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Harvey Causes Catastrophic Flooding in Houston; Hundreds Rescued, Thousands Stranded in Floods; Trump to Travel to Texas Tomorrow; Backlash to Trump's Pardon of Sheriff Arpaio. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 06:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:58:55] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to those in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, August 28, 6 a.m. here in New York. And we do begin with the history of the worst kind.

Unprecedented and catastrophic flooding inundating America's fourth largest city. Right now, rescuers are still on the clock in the Houston area, trying to save hundreds of people stranded in floodwaters. Officials are asking anyone with a boat to please get out there, help rescue the thousands who are stuck in rising waters.

This is obviously an emergency, but remember, this could get worse. The National Weather Service says Tropical Storm Harvey could dump an additional 15 to 25 inches of rain just this week. The longer that that water stays, the worse the health problems will get.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from two flood-control dams in Houston this morning to prevent an even greater disaster. But many people are questioning why Houston was not evacuated before the storm.

Federal officials will hold a briefing in the next hour to update all of us on their response to this unfolding disaster as President Trump says he plans to visit the region tomorrow.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Alex Marquardt. He's live in the suburbs of Houston.

Give us all the latest, Alex.


Well, all across this city, roads have turned to rivers, catastrophic flooding, as you mentioned.

Behind me, there's an SUV that is almost completely submerged. There's a tractor trailer right beyond -- or sorry, a truck right behind that that has also gotten stuck. Just to give you a sense of the rainfall, 20 to 25 inches falling so far on this area with reports of 30 inches in Harris County, which is the most populous county here in Houston, with much more to come.

This is an all-hands-on-deck rescue effort. An additional thousand National Guard troops have just been added. There are already 3,000 carrying out rescues. We understand from the U.S. Coast Guard that there have been, so far, 250 water rescues, with more than 1,000 people rescued.

There was no mandatory evacuation order. The authorities have been telling people to shelter in place, if flooding starts in their homes to go up to higher floors. They are telling them not to go up into the attics, because they could get stuck there if the floodwaters rise. They're saying get up onto the roofs so that the helicopters can see you.

Now, as you mentioned, those (AUDIO GAP) -- a controlled to prevent further catastrophe. But what that means is that there will be much more water flooding into the Buffalo Bayou. Authorities asking residents along that bayou to evacuate. So when you hear the head of FEMA say that they are going to be here in Texas for years to come, you can begin to understand that when you see this incredible amount of water -- Chris.

CUOMO: You know, everything that water touches over time is going to need to be rebuilt. The infrastructure, who knows what the damage will be?

Alex, you're a pro, but be safe. Being in that standing water is going to get more and more dangerous.

All right. So the flooding that's going on in Houston evoking images of Katrina. Thousands of rescued residents seeking refuge now in the city's convention center. It's operating as a shelter for flood victims, but that wasn't its intended use. They're trying to make do. They're going to need more and more as time goes.

You've got city buses, dump trucks dropping off evacuees who are just being plucked from these swamped neighborhoods.

You've got CNN's Rosa Flores live in Houston with more. Rosa, how's it going where you are?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, a lot of intense and stressful moments here, Chris, as streets turn to rivers, as bayous turn to raging rivers.

Take a look behind me. This is an urban site here in Houston, except right now it is completely flooded with water. Normally, you'd see a hill that goes down to the banks of Buffalo Bayou, that flows out to the Gulf of Mexico. Right now, a raging river.

Testing the infrastructure of this city and also testing the decisions made by politicians here, because early on there was disagreement between the Democratic mayor and the Republican governor in the state of Texas regarding evacuations. Local leaders asking people to shelter in place, the governor mentioning that maybe people should evacuate. But the mayor defending his position. Take a listen.


SYLVESTER TURNER, MAYOR OF TEXAS: The decision that we made was a smart one. It was in the best interests of Houstonians. It -- it was the right decision in terms of their safety; and always we must put the interests of the city of Houston and Houstonians first. That's exactly what we did. Absolutely no regrets. We did what was the right thing to do. And we are acting according to

the plan that we've -- that we've laid out.


FLORES: And as we take another live look here at the rising waters in Houston, we learned this morning that 2,500 people are in the convention center, not too far from where I'm standing right now. They are seeking shelter. I've talked to several of them. Harrowing stories that we're -- that we're hearing from them. Some mothers telling me that they had to walk with their children up in the air, with water up to their chest to try to get to higher ground.

