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Thousands Rescued in Houston Area; FEMA Update; Lake Charles Hit By Hurricane Harvey. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 30, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It looks like a perfectly normal road except for the four feet of water. But this is good right now. The water here was up over the roof line for most of these homes.

I'm going to show you what the problem is for most of these boats getting in here now. Debris, like this mailbox that's sort of been knocked over. There are cars in here that are sunk.

There are about 40 calls out to police now for rescue. Most of those in the Addicks Reservoir area of Houston. What they will start to move into now, say officials, is a recovery mode. Getting into places that they haven't been able to get into before. Looking more finely at places and trying to see if there are people who are still alive there or perhaps people who are deceased in certain parts of town.

There is still a long way to go. The one headline here is that for the first time in many days, Houstonians are waking up to some blue sky, which they have not seen in a very long time in the morning. It rained very hard throughout the day yesterday and obviously for many days before that. So things are starting to turn the corner. But it is a -- the beginning, at least they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the beginning of a long, long recovery.

I want to show you the boat that we were in earlier this morning. This had problems getting around in here because it just became too low. A guy named Kenny Delgado (ph) is one of many, many Texans and Americans who flooded in here, literally, forming this flotilla, this navy of boats helping people out. They pulled 30, 40 people, they said, out in the first couple of days of this. It has gotten harder to find those people and get in there to help them.

And now it's just going to be a waiting game as this water recedes. The people will either come out or they will go in and look through houses, apartments.


MARQUEZ: And across this city, thousands of homes still inundated at this point.


BERMAN: And, Miguel, just quickly, I just want to ask you very quickly because you've been out there and it's important for people to know this, have the waters begun to recede right where you are?

MARQUEZ: Oh, incredibly. In fact, we put this boat in a few hours ago and within two hours it was already getting almost too low in some parts of this neighborhood and too dangerous to have the boat in there.

The other problem is, getting the boat -- you can get the boat into the water, but getting it out and back onto the trailer that it needs to get onto, that's very difficult in very low water. So smaller boats can get in here. Some of those -- the air boats are effective in here. The problem with the air boats is, as the water recedes and it starts flowing very fast, it's very difficult for those air boats to operate and to maneuver. They also can't hold a lot of people oftentimes. So there are pluses and minuses with both types of boats.


MARQUEZ: But at this point, officials are probably looking to get into a recovery mode.


BERMAN: All right, Miguel Marquez for us. Thanks so much, Miguel.

And again, the message there is, at least where Miguel is, the water is receding and quickly. That is not the case everywhere and people still face a very harrowing situation and cant' get home.

Thousands of people have been evacuated to shelters throughout the Houston area. The Red Cross is promising no one will be turned away. The George Brown Convention Center is now holding more than 10,000 evacuees.

CNN's Rose Flores, who has been doing remarkable work, joins us from there.

Oh, actually, we're going to go back to Rosa in a second. This is the FEMA update on the situation. That's the director of Homeland Secretary. Let's listen.

ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We heard first-hand the experience of the first responders, and the volunteers that are helping in the Texas area. We met with state and local officials to continue coordinating our response and identifying opportunities for closer collaboration. This was an important first visit to the area.

I also want to reinforce the president's message from our trip yesterday. We expect a many-year recovery in Texas and the federal government is in this for the long hall. We will continue to support the people of Texas as long as it is necessary. The president reiterated this again, both publicly and behind closed doors yesterday. The initial word we got, people first, is continuing through our response.

While we continue to monitor the storm as it heads towards Louisiana, we remain concerned about Houston, where catastrophic flooding is likely to persist days after the rain stops. This cooperation between FEMA, the other federal agencies, and state and local officials has been outstanding. And we are collectively focused on rescuing those in danger and providing housing and immediate care for those who are displaced. Resources from across the country have been dispatched to the area to aid in response and recovery.

Finally, the local officials in Texas, Governor Abbott, Mayor Turner, Judge Emmitt (ph), Chief Osavado (ph), and all the others are doing a tremendous job under considerable strain. What we must do in the federal government is to continue to support them and their teams.

[09:35:02] I want to also thank the men and women who are putting their lives on the line to help the people of Texas. Their heroism is truly humbling. Homeland Security's own Custom and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard and others are working with the National Guard and local first responders and have saved countless lives.

Yesterday, we tragically lost one of these local heroes, Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez (ph). Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to those who have lost loved ones in this terrible storm.

