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Tropical Storm Harvey Makes Second Landfall in Louisiana; Two New Mega-Shelters Open in Houston for Flood Victims; Houston Police Chief Remembers Fallen Officer. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2017 - 07:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[07:00:21] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, August 30. It is 6 a.m. here in Houston where I am at the convention center. But we begin with breaking news for you. Because Tropical Storm Harvey has made landfall again, this time in Louisiana, where it is hammering the area with very heavy rain.

Now, here in Houston, after five straight days of rain, I am happy to report that the conditions on the ground appear to be improving, but the flood threat is far from over.

And the situation here in the convention center, Chris, where I am is pretty dire. I am at the city's largest shelter, where at last count more than 8,000 people are here sleeping. They are seeking refuge. We've walked around here. People are sleeping under these bright fluorescent lights. They're packed in room after room.

You see here all the donations that have come in on one side of your screen. And volunteers are sifting through all the clothes, trying to get them sorted into the right sizes to help people here who are going to need help for a very long time.

This shelter where I am, the George P. Brown shelter, is overcapacity. So two more mega shelters have now opened to alleviate this massive demound [SIC] -- demand. One-third of Harris County, which includes Houston and its suburbs, is now under water.

So all eyes are on these two dams that are trying to contain all of this record breaking rainfall. Rescue crews, as we've seen, Chris, are working around the clock still. They have no idea how many people are still trapped in their homes at this hour. So they're still rescuing people from all these rising floodwaters and, of course, the death toll continues to rise. We don't want to give exact numbers right now, because it is just way, way too fluid of a situation, Chris.

CUOMO: It's impossible to know. They haven't even searched all the different areas, let alone coordinated what they have learned. But we'll check back with you in one second. The increasing need is a big part of this story. So is the return of

Harvey. You're looking at the radar on your screen right now. You see that the east part of Texas and into Lake Charles, Louisiana, they're getting hit with their own cell. And then you have that separate band that's a little farther east. Louisiana, East Texas, feet of rain in just the last 24 hours. So Harvey is posing a flood threat to several states in its path.

All of this has President Trump is back in Washington after visiting Texas. The president is getting criticism for not talking about the victims, not being that consoler-in-chief that the job demands.

We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Polo Sandoval live in Richmond, Texas.

What are you seeing there, Polo?


Here in southeast Texas, Harvey has come and gone. But all you have to do is look behind me to be reminded that the effects of this massive storm will be felt here for a very long time. These are the waters of the Brazos River that continue to rise, slowly invading communities up and down the bank itself.

Meanwhile, those rescues continue, not just in Houston but around some of the other regions there as those reservoirs continue to release large amounts of water to try to prevent more flooding. But in the process, some of those communities are flooded.

Also, that death toll as we heard a little while ago, does continue to rise. Among the dead so far, confirmed, Sergeant Steve Perez, a veteran of the Houston Police Department, 60-year-old man who gave nearly half of his life to the House Police Department. The police chief describing him as a brave individual, a dedicated individual. His wife asking him on Sunday morning not to head out to work because of the weather conditions. He's also described as somebody who really was devoted to serving the community. And sadly, that Sunday was the last day that he would do that.

The Saldivar family, also another story that we're closely following. A family of six that hasn't been seen in several days. CNN spoke to their relatives, who say there is very little hope they will find these two adults and these four children alive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The current just took -- lifted up the van and started pointing it towards -- you know, into the water. It just took off -- just took the van. And he -- 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.

RIC SALDIVAR, LOST SIX FAMILY MEMBERS: He could hear the kids screaming and crying, you know, trying to get out of the van. 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.


[07:05:03] SANDOVAL: And in an effort to try to prevent even more tragedies here in southeast Texas, there are those mandatory evacuations, including here in Fort Bend County, Alisyn. That is why many of the communities along the Brazos River and back where you are in Houston are still relatively empty. Virtual ghost towns this morning.

CAMEROTA: Polo, those stories of the family lost are just so, so heartbreaking. We feel for them, and we're praying for them this morning. Thank you for that reporting.

