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Tropical Storm Harvey Makes Second Landfall in Louisiana; Flood Victims Share Their Experiences; Trump Visits Texas, Doesn't Mention Victims. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2017 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:30] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, August 30. It's 5 a.m. here in Houston where I am.

Tropical Storm Harvey making landfall again, this time in Louisiana, where it is hammering the area with heavy rain. Here in Houston where I'm standing, after five straight days of rain, I am happy to report this morning the conditions do seem to be improving. The streets that we drove in to get to Houston, they were wet, but they were not flooded.

Now, the situation here in the convention center, though, is pretty dire. I am at the city's largest shelter where, at last count -- I just checked five minutes ago -- 8,319 people are seeking refuge. There are two more mega shelters that are now open in this city. They're taking people in to alleviate the over-capacity conditions here.

One-third of Harris County, which includes 4.5 million people in Houston and its suburbs is now under water. And all eyes are on the two dams that are trying to contain this record-breaking rainfall in this area.

The death toll, we want to give you an update on that. It is, of course, sadly, on the rise. Among those people killed, a veteran Houston police sergeant. Steve Perez, he drowned trying to get to his command post to help those in need.

And rescue crews and volunteers are, of course, working around the clock, as you've heard. They have saved thousands and thousands of people from the floodwaters. I mean, here are just a few examples on your screen. There are thousands of these examples, Chris.

So we have all sorts of survivor stories to bring you this morning, as well as updates on how Houston is going to try to deal with this today.

CUOMO: You have so much people down there in this concerned citizens corps, going around saving their fellow community members. It will be very helpful to people to see what the reality is down there.

The big question is what will this rain mean as Harvey returns? OK. Hopefully, Texas will be spared any further damage except for this one part of East Texas that we'll be watching this morning. But what about Louisiana? There's already about two feet of rain in just the last 24 hours. So there is a flood threat to several states in its path.

All of this as President Trump is back in Washington after meeting with emergency responders in Texas. The president is getting some criticism for how he was on the ground, and was his focus on himself or the people who are suffering? We'll take you through the politics of it.

But he also has a new agenda item for you to entertain this morning: tax reform. The president says he's going to go ahead and make his pitch to the country as we are watching this natural disaster unfold.

So we're covering everything for you. Let's begin with CNN's Polo Sandoval in one of the areas that we're watching right now in Texas.

What do we know, Polo? What is the status where you are?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the Brazos River continues to rise a short drive just outside of Houston, west of the city center. Meanwhile, there in Houston, that curfew has been listed as the remnants of Harvey, at least Tropical Storm Harvey, makes that second landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border. There are many people here right now still coming to grips with what's happening here. So search and rescue operations continue.

Obviously, that death toll continues on the rise in and around the Houston area, and that includes Sergeant Steve Perez, that veteran of the Houston Police Department. This morning, we're learning that his wife begged him not to go to work this past weekend as the storm was closing in on the region. We are also learning that he eventually did go missing under an overpass, officials recovering the sergeant's body just yesterday.

He is somebody who is described as having a passion for giving back to his community. And sadly, that Sunday morning, it would be the last day that he would do that.

The reality is, is that death toll will likely increase, particularly as officials try to find answers for the Saldivar family back in Houston. CNN speaking to a loved one of the family of six that is still missing at this hour. They say there is very little hope that they'll find their loved ones alive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The current just lifted up the van and started pointing it towards, you know -- into the water. It just took off -- just took the van. And he had his window down, so he managed to get out the window. And then he tried to -- to get around the van, but he couldn't. It was too strong. The current was too strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He could hear the kids screaming and crying, you know, trying to get out of the fan. And he kept telling them, "Go to the back of the van and, you know, open the back doors, open the back doors." But from what he's describing, I'm sure the kids couldn't even grab a grip onto the van just to even reach the back door, much less open it. And he said it just went under the water.


SANDOVAL: And in order to try to prevent another tragedy like that, officials here in Fort Bend County have implemented a mandatory evacuation, Alisyn, including this riverside community along the Brazos. This water level you see behind me, Alisyn, is expected to go up at least another five feet in the next few days.

CAMEROTA: OK. Polo, thank you for keeping track of that. Really scary stuff. We'll check back with you.

So Harvey, as we say, is making landfall again, this time as a tropical storm, the storm dumping very heavy rain in eastern Texas and the western parishes of Louisiana.

And that's where we find CNN's Kaylee Hartung. She's in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with more. Kaylee, what are you seeing?

