Return to Transcripts main page


Red Cross: 2,500 Evacuees at Houston Convention Center; Record Floods Expected from Brazos River; Additional Inches of Rain Expected This Week; Harvey Causes Catastrophic Flooding In Houston; Red Cross: 2,500 Evacuees At Houston Convention Center. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- now NEWSROOM with John Berman. John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world.

The worst of nature, the best of humanity. We are seeing both this morning in Texas as the rain continues to fall and new challenges are emerging in an event that is already catastrophic by any measure.

Tropical Storm Harvey could deliver 15 to 25 inches more rain on the upper Texas coast by Friday, bringing totals, in some places, to more than four feet. So much that this morning, the Army Corps of Engineers is being forced to release fast-rising water from two reservoirs protecting downtown Houston. That means the potential for even more flooding in nearby neighborhoods, even more people forced to get out.

This morning, FEMA estimates that 30,000 Texans will spend at least part of this week in shelters. More than 1,000 people, several thousand people, have been rescued from their flooded homes so far in Houston, hundreds more in Galveston.

Many of the boats manned by volunteers. People just going out to help. FEMA says many more are welcome.


BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Helping Texas overcome this disaster is going to be far greater than FEMA coordinating the mission of the entire federal government. We need citizens to be involved. Texas is -- this is a landmark event. We have not seen an event like this.


BERMAN: All right. We are covering this natural disaster from all sides this is morning. I want to start with CNN's Rosa Flores who is at the Houston convention center which is starting to see some of these evacuees. Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, overnight, about 200 -- excuse me, overnight, about 2,500 people came into this convention center to seek shelter. Now, this is after they were rescued by first responders. This is after they spent, some of them who I've talked to, hours waiting inside their homes to get rescued as water started to rise very quickly.

I'm here with Mary Jane Mudd, spokesman for the American Red Cross.

And, Mary Jane, you've been, you know, helping coordinate all of this. Tell us what capacity is in this area. We know that there's still a lot of people getting rescued. Will there be enough room for everybody?

MARY JANE MUDD, REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, AMERICAN RED CROSS: You know, the American Red Cross has been planning for this, not only for the past few weeks but, really, all the time. We have partnerships in the city and shelters on standby for something like this.

So as far as the numbers go, what I can tell you is, up and down the Texas gulf coast, we sheltered more than 6,000 people last night in a variety of shelters that have been hit by this terrible storm. As far as the George R. Brown Convention Center where we are, we were able to house 2,500, and it has capacity for 5,000.

But this isn't all there is. Houston's a huge city, and there are other shelters that are open or being opened around the city.

FLORES: Talk to us about supplies. I know that there are -- there's a lot of need here. There's a lot of people. I talked to mothers who had to, in essence, rescue their children from these waters and carry them through these deep waters.

There's a lot of need. Do you have enough supplies? Is more supplies coming?

MUDD: OK. So the American Red Cross is about food, shelter and comfort when something this terrible happens. And so for the warm meal or for the cot, for the blanket, those things they do have.

There has been, at this particular shelter, some ability to have diapers and clothes and other things available to them. They are -- you know, we're all just coming together. We're coming together, and it's -- Texas is a tough state, and people are doing what they can to help.

So with the Red Cross, what we tend to ask for is donations. The cash donations. Because it's so hard to operate, you know, something like this, this big.

We have, you know, hundreds of volunteers that have flown in from around the country. We brought tractor trucks full of food and blankets and cots and just so many things that we continue to do that with cash donations. And that's really what helps. I can tell you how.

FLORES: Mary Jane Mudd, thank you so much. We really appreciate it. MUDD: OK.

FLORES: And, John, again, to reiterate, 2,500 people seeking shelter here at this particular shelter in downtown Houston. But there are other locations around town.

And as the spokesperson for the American Red Cross just said, they're around the coast, all of the coastal area, because there is so much need, because there's so many people trying to seek shelter at this point. John?

BERMAN: Right. And that need could certainly rise over the next few days because the floodwaters could rise because it is still raining. Rosa, thank you so much.

I want to get outside now to Polo Sandoval who is in the flood-swollen Brazos River, southwest right now of Houston.

Polo, what are you seeing?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, all of the rain that's fallen, the rain that continues to fall today, has to go somewhere, and that is where the area's streams and rivers kick in, including here in Richmond, Texas, where we're looking over the raging Brazos River. This is expected to crest later this afternoon right now.

