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Harvey Batters Gulf Coast; Trump Changes Tone; Japan, U.S. In "Complete Agreement" on North Korea. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 04:30   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Harvey is moving north, but the scope of damage just coming into focus. New evacuations, climbing death toll, and a chemical plant on the verge of exploding. We're live in Houston.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 4:29 Eastern Time, 3:29 in Houston, Texas.

RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Rene Marsh. It is just 29 minutes past the hour. And we welcome all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

The skies above southeast Texas are clearing, but as Harvey heads north, it leaves many worries in its wake.

[04:30:00] The human toll just keeps getting worse. The number of people that were killed in the storm, that has jumped overnight to 37. And it is still expected to rise.

That number includes the six bodies of the Saldivar family found yesterday in their white van that had been washed away in the flood.

BRIGGS: Heartbreaking when you hear the story and see those young girls.


BRIGGS: At the reservoirs upstream from Houston, a controlled release is happening at the Addicks Dam, to ease water spilling out around the ends of the reservoir. A mandatory evacuation order was issued in some areas around the Barker Dam. We'll have more details on that throughout the morning.

MARSH: And one more round of heavy rain is taking a hard parting shot at Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas, on the Louisiana border. We've just learned that the city of Beaumont has lost its water supply after pumps failed in floodwaters. Even official shelters where people had taken refuge started flooding.

Now, workers at the Texas Health Care Emergency Operations Center are keeping a close eye on hospitals and nursing homes. Patients at one nursing facility in Port Arthur evacuated yesterday as the hallways started to flood.

BRIGGS: At least 16 hospitals in Texas remain closed. Already strained medical centers bracing for an influx of new patients as roadways start to clear. In some cases, that will take a lot of time.

This is Interstate 10, if you can believe it, Interstate 10 East. Hard to believe, though, right? Looks like a shoreline if it weren't for the interstate sign just there in the backdrop.

MARSH: And this morning, emergency officials will hold a news conference to discuss the dangerous situation at the chemical plant outside of Houston. Now, this is something that's unfolding. The company that owns Arkema says that the most likely outcome is that the plant will explode.

BRIGGS: We're learning more about the heroic rescue efforts taking place as well. You're looking at a human chain formed to save an elderly man whose SUV had been swept away by the flooding. The man was saved, thanks to this brave and spontaneous act of teamwork.

For the latest now, let's turn to CNN's George Howell live for us in Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

George, 32,000 people in shelters across Texas this morning. They expected 5,000 where you are. They got 10,000. What are the spirits of the people staying there?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think you get a sense of people that they're happy that they have these shelters. Again, so some 8,000 people here at this convention center, nearby convention center. They have capacity for 10,000. They have 8,000 cots.

You do get a sense these larger centers are packed. And you know, it could be this way for several days, several weeks. It's unclear how long people will need this additional help from officials.

Let's talk about the storm itself. A tropical storm now has moved on out of this area. Now, tropical depression. But again, it's caused a great deal of damage.

When you look at Houston itself, a third of the city of Houston remains under water. We're talking about these underpasses. We're talking about neighborhoods. And these neighborhoods that are near rivers. These rivers are still rising in many places. So, flooding is still an issue.

According to one military official, it's still unclear how many people are still in need of rescue. And we understand the Houston Fire Department, they went door to door canvassing, looking to see what more they could do to help people. In the nearby city of Beaumont, Texas, another situation where the Navy, the U.S. Navy conducted search and rescue efforts. They airlifted 25 men, women, and children.

So, again, you get a sense these rescues are ongoing. The storm itself, it broke a weather record. This storm dumped 52 inches of rainfall in a single storm. So, it was a massive storm. It left a great deal of damage.

Dave, it could take months, weeks -- weeks, months, years before we see the true extent of what happened here.

BRIGGS: Yes, that's the tough part. It feels like the tide has turned, but just beginning to get a glimpse of the damage. Some of these people may not go home for weeks, months, and some may be never.

All right. Thanks so much, George Howell. We'll check back with you in the next half hour.

MARSH: And, of course, now, Harvey is just a tropical depression headed into the Ohio valley. But flooding is still major concern in its wake.

Meteorologist Karen Maginnis has the very latest on the storm's path this morning.

Good morning, Karen.


Yes, we're not out of the clear. The rivers continue to rise. And out of 88 river gauges we looked at, all the way from Corpus Christi to Lake Charles, the majority of them are at moderate to major flood stage.

