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Texas Desperate For Help; Trump: Arpaio Pardon Timed to Ratings; Japan: North Korea Launch Gravest Threat Ever. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 29, 2017 - 04:30   ET



[04:32:57] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Helping hands respond across southeast Texas, as first responders, friends, neighbors, and strangers help the tens of thousands stranded waiting for rescue from after Harvey's path. And the rain is not letting up just yet. We're live in Texas.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump heads to Texas today to survey the damage, but controversy follows him. Did he time the pardon of an Arizona sheriff to maximize television coverage during the storm?

BRIGGS: And North Korea launches another missile. This one over Japan. It's a serious escalation the prime minister says poses the most grave threat ever to Japan. We will go live to the region.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. Three-thirty-three in Houston, Texas. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.

Let's begin in Texas this morning where desperation is setting in for tens of thousands of people on the Texas gulf coast still stranded by Harvey. This with forecasters predicting there is more rain, maybe much more rain yet to come.

BRIGGS: 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. Officials say there are potentially tens of thousands more people trapped, awaiting rescue. The Coast Guard says it's getting upwards of 1,000 calls per hour.

ROMANS: A thousand calls an hour. Now the official storm-related death toll, the official death toll, now stands at four. But there are several others suspected to be connected to Harvey. It is almost guaranteed that number will rise. An astounding 58 counties are now under a state disaster declaration. All 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard have been deployed to assist.

BRIGGS: 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 chamber's county sheriff's office reports rescuing well over 300 animals yesterday alone.

ROMANS: The terrible toll taken by Harvey now coming into focus in those before and after pictures.

[04:35:02] Roads and highways, houses, green space, all left unrecognizable, really something to behold.

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us from Sugarland, Texas, that's southwest of Houston, where over two feet of rain has already fallen.

Good morning, Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine.

Two feet of rain since the beginning of Harvey three days ago. But if we go back to June 1st, Houston has received 50 inches of rain which actually is more rain than they receive in an entire year's time. Unprecedented amounts.

In fact, the National Weather Service had to add additional colors into their color table to show the amount of rainfall expected across this part of the country. It's just unbelievable coming from a meteorological standpoint.

Let's set the scene here. We've got stranded cars behind me. There's parking lots behind me with people that have ditched their vehicles because they have been inundated by floodwaters. It has been a long and difficult night for search and rescue teams here.

We have our swift water rescues that are still ongoing. We have people bunkered down in shelters. The latest figures there -- 8,000 people in Houston alone, 30,000 people in shelters across the flood- affected area.

Now, to put it into perspective, just how large of an area of this imminent threat that's taking place now, 50,000 square miles. That's roughly the size of Louisiana. Incredible. And also incredible are the heroic rescue stories that are coming out of the area.

I talked to a rescuer yesterday who went door to door with his own personal boat, going through neighborhoods, and talked about picking up a woman who had multiple sclerosis. And when they arrived at their house, they actually had a sign over one of their banisters that just wrote out "help." That's the only reason they knew that there were people inside that needed to be rescued.

BRIGGS: You mentioned the size of New Orleans. New Orleans also set to receive some five to ten inches of rain. There are fears there that the levies could break as well. Houston, though, of course, the center of everyone's attention.

Derek Van Dam, live for us in Sugarland, thank you, my friend. Stay safe.

ROMANS: This thing is going to make a landfall again. You know, it's collecting energy -- BRIGGS: Collecting moisture, as well --

ROMANS: -- in the Gulf of Mexico and will come back again. That's going to be a real hard time for Houston. The whole part of the Texas coast and Louisiana.

BRIGGS: We will have a forecast for you in just a couple of minutes.

But in Houston, the rush to save a woman trapped in her home by the rising floodwaters. Rachel Gower who owns the upper hand salon said she lost everything. She joins us now on the phone to tell us about her harrowing ordeal.

Rachel, how are you doing this morning?

RACHEL GOWER, HOUSTON, TEXAS RESIDENT (via telephone): I'm OK. How are you?

BRIGGS: Well, we're doing all right. We're watching these terrible pictures. If you could, just share your ordeal, what the last 24, 48 hours have been like for you.

GOWER: Absolutely. You know, we've lived here for 20 years. We've never flooded in our house. It's just been something that we were prepared for, we thought, mentally. And then we weren't at all, you know, as it turns out.

And so, we went to bed -- a couple of us did anyway, Saturday night, thinking everything was fine. And my husband stayed up, thank God, and he woke us up at 4:30 and said, get as much to high ground as you possibly can. And so, we did.

We thought a foot above the ground would be fine. And we really spot, you know, a foot above the ground, which is find, and we worked for about two hours getting everything off the ground and we ran up to our loft which is high. And then we sat there for two hours and watched things starting to float. You can see in the pictures.