[06:05:09] KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, knowing that Harvey made landfall less than an hour from here in Lake Charles, I would think I would be standing here in the rain talking with you this morning, but that's not the case. Wind the bigger problem in Lake Charles this morning.

Officials telling me they expect 40- to 50-mile-an-hour sustained winds throughout this day. That means they're anticipating power outages and tree damage, especially when the roots of the trees here are already so soaked from the rainfall we've seen this week and a very wet summer.

I spoke earlier with the director of emergency preparedness for Calcasieu Parish. He told me there were no calls for rescue overnight. It didn't rain as much overnight as anybody expected either. But yesterday and the night before, more than 500 rescues in Calcasieu and the neighboring Cameron Parish.

And yesterday, on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I spoke with Governor John Bel Edwards. And he told me that, unfortunately, people in Louisiana all too familiar with disasters. Despite the unknowns we still have today, Chris, he says he feels he has the people trained, experienced and prepared for whatever today may bring.

CUOMO: All right, Kaylee, thank you very much. Keep us apprised of the situation there.

So the big X-factor is how much rain, how much wind and where? And the specific concern in and around Houston are going to be those dams built in 1940. Is their age going to be determinative of their strength?

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest. What do you see in terms of the path and what are these infrastructure variables? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the infrastructure is at its

capacity, because now it's actually flowing around the dam itself, and I'll get to that in a second.

There's Cameron Parish right there, where that center of circulation came onshore just a couple of hours ago. And there goes Harvey. Finally, finally moving.

The rain is moving away from Houston, but it's still in Beaumont-Port Arthur. And man, has it rained overnight there. A foot, at least. Some spots 18 inches. So I suspect we should focus a little bit on that Beaumont-Port Arthur area for the rest of the day. Because you're still going to see another six to ten.

But look at these numbers here from Cedar Bayou. A new record at 51.88. You know, four days ago I walked on this platform right here, and I said there's a potential for 50 inches of rain. Look what this computer model is saying. And we couldn't believe it. It was just -- it was confounding. You couldn't put your mind around it, said, "That can't -- that has to be wrong." Well, it was right.

And we said if the computers are right, this is going to be a catastrophic flood. And the computers were right this time.

So here we go. This is the model you talked about. This right here, these are the dams we're talking about. This right here, Addicks, the big "A." This right here. Barker's right here, doing very well. They are in great shape right now. They are not breaching. I've seen all kinds of tweets about all this. They are not breaching.

What's happening is that, out of Addicks, water is going into the bayou, Buffalo Bayou into Houston. That's normal. That's what they expect. They're letting that water out on purpose.

What is wrong, if that's the right word, is that the end of this right here is the end of the water, and the water is spilling around the top of the damn at 108 feet above sea level. If it's above 108, it's going to spill. It was planned to do that.

Now, that's not good for the neighborhoods here, because those people there are flooding now that weren't flooding before. But we do know, certainly, that the flooding has happened all the way through these neighborhoods behind Addicks and Barker. And there are now at least 3,500 homes flooded, because the water couldn't get out of those dams fast enough -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chad, thank you very much. We'll check back in with you throughout the program.

So our next guest here is very lucky to be alive. His family of six managed to escape their home just moments before their boiler exploded, and the house burnt to the ground in front of them. Sadly, they lost all of their pets except one of them, and the one who made it out with them is their dog named Miracle.

I am joined now by Jose Gonzalez and Miracle. Jose, thank you for being here. I can see how upsetting all of this is to you. I'm so sorry that you've...

JOSE GONZALEZ, FLOOD SURVIVOR: Didn't hit me until you said it like that.

CAMEROTA: I'm so sorry that you're going through all this. We're grateful that your family made it out alive. How many pets did you lose?

GONZALEZ: Fourteen.

CAMEROTA: You had 14 pets in your house. You had new kittens, I guess, eight, nine?


CAMEROTA: You had eight new kittens, and then you had three other dogs besides Miracle?

GONZALEZ: Yes, ma'am. A pit bull, a deer chihuahua and a teacup chihuahua.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. And tell us how -- what happened this weekend? Tell us what happened when you were in your home, you were trying to stay in home and shelter in place. And what happened?

GONZALEZ: Yes, I woke up real early Saturday. My stepdad came out of his room to go check to see how it looked outside, and he saw water in our yard coming towards the house. So he woke all of us up. So we started getting everything into our room upstairs. And...

[06:10:11] CAMEROTA: All of you were gathered in one room?


CAMEROTA: And then, at some point when you were gathered in one room, the water was getting higher and higher.

GONZALEZ: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: And at some point, you -- not you, but some of your family members smelled gas.

