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NEW DAY SATURDAY

Most Powerful Hurricane In A Decade Hits U.S. Mainland; Texas Coast Could See 13 Feet Of Strom Surge; Coastal Cities Brace Up To 40 Inches of Rain; Trump Signs Ban On Transgender Military Recruits; President Trump Pardons Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio; Arizona Senators Sound Off On Arpaio Pardon. Aied 7-8a ET

Aired August 26, 2017 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The eye of the storm came. We're able to, you know, crack the doors and go outside, and what we saw was extensive damage front, you know, of the house and back of the house. Trees down everywhere. Our driveway is blocked. We're not able to leave our property. One of our vehicles was hit by a roof tile and has extensive damage on it. Just very, you know, devastating storm and very concerned about what we're going to see when it's light out in the morning.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Harvey is barreling down on Texas and has now turned deadly.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: FEMA Chief Bill "Brock" Long just tweeted this: "Citizens of Texas, this is now turning into a deadly inland event. Thoughts and prayers are with you." This is a storm that's been downgraded to a category one hurricane. It hit as a category four, but there is still potential for major flooding here, and that is what is so concerning for people. 90 miles an hour winds still, as we said, have knocked down trees, power lines are down.

BLACKWELL: Harvey pounds the Texas coastline. We know that the White House is also dealing with a lot tonight. President Trump being blasted for pardoning former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he was convicted of criminal contempt related targeting undocumented immigrants. Then, the White House announced Trump's controversial White House Adviser, Sebastian Gorka, resigned. Although there are some conflicting reports on if he resigned or was fired.

PAUL: Also, the president signed a directive banning transgender military recruits.

BLACKWELL: Plus, more fallout in the Russia investigation. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is examining the possible role of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in seeking Hillary Clinton's e-mails from hackers.

We will talk about all of that. But let's start now with Harvey. We have a team of reporters along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nick Valencia kicks off our team coverage in Corpus Christi. And Nick, we've been checking in this morning. The wind has reduced now to 90 miles an hour which is still a considerable category one storm. But the rain, the rain has continued and will for some time.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The rain and the wind, Victor. This storm system continues to hover over the state of Texas dumping water, and that's a concern for flooding throughout parts of Texas. We have yet to get a full scope of the damage. That'll happen a little bit once the sun comes up. Emergency responders saying they're going to need that time for the sun to come up to assess the damage outside.

From our vantage point, we don't see anything significant. There is some debris in the road, some downed stop signs, things like that. We haven't heard any reports of significant damage. We know city officials have solicited calls from local residents asking to talk the worst that they've seen: reporting downed trees downed power lines. There are plenty of people here without power, about 200,000 people across the state of Texas without power, more than 150,000 of them right here in Corpus Christi.

This was an area that it was expected to take a direct hit. And we did hear a lot of howling winds last night. Heavy rains pounding against this hotel where we hunkered down during the height of the storm. Things here right now, a little bit calmer than they were last night but we are not out of the clear. I mentioned that a potential catastrophic flooding in and around this area. Emergency responders though, they want to wait until the sun to come up to assess the damage. Victor, Christi?

BLACKWELL: Nick Valencia for us there in Corpus Christi, thanks so much.

PAUL: All right. Meteorologist, Allison Chinchar, has been tracking the hurricane. And one of the other threats right now, tornadoes, Allison.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right. You've got -- as if the flooding threat wasn't enough in and of itself. Yes, we have a threat for severe weather to factor along with it. The biggest threat right now is in some of the outer bands, particularly the ones off in the north and eastern side of the center of the storm -- the center right now between Victoria and Corpus Christi. But these outer bands pushing in the Galveston and Houston. We've got incredibly intent heavy rain and a lot of thunder and lightning associated with it.

And yes, we've had even several tornado warnings out there this morning. Tornado watch in effect for that region until 1:00 this afternoon. But the big threat going forward -- and we're talking not just for today but tomorrow and, really, for the next five to seven days -- is going to be the flood potential. Right now, Hurricane Harvey's winds at 85 miles per hour movement as northwest at six miles per hour. That's not fast at all, and it's likely going to slow down even more. That's going to add to the flooding concerns.