And then, of course, we're also hearing about the stories from first responders, putting their lives on the line to try to rescue some of these people.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I know. Rosa, I mean, my goodness, the videos of these rescues have just been so incredible to watch. Thank you very much for the report from there.

So these ferocious winds and the storm surge of Hurricane Harvey have decimated coastal cities like Rockport. People being told to stay away from their homes because of the destruction and the lack of the infrastructure now. CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Rockport with just incredible pictures of the damage there.

What do you see, Nick?

[06:05:00] NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

Three days after this community took a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey, this is still the situation here. Search and rescue operations will continue later this morning. We talked to the Texas state task force. They were conducting those operations over the weekend.

They say there are no reports of people missing. As a matter of fact, their operations were limited to rescuing family pets that were left behind after the evacuations.

For those the that are still left behind, you have about a half a dozen buses off camera here that will continue their evacuations later this morning. Those that are left behind here, they're living in darkness. Look at this. This is magnified, block after block after block here in Rockport. There is no power. There's no electricity. There's no running water here. For those that are trying to come back, local officials are stressing, stay away. There's nothing to come back to -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Nick. And, you know, the problem is, as you well know, having been in these situations before, the storm is gone, but the problem is very real and present in terms of danger.

Thirteen million people are under flood warnings and watches in Texas and Louisiana. This flooding is going to get worse. You're going to get more rain, two additional feet in places. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest forecast.

One of your great frustrations is keeping people keyed in to the emerging issues. Just because the storm is, quote, gone, doesn't mean the problems are gone. They're usually going to get worse.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Especially, Chris, when you put water up river that still has to move. It has stopped raining, essentially, in Houston this morning. But look at all this water. Everywhere that you see white, 20 inches of rain has already fallen or more. And we're seeing spots this morning that are up to 40 on the ground.

Where is that water going to go? It's going to try to get into the Gulf of Mexico. It's not going to get there right away. This flooding is going to last for a month in some spots.

The rain has moved over toward Beaumont, over toward New Orleans. And that's where the storm is going to go, too. Everybody was freaked out this weekend as the storm was going to get back in the Gulf of Mexico. It didn't look like it on Friday, but now it does. And you bet: it's going to get back into the gulf, maybe gain a little bit more strength and move off to the east.

The heaviest rain today, though, is Beaumont, Port Arthur, Lake Charles, to the east of Houston. That's good for Houston, bad for this area under the white. So we'll keep you up to date as the day goes on. This is going to be a heavy, heavy rain day. Just good news, not for Houston -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chad, thank you very much. We'll check back with you throughout the program.

Joining us on the phone now is Vernon Loeb. He's the managing editor of "The Houston Chronicle." The newspaper's cover this morning reads "Swamped by Harvey."

Vernon, how are you this morning?

VERNON LOEB, MANAGING EDITOR, "THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE" (via phone): Fine, thank you. Hanging in there.

CAMEROTA: Can you compare Harvey with the other storms that you've seen over the years in Houston?

LOEB: Well, we've had, you know, two epic floods for the past two years, and they're nothing to compare to what we've seen over the past few days. I mean, I think the National Weather Service people have said it best. A guy named Patrick Flood (ph) called it catastrophic, unprecedented or epic, take your pick. So I think it is truly epic.

CAMEROTA: Should the mayor of Houston have ordered an evacuation? You know there are all these questions this morning about whether he made the right call. What do you think?

LOEB: You know, I think he did make the right call. You just can't prepare for this much rain. And I almost don't want to think about what it would be like if you had millions of people sort of moving around the region, trying to find some sort of shelter.

You've got to remember, you know, you'd have to evacuate pretty far in Houston to get out of this. So of course, this debate will ensue; and the city, I'm sure, could do more in terms of, you know, flood preparations, but there's really no way to prepare for anything like this.

CAMEROTA: You know, I mean, look, that's what the mayor said, that he said putting 6.5 million people on the road would have been a nightmare in its own right.

So but what about this seeming political battle that's happening now between the Democratic mayor and the Republican governor? There are reports that they haven't spoken. Calls have gone unanswered. What's happening behind the scenes?

LOEB: Look, you know, Texas is a very politically polarized and divided state. You've got liberal, Democratic cities and a very, very conservative state government.

But I think probably too much is being made right now of some remarks that Governor Abbott made a couple of days ago at a press conference. I think they're going to come together. They have no choice at this point. And it's not just liberal Houston that's underwater. The whole coast has been devastated up from Corpus.

