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Federal Officials Brief On Response To Harvey Flooding; Congressman Pete Sessions Discusses The Aftermath Of Harvey; Coast Guard Intensifies Rescue Operations In Texas; Nursing Home Rescue. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: -- presidential disaster declaration. The president moved in an expedited and a very swift -- one the quickest time frames I've ever seen to approve the disaster declaration so we could mobilize our resources to help.

Yes, ma'am.


I understand, as we all know, that there are several refineries as well as superfund sites -- so contaminated sites in this region where we're seeing a lot of flooding.

So my question is do you all have an assessment as far as what's in the water at this point and what are the health implications for the people who are wading through the water? I mean, we're talking about a lot of toxic chemicals --

LONG: Correct.

MARSH: -- specifically from the superfund sites.

LONG: You know, at this time, you know, it's still a developing situation. We're so focused on life safety.

We understand that the environment piece is going to be big in this case but we do not have accurate information right now at this point.

MARSH: For HHS Secretary Price -- I mean, do you have any -- you know, as far as what you're learning about the potential health impact for people?

TOM PRICE, SECRETARY, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: As Brock said, it's very early in this but what we do know is that the water in Corpus Christi and in the Victoria area -- recommendation for boiling of the water before consumption.

The good news is is that the work that's been done -- the pre- deployment that's been done, as Brock says, there are significant assets -- water assets there that are available for folks and that's the challenge that we have, is getting them to people. ELAINE DUKE, ACTING SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: And also, just in terms of the refineries, most of the refineries exercised voluntary shutdown before the storm hit. A very prudent measure and that will help with any environmental issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another 24 percent, 25 percent -- a quarter of them already shut down, correct?

DUKE: I believe -- I do not know the exact number but it was -- most of them did do a voluntary shutdown well in advance of landfall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, Mr. Brock, you have -- normally, we hear emergency officials say let the first responders handle it. You've just called for volunteers -- for American citizens to jump in and help Texas. What does that say about the situation right now?

BROCK: I mean, this is a landmark event for Texas. Texas has never seen an event like this.

This is going to eclipse Ike, it's going to eclipse Allison that occurred in 2001. And based on the benchmarks of those storms we know it's going to be large.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Administrator, we've seen images of, you know, the Coast Guard heroically rescuing people off rooftops, citizens going in in their boats to pull neighbors out of houses. Images we really haven't seen in this capacity since Katrina.

Should there have been a bigger effort to evacuate Houston and surrounding areas than we saw, given the amount of flooding?

BROCK: Yes, that's a great question.

So all evacuation decisions are made at the local level within Texas but, right now, I believe that every local official, state official, including us -- we're operating with the best information we've been provided at the time.

As I said earlier, the National Weather Service has done a heck of a job setting this up and letting people know that this is going to be torrential rainfall inland, and an inland event.

The problem with forecasting rainfall is it's one of the toughest things to do. You can say that it's going to rain over five days over a 30-county jurisdiction, but pinpointing exactly what watershed that rain is going to go into, it's dang near impossible to figure that out.

And, unfortunately, you know, the city of Houston is huge. It's two to three million people. You know, pulling the trigger on that is an incredibly different -- difficult situation.

A lot of times, you know, when you're facing a city like that and a rainfall event you have to ask people to shelter in place because of the time frame that you're given. You know, the time frame to evacuate the city of Houston could take days -- days -- literally days.

So we're -- you know, I believe that everybody is doing the best that they can right now with the information that they've been provided with.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A quick follow-up.

Do people need to get out? I mean, do people need to start thinking about getting out now? You're talking about another 15 to 20 inches of rain over the next two to three days.

BROCK: People need to listen to the local officials right now in the Houston area because I do not want to step on the governor, I do not want to step on local officials and confuse the message because the most important thing during a disaster is a consistent message down to the public. So right now, we need them to listen to the local officials in each one of their jurisdictions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where in Texas are you --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that something that needs to be reviewed after the fact so we learn from this situation.

BROCK: You know what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- to have people stay in Houston?

BROCK: Yes, absolutely, and the thing is, is listen, after every disaster we do what are called after action reports. We have to go down and exhaustively get better after every disaster. You start -- you know -- and we've been doing those solidly since Katrina.

I mean, we want to get better, guys. We're in the business of saving lives and helping people. We don't want people to go through hardship and get killed during disasters. We always strive to get better with the resources that we have.

So there will be extensive after action reports done, not just by FEMA but working in conjunction with our local governance, non-governmental organizations, to the state as well. So yes, we will strive to get better.