Take a look at some of these numbers. This is rain that's already fallen. 16-1/2 inches in Victoria, Texas. McFadden and Oswell, almost a foot of rain. Now, you have to factor in how much more rain is going to be added to that over the coming days. So, we have in the green, flood watches; and the red color indicating flash flood warnings. And we haven't thought -- not just for Texas, but also Louisiana as well, where you can see here 20 inches, if not even potentially, 30 inches of additional rain, Victor, and Christi, is going to be a concern because this storm is going to sit here for days. And it may hold its own in terms of strength. We may not see it drop back from a tropical storm strength for at least a couple of days as well.

[07:05:33] PAUL: All right, Allison, thank you so much. Now, of course, over the last 12, 16 hours, we've really been watching this storm. And it was really nasty last night as we were watching it. But as that was happening, there was a steady stream of headlines coming out of Washington, we should point out.

BLACKWELL: Yes. The reaction coming into the -- after the presidential pardon of former Arizona Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, is one of them. We know civil rights groups and some Republican lawmakers are criticizing the decision. We've got CNN's Boris Sanchez live in Washington to walk us through all that happened in Washington overnight.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Victor and Christi. Yes, this is becoming a bit of pattern for the White House, isn't it? A huge dump of stories on a Friday evening. This one with this giant storm looming nonetheless. First, you've got the pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, once known as America's toughest sheriff. This is something that the president had put out references to on Twitter, saying that it was something he was seriously considering.

Then, at that rally on Tuesday night in Phoenix, he said that he predicted the sheriff would be OK, leading many to believe that a pardon was in the works. And then you've got one last night, a statement that cited the sheriff's more than 50 years of service to the country calling him a "worthy candidate for a pardon." Of course, as you know, Sheriff Arpaio was found in contempt of court for disobeying a judge's order to discontinue a program that was found to be illegal because it racially profiled Hispanics.

Then you've also got the departure of Sebastian Gorka from the White House. He was a counterterrorism adviser known for his combative, aggressive style, defending the president. He was part of that Steve Bannon Breitbart economic nationalist contingent that was in the White House. And with Bannon's departure, Gorka's seemed likely as well. We've got two conflicting stories from officials at the White House about him leaving. One official telling CNN that he resigned, another more senior official saying that he did not resign but that he is no longer at the White House. So, you can read into that what you can.

Then you've also got this transgender ban moving forward of that, we have to mention there was a White House directive yesterday that ended an Obama-era program that sought to recruit transgender people into the armed services. The directive also gives the Department of Homeland Security broad authority when it comes to determining what to do with those transgender people that are currently serving our country. So, three huge stories that would take up headlines and likely lead the news on any other given day except when you've got this giant storm hitting Texas, Victor, and Christi.

PAUL: No doubt about it. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much. We're going to be talking to Errol Lewis on the other side of the break in just a moment about a lot of these headlines as well, and what they mean.

BLACKWELL: All right. As Hurricane Harvey batters the Texas coast, we're going to speak with the director of Emergency Management in San Patricio City which is just west of where this hurricane made landfall. Talk about the situation right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:12:45] PAUL: Welcome back. As we watch what is happening in Texas right now, Hurricane Harvey is just sitting over part of that state, and it is a monster storm that is bringing so much rain to that area. It is a category one now. It hit as a category four, but almost ten inches of rain in some areas of southeastern Texas, in fact, up to almost 17 inches in some areas. And they're saying this is an event that could last five to seven days.

BLACKWELL: Yes. In some areas, still getting that hurricane force winds that knocked down trees and power poles, signs. You see here the flag's whipping. First responders, they stayed in place waiting to check out the damages as Harvey just dumps the rain there. As Christi said, there could be feet of a storm surge there, more than 40 inches of rain by Wednesday. FEMA Director Brock Long, he says that: "Citizens of Texas, this is now turning into a deadly inland event. Thoughts and prayers are with you."