GONZALEZ: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: Then what happened?

GONZALEZ: Well, I had went to the bathroom. I didn't know anything about that. I wanted to use the bathroom so, you know, I didn't have to go upstairs. And then the next thing I know I hear an -- like a loud pop, and the door flew open, and part of the frame hit me in the back of my head. And then I was, like, "What happened?" And I heard all my family yelling, "Get out, there's a fire."

And I got out of the bathroom. I started running out the front door. And then I was like, "Wait, where are the dogs?" They said, "They're all still upstairs." I tried to go, but I

couldn't even make it to my steps. The fire had already made it in the house.

CAMEROTA: The fire had already started at that point.

GONZALEZ: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: But you and your family members, including an 11-year-old child, got out. And then you were in what, waist-deep water?

GONZALEZ: Well, right out -- right in our house and stepping outside it was about knee high, but our house is raised about five feet. And by the time we got down, it was, like, up to chest at some -- like going down our driveway, it came up to the waist. But once we hit the street, it came up to chest.

CAMEROTA: So then you had to swim for your life. You and your family members, six of you, had to swim across the street. And tell me when you turned around, what you saw happening with your house.

GONZALEZ: None of us wanted to look at it, but eventually, we had to, and when we did, my room had already caught fire.

CAMEROTA: So you watched your house burn?

GONZALEZ: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: And how did you have Miracle with you?

GONZALEZ: I don't know. My mom said that he just ran down the stairs as soon as he heard the pop.

CAMEROTA: And was he in your hand -- how was -- was he swimming alongside of you? Was he in your arms?

GONZALEZ: No. My sister grabbed him, the 11-year-old. She grabbed him. My dad grabbed her.

CAMEROTA: So she had Miracle in her arms?

GONZALEZ: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: I mean, why did you name your dog Miracle to begin with?

GONZALEZ: When he was born, two days after he was born, his mom and his six other siblings died. So my mom bottle fed him to raise him.

CAMEROTA: She bottle fed him like a baby?

GONZALEZ: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: I mean, I can see how close you are to Miracle. What a sweet dog.

And so when you watched your house burning, what were you thinking? What was happening?

GONZALEZ: It felt like a bad dream. At first, I couldn't, like -- I couldn't grasp it for a while.

CAMEROTA: And so how long -- now you've been here since the weekend. And what will happen next for your family?

GONZALEZ: Well, as soon as it clears up, we have people that want to take us to Waco.

CAMEROTA: And you'll stay there while you rebuild?

GONZALEZ: Well, we're just going to go.

CAMEROTA: You're going to move to Waco?

GONZALEZ: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: You're going to move to Waco?

GONZALEZ: As soon as this all clears up, we're going to wait about a month or two and see if it clears up. Then we're going to come down and get what we can, if there's anything salvageable from the house.

We had a big 200-pound barbecue pit in our back yard that we made. So we're hoping that might still be there. Then all our cars -- my dad's truck caught fire. He had 30 gallons of gasoline and two power generators in the back of his truck.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

GONZALEZ: And a piece of the house collapsed into the truck, and the truck blew.

CAMEROTA: Well, Jose, we're so glad that you and your family survived and made it out just in the nick of time before the fire started. And Miracle has lived up to his name. It's really a sweet dog.

Thank you so much.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: And we're wishing you the best and praying for you. Thank you for telling your story for us.

Chris, this is obviously just one story here. As I said, there are something like 8,300 people here. We walked around this morning when we first got to the George Brown Convention Center, and it's early still. You know, it's before 6 a.m. Obviously, the fluorescent lights are shining on people trying to sleep in these main corridors.

There are three huge halls here that are about three times the size of football fields, and there is just cot after cot after cot donated by the Red Cross with people trying to sleep, people trying to heal.

What you're looking at right here are all the clothing donations that are coming in from other citizens, trying to help their fellow neighbors. And people are sorting through them, sifting through them, trying to figure out what's usable, trying to figure out what size things are and what the need is.

So all of this is happening even at this hour here in the convention center.

And we are joined now, we're happy to have him, our CNN contributor Lieutenant General Russel Honore. He, of course, is the former joint task force of Katrina. He was the commander, and he coordinated the military efforts in New Orleans.

[06:15:07] General, great to have you here with us. Tell us what you've seen in these days and what we're facing here with Harvey?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the good news, I've been here about six hours. I haven't seen any rain.

CAMEROTA: Yes. In Houston.