[09:05:02] Communities along this river, which is only about a 10, 15- minute drive from Houston, were under a voluntary evacuation yesterday. Everything changed, though, when authorities actually checked out the most recent forecast and now forced them to upgrade that to a mandatory evacuation for communities along the Brazos River as it is continue to peak beyond record levels later today.

The record there set last year at about 54 feet or so and is expected to get close to 59 by later this afternoon.

It's not just the Brazos but also reservoirs across the region here, those bayous, of course, that are very recognizable in the city of Houston as well. That is where the main issue has been coming from.

All that water has to go somewhere. And, John, as we look over this Brazos River, it is certainly not -- it doesn't look like it is going to go down any time soon as authorities are saying. And as forecasters predict, it's only going to get higher -- John.

BERMAN: No. The National Weather Center made crystal clear that this water has nowhere to go. The floodwaters, the standing water will not recede for some time. Polo Sandoval, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

Sheriff, thank you so much for being with us. Your deputies, your men and women have been out there for the last two days, rescuing people from their homes, providing so much help across the county. Give us your assessment of the situation right now. ED GONZALEZ, SHERIFF, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: Well, it's pretty

amazing. I joined our troops out there on the field yesterday and helped out with many of those rescues also. I'll be heading out in a little while.

I'm also checking on jail operations now. We often forget that we also operate margin scale in the state, so we're managing that effectively right now. And I'll be heading back out to the field.

But I saw amazing stories yesterday. Saw a Vietnam vet, 71-years-old with muscular dystrophy, that was stuck in his home. We were able to get him out safely.

And other -- another individual that had been stuck on a pole. The water was rising pretty quickly, and he had been out there since 2:00 a.m. the previous morning. And he was terrified because he couldn't swim. We were able to create a human chain and get him out to safety as well.

But we're just seeing neighbors helping neighbors. A lot of motorists still stranded on the roadways from the other night. And the worst is still yet to come, I think. We're still having heavy rains. And just a few hours ago, our attics and bank of reservoirs were released as well so that's going to be creating other hardships as well.

BERMAN: Can you give us a sense of numbers right now, how many people stranded, calling for help, looking to be rescued?

GONZALEZ: The volume's been pretty amazing. I know several -- I mean, thousands for sure. We have multiple jurisdictions out here, so everybody is manning, you know, their own calls, and we're trying to triage those as best we can.

And we'll hope to see better numbers going forward, but I'm doing a lot of it via social media as well. Some that are coming to me directly and I'm trying to get out there as quickly as we can and redirect those to our troops.

BERMAN: Sheriff, you know, we see so many of the pictures from over the weekend of the devastation, the floodwaters so high in so many places. And up until now, the casualty numbers had been remarkably low. One death is too many, but we're in the handful, fewer than 10 right now reported.

Are you concerned that as people get a chance to assess the situation, those numbers will rise? Should folks be prepared for some more bad news here?

GONZALEZ: I am concerned about that. I'm prayerful and I'm hopeful that's not the case. But any time you just have folks shelter in place and, you know, there's medical conditions.

As I've mentioned, I mean, it's just -- you know, vehicles that were submerged in water that we were just unable to get to. Really concerned about that. But we're going to hope for the best, and we're going to and try to get to everybody as soon as possible. And then with folks even sheltering in place now for several days.

You know, they're out of medications. Some have respirators. Some have dialysis needs. Yes, they're trapped and they're -- you know, we're trying to get to them as soon as we can.

BERMAN: What is your message to people right now who are still sheltered in places, especially with the forecast for more rain in the coming hours?

GONZALEZ: Well, to continue to use their best judgment, to tune in to sources such as yours for the latest information. Obviously, in some circumstances, there's still an opportunity to get out. You know, we can try to assist -- you know, assist them as best we can.

But as rains continue to come and we start seeing rivers crest in the coming days, then they need to be mindful of that. It's not only today. They've got to think about the long game here and knowing if they have sufficient resources to sustain themselves at least for a week. So they don't -- now is the time to start kind of thinking of alternative plans.

BERMAN: We are looking right now, Sheriff, at live pictures of rescues, of someone boating down the street right now, riding a boat past cars. A reminder that the worst thing you can do right now, in most cases, is to go out into your vehicle, correct?

[09:10:03] GONZALEZ: That's correct. We were traveling through some of the roadways on a high-water rescue vehicle yesterday, and there were patches of roadway that were totally clear and fine and no hazards, but there was debris on the roadway.

We saw crashed dumpsters on the middle of the freeway. It was just something to see. And so you could be OK one minute and you'll hit a patch of some deep water and go under really quickly. And so that could be very -- just hazardous.