PAUL: This, of course, as President Trump and his team -- they're keeping an eye on the storm, certainly, but there's a lot of headlines coming out of Washington this morning. CNN Political Commentator and Political Anchor for "Spectrum News", Errol Lewis, joining us live. Errol, I want to read -- we know that the president pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio yesterday. A very controversial man there in Arizona. I worked there for five years. And John McCain, who of course is from Arizona, has this to stay on Twitter: "POTUS pardon of Joe Arpaio who illegally profiled Latinos undermines his claim for the respect of the rule of law." First of all, what do you make of the pardon? And have you heard of -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- we usually hear about pardons towards the end of somebody's presidency. This seems misplaced to some degree.

ERROL LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND ANCHOR FOR SPECTRUM NEWS: Well, misplaced only if you're comparing this president to other presidents, and if you're putting it in the context of something that's done, say, around Christmas time in the traditional time when clemency and pardons are issued with the full explanation of why. You know, for somebody who may have already served all of their time but needs to be rehabilitated in order to get a certain job. This is something quite different.

And you know, if you spent time down there, about the many foul abuses that were committed by Joe Arpaio over the years. And we're not talking about small stuff. We're talking about 160 people who committed suicide in the Maricopa County jails. You know, far out of proportion to comparable lockups around the country. We're talking about $140 million paid out to the families of those and others who were victimized by Joe Arpaio. You're talking about people who were yanked off the street not because they'd done anything but because they were Latino -- this is what the courts found.

[07:15:35] He continued to do it even after the courts told him to stop doing it, that immigration enforcement or attempted immigration enforcement was far outside of his jurisdiction. So, for the president to do this, I think, is in order to delight his base, to signal where he's coming from on immigration in ways that, you know, nobody will ever be able to question who's the toughest president when it comes to trying to "crack down on immigrants by legal means or otherwise." And he gains -- in politics, I think what he loses in general respect from a lot of people, including even Conservative Republicans like John McCain.

BLACKWELL: And McCain weighed in also on the president's order, for the Pentagon to ban transgender people from entering the military. I want to read a bit of this statement. I won't read the whole the whole thing. He says, "It would be a step in the wrong direction to force currently serving transgender individuals to leave the military solely on the basis of their gender identity, rather than medical and readiness standards that should always be at the heart of Department of Defense Personnel Policy." And it is rare for the military to retract, to limit service. The history of the military is the extension of welcoming people to serve and serve openly. And the president ends the review, which Secretary Mattis asked for to extend just a few months ago.

LEWIS: Well, that's right. And look, let's be clear, we have an all- volunteer military. Nobody goes to the military unless they want to. With the economy improving as it has over the last few months, it's actually going to be harder to recruit people. So, the military leadership has been very clear about this from the very beginning, which is that they're not in the business of trying to discourage people from considering serving their country. So, we're going to have to see how all of this shakes out. The executive order also includes some time for the military leadership to figure out what to do with people who are already in the process, who've already volunteered and joined the military whether or not they can be drummed out simply because the president doesn't want them there.

There are legal standards, there are operational questions about where they are and where they might need to go and how any kind of transition -- we should keep that in mind that it's not just simply being transgender, although that seems to be a barrier now to joining the military. But those are already in the military, if they're not requesting a medical procedure, what's their status? There is some cloudiness around this. It's going to take a few months to figure out, apparently.

PAUL: Cloudiness, not only that, but we know that according to CNN reporting, President Trump directed the DOD and Homeland Security, and I'm quoting here, "to determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving based on military effectiveness. Who determines their military effectiveness?

LEWIS: Well, you know, the chain of command, right? I mean, their commanding officer and so on up the line using many complicated standards that they have for readiness and preparedness and how it all fits into broader strategic doctrines.

PAUL: Is there any guidance, though, Errol? Do you know for what determines military effectiveness? Psychological, physical?

LEWIS: I can't wait to find out what Secretary Mattis is going to sort of put in motion to try and figure all of this out, you know. I mean, because, look, nobody ever made the case in trying to sort of drum transgender or possibly transgender officers out of the military. Nobody ever made the case that unit cohesion was falling apart or that there was an inability to accomplish any specific mission. And this is why, I believe, the military said we're not moving forward on this without orders because they need to know exactly what you asked. What are we trying to measure here? What's the problem we're trying to solve? And then and only then, can you start to sort of sit down and implement orders that would get you to that point.