But right now, guys, it's not a time to start pointing blame. Right now, what I need the media to do is organize the efforts, to help us organize citizen efforts -- to ultimately help Texas. These people are in need.

[07:35:10] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where in Texas are you going, sir?

BROCK: I believe I'm going to Corpus Christi right off the bat and then later San Antonio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Ted Cruz, yesterday, mentioned that one of the big requests he's passing along from the local officials is for more high water rescue capabilities. What more could have been in advance to have those in place and where does that stand in terms of supplying those capabilities?

BROCK: So, when it comes to high water -- you know, swift water rescue and search and rescue, each county, each state, and the federal government all have a certain capacity, right? So what happens is is that the -- once again, when the locals -- we prepositioned a lot of search and rescue before the disaster declaration was ever -- was ever approved by the -- by President Trump. We prepositioned everything that we basically have down and in support of the state and local efforts.

Now -- now that those resources are there, they're at your -- we're basically at the direction of the governor to ultimately help the local governments.

This is not just a federal government response. There's something called EMAC, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

The state is also calling upon search and rescue, swift water rescue teams from all 50 states. There are teams coming in from all over the country, whether it's Chinook helicopters, swift water rescue. All of this is emergency management at work.

It is -- again, it's a partnership.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The National Flood Insurance --

DUKE: I just want to make one comment on the rescue, too, and the commandant might want to add.

I talked to Sen. Cruz yesterday.

One of the challenges with this storm is that it has to be safety -- safe for the rescue officials, also. And so, a lot of the rescue could not start until yesterday morning just for the persons. And even now, air rescue is barely operationally safe.

Commandant, if you want to add anything?

ADMIRAL PAUL ZUKUNFT, COMMANDANT, UNITED STATES COAST GUARD: Yes. Unlike Katrina, which had passed clear and we had VFR flight conditions, we're still operating in the midst of a tropical storm.

So our flight crews -- and we've got multiple, multiple flight crews. We have thrown every Coast Guard asset available at this response but there are conditions where it is just not safe to fly.

We've also brought in over 27 fast response teams to deal with the situation, but integrate that with the local responders so this is a coordinated response as well.

The good news is thousands of lives are being saved and that is our objective right now. And we are not out of this by a long shot so we're also postured to be able to sustain this level of effort, as well. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Half of your helicopters operationally are there.

Can you take more? Will you bring more? Are there more assets for Coast Guard to bring to bear?

ZUKUNFT: Upon request, we will bring more in. We've also got great support by Customs and Border Protection. Air National Guard is bringing resources in.

The other key part of this is safety of flight and just coordinating that airspace. The Air Maritime Operations Center, run by CVP, is providing the airspace deconfliction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You also have had drones in the area where your crews might be operating?

ZUKUNFT: So, the Department of Interior, they use drones and fire response technology and so they're able to use this for damage assessment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned about individuals possibly flying while you're in flight operations?

ZUKUNFT: Yes. We are concerned about that. We have not encountered but certainly, we're flying at very low altitudes to effect rescues.

We're monitoring every media source available. What's coming into the call centers, but even what's out on the Twitter feeds. We're looking at Google maps to see where those Twitter feeds are coming from where there's a concentration of calls so we can be a little bit more even proactive to determine where we are.

We've got 11 aircraft that are orbiting the area at the same time looking for oil spills. We have not detected an oil spill yet but we're actively monitoring that under ESF 10 on oil and hazardous response.

But this is not the time to -- private citizens to monitor what is going on. This is a very congested airspace. We want to save lives. Thank you.

BROCK: All right. We have time for one more question.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, so that was our first federal update of the morning and a lot of interesting headlines, I think, coming out of there.

You heard the FEMA director Brock Long say that he's calling on every citizen, even those outside of the disaster range, to help however they can -- give money. And those there, they need people's help in boats. They need people to help their fellow citizens.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: They've never --

CAMEROTA: I mean, that is remarkable.

CUOMO: They've never dealt with anything like this before and they have a lot of different factors.

To me, what I think is most important right now is one in every five counties in Texas -- Texas is a massive state, right -- the second most populated state. It's got over 250 counties. One in every five, we were just hearing from them, they believe to be affected by this. So that is massive.

[07:40:00] They also -- very notable, no numbers on who has died, what kind of injuries they have, and what does that tell you? That tells you that this is very a fluid situation -- it's developing. There's a lot unknown. There are a lot of places they haven't been able to get yet.