While the focus has been understandably on Texas, we are working with the state of Louisiana as the storm moves through their state. To the people in Texas and Louisiana, please continue to listen to your local officials and heed warnings. We expect this storm to continue and our number one priority is everyone's safety.

We will continue with the life-sustaining, life-saving mission for the next few days, and then move into recovery for the area. And the officials with me here today will tell you more about that.

I'll turn it over to the commandant now to talk about our continuing life-saving missions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, madam secretary.

And we are still very much in the emergency response phase of this historic storm.

Our number one priority right now is recovering survivors. Over thousands yesterday, but these aren't numbers, these are people. And I just want to, you know, put myself in the shoes of these community members whose lives have really been turned upside down. So we will be there for as long as it takes.

Now, as this he storm is starting to shift to the east, we will be able to shift our resources to the east as well. So we will be able to stay if front of this. We're getting great support from the National Guard, from the state of Texas, the entire first response community. This has truly been a unified effort. And I can't emphasize enough the great work that our good Samaritans are doing as well.

Back at our Coast Guard headquarters, I now have 32 watch standers standing watch around the clock because the 911 calls have inundated the call centers down in Texas. We're taking that overthrow and we're receiving over a thousand calls per hour. So we are not out of this by any long stretch yet. And we will be (INAUDIBLE) as we continue to watch this storm move on and then as we move into the long road to recovery.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. I'm going to switch with you.

BROCK LONG, FEMA DIRECTOR: So the whole community continues to descend upon Texas. We've amassed quite the federal government support. Over 12,000 staff members. And it's going to continue to grow. Not only are we pushing people forward through the DHS surge capacity, that Secretary Duke proactively put into place and also the commandant's people who are risking their lives to save others as well, in conjunction with state and first responders. But we're also calling upon other states through emergency management assistance compacts and contracts where we're asking state support to come down and so they're continuing to mass in Texas.

So the operation right now is very clear. We're still in life-saving, life-sustaining mode. Not only are we, you know, performing through our partners at the Coast Guard, we're performing those life-safety measures. But the life-sustainment mission is huge. It's going to grow. We have over 230 shelters operating in Texas with over 30,000 people. But I don't want to get fixated on numbers because those numbers are going to change in the next 30 minutes. But just to let the people of Texas know that we are supporting the efforts to provide mass care, not only mass care, but also medical care to those who have been displaced and we understand that this is going to be a frustrating and painful process, but we're trying to do everything we can to alleviate the situation.

Overnight, you know, the areas of Beaumont and Port Arthur got hit, got slammed with 20 inches of rainfall. So while we're -- you know, we're focused a lot of effort on Houston, we have to also understand that there are multiple counties, over 50 counties, impacted right now. We're continuing to watch the situation develop.

And citizens in Louisiana are not in the clear. You know, you're still under some evacuation warning orders. Please make sure that you're heeding those warnings from the parish presidents. And we're ready to support Governor John Bell Edwards in his efforts to take care of folks over there in Louisiana.

We've also turned on individual assistance in some of the most important information you're going to hear about today is from our recovery director Alex Amparo. We're providing essential commodity distribution. What that means is, is we are already providing points of distribution in disseminating life-sustaining commodities in areas that are not being currently impacted by rainfall. For example, we've been down in, you know, Rockport, Port Aransas, where the rain has stopped but they sustained category four winds and storm surge. We are supporting those -- those folks down there with life-saving commodities.

[09:40:11] Power restoration is ongoing. We're very concerned about the infrastructure, obviously. Infrastructure is the key to restoring routine to everybody's daily lives. You know, we will try to help private power companies bring the power back on as quickly as we can. But right now, many areas in Texas still aren't out of the clear from the threat as it's ongoing.

Security is a concern. We've amassed quite a bit of federal law enforcement out of the Department of Homeland Security, you know, down to our state and local partners. Again, they're working in conjunction with over 12,000 National Guard members that have been deployed by the National Guard in Texas, as well as, you know, the true first responders at the local level.

Again, we're sporting medical support. You know, Secretary Price is highly engaged. You know, we're constantly watching, you know, the hospital situations and being able to -- we've evacuated several hospitals, but we're also trying to sustain several hospitals to make sure that they're up and operational and we're providing a standard of care that everybody deserves.

With that what i would like to do is continue to ask people to find ways to volunteer. You know, when it comes to (ph) or basically going through the Texas -- the state of Texas's organizations to be able to organize the volunteer effort.