So the American Red Cross says that more than 17,000 Harvey evacuees are now in shelters across the state. It's 6 a.m., just after 6 a.m. here at the one where I am in Houston, and people are just waking up. And I can tell you that the situation here is controlled. It is not chaotic, but it certainly is crowded.

We've seen -- we've gone into these halls. They're like three times the size of a football field, and it's just cot after cot after cot. Children, adults, everyone trying to sleep in these very crowded conditions.

So there are these two new mega shelters that are now open to alleviate this shelter where I am. This one has, at last check, 8,319 people.

So let's go to CNN's Rosa Flores. She's live at one of those new shelters, the NRG Convention Center, which can house an additional 10,000 people. What's the situation there, Rosa? Is that filling up?


From talking to the organizers, they tell me that about 1,000 people are waking up this morning here at NRG. They have 3,000 cots. More cots are coming.

And they describe the situation in Houston still as a rescue operation. And what that means is, is that people are still being rescued at this hour. They are arriving here at this shelter. They are signing up in the intake tables that you see behind me, and they are asked just basic questions. Do they have insurance? Were they able to salvage some important documents?

And then they walk in to my right. Once that -- they go in there, they'll see cots where they can sleep. They have warm food. They also have a section for children. There's about 300 volunteers that have signed up already.

Now, this is a shelter that is being run by a non-profit organization called Baker-Ripley. They say that their website was so inundated with volunteers, Chris, that they are still trying to grapple with that. So like you had mentioned before, while we are seeing the worst of Mother Nature, we are seeing the best of people here in Houston.

CUOMO: The best of human nature, Rosa. And that's a good problem to have, being flooded with volunteers. Hopefully, they sort it all out. The concerned citizens corps is really giving an unprecedented response to an unprecedented catastrophe. We'll check back with you, Rosa. Thank you for the reporting.

So Harvey is back again, this time as a tropical storm. But it's every bit as dangerous to areas especially when they're already saturated. Southeastern Texas, the western parishes of Louisiana taking a pounding right now. Heavy rain adding to already flood conditions.

We have CNN's Kaylee Hartung, live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with more.

Kaylee, the mayor from there says so far, so good. But that is a qualified term, given the amount of water in their area. They're just amazingly resilient people.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's so true, Chris. And what's odd to observe this morning, Harvey made landfall about 20 miles south of here, about two hours ago. We have not felt a drop of rain in that time, but the winds we're feeling will remind you that this storm is close.

Local officials tell me they're expecting 40- to 50-mile-an-hour sustained winds today. That means they're anticipating power outages and tree damage. As you mentioned, this ground already so saturated and wet. That means the roots of those trees are weak and soaked already.

So while yesterday the headline was that more than 500 people in this area, Calcasieu Parish and neighboring Cameron Parish, had been rescued. I spoke with the director of emergency preparedness for this parish a little bit ago, and he was relieved to tell me that no calls came in for rescues overnight.

All that being said, when I spoke to the governor of Louisiana yesterday on the 12th anniversary of Katrina, he said folks in Louisiana all too experienced with the dangers of this weather. Chris, despite all the unknowns that remain, they feel they are prepared with the people, experienced for what could come.

CUOMO: True. I was there then. And to be sure, they'll make it through whatever happens now. Kaylee, stay safe. We'll check back with you in a little bit.

How much rain will fall? How are those dams, some of them built in the 1940s around Houston, how are they going to fare? CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest forecast.

What do you see, my friend? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Cedar Bayou now, almost 52 inches of rain. And Chris, I think Cedar Bayou would be 52, but the rain gauge failed while it was still raining. So 51.88, that will probably be the record, because the rain now has stopped. Thank goodness it has already stopped, finally stopped.

[07:10:15] The rain is still, though, raining in Orange. Orange, Texas; Beaumont; Port Arthur seeing an awful lot of rain. Orange picked up almost 12 inches of rain overnight, and that's just in the past six hours.

The rain is going to continue. You had two -- you talked about this, Chris, two areas, one to the east and one right over where the eye is, where the center of the tropical storm. That is where the rain will be again the heaviest for today.

