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Harry Leaves Texas Desperate For Help; Trump: Arpaio Pardon Timed to Ratings; Japan: North Korea Launch Gravest Threat Ever. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 29, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The worst of Mother Nature and the best of human nature. Rescues playing out across southeast Texas, 13 million people living through flood conditions as Harvey prepares to come back.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump heads to Texas today to survey the damage, but questions follow him. Did he really pardon a controversial sheriff to get more coverage during this storm?

ROMANS: And North Korea launches another missile. This one over Japan. It is a serious, dangerous escalation the prime minister says poses the most grave threat ever to Japan.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Tuesday, August 29th, 4:00 in the East, and it's 4:30 p.m. in Pyongyang. We will go there shortly to Will Ripley.

But it is 3:00 a.m. in Houston. And that's where we start this morning because desperation setting in for thousands on the Texas gulf coast, still stranded by Harvey. This with forecasters predicting there is much more rain still to come.

ROMANS: A lot more to come. There have now been more than 6,000 rescues by Houston police and the coast guard alone. That does not include many other agencies out there saving lives. And aside from agencies, just people, neighbors, friends out there in their boats helping people get to safety. Officials say there are potentially tens of thousands more people trapped, awaiting rescue. The Coast Guard says it is getting upwards of 1,000 calls per hour.

BRIGGS: The official storm-related death toll now stands at four. That count certainly will rise. Several others suspected to be connected to Harvey, an astounding 58 counties now under a state disaster declaration. All 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard have been deployed to assist.

ROMANS: Neighbors also trying to help each other like the Good Samaritans carrying this wheelchair-bound man above the floodwaters. Four-legged residents also getting help. The chambers county sheriff's efforts reports rescuing well over 300 animals yesterday alone. BRIGGS: The terrible toll taken by Harvey coming into focus, in these

before and after pictures. Roads, highways, houses, green space (AUDIO GAP) unrecognizable. Right there in the middle of it, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam. He now joins us live from Sugarland, Texas, that is southwest of Houston where over two feet of rain has already fallen.

Derek, we know you were up late in the driving rain. It looks like it has not subsided yet. What are you seeing here this morning?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's relentless, Dave. Fifteen million people under the threat of flash flooding right now. The imminent square mileage is so vast, 50,000 square miles of imminent flooding across the southeast Texas coast into Louisiana. Incredible, unprecedented, and historic amounts of rain falling here, and it does not stop.

You can imagine that it has been a long and tumultuous overnight period for the search and rescue crews, the volunteers. There are several swift water rescue operations taking place in and around the greater Houston area. In terms of shelters, we are hearing that some of the shelter beds have already been filled up at the local shelters, 8,000 people in Houston alone have taken advantage of the shelters, 30,000 have bunkered down in shelters out of the catastrophic flooding event that is ongoing. An incredible, unprecedented amount of effort here, as well.

We talked to plenty of the search and rescue crews out there. And their heroic stories are just unfathomable. You're talking about rescuing people with medical conditions, arriving to households that have banners with the words "help" written out on the front of the windows. Just getting tweets from people showing and indicating where their exact location is so that police and search and rescue crews can actually save them. Incredible stories, too many to tell.

But what's the story going forward? Well, I know by the time nightfall lifts and we get that first glimmer of daylight -- I shouldn't say sunshine because it's going to stay obviously cloudy and rainy for the next several days. But when we get that daylight here, search and rescue crews are going to kick into high gear. I know the 26 helicopters that are stationed at the Sugarland airport, just about five miles to my west, are going to start those search and rescue operations immediately as we go through the rest of the day today.

In terms of rainfall, this storm has moved off the coast and is feeding from the Gulf of Mexico once again. We've already had rainfall totals in excess of 35 inches.

[04:05:02] It's possible to see 50 inches by the time this thing is all said and done, and makes another landfall on Wednesday morning.