It started with three inches of water and ended up with about five to six feet. So that's when we -- I had neighbors texting me and my parents calling me and saying, you need to get out of there. We really did not realize how dire it was from where we were. We just couldn't tell.

And so, finally, we said, OK, we need to do this. We had to leave our animals there temporarily. We got the front door open, and we were able to swim to -- you know, like where it was not as deep.

And -- it was -- we were in up to our necks. It was very scary. The water was freezing and disgusting.

Then we made it to higher grounds. There were neighbors waiting to help us. It was amazing. It was so comforting and wonderful.

A couple hours later, we were able to go back. We went back with kayaks again. Again, neighbors just waiting to help us. People we didn't know, which I'm embarrassed to say.

We took kayaks back into the house right up to the front door. Went in, got the very frightened animals, and kayaked back out. And we threw as many things as we could in plastic bags.

[04:40:02] And we've been doing laundry and friends had been doing laundry for us. It's just been -- it's been good to know that people are so compassionate and loving. And this is at amazing city. We're thrilled about that.

We're devastated on the other end. You know, it's clearly something we've never had to deal with or even thought about having to deal with. So, it's a problem that affects everyone. It doesn't matter what your race, religion, or anything is. It's just a real, real problem.

ROMANS: So, you guys are out. The pets are out. We see pictures of rescue boats with five or six different animals on the boat. Everyone's OK?

GOWER: Everyone's OK. Everyone's OK. And we were lucky. We have family close by. We're sheltered and fed. Everything's good.

And we've gone back to the house twice to try to save some things. And every time we go back in, we're just -- just blown away by what we're looking at. And we just never thought this would happen to us.

I don't even think we're in the 800-year flood plain. Much less the 500 or 100. So, it's just something that no one could have calculated. And devastating. Devastating.

But we're alive. We're alive. Our animals are alive. And we have good friends and family.

ROMANS: You're piano did not make it. I'm sorry to say.

GOWER: My piano didn't make it.

BRIGGS: You know, Rachel, you use the word "devastating", and that's what we see in the photos.


BRIGGS: And what I see on your faces are resilience. I see smiles. I hear it in your voice. I hear thankfulness. Are you seeing that in neighbors? Where does that spirit come from?

GOWER: Oh, my gosh. You know, I'm not a Texan by birth. But I feel like I'm a Texan now.

There's something about Houston in particular that's very, very -- it's just for sturdy people. We don't give in very easily. I think it's the heat, the humidity, it makes us tough.

And you know what, there's nothing we can do about it now except for to just move on and help other people. And that's what we were thinking -- who else is going to have to go through this. And thank God for social media because I know so many people who have been assisted because of that. I mean, you were talking about people assisted by rescue workers. There have been countless numbers, probably thousands, assisted by friends and church members and just family, random people who just wanted to help, just to feel like they were doing something for someone else. It's a good feeling.

ROMANS: You know, Rachel, so many people don't have flood insurance because they don't live -- you mention an 800-year flood plain. Places that haven't flooded before. Do you know what you're going to do next on the FEMA or the insurance front?

GOWER: Well, we're going to file everything -- like we're expected to do, and see what happens. It's very, very scary. I have two teenage daughters who started high school and I wanted better for them than this. So, it's difficult to think about and to figure out where we're going to be living.

So, again, we're fortunate because we have family. But so many people don't, and they're in shelters, big, huge buildings drinking bottled water and eating potato chips. And it's horrible to think about.

So, I don't know what the next step is really for us. We're -- we're amongst the lucky ones. There's no doubt about that.

BRIGGS: Well, our hearts go out to you, Rachel, to your family, your friends, your neighbors. We will pray for you.

And those of you that can give, please do. I know the Red Cross and many other organizations are taking donations.

Best of luck to you. Thank you very much for sharing your story this morning.

ROMANS: Gosh, she's so -- I mean, you know, sad but upbeat, too, and so happy for her family.

BRIGGS: The Texas resilience is amazing. You hit a good point. Flood insurance is lacking in that entire region.

ROMANS: I'm a little worried that that's the next chapter for folks.

But right now, we're in this chapter and this chapter is rain. Let's get the forecast now from meteorologist Karen Maginnis live in the weather center.

Hi there.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Christine and Dave, if the entire state of South Carolina were under water, that is the comparison to what we've seen over the last four days around Houston, the upper gulf coast region of Texas. And it looks like Harvey's going to make another landfall. It is out over the open waters. It is still picking up the tropical moisture.

Where you see the purple shaded area, 10, 20 inches of additional rainfall. And by Wednesday, not until Wednesday -- so here we are, Tuesday early morning, going into Wednesday. It will be at the Sabine Pass, right along the border with Louisiana, before it picks up some speed and starts to really traverse more towards the north.

