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Federal Officials Brief On Harvey Response; Russel Honore Weighs In On Harvey And The Texas Grid; Health Concerns After Harvey's Destruction; Coast Guard Rescues Woman Trapped In Attic After Plea On CNN. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm just going to chat with him about --

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.

Meanwhile, we want to bring in Gen. Russel Honore. He, of course, knows more about coordinating these big national efforts in the face of catastrophe because he was on the ground, obviously, throughout Katrina and he made all of that happen.

General, great to be with you.


CAMEROTA: So, you have -- this morning, the developments are very concerning to you.

The idea that Beaumont, Texas is now somehow off the infrastructure grid. Their water supply is not working. What does that tell you?

HONORE: That the grid is fragile. When you have a combination of hurricane, wind, flooding now for, what, five days, and you start losing the grid -- the water and the electric grid, this is a game changer.

CAMEROTA: OK, so let's hear what the FEMA administrator Brock Long has to say about this.

BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: It's a dynamic situation. We continue to track everything that's going on, and not only in Beaumont where we have some serious operations taking place for search and rescue and life sustainment.

We've had a number of evacuations around Arkema chemical plant last night. We proactively were able to evacuate about a mile and a half radius around the Arkema chemical plant, for example, to make sure people were safe and in anticipation of any problems. You know, we continue to push the lifesaving operations. We're continuing to evacuate people out of areas that -- where the rivers have not receded yet. And in some cases, today and tomorrow, they may be cresting.

The shelter mission is the biggest battle that we have right now, as well. Obviously, we've rolled a tremendous number of assets to support the life-sustaining mission in shelters. Shelters are never an ideal situation, we understand that.

We're throwing everything we can at them not just from the federal government standpoint but, here again, it's neighbor helping neighbor.

We had a tremendous amount of people stepping up and volunteering with the Red -- our partners at the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

We've had generous offers of people coming in -- like the Southern Baptists and other religious groups coming in and providing feeding kitchens and meals.

But let be clear. This mission is going to continue for multiple weeks, understanding that it takes time to mobilize people to the transitional shelter assistance program to hotels. We're going to be asking for volunteers to specifically look at the shelter mission. Particularly if you've -- if you've -- you know, particularly volunteers that have shelter management experience, we would ask you to concentrate there.

We're also pushing forward commodity distribution. We're burning -- we're looking to burn over three million -- three million meals a day, over two million bottles of water per day, and that's only going to grow in some cases, particularly in Beaumont.

We are very clear that the water system is down in Beaumont so we are tracking that. We're working with our partners in DOD, as well as the state to look into -- looking to opening points of distribution to be able to service the citizens there in that dire situation.

Power restoration. You know, right now it's under 300,000. In some cases you may lose power as private power companies are working to take grids down, to fix lines, and it could be intermittent in the areas where the water's receding and the sun is out. So we need to expect to -- set your expectations. Power could be out for multiple days in some of these areas due to the damage.

Security does not seem to be an issue right now. We have an overwhelming presence not only from the federal government but the first responders down on the ground and the state of Texas are doing a phenomenal job of making sure that the area is safe and secure but we are continuing to track any security issues that we have.

Medical support is huge right now. Obviously, you know, the American public is seeing a lot of nursing homes and hospitals being evacuated. But rest assured that Sec. Price is working with his counterparts in the state of Texas, along with FEMA. We've sent large-scale amounts of disaster medical teams into Texas to make sure we understand the situation and handle the situation, and then manage the expectations going forward on how we need to bring these systems back up and online.

Survivor registrations and recovery. I'm going to go over to Alex Amparo here shortly.

But in regards to the shelters, I don't have accurate numbers right now. That number is going to grow from what it was yesterday. We'll have more accurate information a little bit later.

Four mega-shelters are operating, three in Houston, one in Dallas. Those are the shelters with the most capability that we're pushing.

Search and rescue. Over -- well over 10,000 people just by federal forces alone have been -- have been rescued and that number's going to climb with Beaumont. But what's most impressive are the neighbor to -- you know, neighbors helping neighbor numbers that are out there. The countless number of rescues that are taking place as the whole community is responding and descending upon Texas.

[07:35:15] Regarding the National Flood Insurance Program. Unfortunately, there are rumors out there that we are trying to control so I'm going to flip it over to our flood insurance program director Roy Wright to deconflict any rumors out there and to set a clear expectation for NFIP policyholders -- Roy.

ROY WRIGHT, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM: Good morning, Roy Wright, director of the National Flood Insurance Program.

CAMEROTA: OK. You have been listening there to Brock Long -- he is the FEMA administrator -- giving us updates on what their effort has been like today.

He's given us a lot of new numbers. Millions of meals delivered to people who are now displaced. Millions of bottles of water.

He's talked about all of the people who have been displaced needing to move into transitional housing and all of the stuff that they're doing with all of these compounding problems now with Beaumont, Texas and their infrastructure grid going offline, not having access to water, the people there.

With the chemical fire plant -- the chemical plant that has had explosions, I should say. He talked about that.

So let's bring in, again, Gen. Russel Honore. He's been listening to all of this happen.

