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Hurricane Harvey Batters Texas; National Weather Service: 50+ Inches of Rain Expected in Next Couple of Days; Text 90999 To Donate 10$ To The Red Cross. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 4:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The catastrophic flooding from now, tropical storm- Harvey, stretching government resources in some cases well past their breaking point.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Authorities in and around Houston are scrambling to save those trapped by the high waters after 24 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Officials say at least two people were killed by the storm. The death toll, folks, the death toll is likely to rise here. Houston's mayor warning that some 911 calls are going unanswered. Operators are giving priorities to calls in areas where lives are at stake.

BRIGGS: Officials say so far there have been about 2,000 water rescues. The Houston Independent School District has canceled classes for the week. Dallas has announced plans to open a mega shelter to accommodate 5,000 evacuees. Officials, charities, and hospitals working to get it open at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center by tomorrow morning at the earliest.

ROMANS: Tomorrow morning. This morning, Corpus Christi International Airport is back open. The six others remained closed. The governor of Texas now calling in a thousand additional members of the national guard to help flood victims. Across the country, several states and the U.S. military sending emergency workers and equipment to Texas where the work is only beginning.


BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: FEMA is going to be there for years, sir. This disaster recovery -- this disaster is going to be a landmark event and we're already in the stages. While we're focused on response right now and helping Texas, you know, respond, we're already pushing forward recovery housing teams. We're already pushing forward forces to be on the ground to implement the National Flood Insurance Program. We're setting up and gearing up for the next couple of years.


ROMANS: CNN'S Derek Van Dam joins us live now from the flood zone in Houston. So great to have you there. It's 3:00 in the morning there in Houston. What are you seeing? DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, certainly rain that's beyond anything that this city has ever experienced. Rain beyond anything that I've ever experienced. I've covered plenty of tropical storms, and the deluge that we had inundate us through the course of the overnight has been incredible.

It's lightened up at the moment, but it was amazing. We had the opportunity and quite an honor -- unique opportunity to go and join a swift water rescue with the constables from the first precinct here in Harris County.

What we saw was a mixture of raw emotion, of people being rescued, and also just being reunited with their loved ones including their pets on dry land. So we actually went to one of the staging areas and joined them on their boat.

And the difficulties that they have, especially in the middle of the night, is staggering. They have had to navigate around fully submerged SUVs, tree trunks, downed power lines. It's dangerous out there. The men and women who are part of the search and rescue operations are extremely brave.

ROMANS: Gosh, we're showing pictures right now from yesterday. Trucks and people walking through the standing water. We're expecting more. And this is -- you covered this so many times. This is a dangerous -- really dangerous part of the storm, right? We're expecting more rain. You just don't know what's underneath those flood waters.

VAN DAM: Well, you know, we talked to locals on the ground here. They kept referencing tropical storm Allison back in 2001. I think that was really the benchmark for Houston flooding, that and the tax day flooding in 2016, but with rainfall totals nearing 35, 40 inches already, some of the computer models that the meteorologists and I look at extensively shows the potential for maybe doubling those numbers.

Mind-boggling to think about. Sixty inches of rainfall in a city. How does one cope with that? The amount of rain here is really testing the limits of the reservoirs that are meant to actually prevent catastrophic flooding in the city of Houston. In fact, they've had to do these dual releases, something they've never done before. Unprecedented thing taking place here within the past couple of hours to help alleviate some of the flooding.

ROMANS: When they release the water out of the reservoirs, where does that water go? Does that increase the flooding around?

VAN DAM: Well, you've got to think about the communities that they have released the water in -- in and around the reservoirs. Again, these reservoirs are just west of the city. The communities there, once they do release that, are going to have flooding, but also that water seeks its own level.

So, the potential for that streaming down the Buffalo Bayou or the Brace (ph) Bayou eventually making its way through the city center of Houston, it's a real distinct possibility, they are going to have to monitor their controlled release of this water very, very closely. I guess that's why they have engineers looking after this stuff, right?

[04:05:00] ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Derek Van Dam live for us in Houston. Those bayous, particular note, you can't just get out and walk in the water. There are water moccasins, snakes, sometimes even gators in that water. An incredible 62 counties under a disaster declaration.