Now, let's get to this story about the Addicks and the Barker reservoir. Going to take you to Google Earth. Houston proper right through here, and we talked about this. Buffalo Bayou, it goes right from Houston right into these two reservoirs.

The reservoirs were built because in -- back in 1940, there was 250,000 people living in Houston, and they said, "Let's hold the water back, because this is farmland." Well, it's no longer farmland. People live there.

There is Addicks right here. And what we have, we have 114 feet above sea level right there, dam. Up here it's 108. Here it's 114. So the water is not pouring over here. The water is pouring around the dam this way, because right now the level is 109. If the top of the levee is 108 and the water is 109, you kind of understand what's going on there.

Now, let me take you to the reservoir itself. There are people that have built homes here. They allowed them to build homes inside the reservoir. And these homes are flooded. Twenty-five hundred homes are flooded, some of them up to five feet deep. They built homes instead of a lake -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, Chad. I mean, obviously, we now see the repercussions of all of that. Thank you for the reporting. We will check back with you.

So the flooding disaster from Harvey is, of course, now the focus of the entire Texas National Guard. All 12,000 members have been activated by the state's governor. Let's get an update on their operations.

Joining us now is Lieutenant Colonel Travis Walters.

Colonel, thank you very much for being with us. What's the situation that you're grappling with right now this morning on the ground?

LT. COL. TRAVIS WALTERS, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, TEXAS MILITARY DEPARTMENT: Well, good morning. I tell you, I am proud to be a Texan this morning. Our National Guardsmen are still conducting rescue operations by boat, by plane and by high-water vehicle. They are motivated and inspired by the work that they are doing, and it is giving them tireless energy to do it.

We are seeing first responders that we are supporting on the ground that are, all of us, extremely focused on the task at hand. Because there is no time for anything less than maximum cooperation, and that's what we're seeing right now.

CAMEROTA: And Colonel, do you have any sense from your guys on the ground how many people are still trapped and stranded in their homes?

WALTERS: Well, we don't have a firm estimate of that. But we are beginning, as more resources pour in, to do more methodical search and clear operations: move into a neighborhood, check the entire neighborhood, make sure it's clear of people so we save lives, then move on to the next place. And that's what we're dedicated to doing.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Colonel...

WALTERS: We're going to do that until the job is done.

CAMEROTA: And look, you're doing a herculean effort. But we can only imagine how challenging that is, going from door-to-door not knowing if people are inside. I mean, we've made the point this morning that there are 8,300 people here in this shelter. There are thousands more in others. But there are millions of people in the Houston area. So how do your guys figure out where to go and where the greatest need is?

WALTERS: Well, of course, we fall in and listen to our first responders, local sheriffs, fire department folks that are very familiar with the area that we're there to support and help as a team. And so as we do that, we are taking our cues from them, supporting them and then continuing to respond as needed.

CAMEROTA: Do you need more National Guard units from other states?

WALTERS: We have activated our entire National Guard folks here. More resources are pouring into the area. We've gotten and are continuing to get assistance from the federal government, other National Guards. We anticipate that there will be lots of help and support in all up and down the chain of command. Local, state and federal partners. We are getting the support that we need, and we welcome it.

CAMEROTA: Colonel Walters of the National Guard, thank you very much. The best to you and your men out there today. And women. Thank you very much.

So we have another amazing rescue caught on camera to show you. Wait until you see this.

[07:15:00] This is a 91-year-old woman who needs to be carried down a flight of stairs from a second floor in her wheelchair to a waiting boat that came right to her front door. Look at this. These were good Samaritans. They're members of a church group that were set in motion by the woman's son-in-law, Mark Green (ph). And he joins us now on the phone.

Mark, how is your mother-in-law? How are you doing this morning?

MARK GREEN (PH), FLOOD SURVIVOR (via phone): Well, thank you. We're doing great. She is sleeping, and my -- we are at my sister and brother-in-law's house, which has stayed dry in Houston. So we're just very blessed and very thankful to be here.