BLACKWELL: All right. And there's even more that's coming out of Washington. Special counsel's expanding investigation, a headline from the Wall Street Journal, and those launches from North Korea. We'll talk about those throughout the morning. Errol Lewis, thanks so much.

LEWIS: Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: And of course, the other big story this morning: still happening right now, Hurricane Harvey, 90-mile-an-hour winds. I mean, this is category one but still can cause some damage, and we're seeing that.

PAUL: And the biggest concern right now besides the tornadic activity that's associated with this is the floodwaters.

[07:20:06] Also take a look here, some of the rain that's coming down, but fire, we understand, is a threat along the Texas gulf coast now as well. Stay close.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLACKWELL: And the breaking news this morning: Hurricane Harvey now on shore in Texas bringing 90-mile-per-hour winds and flooding rains. That's going to be nonstop. And this is going to be on for some time.

PAUL: This storm is weakened since it's left the shore. It was category four, it's now category one as you said. But this is still very dangerous, and it is the water retention here that's going to be the problem. Life threatening, as we're hearing from FEMA. We know that 200,000 people in Texas don't have power right now. But 150,000 of those are there in Corpus Christi.

The coastal cities, the storm surge threat is still very large there. And we do have to point out that this is an event that's going to be going on, we understand, for five to seven days. So, there's already been 17 inches of rain in some areas. The numbers that we're hearing is there could be 40, maybe even 50 inches in some places by the time this is all said and done.

BLACKWELL: We've got on the phone with us: William Zagorski, Director Emergency Management. He's joining us from San Patricio City in Texas.

[07:25:37] PAUL: And thank you so much for being with us. Can you help us understand what it's like where you are right now there, Director Zagorski, are you able to get to people if they need help right now?

WILLIAM ZAGORSKI, DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (through telephone): It's coming down here pretty good. We haven't gotten out yet. We've been venturing out in maybe six, seven, eight blocks around us. A lot of trees down here. We're here in 35 miles from the coast. We're fixing to start sending deputies out to do rapid assessments. And you know, right now we're without power here. Majority of the town is without power. We did see some lights on in a couple spots in town, but not much. And we're going to check out some of the reports we had from last night about (INAUDIBLE).

BLACKWELL: So, what are those reports that you got in overnight?

ZAGORSKI: We don't want to speculate right now until we can verify.

BLACKWELL: So, we also heard from the fire chief over in Rockport that they lost communication. They lost the cell phone. They lost the Internet. What's the degree of communication and that capability that you have still?

ZAGORSKI: We got plenty of Wi-Fis and our towers are still up, obviously, since I'm talking to you right now. You know, and that's basically how we're operating on right now. Like I said, what we saw on Wi-Fi and different devices to the phones and so forth, we've got Internet, so forth. We're doing the best we can on what we got.

PAUL: Sure. Director Zagorski, I know you were very strong in your urging of people to just get out of that area. Did most people heed that, do you know?

ZAGORSKI: I'm sorry. I believe most did. We've few people stayed behind, but so far, we don't have any reports of any fatalities.

BLACKWELL: Where you are, is there a standing water from what you can see?

ZAGORSKI: No, not really. We drove some of the streets. Like I said, I only went about six to eight blocks from the sheriff's department here this morning with the county judge. And we didn't see any standing water. Like I said, it's still raining pretty good. Our drainage system was basically, you know, handles the water well. Glad it didn't come down all at one time.

PAUL: All right. Director of Emergency Management there in San Patricio City in Texas, William Zagorski. Director Zagorsky, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it. Best of luck to your crews there.

BLACKWELL: All right. So, let's move on now to Galveston, Texas. We've got CNN National Correspondent, Ed Lavandera, there live for us. Ed, what are you seeing where you are?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Galveston Island is holding on rather well just on the eastern edge of this hurricane. But it is from here where a lot of people are monitoring closely those flooding conditions that could develop well into the day and whether or not any of those high-water rescues or swift water rescues need to be launched from. Just east of -- just west from where we are some of the communities that were under mandatory evacuation orders. Most of Galveston had been under voluntary evacuation orders.