[04:35:02] Beaumont, Port Arthur, Texas, they saw 26 inches in one 24- hour period. And up until an hour or so ago when I looked at some of the radar images coming out of this area, they're still reporting mostly light rainfall. But now, their pumps. Pumps water, keep the pressure going for Beaumont, at the Neches River. They are saying that the river is going to crest on Saturday.

Now, they can't get the pumps working until the river starts to go down. And it doesn't look like that's going to happen until we head into Saturday. And then it is going to far exceed the previous record, which set back in 1994 at 13 feet. It may crest at over 19 feet.

So, this is a true problem that just continues for days and days. Just when you think the rain pull the away, it still is a factor and will continue so through the Tennessee River Valley and into the Ohio River Valley.

And then there's tropical storm Irma, could become a major hurricane over the open waters of the Atlantic. It could be a category 3 as it approaches the Lesser Antilles, making its trek towards the west, moving rather rapidly. But this is a time now when we're entering the peak hurricane season. So, Irma is one to watch next.

Back to you, guys.

BRIGGS: The last thing anyone needs to hear. But thanks so much for that, Karen Maginnis. We appreciate it.

A number of serious health hazards are possibly lurking beneath Harvey's floodwaters. Threats people need to stay aware of even after the storm. Joining us on the phone, Dr. Frank Esper, infectious disease

specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Good morning to you, Doctor.

George Howell just told us one-third of Houston, Texas, is under water. What are the biggest health concerns?

DR. FRANK ESPER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, CLEVELAND CLINIC (via telephone): You know, good morning to both of you.

Yes, there are a lot of health concerns. We have seen these in floods in the past including Katrina only 12 years ago. The biggest issue is that this disaster continues to evolve. And the infections are going to happen and they're going to evolve with it.

The first problem right now is all that water. And all that water has overwhelmed the sewer system. All that water has led to a reduction in how much drinkable water. There's too much contaminated water that people are surrounded by.

That contaminated water is just chockfull of lots of different bacteria. Some bacteria can make you ill. And so, the biggest problems that we see in the short term are going to be diarrheal illnesses, usually because the contaminated water gets on to your skin. That contaminated water also gets into your mouth just because you're surrounded by it. And you just don't have any other good water to drink --


MARSH: OK, I think we're getting a bad signal from you there. So --

BRIGGS: We'll try again with Dr. Frank Esper from the Cleveland Clinic. We'll try that get that signal back up.

ESPER: Yes, I can hear you fine.

MARSH: OK, he's back. OK, good.

BRIGGS: We hear you again, Frank.

ESPER: Sorry.

BRIGGS: All right, Doctor. Continue with what you were saying there.

ESPER: Sure, sure. The biggest issue that we're going to see right now are going to be diarrheal illnesses. We're going to be seeing a lot of individuals who are going to be exposed to a lot of contaminated water. They're going to have G.I. upset, vomiting and diarrhea. That's in the short term.

But in addition to that, you're going to see a lot of the skin that because you can't see where you're walking, there's a lot of debris. Your skin gets cut by the debris, and the contaminated water that's surrounding everybody that's in their homes can lead to skin infections, some very, very serious.

So, in the short term, you're going to be dealing with a lot of infections on the skin, as well as in your stomach and G.I. tract. But even more importantly though will be, over the next several days to several weeks, people are going to be in these shelters. As we were just talking about, tens of thousands of individuals are going to be confined into a very small area. That close proximity of so many individuals, many of whom, you know, are at risk of illness or can -- you know, or bringing illness can lead to the spreading of infections, specifically respiratory infection, with colds and flu. We've seen a lot of that also.

MARSH: Right. And, Doctor, let's talk about the long term. I mean, in this particular area, along with the coastline, there's a high concentration of these chemical plants. What sort of illnesses could we be talking about in the long term for people who may be exposed to any of those chemicals?

ESPER: Most of the exposure is going to be because not only is the water contaminated with bacteria, but it's also contaminated not just, you know, from chemicals, from major plants, but also chemicals within the household that are just getting flooded away and spilling over.

[04:40:13] Most of those are going to be, again, if they get into your mouth, they can cause gastrointestinal upset. If they get into your skin, it causes huge amounts of rash, as well as issues on the eyes, where the eyes get exposed to these chemicals, and the eyes can then receive damage from that.

So, you know, trying to lessen the exposure to all this water, you know, is obviously what you want to do. But there's a lot of these individuals cannot escape it right now.

