right after launch.

We'll have more on Hurricane Harvey after the break, including my talk with a former FEMA director on the damage this storm is capable of doing. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Hurricane Harvey hitting South Texas this hour. It represents the first big test for the Trump administration, dealing with a major disaster and the word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is that it's ready to go. Officials say they have food, they have water and tarps staged at three support bases in both Texas and Louisiana.

And the American Red Cross is mobilizing shelter supplies for more than 20,000 people. FEMA is judged by its performance in moments like this and, in some cases, as with the former president, George W. Bush, and Hurricane Katrina, entire administrations may carry that weight.

Let's now bring in James Lee Witt, Mr. Witt the former FEMA director under former president Bill Clinton. It's good to have you with us this hour to talk about this storm. This certainly the first test of the new FEMA director, William Brock Long, who is respected among colleagues and no stranger to emergency management work.

You've led that agency as well. Talk to us about where your mind would be, what FEMA might need to prepare for, given this storm we're looking at right now.

JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Well, you know, this is a category 4 hurricane, the first hurricane in 12 years. And I know as Administrator Brock Long -- I know they've been tracking the storm for several days and working with the state of Louisiana and Texas together in identifying what resources that they need to put in place to support the state of Texas and Louisiana.

And I know that they've established all the search and rescue teams already in San Antonio, out of the way of the hurricane, and a lot of the other resources, you know, from generators to putting people in shelters and taking care of them and supporting those resources.

So they have a good system in place. I know, when I was at FEMA, you know, we had rapid response teams, that responded, prepositioned supplies and resources and supported the states. And I know that Brock has done that as well. He's very smart. He's very capable and he's one of the best appointments President Trump has given.

HOWELL: I wanted to point out that they have actually put that on their Twitter account. You see that they have prepositioned a lot of the supplies that could come into place a little later after this storm passes on.

But here's the question, Mr. Witt, for those people who have not evacuated, those people that decided to stay in their homes to weather this storm there, what should those people do now who are still on the coastline?

And what should they prepare for?

WITT: Well, I hope and pray that they have protected themselves and they're in at least places that can absorb a 12-foot storm surge and up to 30 to 40 inches of rain. This is a major hurricane.

And those that have decided to stay, I hope they have enough supplies for at least 72 hours because this storm apparently could -- and the effects of it could last for five days. And so -- which is very unusual. And I just hope and pray that they prepared for that.

And anybody that has said we have a mandatory evacuation, they should evacuate. So they put themselves and their families in harm's way. And I hope and pray that they make it through it because this is going to be a major event for Texas.

HOWELL: Let's talk a just bit more about that and put this particular storm into context; the last five hurricanes to hit the state of Texas caused, on average, $5.6 billion in damage. There is obviously a great concern about the loss of human life. At the end of the day, there will be a dollar amount assessed to the storm as well.

Given what we're looking at here, how bad do you think this storm is, the strength of this hurricane?

And what do you expect after the storm passes?

WITT: I expect you're going to have some --


WITT: -- major damages on infrastructure. You're going to have major damage on thousands and thousands of homes and small businesses. And it's going to -- it's going to be a major event.

And it's not going to be -- they're not going to recover from this in weeks. This is going to take months. And in the long-term recovery efforts could take a few years because look at Hurricane Katrina. They're still working through projects in Hurricane Katrina today.

And so, you know, getting back to normal is going to take time. And the most important thing that FEMA and the state and local governments can do is provide the information to those small businesses, those local governments and those people about the process and how they're going to work with them in helping them to recover.

HOWELL: James Lee Witt, the former FEMA director under former president Bill Clinton, thank you so much for the insight. And we'll, of course, keep in touch with you as we continue to monitor this storm.

WITT: OK. Thank you very much.

HOWELL: All right. Let's press on now to the next hour. Want to show you these live images of what's happening right now in Corpus Christi, Texas. A lot of rain on the streets, this storm just kind of hanging around. It's not going anywhere anytime soon. Our breaking news coverage continues right after this break.