And, you know, I would expect to see Abbott and Houston Mayor Turner come together today very strongly, everybody. I mean, there's really no choice. It's really serious and dire here for millions of people in Houston.

[06:10:10] CAMEROTA: Where are you hunkered down?

LOEB: I'm at my house right now in a neighborhood called Montrose. I got home last night previously by car -- it's funny. There are some roads that you drive on, and it almost seems like nothing has happened. If you take a slightly alternative route, you're up to your waist or even sometimes chest in water. So it really sort of depends what road you're on. But really, the only way for me to get into work this morning is to basically walk. I live about four miles from the newsroom.

CAMEROTA: Are you going to go into work?

LOEB: Oh, yes, absolutely. Most of -- we've got the entire newspaper activated. I mean, every single person who works for us is reporting, or editing, or taking pictures, or taking video, doing something. Most of them are -- we're just telling them to work from wherever they are. It's not worth trying to come in, and they couldn't come in any way.

You know, many -- Houston is huge, 600 square miles. So many -- many of our employees couldn't come to work if they wanted to. You know, I live four miles from the newsroom, relatively close, very close. So it's not hard for me.

We had a fair number of people in yesterday, and it was hard finding food for them. Everything was closed. But, you know, we'll get enough people in. But thanks to the miracle of computers, we can just keep doing our thing, wherever people happen to be.

CAMEROTA: Well, Vernon Loeb, we are grateful for your news coverage and that you continue to stay at it, even during these conditions. And thanks so much for joining us with the update on what's happening in Houston.

LOEB: Of course. Thank you.


CUOMO: All right. Let's get perspective of the actual need on the ground right now. We're in Houston with Stephanie Arcangelo. She's the spokesperson for the American Red Cross.

And Arcangelo is the right kind of name to have this morning, Stephanie, because we need our angels out there and in full gear to help the people. We know that the Red Cross is all over on the ground. What can you tell us about the emerging needs right now?

STEPHANIE ARCANGELO, SPOKESPERSON, AMERICAN RED CROSS (via phone): This is a heartbreaking and challenging situation to everyone in and around Houston. And the Red Cross is doing everything we possibly can to make sure that we have the supplies and the people available to be in these shelters, to open these shelters, and make sure that people have a place to stay. As you can imagine, with the flood waters, it has been incredibly difficult and challenging for us to safely be able to get to where we need to go, but we are doing everything we possibly can to help everyone in need.

CUOMO: We're watching one of our own right now, Ed Lavandera and some of his video, just becoming a rescuer. You know, everyone winds up just putting all hands on deck in a situation like this.

Even though you have manpower coming in, logistics are a big problem. I know that they're organizing the emergency shelter system. What are you seeing in terms of the ability to get people to safety?

ARCANGELO: You know, for -- from our purposes, we know how difficult it is. We know the first responders are out there. We know everyone is out there trying to do that. The Red Cross is working and doing everything that we can. We're working and finding unique and creative ways to get our workers, our supplies out there. An incredibly challenging situation, as you can imagine. We've been

seeing all of, you know, everyone calling this catastrophic. And that's exactly what it is. And so what we're doing is our very, very best. We have supplies. We have everything ready. And we are doing everything possible to make sure that we can get all of those supplies in.

CUOMO: Now, the CNN audience is a very active one. They want to help. As we all know, the mistake is always to believe that the situation is over when the storm is gone. What do you want people to know in terms of what is need, what will be needed, and how to help?

ARCANGELO: All right, absolutely. Right now, the best way to help people would be to make a financial donation to the American Red Cross to provide immediate disaster relief. You can help people affected by Hurricane Harvey by visiting, calling 1-800-Red-Cross, or texting the word "Harvey" to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

CUOMO: All right. And again, we will keep people in the loop. There's nothing worse than standing water for all their homes and, of course, the health disasters that come along with it.

Stephanie, stay safe. Thank you, and please let us know what we need to tell everybody else about the situation -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, so Chris, this catastrophe, of course, is posing a major test for President Trump. What will he see and do when he visits the state tomorrow? More of our continuing coverage of Harvey next.


[06:18:21] CAMEROTA: President Trump is scheduled to travel to Texas tomorrow for a firsthand look at the first natural disaster on his watch. The president touting the federal response in a series of tweets and also drawing some criticism himself for some unrelated tweets.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. What's the latest, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far so good, you can say, Alisyn, at least at this point for the president and the White House in this response, though the federal government is certainly going to be responding for months and even years as all of this develops.