So we're asking people just to try to shelter in place as best they can, unless it's an absolute emergency. And if they do so, to do so just safely with flashers and to try to stay to the edge of the roadway. Some folks were traveling pretty fast, thinking that there wasn't other vehicles but there certainly was.

BERMAN: Sheriff, we're joined by CNN's Chief Meteorologist, Chad Myers, who've been watching the path of this storm so very closely. Chad has a question for you, Sheriff, so stand by.



MYERS: Sheriff, just two quick ones. I've seen roadways that might be under 15 feet of water. Are you fearful that there may be submerged cars with people still in those cars at all on your roadways?

GONZALEZ: Yes, I am concerned. Just two nights ago, I was sharing reports of information I was hearing around the area of I10, near Lockwood which is just east of downtown Houston where there were reports of an adult female with a child that had possibly submerged at the time and gone under water.

Unfortunately, just due to the torrential downpour and flooded streets at the time, just no one could get out there. And so we don't know whether it's confirmed or not, or what the status is. We hope that's not the case.

But, again, folks just need to be very careful. I had to go into some deep areas yesterday to rescue some folks in water. It was extremely high. And so very concerned about those folks as well who try to get out, that they may not make it. The currents were pretty strong, so it's just very difficult situation.

And the rains are still coming. They're going to come some more. Again, rivers are going to crest, they're saying. This is almost a thousand year event for us, and rivers are seeing either major or historic levels. And so we have all kinds of issues happening, and so folks just need to be careful.

BERMAN: Sheriff Gonzalez, thank you so much for being with us. You have been up all night -- we've been looking at your social media feed -- responding to people and their cries for help. We know you've got more work to do, so we'll let you get to it. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, everyone.

GONZALEZ: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. Now, Meteorologist Chad Myers with us.

Chad, give us a sense of the forecast. What is coming?

MYERS: Two inches of rain for Houston today. And I know that sounds like a break. We don't need any inches of rainfall. But 12 inches of rain for Beaumont, Port Arthur, over toward Lake Charles.

The shift of the rain has moved to the east. But look at League City. Over 34 inches of rain. That's just southeast of the city itself. And all that water going into the bay, that's good news. It doesn't have to run through the Buffalo Bayou.

Something else, John, I want to run by people and run by you. I just checked Center Point Energy, the power company in Houston. There's about 85,000 people without power. There's 2.3 million people with power. So the power is still on.

People are waiting in the water or watching the water come up in their homes. I believe the next real big threat is electrocution. Please be careful out there today. The rain is going to stop. You're going to want to get out and move around a little bit, but please don't do it -- John.

BERMAN: Please listen to local authorities before you do anything because the dangers, in some ways, increase over the coming days.


BERMAN: Chad Myers, thank you so much for that. You can see the path of the storm hanging over Texas for days still.

Catastrophic damage in Rockport, Texas. That is where this Category 4 hurricane as it was struck. We're getting some new pictures just in to CNN this morning, and Nick Valencia is there.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, john. Three days after it took a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey, this is what the majority of homes and businesses look like here.

I'm Nick Valencia in hard-hit Rockport, Texas, where 60 percent of the town decided to ride this storm out. Those that are left hope it gets better quickly.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want them to be happy and start over and forgot what has been done. I want this town to be back like it was.

VALENCIA: What do you mean, what did I punch with my shoulder? Because --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, if you were going to reference it --




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New pictures just in from the Rockport area of Texas. This is where Harvey made landfall when it came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane. Thousands chose to stay and ride out the storm.

Now we're learning their remarkable stories. CNN's Nick Valencia joins us now live from Rockport. Remarkable images behind you, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Search and rescue operations will resume this morning, John. Just judging by the damage here behind me, this is what the majority of businesses and homes look like here. Not only did people lose their homes, they lost their livelihoods.

That's going to make it really difficult for these first responders. Just over here, we do see about a dozen or so buses, waiting for those who did decide to ride out this storm. As you mentioned, there were thousands of them. One of those residents here in the county -- come on in here, man. Come on. How are you doing?

AARON MITCHELL, ARANSAS PASS RESIDENT: Holding in there. I mean, that's what anybody tells you.

VALENCIA: You were just talking to me. You walked for how long in the dark, just to get here?

MITCHELL: About 12 miles to get to my dad's house.

VALENCIA: You rode out the storm. Tell the viewers about what you experienced, what it was like for you.