HONORE: The bad news is there are a lot of people that's still -- the search and rescue must continue over a very large area. I drove in here yesterday from Beaumont, and the entire distance from Beaumont to here, which is almost 90 miles, the entire area is flooded...

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

HONORE: ... both sides of the highway.

CAMEROTA: I mean, it's impossible to know how many people are still stranded in their homes.

HONORE: Absolutely. And now you consider all the south of Houston and the number of people. I think there's still a major effort.

You know, Alisyn, the first step after search and rescue is we have to go into every home and see if there's anyone left. And from our experience with Katrina, that's when we really found the bad news, because most of the people we found were elderly and disabled; and they were home alone. So that sad story is still yet to happen.

Right now we'll still be -- for another 72 hours, I think -- rescuing the living. People that require -- because the water is still rising along the Brazos.

CAMEROTA: And, you know, I've heard officials say that, if you can hear them and if you're in your home and if you're stranded and if you have a white towel, to hang it out your window so that people know that somebody is in that house. But beyond that system, how do you figure out who's stranded and where people are?

HONORE: Well, you know, this is the second big event. And lay something out there. We've got to create -- we've got to create a technology.

The other thing we don't have an answer to, Alisyn, if people left their home, the home is answer -- empty, there's we don't have a common marking. So in many cases., we would go in and break the door to get in the house, a house that's secure with no one in it.

There's some things we've got to clean up. It's been 12 years, and some of it hasn't been improved. Well, we're going to try to use this experience, and why I came here, to try and capture some of that.

CAMEROTA: And yet, the people that I've spoken to who saw -- who experienced Katrina and now are here, some of the workers, they say that this, what they're seeing right now this morning in the convention center is much different, much better organized.

HONORE: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: You see a heavy security presence.

HONORE: Oh, yes.

CAMEROTA: What do you see when you walk around among these 8,300 people who are sheltering here?

HONORE: You see organization, and -- which was different than the -- what they called a shelter of last response at the Superdome. And the government didn't know for 24 hours that we had people at the convention center.

So it's a totally different operation. It shows improvements.


HONORE: But we still have got to work some on that evacuation piece for a major city like this.

CAMEROTA: Because one of the confusing things, General, is that it's just hard to get your mind around that there are 8,300 people here who are sleeping in all these crowded cot conditions, but there are millions of people in Houston.

HONORE: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: And Houston was under water. So where is everybody else?

HONORE: We -- they're out there in the survival mode, and we've got to be prepared to go get them. This is going to get worse before it gets better. We have not seen the worst of this yet.

My estimate, from my experience here in America and around the world, the worst is yet to come in terms of the -- the outcome, which means of people stuck in their home.

CAMEROTA: And the death toll. For Houston...


HONORE: And we can't get them out, and they're isolated. CAMEROTA: Yes. Well, no one knows better than you, General. So

thank you. You'll be with us all morning, helping us get through all this. And we want to rely on your expertise. Thank you for being with us.

So let's get back to Chris in New York now -- Chris.

CUOMO: And you are standing right to the next man. Boy, I'll tell you, it would be unimaginable to be less prepared than they were during Katrina, but this situation is going the right way in terms of what they can do in terms of the capacity they're getting. But what do you do as the capacity increases? That's what you're going to see down there, Alisyn, is how they deal with the need.

President Trump went down there to express his concern and his promise that the federal government will be there to reassure the first responders and those who are struggling. How did he handle it? Did he give the right message? Did he show the empathy required of the consoler-in-chief? We'll discuss the take, the criticism and the fairness of it next.


[06:23:11] CUOMO: It's a basic political reality, that in moments like this, you need leadership so much. And the president did go down to Texas, and he promised disaster response unlike any other we've ever seen.

The president's trip did not include stops to the hardest hit areas, but that was for a reason. They didn't want to tax the first responders. They didn't want to get in the way of the rescue efforts.

The president is getting criticism, not for that but for what he said, what he didn't say and how.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. There's always going to be some criticism, but it's been more intense than expected this time.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think that's right, Chris. The natural disaster on the Gulf Coast giving the president a prime opportunity to get on the ground and engage with the people who are suffering and struggling on the Gulf Coast.

Now, the president's visit to Texas was certainly well-received by the people there, especially the state and local officials, who realized that help from Washington is going to be required in the next days, months, weeks and even years ahead.

But the president was hit by his critics for what could be perceived as a lack of expression of empathy for the victims, the president choosing instead to focus on the resilience of Texas and offering words of encouragement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was of epic proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this. Governor, again, thank you very much. And we won't say congratulations. We don't want to do that. We don't want to congratulate. We'll congratulate each other when it's all finished.


