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Explosions Reported at Flooded Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas; Mandatory Evacuation for Barker Reservoir Communities; Beaumont Water Supply Knocked Out by Floods; Family of Six Drowns after Van Swept Away by Floods; Woman Gives Birth to First Post-Hurricane Baby in Houston. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:16] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are watching NEW DAY. It's Thursday, August 31. It's 5 a.m. where I am here in Houston at the convention center.

And we do begin with breaking news for you, because emergency managers here in Houston have now ordered a mandatory evacuation of several communities on the west side of Houston. Officials are urging people to leave their homes as soon as the sun comes up this morning, saying there's water in this nearby reservoir, and it has reached its peak. It is at a very dangerous level.

This order comes as the Houston Fire Department will now begin going door-to-door, searching every home in the hardest hit parts of the city, because Chris, they still don't know how many people weathered the storm in their home, how many people are still stranded. So they need to look inside those homes today.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You're 100 percent right. They've just been overwhelmed by the need. Now, we do have to remember, they always expected the water to crest later in the week. The question is can they handle that? We'll have to see.

Alisyn, we have more breaking news, as well. There have been at least two explosions at a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. That's about 25 miles northeast of Houston. Ten sheriff's deputies rushed to the hospital after inhaling the fumes from the plant. People within a mile and a half have been told to leave their homes. The question is, can they?

There's another emergency unfolding further east in Beaumont, Texas. That city's two sources for water have been cut off by this historic flooding. The pumps have failed because of flooding. They can't assess until the water level goes down.

CNN has teams in place on all fronts. We begin with Polo Sandoval in Richmond, Texas.

Polo, what's the situation there? POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, this latest round of

mandatory evacuation simply adds to the ones that are already in place here in Fort Bend County, Texas, where the Brazos River, believe it or not, continues to rise, even days after Harvey has come and gone.

Meanwhile, officials in Houston, they say that they are now preparing to do these door-to-door checks on some of these homes, some of which are still flooded at this hour. Hearing from Houston officials, are telling CNN that this will be a long and time-consuming process.


RICHARD MANN, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT CHEF, HOUSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT: We'll be doing a -- basically, a block by block, door by door search of structures that we believe have had three feet or greater of water in them to assure that there are no people that we have left behind. This -- this will be a one- to two-week-long process, again, to ensure that we have addressed all those areas that have been hardest and most impacted.


SANDOVAL: Back on what is now the banks of the Brazos River. This water continues to rise, is expected to go up at least another foot and a half or so, Alisyn.

For the most part, though, these communities on the banks of the Brazos River, they are empty at this hour. Many of these people have already evacuated with their family and some of their priceless belongings -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's good, Polo.

Let's hope that everybody has evacuated, if that's the situation there. Thank you very much.

Joining us on the phone now is Alan Spears. He's of the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management.

Mr. Spears, thanks so much for taking time to talk to us. I know it's a very busy morning. What changed last night that's causing this emergency evacuation now?

ALAN SPEARS, FORT BEND COUNTY OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (via phone): Well, what happened is we were -- we had a one-night stay of good weather, and so people in some of our areas that thought it was safe to go back in didn't realize that we still have flooded streets and we have -- still have a lot of flooded homes. And we had people with families and small children trying to get back into those areas, and they're just not safe to go into yet.

CAMEROTA: But tell us about the reservoir. As we understand it, it's now at 101 feet, and that is its breaking point, basically.

SPEARS: Yes. On Monday, we ordered a voluntary evacuation for the Barker Reservoir. At that time, it was predicted to go to 104 feet which is, as far as I know, a record.

And I'm told now that it's steady at 101 feet, but that is one of those areas that it did get flooded and a lot of parts of that area. And we have had nice weather, and people are trying to go home. Is on the recommendation of the sheriff, he wanted to go ahead and initiate the mandatory evacuation, strictly for the security of the area. We just don't want people and their families going back to flooded homes yet. It's just not safe.

CAMEROTA: Understood. I mean, this is exactly what officials warned about days ago with this storm, is that you would think that the worst had passed, because it would no longer be raining, and it would give people this false sense of confidence. They would return home.

But with this particular storm, there's all of these repercussions that are going to happen. We know that dams are having to be released, you know, to relieve the pressure there, and now reservoirs could spill over. And this is exactly what officials didn't want to have happen, because then neighborhoods can be completely flooded.

We saw it yesterday. We went -- we drove around with the Cajun Navy, looking at people who were still trapped in their homes after the dam had been released. So what are you telling people who are watching at this moment to do?