City of Rockport especially hard hit. Emergency officials saying the area totally void of any functioning infrastructure. With communications systems hobbled, sewer system issues, and no running water. CNN's Martin Savidge is there with more.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Good morning, Christine. The people of Houston are struggling with their dilemma here in the small town of Rockport. They are absolutely devastated. It started over two days since this category four storm roared ashore here.

They're still trying to wrap their heads around what has happened to their community. Just look at the level of destruction you see here in the storefront, magnify that across an entire community. Even then you probably can't get a full sense of just how many homes, how many businesses, and how much damage has been done.

There is debris still everywhere. There is no electricity. There is no running water, either clean water to drink or sewage. On top of that, communications limited. They're struggling, trying to bring the cellphone service on line. And then there is the search that still goes on.

You can see all of this debris, and that's part of the problem, makes it difficult for the search and rescue teams to go door to door. They continue to do that. Another problem, natural gas. Extreme damage has caused gas leaks and then has its own problems in this communities, so trying to shut that off.

It's no wonder that the city officials are saying that if you're in town, you should probably leave, this is not livable. If you evacuated out of town, don't come back just yet because there is nothing really for you to come back to.

And here's the long-term problem, it is going to be a long time before the electricity's turned on. Officials are telling us it may be a matter of weeks. Right now, they're simply concerned about making sure everyone's OK. Dave and Christine?

ROMANS: All right. Martin Savidge there. Just a town leveled, quite frankly leveled. Another very hard-hit area, the city of Dickinson, southeast of Houston, where Galveston County emergency officials say 20 to 25 people were rescued from La Vita Bella Nursing Nursing Home.

The nursing home owner's daughter said officials told her mother to shelter the residents in place, but after the water rose, she tweeted out this photo, the photo that her mother took and sent to her, as a plea for help and help finally came. Also in Dickinson, CNN's Ed Lavandera, who drove up from Galveston Sunday night, he was with producer Jason Morris and photo journalist Joel de la Rosa, the crew was accompanying a search and rescue mission, and as rescuers were about to leave a flooded neighborhood, they heard a family crying out. Our crew helped out with that rescue. Ed spoke to them once everyone was out safely.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How long you guys been trapped in there?


LAVANDERA: All night?


LAVANDERA: You've been with your parents?


LAVANDERA: How are they holding up?

JONES: Pretty good. Pretty good. I think pretty good for the circumstances. It's -- yes, it's bad. Everything's floating. And it's bad.


BRIGGS: Once Ed made it back to land -- and we certainly can't call it dry land, he was able to file this report.

LAVANDERA: Dave and Christine, we are standing on not just some small country road that has been flooded out, we are standing on Interstate 45, the major thoroughfare that connects Galveston Island to our south all the way to the city of Houston.

This interstate has been shut down because of the flood waters. We were able to get on a boat and make our way into some of these subdivisions back behind the tree line where hundreds, if not thousands of people have been evacuated throughout the day.

Mainly rescued by a fleet of volunteers who showed up here along the interstate and basically turned this roadway into a boat launch, sending their boats, their own private boats out into these neighborhoods, pulling off two, three, four people at a time to rescue them from their homes.

It's been an unbelievable sight to see that kind of rescue effort unfolding. Essentially all of this happening because the calls and the demand simply just outdoing what -- what first responders were capable of handling.

So they called in essentially a fleet of volunteers to help with these boat rescues. Here you see Interstate 45, here are some of the boats, people showing up in wave runners, boats on their own, trucks, cars, pulling as many people out of here as possible.

[04:10:00] As we went through that neighborhood a few hours ago, inside the neighborhood, it was dramatic to see the number of people who had clearly made their way to their rooftops to be able to get away from the flood waters. Several of them had cut holes and chopped their way through the attic to get on to that rooftop. Dramatic scenes as we've been able to capture some of the first dramatic images and the intensity and the devastation of the flooding that has happened across the city of Houston and the southeast Texas area. Dave and Christine?

ROMANS: It's remarkable to see a whole -- hacked through the top of the house to get out.

BRIGGS: Imagine the desperation of that move. For a look at what this storm still has to punch, let's bring in meteorologist Karen Maginnis in the CNN Weather Center. Karen, good morning to you. Looking at the NASA website, they describe the storm as almost stationary. How much is left from Harvey?