The evacuation orders and the issues, you're going to hear about that for weeks. Right now, you have to focus on these rescues.

Water has to be boiled in most of the areas. What does that tell us? That tells you that it's not just water.

That's a toxic soup. It's the sewage, it's all the vehicles that are breaking down in that water. It's everything from everybody's household. That's going to exist for weeks.

They said that the waters aren't expected to crest -- crest, which means reach their top point -- until later this week. And then, they could be there at some level less than that for weeks to come.

So this is very real and it's going to continue.

Joining us now is Texas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions. He represents the Dallas area.

Pete, it's good to have you with us this morning. I'm sorry it's for this reason.

And as you heard me say, they don't have a dead count yet. They don't have information about the injured and it's not because anything is going wrong, it's just because it's too hard to coordinate right now.

Is that your understanding?

REP. PETE SESSIONS (R), TEXAS: Chris, I think you're right. Let me go back to a little bit of history as I watch this.

When we had Katrina years ago, Dallas offered itself up and we had tens of thousands of people.

I would like to say in watching this that there are a couple of things as a result of my Boy Scout background.

Look ahead. Look where people actually are going to need to make sure they have their tetanus shots.

Where you have medical advisers that come on, Chris, that come on and talk with people with water -- the effects of water -- dirty water. Where you talk about the people of East Texas and Louisiana who -- this is going to come to them. They need to be preparing them self as we speak to be prepared not only for water and flooding but their own personal lives and safety and health. Making sure they get children and elderly people away from these areas. This water is extensive.

And I will tell you we learned in Dallas -- I remember walking through, saying to the emergency facility people you're going to have diarrhea problems next. Sure enough, they did when you get tens of thousands of people in one area.

But, here's the bottom line. You have been exceedingly kind, both of you, the coverage that you're providing.

But, what comes next is the United States Congress is going to have to come into effort. We're going to have to figure out how we're going to provide for these people and what the federal component is.

We need to make sure that the administration, as well as the United States Senate, finishes off the confirmation of every single federal official that could possibly be related to this. The president is going to need his full team now, starting as quickly as possible.

So, there are things in looking ahead that I can see -- that you can see as a rather established career guy at CNN who sees what the needs of this region and of Texas and the nation are going to be.

Those are the things I'd love to see you start talking about -- medical, what lies ahead for Louisiana, and how we're going to be prepared in the government -- the federal government -- to provide the full coverage that will be necessary.

CUOMO: Well, and also --

SESSIONS: Other than that --

CUOMO: -- what happens --

SESSIONS: -- I will tell you what you've done today is amazing.

CUOMO: Congressman, this is the easy part of the job. I wish I were down there, especially with the need for people to get out with boats --

SESSIONS: That's right.

CUOMO: -- you know. I wish I could be down there on the ground helping more but there seem to be a lot of better angels down there. We're seeing the worst of Mother Nature but the best in human nature.


CUOMO: And it's unfortunate that that civilian call had to go out, but the need is real and when the spotlight comes off Texas and Louisiana -- and look, it's going to happen -- that's the nature of media coverage and of how people move on with their own lives -- you're going to have weeks and months of reconstructing, you know, some of the infrastructure and you're going to have people whose lives are hanging in the balance for weeks to come.

What do you do on the Congressional level to keep the urgency and the need for help going forward -- not just now, not just this week or next?

SESSIONS: Well, we come to our local communities -- our faith-based communities. We get people from Dallas and other areas where there are large populations to actually make sure that we're partnering with people in Houston on a priority basis.

We need to make sure that our hospitals, our physicians are made available to help. And, Dallas, Texas is opening its doors right now.

But the bottom line is you're hearing people cannot get out of Houston based upon the outer ring that all that water's flowing in. So we're going to have to be prepared, literally, in 10 and 15 and 20 days from now to offer the same assistance that might have been done overnight in the future for some period of time.

[07:45:11] This is going to be an amazing effort and I think Texas and Texans are up to helping each other but it's going to take all of us working together.

CUOMO: Well look, I remember Katrina, I remember Rita.

I remember how Texas stepped up and helped those people in giving them homes, many permanent homes. Many people relocated --


CUOMO: -- after that.


CUOMO: The concern right now about people being able to get out. You heard the FEMA administrator there saying listen, stay out of your car.

This is a tricky situation. Yes, there's going to be talk about whether or not there should have been a different evacuation order, but what do you do right now?


CUOMO: I mean, you have, sure, two and a half, three million people in that Houston proper but you've got about six and a half million in the entire catchment area that you're talking about.

