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Mandatory Evacuation Ordered for Barker Reservoir Communities; Beaumont Water Supply Knocked Out by Floods; Doctor Canoes Through Floodwaters to Perform Operation; Interview with Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX). Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 07:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[07:00:26] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, August 31. I am here at the convention center in Houston, and we begin with several breaking news stories for you.

There is a mandatory evacuation for many communities right now near the Barker Reservoir. That's on the west side of Houston, a couple of miles from where I am.

Officials are urging people to leave their homes as soon as they can this morning, because the water levels at this reservoir are now in imminent danger of tipping over and flooding these neighborhoods and homes.

The order comes as the Houston Fire Department begins door-to-door searches of every single home in the hardest hit parts of this city, looking for people who may have stayed behind or have been lost -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We're also tracking two other breaking stories. There are reports of explosions at a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. It's about 25 miles northeast of Houston. Ten sheriff's deputies had to be rushed to the hospital after inhaling some of those chemicals.

This as another emergency unfolds farther east in Beaumont. There ,the city's two sources of water have been cut off because of the historic flooding.

CNN has crews in all of the relevant locations. Let's begin with CNN's Polo Sandoval in Richmond, Texas -- Polo.


These mandatory evacuations are simply adding to the ones that have already been in place here in Fort Bend County, Texas, not far from the city of Houston, where the river levels continue to rise. Residents in these communities not far from where I'm standing right now being asked to pack up and move out as soon as the sun rises right now.

I want to take you back to Houston right now, where authorities there are also very busy right now, expected -- they are expected to begin going door to door, making sure that they did not leave anybody behind and everybody who needed rescuing was rescued. This is going to be a time-consuming process, according to the Houston Fire Department.


RICHARD MANN, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT CHIEF, 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: As that continues in Houston, here in Richmond, Texas, a short drive from Houston, that water level continues to rise, already reaching record levels, Alisyn. People here were just recovering from a massive flood from 2016. In fact, a couple of days ago, I spoke to a gentleman just down river, Alisyn. He had just finished painting the interior of his home. This morning it is flooded again.

CAMEROTA: Gosh. I mean, they just can't get a break. Polo, thank you very much for that.

We do need to get to other breaking news now, because there's been two explosions at a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. That's about 25 miles northeast of Houston. There's black smoke coming from the Arkema plant. The company operating the plant fears that it could catch fire at any time.

Ten sheriff's deputies are in the hospital after inhaling fumes from that plant. People within 1.5 miles now have been evacuated from this area as a precaution. So we have a team on the way to the scene, and we'll bring you any updates as soon as they develop from there.

Meanwhile, 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. That's where we find CNN's Drew Griffin. He is live in Beaumont, and the city is home to about 118,000 people.

Drew, what's the latest?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and all of them without water this morning. The faucets just blow air.

This happened last night, early this morning, 12:30 a.m. Most of the water comes from the Natchez River. The pumping station there, something is wrong. They don't know what's wrong with that pumping station, other than it's just not working. They're going to get out there on a boat this morning, try to see what it is. The city councilman says it could be several days before that water supply can even be addressed.

If it's a major problem, Alisyn, they're going to have to wait for the water in the river to go down. And that water isn't expected to crest, I believe, until Saturday. So that is a big emerging problem for the city of Beaumont and its residents, who have been through an awful lot already, and on top of that, this.

[07:05:02] Jefferson County, Beaumont's county, Jefferson County, they'll continue to do these water rescues once daylight starts. This is an area we were at Tuesday, right where we are. And the water does not seem to have gone down any. They'll get the calls from overnight, then send out the Navy boats in the morning when the lights come up, trying to see if there's anybody left to rescue here in Jefferson County in southeast Texas.

Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: Well, Drew, as you know, you've been reporting, they didn't expect the water to crest until later in the week. The question is will they be able to handle it, now that they're dealing with the worst of it?

Thank you very much for the reporting. Stay safe. We'll check back with you.

So the good news is that Harvey as a storm has weakened to a tropical depression. But that does not mean that it is less of a problem where it's already flooded in several different states.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest forecast. I mean, we're seeing it there with Drew Griffin. The water that's already on the ground that has to make its way south and down from higher elevation into the bayou, that's going to be a problem, no matter what kind of storm and whether there's a storm at all.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Sure. And you're saying to yourself, wait a minute. That's only 40 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. How come it just doesn't run off? Because it's so flat.