JOHNS: Today the president is expected to go back on the road again, this time to Springfield, Missouri, to offer the opening salvo, if you will, on his tax reform plan. No indication that the White House is planning on changing that trip due to the situation on the Gulf Coast. The president is expected to return to the disaster area over the weekend, Chris.

[06:25:14] CUOMO: Right. And we're hearing from our reporters that the vice president may be there before that, so we'll watch. This is certainly a show of force by the administration in this situation. Joe, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analyst Abby Phillip; and CNN political commentator Errol Louis.

All right. So Errol, look, there are criticism in all things. Let's get to the merits of what was expected and what fell short, in your estimation.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what was expected was that he would show up, right, which he did. It was expected that he'd be, I think in some quarters, that he'd be some kind of a comforter and show a side of this president that we've really not seen in public life. That was probably a little bit unrealistic.

This is somebody who likes to show that he can take charge, that he can come in and organize things, that he can come in and make things better. He's not somebody who's going to hold a weeping mother in his arms or anything like that. And he didn't go anywhere near that. He didn't roll up his sleeves and get in the mud, even for the sake of showmanship. That's not his style; that's not what he wanted to do.

This ended up being, in some ways, like kind of an ink blot test. You know, there's no way any president is going to ever get it exactly right. If you stay away, you look like you're aloof. If you go into it, it looks like a photo op, and it's staged and you're kind of wasting everybody's time. So he walked the path that he walked.

In my estimation, I think he got it about as good as could be expected. The real questions, of course, are going to now follow about the recovery, the rebuilding. And when he said to the governor, we'll congratulate ourselves when it's all over, it's not going to get done this year; it's not going to get done during this presidency. They have a very, very long road ahead of them down there.

CUOMO: Well, there's no question. I mean, Abby, look at what we saw in Louisiana. You had 450,000 plus before -- assuming that they had the count right, and that's a whole other story, about the communities that may have not been accounted for properly. They have about 400,000 now. So recovery becomes a defined term.

But what do you see as the measure of the man in this moment?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think Errol is right to some extent, that they knew that there would be risks in doing this. When you go down early, you kind of have to go outside of the immediate disaster area. You don't get close enough to victims that you can actually have those moments.

I think Trump probably did miss an opportunity to say something, you know, a message from his mouth to the American people, to the people who are still in the line of fire here, about, you know -- about the fact that the rest of the country is with them, about what they've been suffering, about their loss and their experiences.

That being said, to the White House's credit, they're aware of the reality that the situation did not lend itself to that. That's why they floated the idea and are likely to go back over the weekend when -- when things have maybe settled a little bit or just enough that he can actually be face-to-face with people who are at risk here.

So I think they're aware. I think, you know, this is a first for President Trump. He's going to have to learn how to do this. We won't know how he fares until he's faced with that situation and they probably learn from the feedback and maybe some of the backlash from the experience. That he actually needs to do more.

CUOMO: Right.

PHILLIP: It's not going to be enough to say, "Hey, you know, everything is going really well," and congratulate the officials on the ground. No one really cares about that. What they care about is the idea that everybody understands what they've gone through and what they've lost.

CUOMO: There happens to be piece of sound in particular that wound up piquing the interest of critics. Do we have it? In terms of what he had said in his moment? Yes.


TRUMP: Thank you everybody. What a crowd, what a turnout.

I will tell you this is historic. It's epic what happened. But you know what? It happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything. Thank you all, folks, thank you.


CUOMO: Look, the truth is, Errol, this is who he is. If he's going to go somewhere, he's going to talk about the crowd size. He's going to talk about the projection of his own popularity. You know, that's who he was when he got elected. That's who he is now. It's not going to change. You like it, you don't like it, period.

You're going to have to measure the actions. Will he get Congress to give the money, or are we going to see what we saw with Sandy? And the political coverup of what happened with Sandy can't be allowed, because if we don't call out what happened then, some lawmakers somewhere are going to try to repeat it. So that's going to be the test.

Now today, he's going to Missouri. He's going to try to sell his tax plan. Is that the right move in this moment?

LOUIS: It will probably -- it probably is, to tell you the truth. Because the reality is, he's going to have to make a transition to going back to running the government. You know, as gripping as this is, as terrible as this is, we've got a lot of different things that are going on, right?

There's missiles flying over Japan. There's a political agenda that doesn't come to a halt. The nation and the life of the nation goes forward. So yes, it is the right thing. However, this is a case, I think, where what he says and how he says

it will really, really matter.