Where do you move people, how do you get them? How real is the planning on that level?

SESSIONS: Well, the facts of the case are pretty simple. In your car, it's more dangerous.

CUOMO: Right.

SESSIONS: You probably can't get out of your driveway anyway.

So, to the extent that you have neighbor-to-neighbor assistance, that is the best thing that can happen. We learned this in emergency preparedness with the Boy Scouts. You organize around your local element. You pay attention to what you have and everybody helps them self.

Our -- my Texas operations manager, Matt Garcia, has his family down in Houston and they are helping each other. They are working together. That's why in Texas we know our neighbors. That's why we do things to help.

But, once again, I would focus this off what your education is is getting tetanus shots, understanding typhoid, looking ahead from a medical perspective because it's what will happen in the next few days after people have been in dangerous water that's going to be the real catastrophe.

CUOMO: And that's part of coordination, too. How do you get them the help? How do you get the doctors to them?

SESSIONS: That's right.

CUOMO: We'll stay on this story, Congressman, and please see us a resource. As you have information that you need to get out, come to us. We'll do anything we can.

Be well, sir.

SESSIONS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: OK, so let's get an update on the rescue efforts and what's needed.

We want to bring in the commander of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, Vice Admiral Karl Shultz. He joins us on the phone. Admiral, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us this morning.

We just heard that press conference from the FEMA administrator and he was calling on regular Americans to basically jump in and help. What do you want people with boats to do this morning?


Texans helping Texans is a good thing. Folks that have boats and have some experience on the water, they can get out there and assist in their neighborhoods. That's a positive thing. Obviously, folks need to know their limitations there but we are not discouraging that.

CAMEROTA: OK, so as long as people know what they're doing you are more than happy to have their help. What's the Coast Guard doing in these hours?

SCHULTZ: Alisyn, we are -- we are down here as part of the Department of Homeland Security team supporting the state of Texas and supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency for this response.

We have been active on the water, we're active in the air. We have helicopters up this morning, out there, you know, trying to find out where folks are in distress. We have additional helicopters that will be launching behind them. It's not quite daylight yet here in Houston.

We are bringing in additional boats from other parts of the country. Essentially, we have made a whole of Coast Guard effort here with helicopters from Maine and California surging into the areas.

Harvey was coming ashore as a Hurricane and we have come in behind the storm and are, like I said earlier, supporting the state, supporting FEMA, and trying to rescue those that are in need.

CAMEROTA: Admiral, do you have any sense of how many helicopter rescues you've made?

SCHULTZ: Alisyn, we rescued somewhere north of 250 people yesterday. I don't know how many sorties that was.

During the night we had two rescues here last night of some folks with some -- a little more advanced medical situations. There was a head trauma individual that we moved from one house to another for higher- level care. I don't know the cause of that initial trauma.

We moved an infant with medical problems last night.

CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh. Just so many complications and -- I mean, that's just two of them.

And do you have a sense of how many boat rescues you've made?

SCHULTZ: I know the Coast Guard -- what we call the flood punt teams that have come in from basically the central part of the state. We're bringing in boats and equipment and Coasties that don't actually do that with boats. They were responsible, I believe, for somewhere more than 1,000 rescues yesterday.

I think one thing to add is the rescue scenario remains very dynamic. There's still weather bands, rain bands. Our helicopters, at times, have had to sit down into open area parking lots as the weather was overhead. So we're flying and rescuing around the existing weather conditions, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, we just heard that in the FEMA update. I mean, that is so important.

It's hard enough after a storm passes through to then rescue all the people who are stranded by floodwaters. You're doing it in the midst of a storm and more rain is expected today. What's the plan for today?

[07:50:07] SCHULTZ: Well, the plan is to stay in the fight. We are -- like I said, we are pushing as much capacity into the fight as we can. We are linked up with the state emergency operations center on trying to understand where the greatest need is.

To the folks that are out there I would tell you this remains and potentially is an increasingly dangerous situation as the rains are forecasted through the coming days -- I think well into Thursday, at this point, so I don't know if we know the full extent of the challenge here.

But we are trying to, you know, triage those life-threatening rescues first -- the elderly, infants. But again, I think clearly there's more demand than capacity but there's also a finite of resources we safely put in the air --


SCHULTZ: -- and that's something we have to be -- remain very mindful of, particularly in light of the existing weather.

CAMEROTA: Well, Admiral Karl Schultz, thanks so much for taking time to update us here at NEW DAY. We'll be watching.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CUOMO: All right. You see all the vulnerabilities come to play in a situation like this.