The elevation, even in Port Arthur, is like two feet. So how quickly -- it's not like West Virginia, where your elevation is 2,000 and a flash flood is over in four minutes. It's just going to be a long, drawn-out, slow process of this lumbering water getting out of there.

Memphis, Nashville, you get rainfall today. Some of it could be heavy. There could be some spots in the next 48 hours that will pick up four to six inches of rain, not the 50 inches that they saw down here, where all of these flood gauges are completely out of control.

There's Barker right there. I'll talk about Barker right now. We're going to talk about what's happened at Barker. Because all week we've been talking about Addicks. Addicks, right there. Doing OK. Water coming out the bottom. They're spilling that out as fast as they can. But water is still spilling out this side, flooding areas here that have never flooded, and they thought that they were OK. Now, here is Barker. Barker is slightly older, but the water comes in

here, Mason, and also there. And it comes out right here, the same spot, right into Buffalo Bayou. Well, the water here is going up, and there are houses on the back side of Barker that have been built -- when you talk about building -- there we go -- here is Barker on Google Earth. Here is where they built homes higher than where a lot of the water is going to be right there.

So here is 103. Good, good, good, levee, levee, levee. Great, great, great. Bad back here. Now, the first row of homes does have a levee on the back side of this. They never thought this was going to flood. They would have never built houses, I think, at 107 feet if they knew it was going to get higher than that, or even 97 feet.

Let's zoom into this right here. You can see how many homes are going to be affected here. The levee, a secondary kind of levee, a backside levee here, but it's at 101 in most spots. The water is going to pour over, and some of these houses are at 97 feet. You can do the math. Some of these houses are going to be under six feet of water. They thought they were protected by this, but they're not. And now it's a mandatory evacuation, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: It sure is, Chad. All right. Thank you very much for the update on all of that, Chad.

So sometimes you have to do whatever it takes. That's what Dr. Stephen Kimmel said as he canoed through treacherous floodwaters, with a little help, to get to his hospital to perform a lifesaving surgery on a teenager who was suffering. Dr. Kimmel joins us now.

Doctor, wow, that is going above and beyond. You were canoeing to the hospital. Tell us what happened when you decided to take matters into your own hands there.

DR. STEPHEN KIMMEL, CANOED THROUGH FLOOD TO OPERATE ON PATIENT: Well, I actually had quite a bit of help. I had to get into the hospital. But I drove my car, and not far down the road, it was pretty -- pretty deep water, so I thought I was going to get stuck.

So I came back home, and with the help of the chief medical officer, we ended up getting some volunteer firemen to come to the house. So William and Kevin and I, we ran about a half mile to the fire station, where they had stashed a canoe. Then we canoed down 517 in Dickinson to 45. We put the canoe in William's F-250 and drove up to 45.

When we got to the exit for the hospital, the feeder was really deep. So we took the canoe back off and canoed a little ways up the river -- I mean -- up the river. It was a river then. And then, once we get around the corner, we were able to get out and run the rest of the way.

[07:10:05] CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. And how long -- how long did all of that take you, and why were you going to such extraordinary means?

KIMMEL: It took about an hour. I live about nine miles from the hospital. So it's usually a 12-, 15-minute commute, so I thought we made pretty good time.

And the patient we were taking care of had a -- had a very time- sensitive condition. We had about six hours to take care of it. Otherwise, there would have been some permanent injury, and it actually took him almost all of that time to get to the hospital, as well. He was from further away in the city. And he needed, I think, three vehicles in the end to try to get to the hospital. So he only arrived to the hospital about five minutes before I did.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. I mean, and we know his name is Jacob. He's 16 years old. We see him there, how happy he and his family are that you made it and that they made it. I mean, you've -- you've changed his life, you know. They say that they're so grateful to you, Doctor.

KIMMEL: Well, I was just happy I could get in and take care of him.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And so what's the situation, Doctor, at the hospital? I mean, are all doctors doing this? Is everyone canoeing to their workplace today? You know, what's happening at the hospitals with so much need right now?

KIMMEL: Well, I think that the hospital here has been very well- prepared. It's a very small community, but we get patients from all over the city. So a lot of people are real close by. I think I'm so far the only one that's had to canoe to get here.