ROMANS: And the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico feeding what has already been an epic moisture event. Tell us a little about what it feels like to be there in that rain. I know yesterday you were telling us that it was so much precipitation. It's hard for us to understand in the warm, dry studio what it feels like out there. VAN DAM: OK. So, my number-one priority before coming to this

location was to get the best waterproofing material that I could find. And the waterproof jacket and pants that I'm wearing isn't even holding up to this amount of rain. It's just impossible.

You soaked right through. The temperature, cold as well, just thinking about the people stranded right now -- you know, the fact that it's cold, or at least cooler than it was, and the fact that it's wet means that hypothermia could be a distinct problem, as well, especially as nighttime temperatures drop. So, lots of factors in this.

Other things, too, Christine and Dave, is that we're witnessing the water levels fluctuate so quickly. People are taking their lives into their hands when they drive across flooded roadways. We see it time and time again. The car behind me there stranded. That's just one of dozens that are in the parking lot across this area, kind of a last- ditch effort for people when their cars get completely submerged.

ROMANS: Yes, the National Hurricane Center saying do not get in your car. I mean, this is number one, stay off the roads.

BRIGGS: They're also saying that in New Orleans where they could get around a foot of rain there, as well.

Derek Van Dam live for us in Sugarland, Texas -- stay safe, thank you.

All right. One hallmark of the response to the storm has been neighbors helping neighbors all across the affected area, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, that's right. One Good Samaritan, Abe Minor, of Friendswood, Texas, a town in the heavily flooded stretch between Houston and Galveston. He borrowed a nephew's coat to help ferry many stranded neighbors to safety. There he is.

Do we have Abe on the phone, guys? He joins us on the phone this morning from Friendswood.

ABE MINOR, FRIENDSWOOD, TEXAS RESIDENT (via telephone): Good morning.

ROMANS: How are you? Nice to see you this morning. Nice to hear you this morning. Tell us, what were you doing out there? Tell us your story.

MINER: OK. Here's a little bit about my story. It was a boat. I wish I could float on a coat, but it was a boat.

And so, this is what happened. My wife, she woke me up in the morning. She said, hey, I got a phone call from a friend, his family is stranded. Could you please take the John boat and go help them out?

So, I got up and went outside, and he had already pulled up in his truck. I was like hey, man, there's a boat and truck, let's go a couple blocks over. Let's see. Now, the magnitude of the storm hadn't impacted me yet because I just

woke up. And I didn't know. So, he drove the truck as far as we could, and the water started getting too deep. I'm like, let's park the truck, and we'll take the boat from there.

So, the first block, it was only about ankle deep. The next block, it started getting knee deep. Then the block near where we were going to rescue the family was up to my neck and shoulders.


MINOR: So, yes. I know, wow.

It's unbelievable. You can't imagine something like this. When anyone thinks of Texas, they think of it as a desert, dry place. Like where is all this water coming from, you know? And you'd be so surprised that it doesn't hold water very well. I mean, it just has nowhere to go when it floods or rains.

So, the water does get pretty deep. So, we pulled up to this house, and there was a family, a husband, wife, and four children. If you've been in a boat, it's the same thing, you don't want the boat to tip and people are climbing in. It's kind of awkward.

So, the first three kids got in the boat, and then the wife got in the boat. And then the husband came out with the infant. That was a tear-jerker right there. Seeing him come out -- you know, you have to make last-minute decisions about what you want to grab and what's valuable and what's not, should I lock the door, what should I do when I leave my house?

So, they were all in tears as they were leaving the house. And remember, this is my first time ever meeting these people. So, it was difficult for me, as well.

And not only that -- while we were going to the house, remember, it's a neighborhood. So, you're passing by other homes in distress. Hey, can you please help us? There's signs and -- come get us, there's an elderly couple over here. There's somebody who's bedridden.

I kept saying, hey, I'll be back. Don't worry, I'll be back. I tried to stay true to my word. So, it was a busy day.

BRIGGS: I can only imagine.

[04:10:00] What is it like, Abe, to look around your neighborhood, to see your friends or family, your neighbors desperate as water levels continue to rise? What is that like emotionally for you, and where are you taking these people?