SPEARS: Well, right now, the Barker Reservoir is in good shape. It is holding the water back exactly the way it was designed. And the Army Corps of Engineers is doing a good job regulating the water that is going out of the reservoir.

The fact of the matter is, the reservoir is getting a lot of water from upstream areas that, you know, has filled the area. And right now, it's at capacity, and it's got to go somewhere, so it's working its way through the street system and into streets and things like that and into some homes, unfortunately.

[06:05:15] CAMEROTA: How many people are affected by this mandatory evacuation?

SPEARS: It's hard to say, because I can't really tell you how many people heeded the voluntary evacuation that we -- that we ordered on Monday. So we're hoping it's minimal, but at this time, I'm not -- I can't really say.

CAMEROTA: Well, Mr. Spears, I mean, this is the issue. I'm here at the Houston Convention Center that is a shelter and housing all these people that had evacuated their homes. And today, it is much less crowded. It's gone from something like 8,000, 8,300 people here down to 2,500. People have returned to their homes. You know, look, they're not comfortable in shelters. They want to get back home to their belongings. So I think that it stands to reason to think that a lot of people have returned home. How are you going to make sure that they get out this morning?

SPEARS: Oh, yes. And part of that is a lot of people had to evacuate because of the massive amount of rainfall that we got that did flood the streets and homes. The flooding that we're receiving up at the Barker Reservoir is not -- I mean, it is from the hurricane, but it is coming from upstream; and it is still collecting.

So, you know, streets are emptying out; and people do see that. And they do sometimes have the false belief that it is safe to go home, but in some areas, it's just not yet.

CAMEROTA: Understood. So we are here this morning to try to broadcast to everybody it is not safe. There is a mandatory evacuation this morning near that Barker Reservoir. Alan Spears, thank you very much for helping us get the word out.

SPEARS: You're welcome.

CAMEROTA: OK. Also breaking news this morning. There have been these two explosions that we need to tell you about. They've gone off just moments ago at a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, Texas.

This is about 25 miles northeast of where I'm standing in Houston. Black smoke is now coming from the Arkema plant. Perhaps you can see some of this on your screen.

The company operating the plant fears this plant could catch on fire at any time. Ten sheriff's deputies are now in the hospital after inhaling fumes from this plant. So people within one and a half miles of this plant have been evacuated, of course, as a precaution. We have a team on the way to the scene.

So we will bring everyone all the updates we have as soon as they develop. This is exactly what was feared with the chemical plants around this flooding area, and now it's happened. There's more breaking news. The flood-ravaged city of Beaumont, Texas, has lost both of its water supply sources after the main pump and a backup failed because of these rising floodwaters. That's where we find CNN's Drew Griffin live in Beaumont.

Drew, give us the latest there.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just to add to the misery factor in Beaumont, Texas, I turned on the spigot this morning to brush my teeth, and air came out, Alisyn.

At 12:30 last night or early this morning, the city of Beaumont sent out an alert to all of its residents that the main pump, the main pump for the water supply on the Natchez River has failed. They don't know why yet. So 118,000 people in the city of Beaumont now without water on top of everything else they have to deal with. And many of them did not have time to do the precautions necessary, because this alert came out in the middle of the night: fill the bathtub, make sure you have water to flush the toilets. That did not take place. So if people did not do that prior to this emergency, it could get really miserable.

On the fix, they just don't know yet. They've got to wait until daylight. They're going to take a boat out to that pumping station and see what's wrong. If it is a major fix, if something needs to be physically fixed, apparently from the fire department, they need to wait until the water in the river goes down, water that hasn't even crested yet.

This morning it's dark, obviously. A lot of the rescues in Jefferson County have ceased overnight. The water has not gone down at all. I was here Tuesday. Alisyn, this looks exactly the same as it was Tuesday. It's now Thursday morning, and this water is just still everywhere. Chris, thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Drew, thank you very much. You've been doing just important, important work down there as a journalist and as just a concerned human being.

So let's take a little check and some stock of what's going on. Harvey has weakened to a tropical depression. That is good news, but it doesn't really matter. Because the water that's already in place. As you just heard from that city manager, it has to go somewhere. And it's going to create flood risks.

[06:10:03] CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest forecast. I'm just being careful about it, because people think, well, the storm is gone, so the danger is gone. And those two things don't go together necessarily.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not when there's still water uphill that has to come downhill into your neighborhood. It rained in a lot of places, not just where you live. So all that water has to come down from the northern part of the state, all the way from San Antonio through the Colorado and then all the way back down to San Jacinto from the northeast part of the state. So there's going to be a lot of rainfall still that has to run off. And there's more rainfall today right now into Louisiana.