We were just showing you video of Ed Lavandera, one of CNN's best, going around. The job changes when you're on the ground in a situation like this. You become a first responder like everybody else.

This is a major issue. You're looking at it right now. These are the elderly.

They cannot get themselves out of harm's way. Many are convalescent or incapacitated. This nursing home is a portrait of the worst concern.

What happened to these elderly people? We have the story. We have one of their family members, next.


[07:55:30] CUOMO: All right. The ongoing concerns, the metaphor for what is happening in Texas is on your screen right now.

The most vulnerable, the elderly, unable to get out of the flood zone. This was in Dickinson, Texas. You had a nursing home, several feet of water, the elderly waiting for help, blessed by being members of the greatest generation. The capacity for our generation of Americans, the greatest Americans,

to deal with adversity never ceases to amaze.

Joining us right now on the phone is Kimberly McIntosh. Her mother owns La Bella Vita (sic), that nursing home that you're looking at in Dickinson.

Kimberly, thank you for joining us. What can you tell us about the well-being of the people on our screen right now?

KIMBERLY MCINTOSH, MOTHER OWNS LA VITA BELLA ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY, DICKINSON, TEXAS (via telephone): Everyone got out safely, so everyone's fine. Some were transferred to the hospital and some now are at another nursing home facility with my mother.

CUOMO: Thank God nobody was lost. No terrible injuries to report?

MCINTOSH: No, none at all. Everyone's safe now.

CUOMO: So, what happened? Was this about being caught by surprise? Did they know that the waters were coming?

MCINTOSH: They didn't know the waters were coming or they would have evacuated. They have plans that they make -- evacuation plans -- and then they were told to shelter in place. They were told to stay there.

CUOMO: How is your mom?

MCINTOSH: She's doing -- she's doing well as -- she's doing well. She was fine.

We were more worried about the residents. I mean, she's fine. It really was getting safety for the residents.

CUOMO: No, understood.

Now again, this is just one image that we're looking at here. In terms of staff, people who were there -- I mean, is this is a situation where these old people were left alone or were there people there with them?

MCINTOSH: Oh, absolutely not. They were not left alone.

There were three nurses on staff. There are 15 residents. My mom was there with my stepfather.

The toilet started overflowing and that was the first indication something was going wrong. And then, water started coming into the door, my mother said, and within 10 to 15 minutes it was waist-deep. So they had 10 to 15 minutes between entry and waist-deep water.

CUOMO: All right. So the elderly got out, they're all safe.

How about your mother and your stepfather? I mean, are they still stuck in that soup? MCINTOSH: No. They were able to get out as well and they're, you know -- everyone now is at another assisted living facility. She's there with them.

CUOMO: Now, how did you hear about this and what was it like for you realize -- I know there was a window of time where you couldn't find out what was going on.

MCINTOSH: Yes, there -- at nine in the morning Eastern Time, I had texted my mother and just asked if she'd lost her electricity because we had talked the night before and that was the worst we thought would happen.

And so when I texted her in the morning she replied with the photos. And one of the photos, then, we ended up tweeting out to try to get help.

But once she was spotted with the photos she said that she had contacted as many people as she could there but they were basically told no one was coming because they couldn't reach them. They might be put on a list and that was it, so she was desperate.

And shortly after I received the photos and she said she needed help, that's when we decided to go ahead and tweet the photos because we were afraid she wasn't going to get any help.

CUOMO: And that was a smart move. Who came to help them?

MCINTOSH: The National Guard came. We're very, very grateful. They showed up in trucks and they were able to take them -- take them out. So we were -- we are grateful -- very grateful.

CUOMO: Well, that was one story of tragedy averted. Of course, we're all very careful about assessing this situation. We're certainly not in the aftermath yet. It's a very real situation.

There are a lot of elderly down there who are not as lucky, you know, and that's a defined term because this does not look like good luck, but it is in the context of how horrible it can be in a situation like this.

Kimberly, thank you for joining us. Send our best to your mother and your stepfather. Let us know what we need to now.

MCINTOSH: Thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. Be well.

There is a lot of news. There's new reporting of what's happening in Texas. Let's get after it.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: All right, good morning. We hope that you are safe where you are. Many in the Texas and the surrounding areas are not on this Monday, August 28th, 8:00 now in the East. This is just an unprecedented and catastrophic flooding disaster. America's fourth-largest city is under water. The situation in Houston, it's not about the aftermath, it's about the right now and it's getting worse in --