Things have dried out a lot around Webster. So, you know, things are going a little better now.

CAMEROTA: Besides acute conditions like Jacob's, what -- what are you seeing? What are the medical needs of the community during this?

KIMMEL: Well, the -- a lot of the staff has stayed here five or six days so they would make sure they were prepared for anything. So far we haven't seen, as far as I know, too many real acute situations. But we're prepared for any of that as -- as the waters recede.

CAMEROTA: Well, you sure seem prepared, Dr. Stephen Kimmel. You -- that was a herculean effort to get to the hospital, and the family again is grateful for it. Thanks so much for taking time to be with us today.

KIMMEL: My pleasure. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Those are just some of the stories. I mean, every single person has a story, Chris, of you know, how they're surviving this and some of the treacherous moments that they've experienced during this past week of Harvey.

CUOMO: And so many are going above and beyond. And we keep hearing this theme from the first responders, including the clinicians like the doctor: the unknown. What will happen when the waters recede and they can see the neighborhoods underneath? That's something everybody has to be prepared for.

All right. So Alisyn, in just minutes, we got word that there is going to be a press availability. You're looking at it right now. Obviously, it's going to have FEMA. There's going to be the acting head of homeland security. They're going to address the state of reality in Texas: what's being done, what they're worried about. We'll deal with that.

Also coming up, we have a Republican Congress member from down there, Michael Burgess, Republican, Texas, about what they need and -- and -- whether or not he believes they'll get it done for the survivors of Harvey when Congress gets back in session, next.


[07:17:52] CUOMO: The American Red Cross says there are now more than 32,000 survivors in shelters in Texas, double the number that they had at this time yesterday. There are also new evacuation orders, rescues also going on. Both will add to that total.

Joining us now is Texas Congressman Michael Burgess. He visited the shelter set up in Dallas this week.

Congressman, thank you for joining us. What's your take on the situation on the ground?

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: Well, this is -- thanks, Chris, for having me on. This clearly is an all-hands-on-deck situation. The congressional district that I represent, my home is somewhat north of where all of this activity is. So we are watching our citizens respond, take things down, go to help. And a lot of people are writing checks to some of the various non-governmental groups that are gathering money for this. And that's obviously one of the things that's needed right now. Red Cross, Salvation Army, Samaritan's Purse. These are -- these are worthwhile groups that people need to consider supporting.

CUOMO: No question. We're putting the information on You can go there and figure out how to help. Those organizations are among the options.

Congressman, what are you hearing from the people in charge on the ground about their concerns about further catastrophe, whether or not the worst is over? I know Governor Abbott said, "Look, the worst isn't over yet. The water is going to crest."

What are you hearing from others on the ground?

BURGESS: Well, I did spend part of my day earlier in the week, the FEMA Region Six headquarters is actually in the congressional district that I represent. And I spent time at their emergency operations center.

And I will -- I will tell you, Chris, having been through situations like this before, I was impressed at the amount of coordination that was occurring there in that little office in Denton, Texas, with the coordination between the state agencies and the federal agencies. And that was much earlier in the sequence. But they were doing a great job understanding what each other were doing and so that there was a minimal of duplication and people weren't getting in each other's way.

[07:20:08] But the critical need was -- was getting to the people that needed the help. But this is going to -- make no mistake, this is going to go on. This is not a days or weeks phenomenon. And as we saw with -- what you saw with Sandy, and we saw with Katrina, we saw with Ike, this is going to be a years in recovery process. And clearly, as you've reported this morning, unfortunately, some people will never recover; and that is a tragedy.

CUOMO: And look, we'll have to do a little bit of a wait-and-see, as agonizing as it is. See what's happening when the waters recede, see what the actual state of play and the reality is. But at some point you're going to have to put on the hard hat, get back into Washington, D.C., and make it happen, not just in this first wave of need.

The concern becomes the politics that comes into play when that second, that third wave, when the money is needed. That's where we saw the problems with Sandy funding. You didn't vote for one of those big bills. Politics started to be played. You had people like Senator Cruz, you know, misstating the facts, saying two-thirds of the bill was pork. You know it's not true. How do we avoid it this time?