CAMEROTA: Well, she sure looks like she was happy and in good spirits once she got into the boat. We can see her smiling and thanking all the folks around her. But that must have been pretty harrowing when you all were trapped in your house, knowing that your mother-in-law was wheelchair-bound. What were those -- how long were you there? What were those moments like?

GREEN (PH): Yes, of course, our concern was for Phil, or Philomena. But we stocked (ph) up to Buffalo Bayou. That house was built in 1965. It had survived just a lot of hurricanes, Hurricane Alicia, et cetera. So she lived across the street from us. Her house is in a lower spot. It has flooded in the past. So we already had her with us.

Once the water started coming into our house, which was -- we were in place Sunday night, a neighbor helped me move her upstairs. And I'm 65. He's 75. So that was kind of an effort.

But we had her up there. And we were not concerned about the flood getting to the second story, but obviously, we wanted to get her out of there if possible.

The amazing thing is, an usher at our church -- and there was an e- mail stream, how is everybody doing? I just sent an e-mail from my cell phone saying, "Hey, we're fine. We've got about four inches of rain in our house, flood waters. You know, we're on the second floor. We're good."

And the next thing I know, I get a text saying, "Hey, we've got some guys with a boat. Do you want to be rescued?"

And I said, "Sure, absolutely."

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. What angels to come by and do that. Again, it's nice to see your mother-in-law's face there after she's in the boat.

And so then where did you go? Where did they take you?

GREEN (PH): You know, so then the boat came up. As you probably have the pictures, they set her in the boat. It was probably about a four- block walk to where the waters receded to where we could get the boat nearby. And my sister and brother-in-law, by then, the Katy Freeway, the flooding on it had subsided in the last few hours prior to that. And they were able to pick us up in their Suburban and drive us back to their place.

CAMEROTA: Well, thank goodness for that success story and for the members of that church group who swung into action. Mark Green (ph), thanks so much for sharing your video and your personal story with us. And we're happy that your mother-in-law, Philomena, is doing well today. Thanks for being with us.

GREEN (PH): Well, listen, thank you very much. And I just want to say that the county officials, Ed Emmett; our mayor, Sylvester Turner; Governor Greg Abbott, no one had planned for this kind of event. All the thousands of local professionals are doing a wonderful job. And our just thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims.

CAMEROTA: Well, thanks for that message. That's really important to hear. Thank you so much.

GREEN (PH): Thank you.

CAMEROTA: But we do need to tell you about this next story. There was this veteran Houston police officer, and he's among the casualties today in the floodwaters. He was lost. The city's police chief paying tribute to this fallen hero, and that chief is going to join us next.



[07:22:59] CHIEF ART ACEVEDO, HOUSTON POLICE: We couldn't find him. And once our dive team got there, it was too treacherous to go under and look for him. As much as we wanted to recover him last night, we could not put more officers at risk for what we knew in our hearts was going to be a recovery mission.


CAMEROTA: That is the Houston Police Department chief, mourning one of his own today who drowned in the floodwaters, trying to get to his command post to help flood victims.

Joining us now on the phone is the Houston police chief, Art Acevedo.

Chief, thank you so much for being here with us. We're so sorry for the loss of your colleague. He was a 34-year veteran, Sergeant Steve Perez. Can you just tell us a little bit more about what he was trying to do and what happened to him?

ACEVEDO (via phone): Sure. Sunday -- Sunday morning at 4 a.m., he left his house, en route to his work station. Unfortunately, as you all know, we've been experiencing just massive flooding throughout the region, not just Houston, but towns around us and cities around us. And he couldn't get -- he couldn't get in.

And then he -- so he calls his lieutenant and says, "Hey, I can't get in. Everything is flooded."

And she tells him, "Good, because you need to go to another station. Our station is starting to flood, and we've evacuated." And then next thing he said was, "Well, I'm going to go to the

Kingwood Station," because he just would not give up. And tragically, he ended up dying in his effort not to give up on his community and his colleagues.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my goodness. Well, I've heard you say that Sergeant Perez was one of the sweetest people you've ever worked with. What more can you share about him?