There's been some very heavy rainfall in Beaumont and Port Arthur overnight hours that just won't shut off.

The heaviest rain, I think, today, though, is somewhere near Memphis. We'll probably see four inches of rainfall. There's even some spots here in the next 48 hours in Nashville could see six inches of rain. Now, that's not 40 or 50 like they saw in Houston. So getting back to Houston, we still have 30 reservoirs, or 30 rivers, or 30 gauges somewhere in this part of the country that is above major flood stage.

So let's get to this evacuation we're talking about. It's a new evacuation here. Here is the Barker Reservoir. Now you see all the Brazos River evacuation. That's just a mess. Everywhere is being evacuated there. But we're talking about Barker and Addicks, because I've been talking about Addicks most of the week. Here's Addicks. It came completely full about 48 hours ago. The water came over the side of the reservoir. This is 108 feet over here, and the dam is about 114. They were letting it out as fast as they could, but they couldn't stop it from going over.

We talked about this, yes -- Chris, yesterday, that all these homes back here that were built inside the reservoir, they flooded. Now, the same thing is happening in Barker. Barker back here, the water coming up. But it's coming in faster than it can go out. So the residents that built back here, all those developers that built below the top of the levee, all those houses are being evacuated now. They probably already were. It was voluntary. Now it's mandatory. Because the water is backing up in those neighborhoods. It can't get out of the release point fast enough. If you build below the top of the levy, someday it's going to flood.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood. OK, Chad, thank you very much for that update.

So now we have this terrible tragedy to update you all on. Perhaps you have heard about the Saldivar family. Six members of one family who were in a van who disappeared into the floodwaters as they raged. There were these two grandparents and great-grandparents, Manuel and Bella, and their four great-grandchildren, aged 16, 14, 8 and 6, in the van.

One of the Saldivars' sons, named Sammy, was driving that van, and he was able to get out as the van disappeared under the flood waters. Yesterday we spoke with another one of the brothers, Ric, about this unimaginable loss of six members of his family, just as the van was found. Listen to this.


CAMEROTA: I see your hall of photos. Tell me about some of them.

RIC SALDIVAR, LOST SIX MEMBERS OF FAMILY: Well, of course, this is Mom when she was younger. She sent this picture to her mother. actually. That's what's written there.

CAMEROTA: Beautiful.

SALDIVAR: And Dad, he was in the Air Force.

CAMEROTA: This is during the Korean War?


CAMEROTA: When you knew that Hurricane Harvey was heading here, your family came up with a plan. So what was that plan?

SALDIVAR: The day before I told Sammy, I said, "What are you planning on doing, you know?"

And he said then, "Well, I'm going to stay. And if the water starts coming up, I'll put them in my truck, and I'll take them to your house."

I said, "OK, that will work."

CAMEROTA: But then something went wrong with that plan with that plan. What happened?

SALDIVAR: Fell asleep. You know, my wife was texting with him. He said, "I'm awake." You know, "I'm going to stay up." And then he sent us a voice mail which we didn't hear, because we fell asleep. And it said that "I fell asleep. You know, the water is in the house."

SAMMY SALDIVAR, FAMILY DROWNED IN FLOOD (via phone): It's me. I guess we've got to get out of here. I fell asleep, and the neighbor just woke us up. The water started coming in the house. I don't know where we're going. I hope we'll see you. OK. Bye.

CAMEROTA: So then, when he realized that he had fallen asleep, it was starting to get too late, that the water was encroaching on their house.


CAMEROTA: But then he figured out that he could still get out, because your brother had left a van.

SALDIVAR: Yes, we called Danny. He said, "Go to my house. I got my van there. Just get the keys. You can get in the house and, you know, clean up and whatever. And then you can take them to Ric's house." You know, that was the plan.

So Sammy actually got in the house and dried -- you know, dried up Mom and Dad's clothes, put them in the drier, made them some breakfast and then, you know, he got everybody in the van.

Now, at the same time Danny said "Could you go across the street," because his grandkids were across the street. "Can you go across the street and get my grandkids and take them to Ric's house?"

[06:15:06] And Sammy said, "Yes, I can do that."

CAMEROTA: What did you recommend that he do?

SALDIVAR: Well, I told him, I said, "If you're going to leave, you better leave now, because that neighborhood in Allison flooded. It's going to get bad. You better get over here now." So he put them in the van, and he was coming this way.