The rain hasn't been as heavy as it's been closer to the center of the storm, but the winds have really sustained strongly throughout most of the night. That is one thing that is interesting. Usually, after landfall, the winds start dying down. But here, the winds have remained, have sustained themselves throughout the night, still blowing quite heavily. Looking out into the surf, still incredibly choppy out there. But for the most part, we're able to do, you know, some checks of parts of the island last night and in a lot of places. We're still (INAUDIBLE).

If you look behind me, you can still see street lights on here this morning. So, that's a rather good indication of how Galveston Island is faring at this point. But obviously, as the sun comes up and then some of these outlying areas are able to take a better sense and some survey of what the situation is like, information will become a lot clearer then, Victor.

PAUL: All right. Ed, we want to let you go. We see the lightning behind you. We want to make sure that you are OK, you and your crew. So, thank you so much. But we want to let you go and kind of just stay safe as we continue to watch what's happening there on the coast. Galveston, we know, really got pummeled by Ike in '08.

[07:30:10] BLACKWELL: Yes.

PAUL: So, we have to think the people took their, their urging to get out heavily. So, the sun is going to be coming up there in Texas in about probably half an hour, and that is the point when first responders hopefully will be able to get out and about.

BLACKWELL: Yes, let's bring in Juliette Kayyem, she's the former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. Julia, good morning to you.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASST. SECY. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Good morning. BLACKWELL: So, as the President and the Department of Homeland

Security, the Acting Secretary there, Secretary Duke, they watch what's happening here. What's your assessment does far of how this has proceeded in over the last several hours?

KAYYEM: Well, of course, tremendous great luck that the hurricane category has been downgraded. But, from an operational perspective that still raises a lot of concerns, that the public will think everything is safe. We no longer have a category four hurricane, we don't have a category two or one. Nothing could be further than the truth as you noted. The FEMA Administrator announced this morning we now have an inland deadly event that's because of flooding. Remember when Hurricane Katrina finally met shore, it was downgraded to a category two. I believe the same was true of Sandy and so, these hurricanes have these category levels that we tend to respond to as lay people, but they actually can have tremendous impact.

I will say the one great piece of news from an operational Homeland Security perspective is because the hurricane had been downgraded. It means that Emergency Response Personnel can actually get out, make assessments, save people and begin this very sort of long process of assessment response and then, of course, recovery once the hurricane passes by. So it's a good morning in some respects but we're certainly not in any place where you can say that Texans can be relieved.

PAUL: Is there any indication how long Federal Authorities will be staying there when we hear about this being a five to seven-day event. But then that the rivers overflowing could be three, four weeks, how people there understand what they can expect from the Federal Government?

KAYYEM: I have to just say right now, just been really impressed with the Homeland Security Adviser, with the FEMA Administrator and of course the Secretary Elaine Duke, in terms of their really pushing forward resources. I follow this stuff, I know they were pushing forward resources well before the hurricane broke ground. They will wait around.

The reason why is not simply because of the emergency response. But of course, the Federal Government helps with recovery. The Federal Government has resources that most smaller local jurisdictions don't have and that the State of Texas will clearly get overwhelmed. So there will be a federal presence.

I think you're talking weeks now until the assessments are made. Also remember that the Texas Governor has been issued or the President signed late last night a declaration that will mean that once the storm passes, there will be a quick assessment of what Texas needs for the short term. The long-term recovery efforts as you have seen in New Orleans and elsewhere as long term recovery effort can take years, unfortunately.

PAUL: Alright.

BLACKWELL: All right, Juliette Kayyem, thanks so much for being with us. And Juliette made a really good point there that we look at this categories, category one now, as if the storm is safer or now that people can go out, please don't. People in Texas remember back at 2001, Allison was just a tropical storm. Dumped 30 inches of more of rain and cost billions of dollars of them and so, yes, the winds have died down a bit but they are still very strong.

Still to come, Trump White House, they've been busy over the last 12 hours including issuing a controversial pardon for the man who was once known as the toughest Sheriff in America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:35:00] BLACKWELL: Alright, we are, of course, watching Hurricane Harvey coming ashore on the Texas gulf coast, but we're also watching all that's coming out of the White House. Let's start with President Trump's pardoning of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was recently convicted of criminal contempt for violating a judge's order in a racial profiling case and continuing to target immigrants of traffic stuff. Now, both Republican Senators from Arizona issued critical statements after that pardon.

