Return to Transcripts main page


Harvey Causes Catastrophic Flooding In Houston; Army Corps Open Dams To Stem Houston Flooding; Trump Faces The Natural Disaster Test; Hundreds Rescued, Thousands Stranded In Deadly Floods. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:33:27] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So this relentless rain from Tropical Storm Harvey making the catastrophic flooding in Texas even worse. Flash flood warnings continue. In some counties forecast expect 15 to 25 more inches of rain to fall in Houston.

The Army Corps of Engineers is starting a controlled release at two Galveston dams ahead of schedule. Emergency crews are working around the clock to rescue the thousands of people still stranded in high water.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is live in the suburbs of Houston with the latest. What's happening there, Alex?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. We are seeing a brief lull in the rain, but make no mistake, much more is coming and it is about to get worse.

This is a scene playing out all across this city. This is an on-ramp for the Interstate 610, right back there about 100 feet away is an SUV that's almost completely submerged. That's about four feet of water.

Now to give you a sense of how much rain has fallen. Yesterday at the Houston airport they broke the record for rainfall, 16 inches. That's double the previous record set in 1945.

There is an all-hands-on-deck rescue effort under way, local authorities, Coast Guard, National Guard. The Coast Guard saying they have carried out some 250 rescues, rescuing more than 1,000 people.

The big development this morning, as you mentioned, the Army Corps of Engineers doing what's called a controlled release of those two dams in Galveston County. Until now there has been no mandatory evacuation order.

[06:35:03] But they are asking people to evacuate from along the Buffalo bayou where so much of that water will be going into. So, there are going to be a lot of desperate people looking for dry shelters and higher ground this morning -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So, one-two punch. More water coming in, there's lethality there. Once it stands, it becomes a toxic soup. People are going to have to live in it, continuing problems there as well. Stay safe. We'll check back with you in a little bit.

All right, now, let's get the perspective on what is needed from a local lawmaker, Republican Congressman Blake Fahrenthold of Texas. He represents the Corpus Christi area. Congressman, I'm sorry to have to talk to you under these circumstances.

But we're trying to get the word out about the need and the concerns. You understand the situation as well as anyone. Thank you for being with us. What do we need to know right now? What are your major concerns at this hour?

REPRESENTATIVE BLAKE FARENTHOLD (R), TEXAS: Well, right now it's getting rebuilt down here in Corpus Christi where the brunt of the storm hit with the wind, we've got some of our area cities like Port Aransas and Rockport are completely devastated. We have areas who have no water, no power, no grocery store, nor drugstore, no place to go.

We're counting on FEMA to get in with food and water relief and the Red Cross to provide shelters. We're looking, and this area is huge, from where I am in Corpus Christi to where the storm originally struck to Houston is a solid four-hour drive. It's a very, very large area that's affected.

CUOMO: Right. And you know, the FEMA guys, they always break it down into two phases, the lethality phase and the normality phase. During the lethality phase, when people are still exposed to this in a deadly way. What do you know about the people still stranded and ongoing rescue efforts?

FARENTHOLD: Well, in Houston with the rain, that's where the big effort is focused now. We're starting in Corpus Christi, thank God, to get back to normality. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Houston.

I've grown up on the Texas gulf coast and have never seen a storm like this with such wide-ranging effect. Usually these hurricanes blow through and are gone in a day, maybe two. This one is a gift that keeps on giving in the worst possible way.

CUOMO: They're saying it will be weeks at a minimum. As you're saying, so much infrastructure and for people their homes and livelihoods have to be rebuilt. What is your direction right now for those who want to help?

FARENTHOLD: Work with the Red Cross or some of the various relief agencies. I know you guys have a place on your web page that you can go with groups that are there to provide services and help.

Our church groups down here are mobilizing as we're getting a little bit more back to normal here in Corpus Christi. We're sending water and food up to Rockport and some of the areas that are much more harder hit than Corpus Christi.

These communities that were devastated were a stone's throw -- bedroom communities for Corpus Christi or right across the bay, Port Aransas, a fishing town where many folks lived and had second homes, the National Guard is not even letting folks in to Port Aransas, the devastation is so great.

CUOMO: Right. So, they don't even know what they'll be dealing with there in terms of putting their lives back together. Congressman, consider us an outlet for your communities and those around the country to coordinate help going forward. Anything you want people to know, reach out to us and we'll spread the word. Be safe and --

FARENTHOLD: I certainly appreciate. You're doing a great job. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

CUOMO: You will be there. Congressman, take care.

CAMEROTA: All right. Meanwhile, President Trump facing the first natural disaster of his presidency. How does his approach compare to his predecessors? CNN president historian, Douglas Binkley, joins us next.



CAMEROTA: The catastrophic flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey posing a major test for President Trump as his predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, learned firsthand, disasters can define a presidency.