ACEVEDO: He's a guy that was a former, you know, military man, a guy that there's no way he would not have come to work. Actually, I'm amazed that, with almost 200 of our officers' families impacted by this, with their own damage to their homes and flooding and tornado damage, our people are here. They're engaged; they're exhausted. But their spirit is up, and they just will not stop working.

[07:25:11] So that dive team that came to get him, 37 hours on, you know, surviving on Power Bars. That's -- he represents the best of this organization. And everyone that knew him a lot longer than me said, "You captured him perfectly by describing him as that sweet, loyal public servant."

CAMEROTA: Look, the selflessness that we've seen from all of you emergency responders, everyone on the force, and all of the regular people, has been really inspiring.

But I know that today you want to use this example to get the message out to people that it's possible the worst is still yet to come. And people, not to be lulled into some sort of false sense of security just because it's not raining at the moment in Houston.

ACEVEDO: That's exactly right. There's a lot of -- unfortunately, between upstream Texas and -- and the Gulf lies the city of Houston. There's still a lot of water coming our way, a lot of rivers. You know, people are forgetting that this rain fell not just in and around Houston; it fell north of us, east of us, west of us. And a lot of that water is still coming this way. So, you know, we're not out of the woods yet. The -- you know, we still have water coming up, going over our reservoir. And so we should be -- we may see more flooding. And so people need to pay attention and be prepared to evacuate and not be stubborn.

We tried to evacuate places early in certain neighborhoods, targeted neighborhoods. And I remember Saturday, my officers had gone to an apartment complex and told people, "You need to get out, because it's going to flood." And two hours later, we're all in, you know, waist- deep water rescuing folks.

And so heed the warning of the emergency responders. And please, if you're told to get out, get out and follow directions.

CAMEROTA: And so tell us a little bit, Chief, about those rescue efforts. I mean, obviously, you're right. It is compounded by people who are not heeding the warnings. But how are your guys figuring out where to go first and who's still trapped in their homes? ACEVEDO: Well, we have -- you know, it's been an overwhelming number

of calls for emergency response to the police department and the fire department. And so what we've been doing is just keeping that log going and just prioritizing them based on whether it's a foot of water, you know, whether it's the first floor that's gone, second floor that's gone, people on the roof, and just getting to them one at a time.

We've had probably -- last time I checked, you know, 60,000, 70,000 calls for people needing help. And so, we're not -- as a police department, we're not in the water rescue -- you know, swift water rescue business. But just like that Cajun Navy that showed up here to help us, you know, you have to adapt; and you have to overcome and that's exactly what we're doing.

Our officers have done a phenomenal job. Our community has done a phenomenal job. And we're very proud that, despite the overwhelming odds, a lot of lives have been saved. And, you know, we just continue to pray that, once the water starts receding and we're able to do secondary searching and complete assessments of the interior of homes and businesses, that the body count that we know will rise doesn't rise significantly.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Obviously, we share those prayers with you.

Are you worried about the dams holding here in Houston?

ACEVEDO: Well, so far according to the experts, it looks like it's holding. But you know, I always talk -- you know, when you make assumptions in policing, you know, it can be dangerous. So we just tell people again, pay attention and be prepared to move if ordered to do so.

But so far it's working. It's holding its integrity, and -- and I'm not 100 -- you know, that concern. However, we have to be prepared just in case something does happen.

CAMEROTA: Well, Police Chief Art Acevedo, we know you have a very busy day ahead. Thanks so much for making time for us on NEW DAY.

ACEVEDO: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Look, Chris, you just hear it from time and again from all of these responders, that they fear that the worst is yet to come. They don't want people thinking that they're out of the woods just because it's not raining. There's still a lot of danger here in Houston.

CUOMO: Well, nothing moves water like wind. You know, any fisherman can tell you that. You saw white cap waves on the I-10 there. They have a lot of trouble yet to come for a long time. The effort is going to need to be sustained, and that attention will be on all of us.

Alisyn, we'll be back with you in a little bit. Harvey making landfall in Louisiana just 12 years and a day after the

state was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Next, we're going to talk to the mayor of New Orleans. Is that city any safer?