The need to volunteer is going to take place over the next couple years, OK, and the need to volunteer is in -- let's -- let me remind you, 50 counties right now. Not just in Houston, but everywhere. So that mission is going to continue to expand.

But right now what I would really like to concentrate on is how we get disaster survivors, you know, to start activating assistance for those that qualify.

So, Alex Amparo, my recovery director, is going to give us some very critical information.


So as of this morning we have over 195,000 registrations of individuals asking for assistance. We've provided over $35 million in financial assistance to those that have registered. And so our message is clear. If you have impact from -- damage from this disaster and have been impacted, find yourself in a shelter, first, contact your insurance company. File your claim. And immediately after that, go to and register for financial assistance from FEMA.

What's important to understand is that our assistance is not designed to make you whole, which is why it's important to first register with your insurance company. It's also important that you provide us your location of where you're at during the registration process because we can provide you immediate assistance.

We also have the transitional shelter assistance program. Over 1,700 families last night. And over 2,000 rooms in five different states that we're providing assistance to. So after you register, you'll be assigned an inspector. That inspector

will contact you to come out and view your damages. Due to the volume, we are prioritizing inspections base off of the greatest amount of damage. And we will be in contact with you throughout this process.

And so if -- make sure that -- FEMA assistance can provide some rental assistance. We can also provide some assistance for repair. We can provide assistance for personal property. It's important that when you register, your address, your current location, how we can contact you, what kind of damage you have sustained, the insurance that you have, to stay in contact with us. Go to

The effort that we're doing through the thousands of employees that are working to provide assistance to those that are in shelters and getting them out of shelters into a better place, working in partnership with our non-government organizations as Administrator Long had mentioned in support of the state of Texas. These organizations like American Red Cross, Salvation Army, the Southern Baptists, they're doing tremendous amount of work.

This is an unprecedented event. We've seen our call volume increase and sky rocket larger than ever before. So has the registrations. And we are in the long hall to provide the assistance to every disaster survivor we can.

LONG: Thank you, Alex.

Madame secretary.

DUKE: I'll take some questions at this point, if there's any.


Do you have the estimate of how many total homes have been flooded and how many people will need assistance or how much this might cost?

LONG: You know, right now, it's a dynamic situation. We don't have an accurate number. I can try to put you a number out there, but I can tell you, in 30 minutes it will be wrong. We try to use the best knowledge -- you know, the beset mapping capabilities that we have when it comes to understanding the flood zones, you know, the flood plain mapping that we have. But the best indicator of individual assistance is what Alex was just saying, we have nearly 200,000 people already registered. That number is going to climb. We know it. So it's going to continue to project and we have to be ready to go to support them.

[09:45:25] QUESTION: Looking at some of the decisions the administration made ahead of this disaster, proposed budget that would, for instance, cut some FEMA grants and some other agency programs that are involved in this effort or rolling back to the last administrations flood risk management standard, understanding that that did not impact the response that we're seeing right now, how is that playing into the administration (INAUDIBLE) looking at how you prepare for these disasters going forward and reconsidering some of those decisions (INAUDIBLE) were made in the prior months? DUKE: Right now we're focusing on this specific disaster and insuring

we have the appropriate funding and programs in place. I think that the planning that the communities do has grown over the years and we're looking at having grant program that are appropriate to have them continue their planning. But, you know, many of these communities, including Texas, has made extraordinary process in its planning for disasters. This particular storm was unprecedented in terms of volume of rain, and that's what we're focusing on now.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). What does the temporary shelter look like? Is it going to include trailers? What are the options that you're considering?

LONG: So, very simply, the goal is to sustain life. So we've already turned on what's called Transitional Shelter Assistance Program, which is basically getting people into hotel/motels. Getting them out of those shelters. Shelters are -- you know, shelters, obviously, are not ideal. And, unfortunately, people are going to be there for quite some time as we're trying to mobilize people into hotels.

How many people have we already moved?

AMPARO: About 1,800.

LONG: Around 1,800 people have already been placed in hotel/motels. We have to understand the vacancies that are there. We have to make sure that will continue. But that number will continue to grow as we do.

The next goal is save houses. You know, as the water starts to recede, we've got to go in and this is where the volunteers need to be organized is helping people muck out the houses, get the wet carpet, get the wet drywall out. Make simple repairs to hopefully get people back in the house, you know, at a very baseline level and sustain them there.