BURGESS: But No. 1, I think the approach -- ever storm is different. The approach this time is going to be for immediate help. That won't be the entire tally. You can't even know what the...

CUOMO: True.

BURGESS: ... where the price tag is going to end up.

But there will be immediate help. We are at -- sort of at the end of the fiscal year. So the accounts for the various agencies are spent down, as they should be at the end of the fiscal year. So there will be some immediate help that will likely come as early as early next week. And I really don't think there will be -- I don't think that will be a necessarily hard discussion or a hard vote.

CUOMO: That's just the first wave. I'm saying what can you say to your fellow Republicans who didn't vote for it? A lot of them are in the administration now.

BURGESS: You're going -- you're going to see -- after that first wave, clearly, there will be data collected. As far as the cost of recovery, I think it will be -- that will be better known in 2 1/2, three months' time. And I rather suspect -- I don't know what the time sequence will be. But there will be a secondary wave of federal dollars that are appropriated and likely as not, there will be a third wave.

CUOMO: Sure.

BURGESS: You know, it's -- it's tough. Because with Katrina, we came in and did a big bill, and then did another big bill and then years later found that, unfortunately, they couldn't spend all of the dollars that were sent. So that has been -- that has been a concern of mine, as well. I want to be certain that the help gets where it's needed, when it's needed, but, yes, we do have a responsibility to be the stewards of the taxpayer dollar. And that's a -- that's a concurrent responsibility.

CUOMO: Is that why you didn't vote for the Sandy financing?

BURGESS: I thought Sandy should have been broken into at least two tranches. It wasn't. I didn't win that argument.

But, you know, as -- as we learned with Katrina, there were funds that were available but then never spent. There was, a -- in fact, I think DHS ended up taking back several billion dollars from FEMA that were unable to be spent. With Sandy, it -- it was a different situation, but I think to anyone's read of the facts currently, there is still a significant amount of money that's either unobligated or unspent.

CUOMO: It's always that way.

BURGESS: And as you know -- as you know...

CUOMO: It's always that way. Every one of these disasters that we've been through, it takes time to spend the money, and the needs change.

BURGESS: Yes, but, Chris, it has been five years. And as you know, there are people who, I think, probably legitimately feel that they were owed some reimbursement, who've had difficulty getting it.

CUOMO: Sure.

BURGESS: Not now, but I mean, years after, years after Katrina, trying to help people who felt they had a legitimate claim that were -- that was not being paid. It is -- these things are difficult. I think my opinion has always been, No. 1, I'd like to see us budget for disasters rather than come and do supplementals after the fact.

In fact, when I was just a regular guy, and they had big flooding in the upper Mississippi back in the early part of the Clinton administration, why isn't there -- why isn't there a fund there that is appropriated just for that, that is then-- then used as sort of that first response? We didn't -- they didn't do it then. We don't do it now. I don't quite understand why.

But given the fact that we have to do supplementals, and every one is different, but my preference is always, can we -- can we put this into more manageable portions? And look, we're tasking our federal agencies right now at the -- at the max. So to ask them to do everything that they need to do with all of the book keeping and reimbursement, that's a tall order, too. I think it's -- I think it's more manageable if the money goes up, perhaps less than that lump sum variety.

[07:25:17] CUOMO: Look, I mean, you've got to err on the side of giving them more right now, because the need is so great. The good news is, because of what happened here in Sandy, you've got awareness.

BURGESS: And you will see that. CUOMO: You've got awareness from these GOP colleagues. That's all

I'm saying. We're just hoping it's better this time. We'll see what happens. I don't want to get ahead of the conversation. But we'll see what happens and, hopefully, everybody does the right thing.

BURGESS: Well, I think you will -- I think you will see significant activity on this front, really, within a very few days' time.

CUOMO: I hope so. I can't believe you didn't come back early. Congressman, thank you very much. Be well and stay safe.

All right. Alisyn, to you.

CAMEROTA: Chris, we are just moments away from federal officials briefing us on what they're doing today to help all the people who were in the path of Harvey. So we will bring that to you live as soon as it begins.


CAMEROTA: I'm just going to chat with him about the...

All right. So we are standing by. In just moments, federal officials are set to brief us on their response to Harvey, how it's going. And we'll get new numbers. We'll bring that to you live as soon as it happens.