So, General, what did you hear the FEMA administrators talk about? What do you think is most pressing?

HONORE: I heard something that they're planning to hear.

CAMEROTA: What? HONORE: That things would be able to get worse by shipping in more supplies, increasing the amount of federal troops coming in because it's going to get worse.

The longer this water stay on the grid, Alisyn, the more electrical grid will come down. Losing electricity itself is a disaster for over a 24-hour period in America to any person because we lose access to water, we're losing access to sewer, we lose our ability to communicate.

If the grid goes down -- I was just in Dallas last night until -- up until 11:00 out with -- doing interviews and that. All the lights were on and I said what a difference because they have a good grid and the grid didn't go down. If you lose a grid it's a disaster.

CAMEROTA: So you're very concerned about --

HONORE: I'm concerned.

CAMEROTA: --what's happening in Beaumont.

Do you think that the fact that people don't have access to water and the grid is going down means that things could get very dicey there?

HONORE: For 100,000 people having to bring water in by bottle, this is a big deal. And they're in shelters. Many of those shelters may be challenged -- the smaller shelters.

And Dallas -- if we lose this fight with the water here and that expansive water comes out it's going to cut the grid. And when they cut the grid in this -- a town this size with this many people still here is going to be a problem.

CAMEROTA: If they cut the grid in Houston, you're saying --

HONORE: In Houston -- I'm sorry.

CAMEROTA: -- that -- yes. In Houston, if they cut the grid because there's so much still overflowing and so much that's still flooded, what would happen?

HONORE: Have to evac people to other cities because they can't stay here if the grid's out.

CAMEROTA: Look, you've been, I think, pretty blunt in your assessment of how the coordination has been thus far and you think that they should have been out ahead of it more.

HONORE: I think they should have scaled up a lot earlier.

CAMEROTA: What would that look like? What would scaling up -- meaning they would have gotten federal --


CAMEROTA: -- troops in here? HONORE: Yes, and probably 50,000 National Guard troops here already because the hard work is after you finish search and rescue.

You've got to go into all the homes. You've got to open the streets. You've got to get it so communities can go back to work, put generators in. You've got to secure the water system so they can go back to work.

CAMEROTA: How far away are we from that phase of the operation that you're talking?

HONORE: We're about this far.

CAMEROTA: That's when you think it's going to get tough?

HONORE: Right, once the water recedes. Right now, we're at the mercy of Mother Nature because the water hadn't receded out of Houston yet.

As long as the water's here, it's going to continue to take down the grid. And the longer it stays with people trying to hang out in their homes -- shelter in place -- it's going to get worse.

CAMEROTA: And very, very quickly, I heard you last night saying that you felt that so far officials were being too congratulatory when there's looming disaster.

HONORE: Yes. I mean, the idea of getting past Katrina were people are yelling at each other, we've overplayed that. We've got to bring everybody together, challenge each other, and try to be one step ahead of what the next potential disaster is.

And we've got the potential to do that. That's what we do as Americans.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely, and we heard Brock Long talk about that, too. That the neighbor-to-neighbor help has been really great so far.

General, thank you. You're going to stick around with us as we head outside to show some of the flooding in and around Houston.

So the Houston Fire Department, as well, is set to begin the door-to- door searches now in the hardest hit area. No word on what they'll find. There's no way of knowing, actually, what they'll find when they go door-to-door.

So we're going to hear about those rescue efforts from the Houston police chief, next.


[07:43:35] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Something that's rough to hear, but true, the saying what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's not the case when it comes to surviving severe flooding that we're seeing in Harvey right now.

That water -- those conditions create major health concerns. Joining us now is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Tony, it's always good to have you in a situation like this. But before we get to the main part of your expertise, you've had a lot of experience in these situations and there's a point, I think, that's helpful for people to know at this point.

We're hearing people say well, we've got to anticipate this and we've got to wait until that -- you can't control something like this. You have to wait for those waters to come down.

Isn't that the reality that until that happens all the best efforts are on hold? Isn't that true?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, that's true. There are things that you can't do until the water comes down.

But there are things right now with the water the way it is that are immediate problems and effects with regard to health and we've seen them just last night on CNN -- a whole host of them. Things like drowning, things like electrocutions --

CUOMO: Right.

FAUCI: -- chemical plants. Those kinds of things that explode and you have toxic chemicals. Those things take care of right away.

When then the waters go down then you've got a whole bunch of other problems of getting people who are ill who require medications --

[07:45:03] CUOMO: Right.

FAUCI: -- getting access to them.

People with chronic conditions who might be exacerbated by the stress --

CUOMO: So, Tony, on that point about medications --

FAUCI: -- by this particular tragedy.

CUOMO: Let me stop you there because that's an important point.

FAUCI: Well, the thing is when, you know -- for example, whenever you have, you know, natural disasters like this people may not have access to the continual flow.

For example, if a person has heart disease and requires certain medications or diabetes and they're cut off and stranded there unless they get access to them. You can have people whose conditions would otherwise be well-controlled and you cut off access to their -- to their medications --

CUOMO: So who needs to step up here -- FAUCI: Not to mention the extraordinary stress --

CUOMO: -- because we're hearing that --

FAUCI: Excuse me.