Let's discuss with CNN presidential historian and Rice University history professor, Douglas Brinkley. Doug, great to have you here. We're almost at 72 hours. What have you seen thus far in President Trump's response, the federal government's response versus let's start with Katrina and President Bush?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Remind you that Hurricane Katrina we lost nearly 3,000 American lives. The death toll is very small right now and we want to make sure it doesn't start swelling up in the coming days. We have to put both disasters in a little different light in that regard.

George W. Bush did what no president should do, he did the flyover of the zone. Right now, Donald Trump is in danger of seeming to be doing -- being the Twitter president, particularly his dump of tweets on Friday, and then yesterday promoting Sheriff Clarke's memoir.

I think what American people want to see in a president this time, their heart is bleeding. They want to feel empathy. You and CNN have been telling people where to send money, how to help.

Barack Obama yesterday said send money to the Red Cross. We haven't heard the president in that kind of mode yet. So, it's very important he gets here to the state of Texas on Tuesday and not only says the right things, hugs people, shows that he has empathy and a heart.

CUOMO: Right. But it's tricky, right, Professor, because he doesn't want to be a distraction. President Trump laid that out and rightly so early on. When he gets on the ground, he commandeers a lot of resources.

[06:45:10] A lot of people are on the ground right now trying to save people and start making a little turn trying to get headway. They won't be able to do that when he's on the ground. So, that a proper sensitivity. He shouldn't be judged in his absence when he's just trying to allow people to do their job.

Katrina was different. It was a reflection of a failure of epic proportions that had been going on for decades. That's what would happen. Those people were forgotten in those outer wards, and that's what we learned when we were covering it.

This is a very different situation. It seems like the big tests will be in the weeks to come, right? As that water stands, the needs grow, how does the Trump administration respond?

BRINKLEY: Well, I certainly agree with that. But keep in mind, you know, Lyndon Johnson in 1965, went right into the Ninth Ward of New Orleans when Hurricane Betsy hit, went in a boat and went out and helped people out of houses.

He looked at those people that had no homes, their life had been ruined and said, I'm your president, I'm here, I care about you, I love you. It doesn't always have to be the distance game, that you have to stay away from people. That gets overrated a little bit, also.

Barack Obama himself learned that when we had the BP spill. He was very slow getting to the gulf south. So, I think Donald Trump does have to exude some moral courage, some heart this week.

But overall, you're right, it's all about what a president does in the long run, the federal government is responsive to the needs of a stricken region.

CAMEROTA: Also, Doug, I mean, you've also talked about how this 72- hour window is critical. This is the time when things need to be in place and start happening. We learned this lesson in Katrina because then there's a cascading effect where there are more deaths, and things happen down the road. So, what did we learn in Katrina that you see being applied right now or not being applied/

BRINKLEY: What's really important is that Houstonians are saving Houstonians. There is no magic federal cavalry coming to help people right now and houses are under water. You've going to have to find locals to help you.

I encourage people I wrote during Katrina about something called the Cajun Navy, where all these people with recreational boat vehicles from Lake Charles and from Baton Rouge, Lafayette came in New Orleans and rescued people.

That's been the great part about the Houston story, how locals have gotten out with their boats and helping people and getting them to shelters. We need to see more than that. When I say there is a 72- hour window, you know, when places have no electricity, you'd be amazed all the bad things that happen.

Many people live on ventilators or respirators. They need medications they don't have. They're lost and confused. Hopefully, this sort of first responder efforts today will continue.

CUOMO: The inability to stay dry itself breeds so many different health problems that we're still yet to hear about in this situation so we have to stay on top of it. Douglas Brinkley, as always, appreciate the historical perspective.

You heard the professor talking about, this is about regular folks becoming heroes, that is the reality in Houston right now. Local authorities are saying, if you have a boat, if you have capability, help us. It's a rare situation and people are rising up and stepping up for the cause. We're going to talk to a man who spent his day going door-to-door saving lives next.



CUOMO: All right. So, when this Hurricane Harvey started flooding neighborhoods, the call went out, if you can help, please do so. Will Bradley answered that call, heading out there and finding dozens of elderly stranded in the floods. He joins us now.

First, I'm glad to see you're well and safe and I want to thank you for stepping up and doing what everybody needs to do in a situation like this. How are you doing? What have you seen?

WILL BRADLEY, RESCUER: Thank you. I'm tired. It's been a long two days. Felt like I slept about three hours each night. Two nights ago, Saturday evening is kind of when the rain started here. I think everybody thought the worst was over, all the hype was for nothing.

We prepared and on Saturday the sun even came out for a little bit. We thought the hurricane kind of skipped us and the rains missed us, but that was completely wrong. And Saturday night at about 3:00 a.m. or early Sunday morning, that is, the rain started coming in.