Memphis, you're looking at a wet weather pattern. Louisville, later on.

[04:45:01] But Houston is looking at rainfall rates of two to four inches per hour. The needs are really exceeding the ability to get to people. But they need hot food, they need towels, they need blankets, first-aid kits. They need a lot of things.

Houston's Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental Airport are closed. But people are still going into Houston and becoming heroes and helping and giving people hope -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that, Karen Maginnis.

Karen mentioned the airports. Harvey's rain and floods are blocking a major air transport hub just before one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. Houston's airport has been shut down since Sunday.

It is the 14th busiest in America, handling 20 million passengers last year. It is a major hub for United Airlines, one of the largest in the U.S. So, its closure is causing delays around the country.

United travelers scheduled to transfer through Houston are currently on standby. Many Labor Day flights have already been canceled. United says it's working on adding flights elsewhere to help ease congestion. Unclear when the airport will reopen. The FAA predicts it will remain closed through at least Thursday.

BRIGGS: All right. The most grave threat ever -- Japan with harsh words following a North Korean missile launch which flew over their border. South Korea with a harsh response, as well. A live report from Seoul is next.



[04:50:42] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Kim Jong-un, I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact.


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

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

Paula, good morning to you.

We know they were urged to take cover in Japan. What has been the reaction there in Seoul?


This really was a serious escalation from North Korea. A missile that flew 1,700 miles from just outside Pyongyang. The capital, which was unusual, over Japan and then broken into three pieces before hitting the Pacific Ocean, just over 700 miles east of Hokkaido, the island.

Now, on that island, residents were woken up after 6:00 a.m. local time by sirens, by alerts from the government, telling them to take shelter. A very scary situation because of this North Korean missile.

Now, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, has been reacting far more strongly. He's said it's the most serious and grave threat ever to his country. He's spoken on the phone to the U.S. president, Donald Trump, and says that Mr. Trump has told him once again that the U.S. is 100 percent behind Japan.

Now, from South Korea's point of view, they've condemned the launch. They've also come up with a more military response. We've seen the air force has carried out a bombing drill at a shooting range about 150 -- 100 miles south of the border. We know that about four jet fighters have dropped eight one-ton bombs on to the shooting range.

And the message, they say, was to North Korea that they are able and capable of destroying the enemy's leadership, a very explicit there to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Experts here in South Korea, also Japanese officials saying it is likely they chose to fire this missile across Japan because to do so towards Guam, for example, the U.S. territory, would provoke a U.S. response. The Joint Chiefs of Staff here in South Korea saying that it is a similar range, but potentially they didn't want to go that way.

BRIGGS: Tensions continue to rise in that region. Paula Hancocks, live for us in Seoul, thanks so much.

ROMANS: And the North Korean missile launch rattling global markets. Stocks around the world falling. CNN "Money Stream" is next.


[04:57:43] ROMANS: Through the tragedy of Harvey, there are stories of courage and survival.

Aaron Mitchell says he lost everything in the storm. He had no cell phone service since Thursday. He is frantically searching for his family, even walking 12 miles in the dark to try to find his father.

BRIGGS: CNN's Nick Valencia and his crew were able to use a satellite phone to help Mitchell make contact.


AARON MITCHELL, SEARCHING FOR HIS FATHER: Haven't gotten ahold of anybody. If my mom and dad's watching, I'm OK.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What are their names in case they're on?

MITCHELL: Betty and Brian.

VALENCIA: Where were they last?

MITCHELL: My mom's in Oklahoma. My dad -- there's no telling where my dad's at. I'm here waiting on you.

You're what, Tony Burger Stadium? OK, dad. I'm going to jump on a bus. I'll be there.

Are you OK? Yes. I'll jump -- I'll jump on one. Yes. I'm in Rockport. OK, dad, I love you.


BRIGGS: Aaron and his dad were later reunited in Austin, Texas. Imagine that desperation multiplied by the tens of thousands all across Texas.

ROMANS: All those folks displaced and trying to make sure everyone's OK. And the storm is still happening now. A lot more rain to come.

Let's a check on CNN "Money Stream" this morning.

Global stock markets, U.S. stock futures falling overnight after North Korea launched a missile over Japan. European markets down more than 1 percent. The U.S. put the Dow, that's down 0.6 percent, about 140 points lower.

Stocks this year have largely ignored geopolitical events. One exception, though, rising tensions with North Korea. While markets are -- they're not freaking out, there is caution here.

Money flowing into so-called safe havens like gold. Prices of gold are up about 0.7 percent. Japanese yen is considered a safe haven currency. It is currently at a four-month high against the U.S. dollar.

Flooding from tropical storm Harvey keeping many oil refineries shut down.