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, interesting that you should ask, because we look at the southern edge of this, really not too much, but there is still that multilevel in the atmosphere circulation, so still able to tap moisture from the gulf of Mexico. The radar loop is from three hours.

Look at this, there is this line tapping that moisture from the gulf, so Houston is in a little bit of a lull. The bulk of the activity is a little bit further towards the north and towards the east, also pushing into Louisiana. It's almost like a feeder band going right into that area. But what's Harvey going to be doing?

It is going to slowly, very slowly, it's moving to the east, southeast at about three miles an hour. That's quasi-stationary. And then as it moves out over the open waters of the gulf of Mexico, then we're looking at it picking up that moisture from the gulf. It has deep tropical moisture. You know what happens then, the computer models are saying it's going to back in right over Galveston and into Houston.

I hate to give you that news, but the computer models have been spot on with this. They were saying early on we could see 25, 30, maybe 40, possibly 50 inches of rainfall, and we were all astounded. And it was such a broad area. It made itself -- it made landfall as a category four. And quickly dropped down.

But as we see, even as a tropical storm, a weak tropical storm, it has still produced just untold volumes of moisture right along the corridor, along Interstate 10. I probably don't have time to show you the video that we ran earlier. At my hit at the bottom of the hour, I'll show you that black-and-white video.

There we go. All right. There's the vehicle in these waters. This is near Katy, Texas, about 30-minute drive to the west of Houston. There's a man on the back side of that SUV. Here you can see the dinghy come in. We don't know if these are citizen, rescuers or if this is part of a government agency, but they load him on board that dinghy.

You'll be happy to know, I watched this to the end, they do make it to higher ground. They take him out of the water. You see how fast that water is rushing? If he weren't standing behind that vehicle, he would get swept up in that area. We'd be -- might be talking about something very different here.

ROMANS: I know. You know, the National Hurricane Center, Karen, is warning people, every hour we're getting updates here, life- threatening flooding continues over southeastern Texas. Do not attempt to travel in the affected area. If you are in a safe place, stay there. Do not drive into flooded roadways because you'll see a lot more rescues like that. All right. All right. Karen Maginnis, thank you. We'll talk to you again in a few minutes.

BRIGGS: All right. Houston's mayor taking heed after not ordering evacuations ahead of the storm.


MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON, TEXAS: We must put the interests of the city of Houston and Houstonians first. That's exactly what we did. Absolutely, no regrets.


BRIGGS: We'll ask the Houston office of emergency management how that decision affected rescue efforts next on "Early Start."


BRIGGS: We're back following the catastrophic flooding in southeastern Texas. This morning, 24 inches fell in 24 hours in Houston. The National Weather Service saying unfathomable 50 inches of rain may fall in parts of Texas in the next couple of days.

ROMANS: Let's say it again, 50 inches of rain.

BRIGGS: Hard even to conceptualize that.

ROMANS: Fifty inches. The most conservative estimate so far is 15 to 25 inches of rain which is devastating for this very wet, soggy area. We are joined in the phone by Keith Smith, public information officer for Houston's Office of Emergency Management. Thank you for taking a time out of your very busy night and morning to bring us up the speed here.

Talk to me a little bit about what the status is in Houston right now, what you're hearing from people. The National Hurricane Center telling people if you are safe, stay where you are. Do not get in a car, do not drive through rainy streets, that that's incredibly dangerous behavior. What are you recommending for people?

KEITH SMITH, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, HOUSTON'S OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (via telephone): That's exactly right. We've seen it here for a couple of days now that there are a lot of streets in Houston that are flooded. And so if you don't need to be on the roadways, please don't get on them. We've had more than 6,000 calls for rescue since this event began.

And initially a lot of them were from people who got trapped in their vehicles in rising flood waters or tried to drive through high waters. So we're seeing a number of those rescue calls have now changed. They are people who are in their homes and reporting that they feel trapped or need to be rescued from their neighborhood. So it's just -- it's just a very special situation. I don't know what else to say.


BRIGGS: Certainly. We understand the 911 there in Houston has been overwhelmed, needless to say, with the thousands of additional calls. What do you expect? What do you encourage people to do this morning that desperately do need help?