BRIGGS: And then on top of that, there's the issue of hospitals. Somewhere between 16 and 25 hospitals and clinics that have been closed. Some of the hospitals that are open cannot accept new patients. You mentioned earlier on about Katrina.

What did we learn from Katrina about how to best treat these symptoms in the short and long term, in the midst of all this flooding?

ESPER: Well, there were a lot of lessons that we did learn from Katrina. And both, you know, in what Katrina could do as well as in what we can -- how we respond to this disaster. The -- you know, with all the hospitals, what we learned is that individuals just do not have access to the medical care or even their flights from these high floodwaters, they just don't have their medication with them. They don't remember their dose.

You can't get on a computer to look it up because the computer systems are down, as well. They don't have access. They don't know what medications they were taking. And so, these chronic health problems that they have which are usually in good control sometimes also worsen.

And they just don't have -- you know, because the systems are overwhelmed with numerous hospitals and clinics shut down, the systems that are still up and running are just overwhelmed.

BRIGGS: Dr. Frank Esper from the Cleveland Clinic, an infectious disease specialist. We appreciate your insight this morning and for being up very early for us.

All right. Ahead, among the dramatic rescues after Harvey, one unfolded live here on CNN. Our correspondent, Drew Griffin, and his crew rushed to the aid of a man trapped inside his pickup after he drove into a ravine in Beaumont, Texas. Watch.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPODENT: Get out, dude! You got a -- a power cord? You got a rope? Hold on. I'm trying to get you a rope.

Brian, call 911. Hold on, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, stay in the truck for a second. Stay in the truck.

GRIFFIN: Call 911.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't come out --

GRIFFIN: Can you grab his car?


GRIFFIN: Is he out?


GRIFFIN: Grab it now. Wrap it around your -- OK. OK. Come on, buddy. I got him. Coming out of the water now -- hanging up with you. Buddy, get up out of that water. Don't -- don't go backwards.

You all right?

No, ma'am. No, ma'am. We've got a car in a ditch. We just pulled a fellow out.

You all right now, buddy?


GRIFFIN: All right. Take your breath. We're going to pick you up and get you off of this bank, OK?


GRIFFIN: We're going to get you off of this bank.


MARSH: That man, Jerry Summerall, is a flood evacuee staying in a nearby hotel. He's shaken but fortunately OK. And thanks to the quick thinking of Drew Griffin. So, happy it turned out the way that it did.

BRIGGS: Well-played, Drew.

All right. Flooding continues to slam the U.S. oil industry, forcing America's largest refinery to shut down. Oil company Motiva closing its Port Arthur refinery, won't reopen doors until floodwaters recede. That closure on top of 13 other key refineries already knocked off line, cutting about a fifth of the nation's refining capacity.

Meanwhile, a major gas pipeline to the East Coast is also shut down. That disruption means higher gas prices. But they haven't budged much yet. The average, only up about six cents from last week.

However, gas futures have risen 13 percent since Friday. And that spike will eventually trickle down to consumers, increasing prices somewhere between 15 to 25 cents nationwide. Hopefully that will not take too long, will just be a short-term bump and then come back to normal.

MARSH: And coming up, the president with a shift in tone after coming under fire for forgetting the victims during his visit to Texas. We'll show you what he's saying now.


[04:49:07] BRIGGS: Today, Vice President Mike Pence set to visit Texas to visit Harvey's devastation.

President Trump will also return to the gulf on Saturday. Already changing his tone, though, after coming under some fire for failing to focus on the storm victims during his Texas visit.

BRIGGS: Yes. He tweeted yesterday: After witnessing firsthand the horrors and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas.

Well, later in Missouri for a speech on tax reform, the president kept his focus on the people hit by the storm.

White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is traveling with the president and has more from Springfield, Missouri.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Rene and Dave, President Trump came to Missouri on Wednesday, focusing on tax reform but also again addressing the citizens of Texas, Houston directly, and Louisiana, about the storm recovery effort.

[04:50:01] Now, this, of course, is going to be something that is front and center in his administration's agenda going forward in the fall, that recovery package.

But on Wednesday in Missouri, he talked specifically to those victims.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To the people of Houston and across Texas and Louisiana, we are here with you today. We are with you tomorrow. And we will be with you every single day after to restore, recover, and rebuild. Our thoughts and prayers remain firmly with the citizens and our fellow people -- people. Great, great people.