And then finally, you know, the FEMA manufactured housings and travel trailers, we pulled the trigger. We have a limited amount. You know, we have to implement what's called the Defense Production Agency to buy. And the -- you know, buy these -- this capability, but also it takes time to produce those. Slowly, as our last resort, we start to bring those in. And it's a very sizable mission.

So what we have on the ground right now is what we call disaster housing assistance teams. But this is a coordinated effort between not only FEMA, but HUD. It's also going to be SBA and, you know, the most important piece is, you know, working with our state and local partners and those counter parts down through to make sure we put together a comprehensive plan and we clearly explain how the system works.


QUESTION: Jeffrey Cook from ABC News.

The president said yesterday probably there has never been (INAUDIBLE) in our history, (INAUDIBLE) is that true or (INAUDIBLE)? DUKE: No, you can't do a point by point comparison of each storm.

What's unique about this storm is the area of devastation, also the amount of rainfall, which has now measuring in some places over 50 inches, which is more than the annual rainfall. And also the -- how long it has been. So we've been experiencing this rainfall at over a long period of time, even though the initial winds have subsided. So the duration and we expect the flood waters not to crest for another couple days. So those are some of the unique things that were behind the president's comments yesterday.

LONG: And I also think it's important to point out that this is going to be an incredibly large disaster for the country. It's going to help us, you know, to reshape some of the ways that we do business. We're going to learn from it and go on. But I think it's very important to recognize that the cost of this disaster, the economic cost to measure the disaster versus our physical cost as the federal government family, we're not going to know a true cost for that for many, many years to come as we, you know, work together to understand what the communities are entitled to from public assistance or HUD community development block grants or the reimbursement costs. It takes a lot of time to understand the true costs of this disaster. But it's going to be a huge one.


QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). Yes, are there areas in Houston still -- Katherine Harris (ph.) Fox News -- that you feel that you don't have good visibility into and that there are individuals who are trapped and not able to communicate they're in an emergency situation?

DUKE: Do you want to talk about your communications?

AMPARO: So, we've been able to use Google heat maps, if you will. And where the concentration of most of these calls are coming from. So even if someone can't communicate, we have 11 fixed wing airplanes that are doing surveillance as well. So we have a pretty good idea of where the concentration of those who are still in high water.

And, at the same time, we're monitoring, as you heard from the administrator, the heavy rainfall that occurred in Port Arthur and Beaumont as well. So this isn't like five-year-old soccer, everyone clustered around one point. We're looking across the entire metropolitan area to make sure that we've got resources allocated. And it's very well coordinated with CBP, with Coast Guard, with other first responders, National Guard.

QUESTION: Can you get more specific about the areas where you think there are clusters of individuals who can't get help and how many areas we're talking about in Houston still?

AMPARO: We're talking -- you know, we're talking square miles. You know, we're not down to blocks. So we're talking the entire Houston metropolitan area. Others more impacted than others. But we're seeing an awful lot to the west and southwest of the center of Houston proper itself. QUESTION: Can you tell us what's been necessary to get the

infrastructure back up and running, in terms of (INAUDIBLE) and how concerned you are about industrial facilities, including the chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, that had to be evacuated?

AMPARO: I'll talk briefly about the chemical plant. They were able to restore electricity. Those refrigerated tank cars should be stabilized. It's about 20 miles to the northeast of Houston itself.

From a coast guard aspect, we're looking at reopening the ports. Right now it is too rough for ships to even -- pilots to even embark ships. So we're working with the Army Corps of Engineers, with NOAA, Coast Guard. We'll have the inner harbor of Corpus Christi surveyed today. Part of the intercostal waterway.

But even when we open a port, what we've seen in the past, it will take several days before those facility workers can get back to work. When you can fire up those refineries. When pilots can actually safely get to the boats and then continue business as usual.

We want to make sure that those ports are open well in advance of before the first worker can show up. So I can at least speak to the maritime. Other infrastructure, perhaps, administrator, you might want to address that.

LONG: Yes, I'll let --

DUKE: I'll talk -- yes.

Yes. So we are in constant contact with all the critical infrastructure sectors in the area. Secretary Perry is leading us from the cabinet on the energy sector. There are two pieces to that we have to keep in mind in recovery. One is getting distribution up and then second is getting powers to individual residents and homes. And that's challenging. The flood -- the high level of flooding requires quite a bit of preparation to make sure that it's safe as the electric companies connect their distribution systems to specific points of system delivery.