PAUL: Yes, first of all, Senator John McCain says, quote, "The President has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions." Then, Senator Flake says he would have preferred the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.

BLACKWELL: We'll, Sheriff Arpaio has been a controversial and pretty divisive figure in Arizona politics for decades. CNN, Sara Sidner has a closer look at his legacy and his relationship with the President.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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 stuff of Latinos. Arpaio was sued, accused of encouraging his deputies to detain people for no other reason than 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 MARICOPA COUNTY 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.

[07:40:08] SIDNER: But Arpaio lost his argument in the 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 that 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. MARY ROSE WILCOX, FORMER MARICOPA COUNTY SUPERVISOR: 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: From the start in 1999, when Sheriff Joe Arpaio was elected to office, he began a 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 the wall.

SIDNER: Arpaio's fiery speech on 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL: We're watching Harvey this morning, Hurricane Harvey and so is the President we should point out. Actually, he was just tweeting to Senator Chuck Grassley, who you might remember yesterday, Chuck Grassley addressing the President, saying, please keep on top of Hurricane Harvey and don't make the same mistake that President Bush made with Katrina.

BLACKWELL: And the President tweeted in just the last couple of minutes, a response to Senator Grassley. "Got your message loud and clear. We have fantastic people on the ground. Got there long before Harvey, so far so good." So we'll talk about the Federal response as well as the local authority response. We know that in some communities, those local authorities have not been able to get out to those homes and respond to some of the calls because in some cases they've lost communication abilities and capabilities and in others, it's just dangerous right now because the winds are still strong and the rain is coming down. So, we'll talk more about the response and what we're seeing as the sun comes up in the next few minutes.

PAUL: Yes, we're still that 20 minutes away from that sun coming up so they can try to get a good assessment of what they're dealing with. But before this, can you imagine being on the team who had to rush babies from that danger zone there in Texas to safety? Our next guest is one who helped get several sick infants out of the NICU and into a safe place. That story is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:45:00]BLACKWELL: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of Hurricane Harvey. FEMA is warning the storm has turned deadly.

PAUL: Harvey is now a category one hurricane. It was a category four when it came on shore but listen, there are top sustained winds of 110 miles an hour right now. This storm is drenching the area with heavy rain and that's what people are so concerned about. Storm surge, we understand is flooding areas. The heavy downpour is causing transformers to explode. And don't we know that at least 17 inches of rain have already fallen in Victoria, Texas? Some of the smallest, most vulnerable of the people there in Texas were evacuated out of that city as people were waiting for this storm. We're talking about Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, and Children's Health in Dallas. They worked together to move babies who were in intensive care in Corpus Christi.

BLACKWELL: The medical crews spent the past two days flying back and forth on last minute flights to make sure those babies were transported safely.

PAUL: Dawn Lindley is with us now. She's a registered nurse with the Children's Health transport team there in Dallas. Dawn, thank you so much not just for being with us but for everything you all did for these babies. Help us understand how everybody is, and walk us through what it's like for a family who is already dealing with a child in that condition to have to move during the hurricane.

DAWN LINDEY, DALLAS CHILDREN'S HEALTH TRANSPORT TEAM NURSE: First, our focus is always with the patient and family here at Children's Health. So in this situation, you know, we're going in these babies are critically ill, they're having to be moved out because the medical equipment they need to stay alive is in -- rely upon the electricity

So walking in, there were several families in the NICU, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and several that had been notified that they were being transported out. We do our best when we walk in to tell them or I tell all our families and the co-workers do also that we treat all the babies we pick up -- all the patients we pick up like their our own. And, we reassure them and we also let them know when they get to children, children have a very holistic approach to and how we care for our patients and families.

And we have resources for them. We have chaplains 24 hours a day, we have child watch that let's talk to our families and siblings. So, we reassure them in that way. We also reassure them that our safety culture here at Children's Health is and -- is above and beyond what is it has to be where team's certified. We did 7,200 calls last year. We've already done over 5,000 calls this year. Anytime we fly, we fly with dual pilots, dual engineer craft. We have top of the line avionics and we have all of those things to trying to help reassure families.