MITCHELL: Terrifying, man. I'm scared of heights already and my trailer was bouncing up and down.

[09:20:12] I lost everything. Just wiped me out and this is my first hurricane. So, you know, I'm scared. This is my home.

VALENCIA: What about your friends and family, where are they at, man?

MITCHELL: I don't know. There's been no cell service since Thursday, Friday. Haven't gotten a hold of anybody. If my mom and dad is watching, I'm OK.

VALENCIA: What are their names in case they are?

MITCHELL: Betty and Brian.

VALENCIA: Where were they last?

MITCHELL: My mom's in Oklahoma and my dad, there's no telling where my dad's at. I'm here in Rockport, waiting on you.

VALENCIA: When you look at your community, when you look around here, you know, and see just how everything is after the storm here, what goes on in your mind, man?

MITCHELL: I don't know. It's -- everybody put so much into this and now it's gone. Everything is gone.

VALENCIA: Do you know what you're going to do now?

MITCHELL: I have no clue. I have no clue.

VALENCIA: There are agencies here to help you out. The Army is here. The local police are here. They're passing out food and water right behind us.

MITCHELL: Yes. They're doing a really good job passing everything out for the people that actually need it. And if there's local viewers, come down and get out of here. I mean, for real, get out of here.

VALENCIA: There is a lot of people are finding out about Rockport for the first time. Tell us what we need to know about this place.

MITCHELL: It's a disaster. It was beautiful. This was a vacation retreat. They got shrimp boats, everything and now it's like Katrina. I've seen Katrina, but Katrina didn't touch this.

VALENCIA: So, you can't find your family. You have no home to go back to? MITCHELL: No.

VALENCIA: Where have you been staying? What have you been doing?

MITCHELL: I've been camping out, trying to get cell service, trying to figure out what I'm going to do, what my next move is. But I'm not leaving. This is my home. I got a lot of time. This is my home.

VALENCIA: Let me see. You also got injured here a little bit as well. Tell us what happened to you here.

MITCHELL: Second degree burn.

VALENCIA: That happened during the hurricane?

MITCHELL: Yes. I was trying to grill and my trailer was flipping.

VALENCIA: We knew this storm was going to hit. You may have heard the local mayor say write your name on your forearm, your Social Security?


VALENCIA: Tell us what it was like in those moments. Take us through those moments when you felt the wind system and the hurricane come through.

MITCHELL: I felt like "Wizard of Oz" man. I was scared. I've seen a lot of things but that terrified me.

VALENCIA: I see the look in your eye here, right? You look shocked.

MITCHELL: Yes. I just lost everything I worked for. Everything. The only thing I got are the clothes on my back and, hopefully my dad got out somewhere. I don't know. Maybe I should have left. Maybe I should have left.

VALENCIA: We're going to get you the help you need, man, and have a satellite phone. We'll be able to get you in touch with somebody.

John, this story is not unique. As hard as it is to hear Aaron Mitchell tell his story, we've talked to so many residents here that have gone through the same thing. They've lost their home, their livelihoods. They don't know what to do.

There are local agencies are here, trying to help out. Viewers may be asking, you knew that the storm was going to hit. You had a chance to get out. In the past, Rockport has been predicted to be hit by hurricanes in the past and they haven't.

So, a lot of people were optimistic here that that would be the same thing to happen again. Unfortunately, we know, and looking behind me and looking all around, you know what happened and it's going to take a long time before this community recovers -- John.

BERMAN: Nick Valencia, please give our best to Aaron Mitchell. You can hear the pain in his voice. Until you or anyone has gone through a storm like this, you can't possibly imagine the sense of dislocation, the sense of displacement, the sense of powerlessness. You heard Aaron right there.

Imagine going back to your home and have your home be gone and everyone around you, their homes also. Imagine not being able to locate your friends and family. That is what he's going through right now.

[09:25:02] Nick, please give him our best. And that is what federal, state and local authorities are trying to provide, some way through this as people go back to deal with that devastation and, of course, you heard every official who has been on CNN talk about what you can do around the country.

Please donate to the Red Cross. Check out CNN. We give you a list of sources and resources you can go to help out. They need your help right now in Texas.

This is a national event, the first natural disaster that President Trump has had to face. He is headed to Texas tomorrow. We will assess his response so far when we come back.


BERMAN: Some live pictures from our affiliate, KTRK, in Houston right now. You can see one of our affiliate reporters has been traveling along a boat there as it makes rescues this morning and checks in on homes. That a street --