Additionally, we're tracking the refineries and other gas and oil in the area. The very good news is we have seen no environmental issues at this point because that critical infrastructure did act proactively in shutting down. And so we are looking at getting those up and running to keep oil refinement and production going.

But it is still a safety concern, and they will be up as soon as possible.

LONG: If I may add, too, you know, emergency managers around the country realize that restoring routine is the number one goal and recovery as well. It's not just keeping up the critical infrastructure. But we also activate what's called business EOCs, or business emergency operation center. We have one at the national level and typically all states have them at the state level to understand as well as when the private industry is coming back online. If we can get the roadways open and get the private industry back on

to restore some of the routine, as well as the schools, we will be -- you know, the Department of Homeland Security also -- and FEMA will be working to help figure out how we're going to do school, if schools have been totally damaged and different things. We may have to set up temporary capability.

But that's all in the back of our -- it's in the front of our mind, actually, on the recovery side is getting the lights back on, getting the sewer system working, bringing up the private industry. Bringing up the private industry is the most important thing.

DUKE: Sir.

QUESTION: Yes. Mike Ressler (ph.) with the Associated Press. One of the keys to getting routine back is getting people back in their homes. When you look at the raw numbers, about 9 percent fewer people have flood insurance in Houston than they did five years ago. Do you understand what's behind that decline? And because this flood is so far outside the area where people had flood insurance, what's the advice for homeowners who don't have federal flood insurance who are out there also?

[09:55:09] LONG: So very simply put, those that have flood insurance need to be activating their NFIP policies. Those that don't will most likely be dealing with the small business administration and looking at low interest loans and different things because they also have a disaster declaration through SBA. So typically anything -- if you're uninsured outside the NFIP, the next step is most likely going to be the Small Business Administration.

QUESTION: And what's behind the decline in the numbers?

BERMAN: All right, you've been listening to a news conference from Washington, from FEMA, and the Department of Homeland Security giving an update on what they still consider to be life-saving and life- sustaining measures taking place on the Gulf Coast right now.

They do note that the storm is moving on and Houston, soon, will be able to begin the recovery effort. They're not there yet because they still have to get out on boats and look for people who may be stranded in their homes.

As you can see, the storm itself has moved on past Houston through Beaumont and Port Arthur, now up over Louisiana and Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is right under that path of the storm you're looking at right now.

Joining me is the mayor of Lake Charles of Louisiana, Nic Hunter.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us right now.

We just saw a radar shot from Lake Charles. Give me a sense of what it looks like outside.


HUNTER: OK. We're doing well here in Lake Charles. We actually had more intense rain and more intense flooding events Monday evening than we did last night. My heart goes out and my heart breaks for our neighbors to the west. They are really getting the brunt of this storm. But I can tell you in Lake Charles, our number one priority is still the safety of our citizens. But right now, we are doing well.

BERMAN: We were looking at some pictures of the last few days in Lake Charles. There has been a whole lot of rain there and a number of rescues taking place. What's your outlook over the next few hours and your area of greatest need?

HUNTER: Well, right now, of course, the greatest need is the safety of our citizens. We do have a shelter set up in Lake Charles for those who have been displaced. Locally, we have an amazing group of elected officials here that are working together. We're taking care of our citizens. But we're very resilient people here in southwest Louisiana. I can say that moving forward, the federal assistance from FEMA -- and I appreciate your comment about the SBA -- those two agencies are absolutely going to be essential to get people back into their homes that were damaged and also get people back to work and get these businesses back up again. Both of those agencies will absolutely be needed in the days moving forward in our area.

BERMAN: Any sense of how many people are stranded right now in your city?

HUNTER: Speaking only for the city of Lake Charles, right now we have about 200 to 300 people that are at our shelter. Some, you know, some of those came from outside the city of Lake Charles. We have heard a few reports of some people coming from Texas that made it to our shelter. So, again, you know, we do have some areas that were affected. But compared to what we are seeing to the west, we have not seen the intensity that our neighbors to the west have seen.

BERMAN: Well, Nic Hunter, mayor of Lake Charles, Louisiana, that is good news. And we hope the good news holds out for you in the coming hours. We need a lot more of that in the days ahead. Nic Hunter, the mayor of Lake Charles, Louisiana, thank you very, very much.

We've got a lot of news this morning. Stick around. We'll be right back.