ZELENY: So, the president certainly adjusting his message from one day earlier in Texas. He received a wave of criticism for not directly addressing the victims and acknowledging that rising death toll. The president did do that on Wednesday in Missouri.

And going forward, the recovery effort now, the government aid package, is something that his administration is focused on. This, of course, now is at the front of the president's agenda. Tax reform, other issues will take a step behind -- Rene and Dave.


BRIGGS: Yes. The other issue -- $160 billion price tag for the storm, according to the president of AccuWeather, getting the funding for that first and foremost.

MARSH: Yes, that's the battle since they get back.

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump, two of his top cabinet officials not on the same page in South Korea. CNN, the only Western news organization reporting from North Korea. We're live in Pyongyang, next.


[04:55:39] MARSH: Well, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that he and President Trump have a plan for responding to North Korea's provocative nuclear missile test. They're just not saying what the plan is yet. Abe told reporters he and the U.S. president have, quote, completely agreed on their forthcoming response to Pyongyang.

Well, this comes after President Trump tweeted Wednesday that talking is not the answer to reining in North Korea, a remark that seems to contradict statements by top cabinet officials.

CNN's Will Ripley is the only broadcast journalist in North Korea right now. He joins us live now from Pyongyang with the very latest.

Will, a show of force this morning.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lots of fast-moving developments on the peninsula, yes. We expected this to happen after the United States conducted its successful missile interception test. South Korea conducted bombing drills.

And now, you have eight jets from the United States and South Korea flying together along the Korean peninsula. Other reports that there was another exercise involving Japanese fighters. They conducted their own bombing drills designed to show North Korea that the U.S. and its allies have the capability to attack this country if the situation escalates further. And then you have this new phone call with President Trump and Prime

Minister Shinzo Abe. Remember, they spoke for 40 minutes in an emergency phone call just after this latest missile launch. This is their second call in as many days.

And, yes, the Japanese prime minister saying that the U.S. and Japan have a plan, they're in complete agreement, and yet not revealing the details which isn't unexpected. President Trump often doesn't like to reveal details of his plans.

But we know the objectives of the United States and Japan. They want to cripple North Korea economically, to get them to the point where they're so desperate, in such dire financial straits, that they would come to the bargaining table from a position of desperation and be willing to strike a deal to stop developing weapons of mass destruction.

But they can't do that without China's cooperation, and China has given no indication that they're willing to go beyond the seventh round of United Nations sanctions that were just passed, which are aimed to cut North Korean exports by a billion dollars a year or about a third. So, aside from the sanctions route and further diplomatic isolation, what other options do the U.S. and its allies have?

They're pretty limited. If President Trump thinks talking isn't the answer, certainly that contradicts what Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis had to say when they said that diplomacy is still on the table, that they want to talk to North Korea.

But getting all the sides to agree will be difficult, because what North Korean officials on the ground have been telling us for the last several days is that the North Koreans feel the time for talk is over. It's time for action, and again, they want to come to the diplomatic discussions from a position of strength, which is why they say they will continue to accelerate their missile testing, including a threat of launching more missiles toward the Pacific and potentially Guam -- Rene.

MARSH: Will Ripley, reporting live from Pyongyang, thank you so much, Will.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream."

Global markets mostly higher today following a rise on Wall Street with the tech-heavy NASDAQ jumping 1 percent. Talk of tax reform driving U.S. stocks higher. President Trump made his first public push for reform with the emphasis on corporate tax cuts. Investors also eyeing some economic data with strong reads on private sector employment and GDP.

In fact, the U.S. economy grew at its fastest pace in two years, hitting 3 percent growth in the second quarter. That's more than double the pace of the first quarter and was driven by stronger consumer spending and business investment. Three percent also notable because it's President Trump's target growth rate. Trump promises tax cuts and spending will spur the GDP growth.

However, his economic agenda hasn't yet passed Congress. Still, the U.S. economy looking healthy, especially on the jobs front. Economists predict July's unemployment rate will remain at a 16-year low. That report comes out tomorrow.

Corporate America writing big checks to help the victims of Harvey. Big business pledging more than $72 million for disaster relief, and that includes dozens of companies like Caterpillar, Walmart, Amazon, and Bank of America, with Verizon alone contributing $10 million.

Corporate America has stepped up. It's giving in recent years. It's good for business, attracting employees, and also the giving often goes beyond money. For example, Anheuser-Busch halting beer production to make cans of water.