BLACKWELL: So, how are the babies this morning?

[07:50:00] LINDLY: All our baby, made it here safely and they didn't have any changes that increased their acuity levels. From what I understand they all weathered the trip back very well.

PAUL: How many of babies and families did you have to transport or babies specifically?

LINDLEY: In total, we transported ten critically ill Neonatal-ICU babies. All -- you know, the majority of which were pre-mature and had on going issues, and they we're ably accommodated to the hospitals here to make sure they had continued care, and the storm wasn't going to be a factor in how they recover from their illnesses and their respective (INAUDIBLE). BLACKWELL: Well, it's good to know that these babies are well taken care of and that they are now safe this morning. How have -- how were they transported? Are these angel flights? Is this the hospital's plane? How was this facilitated?

LINDLEY: At Children's Health and at Cook Children, we both have Neonatal Pediatric Specialty Teams that were called to transport these babies. At Children's Health, we have a fixed-wing air -- we have two fixed-wing aircraft, we have a helicopter, we used both of our fixed- wing aircraft to transport these babies. We're able in both of those aircrafts to ask a lift in each aircraft, and equipment to take care of two babies at the time. And that means we carried two ventilators, two (INAUDIBLE) and two packs of all our medical equipment. We're basically a mobile intensive care unit. Everything you see at most facilities, we have in our airplane when we transport these critically ill children.

PAUL: You mentioned that the families Dawn, are the families all with their children now? Have they -- are they reunited there at the hospital?

LINDLEY: I have not heard for sure. I know when I talked to my patient's families and their arrival in Fort Worth in Dallas was going to be very dependent on how the weather was, whether they were going to be able to make it up to Fort Worth. You know, and generally, when we fly our patients, we fly one patient at a time and we have the capability to fly one parent back with us. And due to the nature of this transports and needing to get the children out faster, unfortunately, we were unable to bring parents with us. That's why we do our best to reassure when we talk to them and prepare them for this flights.

PAUL: Yes, so, real quickly. I mean, that's got to be excruciating for parents who aren't there. How do you -- how much communication do you have with them throughout the day about their baby and how they're doing when they're separated like that?

LINDLEY: I talked to our families -- all of us talk to our families before we leave and we make sure they understand what the plan is going to be for the trip, what the child will require during the trip. And then, we get some numbers before we leave and we call them when we arrive and make sure they know that their baby arrived safely. And that they took the flight very well and let them know that there weren't complications.

PAUL: Well, Dawn Lindley there, we so appreciate the work you do and the fact that you could take some time to talk to us. Hopefully, if families are listening, they're hearing your voice as well and they are feeling reassured as well about the care that they're children are getting. It's frightening enough to have a sick baby but have this happen, I cannot imagine. Dawn Lindley, thanks again to you and your team.

BLACKWELL: Alright, up next, we're going to take you back to Corpus Christi. We have some live pictures to show you of what's happening there. The winds still an issue there and the rain is and will be coming down for some time.

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[07:55:00] PAUL: Hurricane Harvey is a category one storm. We can report now, bringing with heavy rains and there are still some really dangerous conditions attached to this. The Director of FEMA is saying, quote, "This is now turning into a deadly inland event."

BLACKWELL: Forecasters say the water levels will rise as the rain continues to pound the coast over the next few days. The coastal cities could see up to a 13-foot storm surge. Now in just minutes, we will get another update from the National Hurricane Center, of course, we will bring that to you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLACKWELL: Good morning to you and the breaking news, Hurricane Harvey now on shore in Texas, 90-mile-an-hour sustained top winds. The flooding rain will be continuing to come down for days. And the storm has weakened a bit since it swept to shore, category four when it came on just before 11:00 Eastern last night. But make no mistakes, still very dangerous. A FEMA Chief Brock Long spells it out this way, "Citizens of Texas, this is now turning into a deadly inland event. Thoughts and prayers are with you."

PAUL: And this tweet coming in just moments ago from President Trump, replying to his FEMA Director saying, "You're doing a great job. The world is watching, be safe." Now, Harvey, as we said, it is now even at this hour continuing to pound the Texas coast land but the White House has a lot of headlines coming out of it in the last 12 to 16 hours. First of all --