And I woke up about 4:00 in the morning, the rain woke me up, and I want and cleared the drains in my backyard as water was starting to rise. Finally got back in bed about 5:30, 6:00 and that's when the e- mails started coming in from our neighborhood that people were trapped in their homes, there was a sense of panic and I had a kayak.

So, I got up out of my bed at 6:00 and went and tried to help this woman who said water was in her home, she needed help, desperate. All she had was her address. My wife e-mailed her back and asked for her number so I could call her. I headed over to her house, and it was total devastation.

What you've got to realize, in Houston we have Buffalo bayou, and the majority of Houston, floods, all the drainage flows right into Buffalo bayou. The back of our neighborhood is right on the bayou and what I saw was just heartbreaking. The water was well over my head probably about 8 feet above the sidewalks that are being in front of people's homes. And so literally I canoed right up to this person's front door. It was the only way I could get to their house and they were panicked, there was water in their house, they didn't know what to do.

They decided to go to a neighbor's house and assess the situation, as did a lot of people. They thought that the waters would recede. They said, well, let's just wait for the waters to go down -- and it just kept getting worse all day.

As time went on, the water just kept rising, and more and more of these bands of rain would come through, and there was a sense of panic in our neighborhood. By the time people started waking up and realizing what was going on in the back of the neighborhood along this bayou.

It was really -- you need to see the neighborhood come together and people started bringing rafts and kayaks and blow-up air mattresses to help get people out.

[06:55:12] One story that comes to mind, there was a 93-year-old woman. We went and knocked on her door and begged and pleaded for her to come out. She said no, I'm staying here. She locked us out, wouldn't let us in her house. It took two hours of neighbors pleading for her to come out, that it wasn't safe.

She lived right on the bayou. She had two feet of water in her house. Two hours later we got her out. I also met another couple that I got there just in the nick of time, right after we met with that 93-year- old woman. They were out of their house and flagged me down, they were trying to leave their house.

They had waist-deep water in their house. The woman was 87 years old. The husband flagged me down for help. She was trying to cross out of her home. What you don't realize is the current between these houses was unbelievable.

It was enough for me to almost fall down just through the currents. They were trying to cross this to just get to a neighbor's house that was also flooded but was two stories high.

I was able to get them upstairs in their neighbor's home, but definitely couldn't put her in a kayak which would be too unstable and too unsafe. So, I went back to their home and got all of their belongings, moved them upstairs to the neighbor's home, and then we went and got a john boat.

It took about four hours to get a boat that was capable to come and move them out along with some other people. It was a scary situation. The whole time I was using this john boat, the rain just kept coming, there was flash flooding, along with the bayou rising, I really feared for their lives.

We were able to get them out, thankfully and get them to a hotel, and they're safe and dry. There's still people out there that refuse to leave, that thought the waters would recede. I'm very scared for them.

There's a general sense of panic and fear about what's going to happen with the Buffalo bayou as (inaudible) reservoir release more water last night. Everyone is on standby to see what happens with that.

CUOMO: There's no question that the fear is going to last as long as the water does. That's why the angels like you and the helpful people are so important. Are you planning to head back out there and see if you get people out of their homes?

BRADLEY: We had some neighbors come over last night that were fearful of what's going to happen with the reservoir releasing more water into the bayou. Again, that should start coming through our neighborhood about 7:00 a.m.

So, we're going to go reassess the situation once it gets light outside and see what the waters do. Two days, three days after people are thinking about evacuating and we're pretty far into the neighborhood.

I thought we'd never even be saying the word evacuate. That's how fearful people are. I hope we got everybody out that need to be out yesterday, at least in our neighborhood. But if people are hunkered down and the waters keep rising, I'm sure we'll continue to get calls for people to help.

CUOMO: You're lucky you got calm right now. We know in some areas there's no cell service. Obviously, you're getting a signal out for this interview. So, stay safe, keep us apprised of what's going on so we can try to get the word out about the help need.

I've been with people like you, I've seen the beautiful acts of courage and determination you can make. Just remember, every house that you go into, you have to figure out how you're going to get out of it.

It sounds simple to people until they've been in the situation that you've been in and you know how tricky it can be, once you get inside those homes and the door closes behind you, you've got to find a point of egress. Be safe. Thank you for what you've done for your community.

BRADLEY: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Be safe, Will. Thank you -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thank goodness for good Samaritans like Will. What a story. Meanwhile, we do have all the breaking news for you so let's get right to it.

That's our breaking news, unprecedented and catastrophic flooding devastating America's fourth largest city. The flood disaster is expected to get worse today, and in the coming days.

Rescuers are working around the clock in the Houston area to save hundreds of people, maybe thousands stranded in the high water. Roads and highways are impassable. Officials --