And then after that, I don't know. I guess it was about 9 or 10 a.m. in the morning we lost contact with him for about two hours. Nobody knew where Sammy was.

CAMEROTA: How did you find out what had happened across that bridge?

SALDIVAR: Well, my sister-in-law called me and said that -- that -- she was hysterical and said, "Sammy lost control of the van, and Mom and Dad are gone, and my kids are gone, and, you know, my grandkids are gone," you know.

I say, "What are you talking about? What happened?"

"Sammy lost control of the van, and it went in the bayou. And everybody's gone." I finally got ahold of Sammy. He said that -- you know, of course, he

was, you know, barely able to talk. And he was saying that he was going down Ley Road and -- or Green River, Ley Road, I'm not sure. And they came up to a bridge where Ley Road and Green River come together, and the bridge was overflowed, but Dad said, you know, "Go, you can make it. I can see the guardrail, go," you know. And so Sammy told -- we were taught you listen to your dad, you know. I mean, Dad was real demanding even at 84 years old. And he said so he went, you know.

And like I told Sammy, I said, "I can't see myself doing anything different. You know, I would -- Dad told me to go, I would have tried to make it." Of course, like anybody else, he panicked. You know, he said him, Mom and Dad were in -- under water. They were under water, and he got out of the van. He didn't even take off his seatbelt. The window was halfway open. He just...

CAMEROTA: Slid out.

SALDIVAR: ... got out, you know. And he came -- he grabbed a branch or a twig, what he called it. He called it a twig. I don't know if it was a branch or a tree or what. But -- and the kids were screaming. He could hear them screaming and crying. Of course, they wanted out of the van. And he kept yelling at them, "Climb out the back." You know, "Get out the back door."

CAMEROTA: That's one of the most heartbreaking parts of this incredibly heartbreaking story is that your brother witnessed it all happening.

SALDIVAR: Yes, the van go down knowing his -- you know, his parents are in it, his great-nieces and nephews are in it. And it's his brothers -- which -- our brother Danny, his grandkids.

CAMEROTA: How did you get the word today that they had actually found the van?

SALDIVAR: Danny called me and said his son Andrew found the van.

CAMEROTA: By himself?

SALDIVAR: By himself. He went over there by himself and -- to find it. I don't know if he had anybody else. He just told me Andrew was there, and he could see the van under the water.

CAMEROTA: And he told you that they had found the bodies?

SALDIVAR: Yes. Well, basically, you know, I knew then -- you know, they said a diver went down, and they could see two adults in the front seat. And they couldn't see in the back of the van.

CAMEROTA: So you were very close with your parents?

SALDIVAR: Oh, yes, yes. All of us were.

CAMEROTA: And to lose them so suddenly is a bigger challenge. SALDIVAR: Yes. Yes. But, you know, at their age, you start getting

ready for it. You start keeping little messages that Dad puts on your phone.

CAMEROTA: But you wanted a memento of your parents.

SALDIVAR: Yes, I wanted to hear, like he was calling me on the phone.

Sorry. Yes. I just wanted to hear that.

CAMEROTA: So many people around the country and around the world have heard your story. It's really just gripped the whole country.

SALDIVAR: My neighbors came over and gave me a hug and said it was -- "whatever you need," you know. Everybody is just, "Whatever you need," you know. I guess they can imagine going through something like this, you know. And like I told the sheriffs, I said, "I'm just so glad you saved my brother." I just -- I didn't want to lose my brother.


CAMEROTA: So Chris, obviously, I mean, just unimaginable to lose this many family members at once, and to have the brother who was driving have to witness all of it.

You heard Ric there. He's obviously trying to focus on the positive. He said there's been all sorts of, you know, beautiful things that have happened since then, all sorts of neighbors, and family, and co- workers who have reached out to them and offered help.

But there's also -- and I want to let our viewers know this -- some sickening stories of scammers who are trying to actually cash in on the Saldivar situation. They have put up fake GoFundMe pages, claiming to be a member of the Saldivar family. So because of that situation, we want to put up the real one. This is the verified account of the Saldivar family. There is a GoFundMe page. This is the verified one, and it says at the top, "verified family account." You can see these pictures there.

[06:20:10] But listen, the Saldivar family isn't asking for anything. I mean, they're not asking for any money. They're just asking to be kept in people's prayers.


CAMEROTA: So, you know, what can we say? I mean, this is just one of the stories, but obviously, it's the one that has gripped so many people around the country, that this -- this many family members were lost.