MINOR: All right. That's a great question. Now, it's surreal. It really is surreal. When you look around, the grass is replaced with water. You know what I mean?

It looks like a marina. If you ever been to a marina, you see boats. Instead of vehicles, you're seeing boats. You're seeing airboats. And you're seeing makeshift rafts and things like that. And it's surreal.

And you want people to be safe. You know, I moved from south Florida to Texas. So, I've been through hurricanes and understand, like, OK, you have to get to safety. If the area's flooding, get out of there. You can and will drown. You know what I mean? You have to live.

If there's elderly people who can't move -- like one of the homes, I helped an elderly lady, and she was just sitting on her couch in the living room, and she didn't get up because her cane had floated away. I'm like, come on, ma'am. We carried her. We put her in the boat. It was really sad.

But there's an elementary school which the PD had opened up the school. And remember, this is not like a sanctuary where people go typically for refuge. You know, it was an elementary school. The elementary school is on higher ground, further from the creek. So, people are staying there.

And it's a really sad sight to see because it's -- the accommodations, it's not like a hospital. You have people who are -- have diabetes, they're on dialysis, the elderly are there, infants are there. And let's not forget the animals. There's dogs and there's cats and there's bunnies, you know? All that together.

So what do you do? Like this right here for us is -- for me, it's day three. It's still raining.

ROMANS: I know, and it's still raining and it's going to keep raining. I keep wondering, where is everybody going to go? I know that Dallas is trying to open a mega shelter. I know people have probably -- you know, they're moving out, they're trying to go to San Antonio, they're trying to go to other cities where they may have friends and family.

But I mean, I can't even imagine the number of people who are on the move this morning or trying to be on the move. I mean, when you come back and pick people up in that boat, where do you take them?

MINOR: Now, they're just going to higher ground, wherever there's higher ground. I mean, if you think about a flood in your mind and you think about survival, everyone moves to the highest point or the highest area, the driest area. So, right now, that -- wherever there's dry land right now -- and they're kind of like making it happen, you know? Just whatever supply that they get in dry land, that's where they're going.

But so far, the safest place has been schools, schools. That's where everybody's been going in this particular area, just because the capacity to fill people. And they have the accommodations like cafeterias and things like that. That's why they've been going to schools, elementary schools and high schools.

BRIGGS: All right. Abe Minor, at the worst of times there in Texas, you are the best in human nature. Thanks so much for doing what you're doing. And for joining us here this morning on EARLY START. We appreciate it. ROMANS: I know, nice and early. Thanks, Abe.

BRIGGS: Thank you.

MINOR: Hey, you're welcome. And thank you for reaching out. And, you guys, remember this, remember the follow-through. You can't hit a home run if you don't follow through. So, remember, there's people out there, they're struggling the first two days. And -- they're still out there struggling.

So, please keep the good word out there, and thank you so much.

BRIGGS: We certainly will.

ROMANS: We got it. Thanks for doing your part, sir. Thank you so much.

MINOR: All right. You have a blessed day.

ROMANS: You, too.

Fourteen minutes past the hour.

Global stock markets, U.S. futures falling overnight after North Korea launched a missile over Japan. The Dow currently down about 110 points. More on that in a bit.

But, first, the flooding devastating the Texas Gulf Coast. How much damage will Harvey leave behind? Too early to tell, but estimates put property damage at $40 billion, making it one of the costliest storms to ever hit the U.S. only three hurricanes cost more.

Typically high winds cause the most damage. But in this case, this -- this is a flooding event. Many homes in the area do not have flood insurance. That magnifies the overall cost. As do other factors like economic damage to the region's oil industry.

Beyond the cost for the current shutdown of oil refineries and rigs, the storm could damage $20 billion worth of infrastructure. Eventually, Texas needs federal aid to help fund the cost. But FEMA's 2017 relief fund only has about $3 billion left.

So, Congress should pass a large aid package when it returns next week, possibly complicating another fiscal deadline. Current government funding runs out September 30th. Lawmakers must approve a spending bill before then to prevent a shutdown.