We do know that the White House is so far still planning for the president to go to Texas tomorrow. It's not clear exactly where, whether that will be San Antonio, possibly Austin.

There's certainly a concern here that any presidential visit would require public safety personnel, and they don't want to detract from the effort of first responders.

The president over the weekend also participated in video conferences about this storm. He tweeted several times about the storm. But the president's focus has not been singular on Harvey. Over the

weekend, obviously, it started out with the controversial pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The president also tweeted, among other things, about Mexico and the fact that he still says Mexico will pay for his controversial border wall. The president indicated a lot of other things, including, I might add, a -- talking about a book by the very controversial Sheriff Joe Clarke.

[06:20:00] So we're waiting to find out what this administration is going to do about the location for the president. But there's also going to be, later this morning, a video news conference here in Washington by FEMA and by the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the response to Harvey.

Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: We will be covering all of it, Joe. Thank you very much for the preview.

Let's bring in our panel to discuss it. We have CNN political analysts Alex Burns and Karoun Demirjian; and CNN political commentator Errol Louis. Great to see all of you.

Errol, how do you think the president has done so far with handling this disaster?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he is setting himself for some real problems by doing these distractive sort of side trips into the world of David Clarke's book and some of this and some of that and the wall with Mexico.

CAMEROTA: Why? I mean, that doesn't affect the federal relief efforts, right? So...

LOUIS: Well, I think what is going to happen is that it's inevitable. We saw this after Katrina. We saw this after Superstorm Sandy. Things are going to go wrong. It is in the nature of these things. That's why you call it a disaster.

People's homes are not going to be fixed in the proper way in the right time frame. Tragedies are going to emerge. Shortcomings in the long chain between Washington and the situation on the ground are going to get disrupted.

What people want to know is that their president was focused on that the entire time, and to the exclusion of everything else. And so this is not the right way to start that process.

And then of course, questions are going to be asked about why is there no EPA administrator. Why is there no Hurricane Center manager? You know, that -- some of what goes wrong, the inevitable problems that crop up, are going to be laid at the foot of the president.

CUOMO: Right. But Errol, to the extent that these things are going to be a function of what happens over time. I mean, just to be honest, at this point, the federal government doesn't have that much to do with it. You give them money; you give resources as they ask for it. Almost all the coordination is on the local level, somewhat on the state level.

So is this a situation that's really fair to judge? You can fair (ph) what he's saying. And I don't know why we keep talking about them as tweets, as if that makes them any less important. It's really -- it's got to stop. These are all official things from the president. This is what's on his mind. He's all over the place. That's the reality.

LOUIS: Well, yes. What it does, it creates a time-stamped record so that when people ask, "Hey, look, what were you doing..."

CUOMO: Right.

LOUIS: ... while the fourth biggest city in the country was under destruction?

CUOMO: Doesn't matter if it's a tweet or a telex or a memo or a phone call or a radio. It's all the same. It's all just come from the president.

CAMEROTA: Carrier pigeon.

CUOMO: It doesn't -- but it doesn't matter. We say it's a tweet, as if so then it's less important that he's saying that Arpaio was just doing his job, because it's in a tweet. No, that's B.S. It's just as real as anywhere else he said it.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They are messages from the president. And it is sort of striking that he's not using that platform, you know, somewhat more conventionally, I guess you could say, to send regards to first responders, express gratitude in a more sort of traditional format, that he is expressing sentiments related to the storm, just not typically the kinds of sentiments that you expect to hear from a president under these circumstances.

But, look, I think the -- you know, what every president and presidential administration finds is that the most important part of a disaster response is the substance of the disaster response. That if at some point down the line, Greg Abbott or Sylvester Turner were to say, "We didn't have resources that we needed from Washington," that would be a really big deal. Neither of them has said anything like that...

CUOMO: Right.

BURNS: ... at this point. Which means for the president, you know, I don't want to say, you know, so far so good, because Houston is under water. But certainly, you haven't seen anything so far that looks like Katrina.

CAMEROTA: So Karoun, I mean, as the storm, though, was crashing into Houston and Rockport, the president was pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I mean, this lightning rod of a figure. So some of that, obviously, was eclipsed by the storm disaster. What's the fallout from this?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, he's certainly been roundly criticized by many of his critics for pardoning Arpaio, who are basically saying that this is proof he doesn't have respect for, you know, the judicial process, for the Constitution, et cetera. But I mean, it was a play for his base.

The question is going to be, though, what Errol and Alex were just talking about, which is that, when looking back at the optics of all of this, because the optics do matter for the president, what is the time line of events he is pursuing?