CUOMO: Extreme situations always reveal true nature. There are good people. There are bad people. And unfortunately, money is not going to bring back what was lost, but who knows what the needs will be going forward? I have to tell you, that story is about as tough as it gets. And

people should take some solace in the fact that we haven't heard more -- hopefully, you know, the neighborhoods that are covered up by this water are not concealing horror stories that we just don't know about yet. Hopefully, that's not true, but people are going to have to stay open and aware of what's going on, Alisyn.

Thank you for bringing that story to the audience.

CAMEROTA: Yes, we'll find out more today, obviously, Chris, as the sun comes up here. So amid these harrowing stories of loss, there is a story of great hope: neighbors banding together to get a pregnant woman to the hospital to give birth on time. That new mom joins us next.


[06:25:00] CAMEROTA: As you know, Harvey has submerged this city of Houston where I am with record-breaking rainfall in just a matter of hours. Now, in one neighborhood, the fast-moving water had people springing into action to help a woman going into labor. You're about to see them forming a human chain here. This is to help a woman named Maria Rodriguez get from her flooded home to the hospital in time.

And joining us now is Maria Rodriguez and her new baby, Salina. Maria, how are you guys doing?


CAMEROTA: Are you -- how are you feeling this morning?

RODRIGUEZ: I'm feeling good. I'm blessed to have my child with me.

CAMEROTA: How -- can you -- Maria, can you pick up your phone? We want to see your face.

RODRIGUEZ: OK. Put it over here?

CAMEROTA: If you can, hold your phone up a little more. Well, I'm looking at a picture of your beautiful baby. How's the -- yes, that's good. A little higher, can you do it a little higher? How's Salina doing?

RODRIGUEZ: She's good. She's actually right here with me right now.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, Maria, listen, having a baby is, you know, stressful enough on your -- the day of delivery, but to have to do it in waist-deep floodwaters with all of your neighbors helping you get to the hospital. I mean, what -- what happened?

RODRIGUEZ: To tell you the truth, I think the story got confused, because that's not my story. My story is actually...

CAMEROTA: What is your story? RODRIGUEZ: Huh? My story -- I had my daughter at the hospital during

the hurricane. My oldest daughter got flooded in while I was having my daughter.

CAMEROTA: Oh. Is that then getting your oldest daughter to the hospital? What's the human chain that we're looking at?

RODRIGUEZ: I'm sorry. I think the stories got confused. That has to be another story on another person. My daughter had to get rescued from inside a house.

CAMEROTA: I guess there's a lot of confusion during Harvey and this storm. But your story is that you had -- is it your story that you had the first hurricane baby in the hospital and that you were going into labor while all of this was raging around you?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Harvey made landfall, I think, about 10:30. Salina came at 1. So I was actually in the labor process.


RODRIGUEZ: And she was the first one born after he made landfall.

CAMEROTA: OK. That's a good story. That's a good story, too. And how -- what was that experience like for you?

RODRIGUEZ: I was trying to take it one step at a time. Sadly, I wasn't taking the storm as serious as probably we should have, because we were so overconfident. There has never been flooding like this in that certain area before. Everything was just fine, and then by the time I get back to the room, and I think my husband was downplaying it a bit: "Oh, you know, your sister got about an inch of water in the house." And I come to find out it's really 2 1/2 feet, and they're stuck in the neighborhood.

And that right there kind of took away the excitement of, oh, at least I made it to the hospital before getting -- it could have been worse. I could have been at home. My doula...

CAMEROTA: No kidding.

RODRIGUEZ: ... from my maternity service couldn't even make it in. She's over the phone calling me, who was a great coach, by the way, and was coaching me through everything that we have already been through.

And it was -- it was an eventful weekend.


RODRIGUEZ: Because as we were at the hospital, they put the hospital on shutdown. The hospital goes into shutdown. The rations are getting thin. By the way, everybody at Ben Taub Hospital was amazing and patient. They're doing an around-the-clock shift change. So 12 hours on and 12 hours off. I was seeing the same people. Basically, we got really close together. Then they put Salina in the NICU. CAMEROTA: Yes, I bet. I mean, I know. I know that this was a high-

risk pregnancy. And yes, that is very scary to have your baby in the NICU while Harvey is raging around you.

But good for you. Best to your family. We're so happy that you made it to the hospital and that your doula was great enough to coach you over the phone. Thanks so much for being with us. We'll check back with you to make sure Salina is doing well -- Chris.

CUOMO: Hey, take good news where you find it. That's all I know. The baby is healthy. The family is OK, and they will be stronger and more together than ever after surviving this.

Alisyn, we're going to take a break. There is no question that the need is great, but so is the response.