[04:15:01] We already knew that Congress had a whole host of things it has to do very quickly, in just a few -- few working days after the Labor Day holiday. Add this to the list.

BRIGGS: Yes, the president suggested it might be easy. Like a lot of things, it won't be.

ROMANS: All right. Fifteen minutes past the hour. The most grave threat ever. Japan with harsh words following a North

Korean missile launch, a missile which flew over Japan. South Korea with a harsh response, as well. A live report from Seoul, next.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Kim Jong-un, I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact.


ROMANS: Well, maybe not. The U.N. Security Council holding an urgent meeting today in response to North Korea launching a missile that flew over Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling the launch reckless and the most serious and grave threat to his country ever.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now live from Seoul with the very latest.

A troubling development, no question.

[04:20:00] What is the view from Seoul, Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. I mean, this is a pretty significant escalation from North Korea. A missile flying about 1,700 miles and then hitting the waters of the Pacific Ocean, more than 700 miles off the east coast of Japan.

It broke into three pieces, according to Japanese officials, before hitting the water. Many residents of the island of Hokkaido were woken up just after 6:00 a.m. by sirens, by alerts, telling them to seek shelter as this missile had been launched. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, is furious. He says that it is the most serious and grave threat ever to his country.

He also spoke on the phone to the U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that Trump assured him that the U.S. is 100 percent behind Japan.

Now, when it comes to the South Korean response, it was more of a physical response. There was a bombing drill. Four F-15 fighter jets dropped eight one-ton bombs on to a shooting range. And they said the significance was to show that they have the capability to destroy the enemy's leadership.

So, a very explicit threat to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Many people are saying that North Korea probably decided to fly over Japan because if it decided to fly this kind of missile over towards Guam, then they would worry about what the U.S. response would be. The U.S. president, Donald Trump, making it very clear a few weeks ago that that would not be acceptable -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Paula Hancocks, keep us -- keep us posted, please, on any developments from your neck of the woods. Thank you. BRIGGS: All right. President Trump heads to Texas today. How's he

managing his first natural disaster test? And did he really use this storm to boost publicity for the Joe Arpaio pardon?


TRUMP: Well, a lot of people think it was the right thing to do, John. And, actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. You know, the hurricane was just starting.



[04:26:24] BRIGGS: President Trump heads to Texas today to survey the damage and assess relief efforts. The White House has not yet announced where the president will travel. But flight restrictions are set for Austin and Corpus Christi, Texas. So, that certainly is a hint.

The president says Congress will take, quote, rapid action on disaster relief funding, and he praised the people of Texas for their solidarity and perseverance.


TRUMP: We see neighbor helping neighbor, friend helping neighbor, and stranger helping stranger. You see that all over. You watch on television. You just see such incredible work and love and teamwork.


ROMANS: Ahead of the trip, more than a little controversy as the president defended his decision to pardon former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The president was criticized for announcing that pardon, that decision, Friday night, just as Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Now, many say the timing was meant to bury the story. The president, though, has another view. He insisted during a news conference that he wanted to draw attention to Joe Arpaio's pardon.


TRUMP: Well, a lot of people think it was the right thing to do, John. Actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assume the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. You know, the hurricane was just starting.


BRIGGS: Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for ignoring a court order in a racial profiling case. The president said he thought, quote, Sheriff Joe was treated unbelievably unfairly. Arpaio says he's not running out a primary run in the Arizona Senate race against Jeff Flake, who the president has taken aim at. That would be an amazing feat to pull off.

ROMANS: You know, a lot of news happened Friday as the storm was just landing. There was a lot going on. The Joe Arpaio pardon was just one of those things. But for a president of the United States to suggest that he timed the release of the news for maximum TV coverage just as devastation was hitting millions --

BRIGGS: Does fit his thinking, though.

ROMANS: True, true.

BRIGGS: The pattern is always about the ratings, right?

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: All right. Devastation, excuse, and desperation in the state of Texas as the death toll rises and the rain is certainly not letting up. We'll have the latest and speak to a woman who was saved from her flooding home, next on EARLY START.