Is it going to look, in retrospect, like he was using the impending hurricane as cover to make this move late on a Friday night at a time when everybody was worrying about, you know, preparation for the disaster response? And I think that, you know, that that will be -- help instruct, I guess, whether the criticism that he's been facing, which is comprehensive and significant, is wider and gets into the parts of his base that would actually scare him a little bit, from -- from doing things like this again, repeating these sort of things in the future.

And that's all going to depend about, you know, what the long-term response to this is because, yes, the optics of the president matter right now. But as we were all saying, you know, this is still an ongoing crisis.

If it takes months to actually -- it will take months to respond to it. And if the resources don't continue to be there, if there are routine fights on Capitol Hill about, "Oh, we have to worry about the federal budget, which is why we can't send money to help this natural disaster in our own back yard," that's when things are get more and more sticky and people are going to start to look more and more at this Twitter stream and other things. And that's when, you know, what has been localized criticism, I guess, you know, on things like Joe Arpaio could spread and become much more of a problem for him politically.

[06:25:21] CUOMO: And hopefully, you don't see Congress playing politics with relief money over time the way they did with Sandy. You know, lest we remember that, hopefully, Texas gets treated better than Texas's GOP representatives treated New York when they needed money coming out of that. But that's going to be in the future.

There's no question, Errol, you do things on Friday night because you want to keep them as low as possible. This is not conjecture. It's a reality. Gorka slinking off on Friday is not a coincidence. Arpaio coming out on Friday is not a coincidence.

The question is, who did he help himself with by doing Arpaio? Arpaio was not just a contempt of court order. It was about how he was administering justice in his jurisdiction. It was about how he was targeting people. This wasn't just about him standing strong against the Man. He was conducting a practice that was seen as illegal. LOUIS: Well, that's -- look, the long and disgraceful history of Joe

Arpaio is, you know, a subject, I guess, for another -- another time. But people should know that, you know, 160 suicides in the Maricopa County lockup on his watch; $140 million paid out to the families of people like that; countless injustices that went on.

For the president to do this -- first of all, Friday night news dump is not what it used to be. Right? There's 24-hour news now.

CUOMO: Right.

LOUIS: It's -- you know...

CAMEROTA: We catch it.

LOUIS: Yes. But a lot of news was made. There was a lot of coverage over the weekend.

But also, I think it's important as a signal that he's going to be the president of his base. You know, I mean, the thing about a dog whistle is that the dog hears it a lot more than everybody else. In this case the base will be absolutely delighted that Joe Arpaio got this favor from the president. Everyone else might be horrified, but there's a lot of other things to worry about.

So I think this is just -- it's pure politics. He bypassed the Justice Department, didn't go through the normal process you would go through. Even if you wanted to extend clemency. Normally, you know, you check in with the lawyers at the Justice Department. Specifically, was purely political...

CUOMO: They have lawyers that evaluate exactly this, whether or not this is the right case for a pardon, and how, and what. He didn't do any of that.

LOUIS: There is no criteria. And I think that's probably the biggest signal that's being sent, other than, again, the sort of -- the pat on the back to his base.

CAMEROTA: So obviously, there are a lot of other things to worry about, and that's what Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis are tasked with. And they said interesting things over the weekend that appeared to be distancing themselves from the administration. So listen to this.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't believe anyone doubts the American people's values or the commitment of the American government or the government's agencies to advancing those values and defending those values.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And the president's values?

TILLERSON: The president speaks for himself, Chris. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Hold the line, my fine young

sailors, airmen, Marines. Hold. Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, being friendly to one another.


CAMEROTA: What do we think all that was meant?

BURNS: Well, this is pretty remarkable stuff, and I think especially the comment from Rex Tillerson. You can add to that list Gary Cohn saying last week really critical stuff about the administration's response to events in Charlottesville in an interview with "The Financial Times."

When you see people this prominent in the administration, I put Mattis in a somewhat different category. When you see them sort of stepping back from the president's message and sort of isolating him within his own administration, that tells you something about his weakness overall.

CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, thank you very much. We will obviously be talking about all of this throughout the show.

CUOMO: All right. And while we are showing you everything that's happening right now in Houston and in parts of Texas and beyond, remember, the biggest message is it's not over. More rain is coming. That standing water can be a killer. We're going to have a congressman on who represents the area, next.

And ways that you want to help. We know you are. We know you're asking us to do it. Go to and you'll see all the ways to help now. And don't forget to keep checking for weeks.