[04:20:00] SMITH (via telephone): OK. I'm glad you brought that up because to give you an idea of the 911 situation here -- on a typical day, our 911 call-takers take about 8,000 calls in a 24-hour period. Since 10:00 p.m. Saturday night, they've taken more than 56,000 calls. So that was in a 17-hour period. That kind of gives you an idea of just how hard the 911 system's been hammered.

They have brought in extra call takers. They are asking people when you call, don't hang up. We were seeing some of that. People would say, I didn't get an immediate answer, I'm going to hang up and try calling again. Don't, because you are placed in the queue and if you hang up, you're dropped to the bottom of the queue when you call back, so just hang in there. The call taker will get to you. They are going to listen to what you have to say and determine what kind of call and response is needed.

And then we are trying to keep the lines free for emergency, for people whose lives are in imminent danger. And if we can, we establish that case, then that's -- those are the calls, the first responders need to make immediately, not just someone who may be feeling uncomfortable because they're at a gas station and they're tired of being stuck there. We want to reach out and get the call from the person who says I'm in a house, I've got flood waters coming up, my life's in danger.

ROMANS: Some of those early calls, then, were for rescues out of trapped vehicles, because people are on the move. Now you're hearing more from people in their homes. I wonder -- there was no evacuation order for Houston.

SMITH (via telephone): Right.

ROMANS: And your mayor defending that. Let's listen to your mayor here.


TURNER: The decision that we made was a smart one. It was in the best interests of Houstonians. Always we must put the interests of the city of Houston and Houstonians first. That's exactly what we did. Absolutely. No regrets.


ROMANS: Mayor Sylvester Turner. Keith Smith, was that still the right call, do you think?

SMITH (via telephone): I would have to say I agree with my mayor. And for those who aren't familiar with Houston, Houston is no stranger to flooding. We've gone through tropical storm Allison. We've had hurricane Rita and hurricane Ike, most recently in 2008. The way the city is designed, we have bayous that crisscross through the city, and the drainage system.

Then the streets are actually -- it looks pretty bad on television, but the streets are actually almost designed to be the secondary drainage system, to funnel some of the water out of the houses as possible to those bayous. This is a rain event. The problem with something like this as opposed to a hurricane or something is you cannot predict exactly where that rain is going to come.

Unfortunately for us, it's a little bit different from Allison which would have bands of rain go over the same area repeatedly while other parts remain relatively dry. This is hitting the city almost everywhere.

BRIGGS: The FEMA chief says that the recovery will go on for years. For people watching around the country, what can they do to help? What do you need there? And are you getting the resources you need from our federal government?

SMITH (via telephone): Well, at this point in time, we are still very much in the event and we expect to remain so for the next few days. It's still raining here. And we don't expect -- unfortunately, we don't expect Harvey to move for a couple of days. So once Harvey is out of our area and stops dropping all this rain on us, then our roads will drain off.

They drain off very quickly, as I say, because we've got those bayous which can funnel it out of here. And then we can do the assessment. So for the recovery aspect, I think it's premature to talk about that. I can tell you that first responders are working hard, and they're expecting high-water rescues as we speak.

I have not heard anybody complain about lack of resources from anybody. And we've got all sorts of local partners. We have state partners, the coast guard is standing here, helping us with some high- water rescues. So, there are no complaints about lack of resources.

What people can do to help at this point in time? There's not a need for people to donate anything or to come in because they can't move around freely in our city right now. So, that will come, and we would welcome any help. People who want to help, there will be ways to establish that down the road.

[04:25:00] Right now, well wishes, thoughts, prayers, we will take them. ROMANS: You're getting them from us, that's for sure. As you point out, we're still very much in the event. There's a lot more of the story still to be written. We will check in with you again very soon. Keith Smith, thank you so much for that, from Houston, the Office of Emergency Management.

BRIGGS: For those of you that do want to donate to the Red Cross, you can text Harvey to 90999. that's a $10 donation. We'll keep updating you as 15 to 25 more inches could fall in some parts of Houston.

ROMANS: Right. This storm poses a big test for President Trump. He is set to fly to Texas tomorrow. What's the federal response been like so far? That's next.


BRIGGS: Welcome back to "Early Start," 3:30 Houston time.