CUOMO: -- from physicians on the ground who are volunteering. They're saying one of the bigger and more unanticipated needs is that people had to leave without their meds or they can't refill their meds.

Is that big pharma that has to step up? I mean, how do you ameliorate that condition?

FAUCI: No, I don't think it's big pharma, I think it's just what you were saying. You've got to get access to the individuals.

And, you know, from what I'm seeing on T.V. it looks like they're doing an incredible job of trying to get people to the shelters, and when they get there to try to get them the medication.

I know the Department of Health and Human Services is very much involved in trying to get as much help as they possibly can as is, obviously, FEMA and other organizations.

CUOMO: Now, that water -- OK, so if you're sitting in it -- we know with the elderly one of the problems is hypothermia. Even though the water is relatively warm you're at 98 degrees --

FAUCI: Right.

CUOMO: You're sitting even in 80-degree water, eventually you're going to start to get the chill. We've seen that with the elderly.

But it's also not just water anymore, right?

FAUCI: Right, that's true.

CUOMO: It almost immediately becomes a toxic soup.

FAUCI: But that is absolutely true. Yes.

See the issue is that when people -- elderly people who are infirmed, people who have chronic diseases -- whenever you give them that kind of stress, even as you said, in water which you can get hypothermia, that exacerbates underlying medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and chronic conditions.

CUOMO: And just having that on your skin, having it saturate the walls of your house creates a pressing medical need and also a remediation challenge, right? You're not going to go in there and just paint and spackle and have a house back. A lot of the chemicals, once they get into the walls, it's going to create situations where everything has to come down for it to be safe from a health perspective, right? FAUCI: That's a good point, Chris, and that's what I meant about an intermediate problem because once the water starts coming down you have the issue of mold. You have people who have hypersensitivity, allergic reactions to mold.

So when the water goes down you may think you're out of it. But, actually, in a house may have mold, creating conditions for people who have underlying lung disease or even as you said, toxicities against the skin or wounds, or what have you.

CUOMO: Now, is it true that the first wave of medical concern, other than exacerbated conditions from stress, is going to be the waterborne illnesses. I mean, we haven't heard it yet but people start getting sick from that water and it creates dehydration issues --

FAUCI: Right.

CUOMO: -- and needs for palliative care that aren't easy to meet.

FAUCI: Well, there are a couple of issues there and I think you put your finger on it.

When you have, as we've seen there, inevitable sewage contamination of water, you're going to get people who have exposure to that and there are a whole host of particularly bacterial, but some viral, diseases, you know. E. coli -- diseases with strange names like cryptosporidiosis and vibrio and others that can cause diarrheal diseases.

Most of them are self-limited but, particularly, people who are elderly and people with chronic conditions, they can wind up being very serious.

And then you have things like wound infection and wound contamination when you're sloshing around --


FAUCI: -- in sewage-contaminated water. People who have even what looks like an inconsequential wound can wind up getting wound infections from them.

CUOMO: Right. It goes -- it goes from being just a regular laceration or a cut to something that could be septic.

Tony, look, it's great to have you on this and I know how frustrating it is for you because you see these problems coming. There's nothing we can do to avoid them and, hopefully, we'll just manage them the best we can in this situation, as you always do.

Anthony Fauci, thank you very much for being with us.

FAUCI: Good to be with you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. All right. So, one of the stories that's important for you to hear about is a woman -- she was pleading on CNN to be rescued from her home -- a grandmother. Now she's talking about how the Coast Guard saved not only her life but her family, as well.

This is a big part of the reality on the ground. You do not want to miss this interview, next.


[07:53:45] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": When was the last time you ate anything?

CYNTHIA HARMON, RESCUED FROM HER ATTIC AFTER FLOODING: About four o'clock yesterday evening.

BALDWIN: So you're out of food?

HARMON: Yes, up here.

BALDWIN: What about water?

HARMON: No, we don't have any water, either. We haven't had water since probably about, I guess, three or four o'clock this morning because we grabbed like three pitchers that we had in the icebox and some lunch meat and bread we had, but we ate all that.


CUOMO: No food, no water, and no hope. That was the situation for Cynthia Harmon. She called into CNN yesterday begging for assistance.

An hour later, the Coast Guard did come and then she got a Coast Guard rescue -- she and her family. They had to tear a hole in the roof to hoist her, her two sons, her two grandsons -- all of them onto a helicopter.

They are now at a shelter in Beaumont, Texas and Cynthia Harmon joins us with her grandson Christian and his uncle Brandon.

It is good to see you all dry and well. What's the situation? How's everybody doing?

HARMON: We're going good. We're still kind of tired. We've just been sleeping and waiting to eat, but we're all fine. I'm glad to be out of the house.

[07:55:10] CUOMO: You haven't gotten any food yet?

HARMON: I'm sorry. No, we ate yesterday.

CUOMO: Oh, good, good.

HARMON: But it's still early. They're bringing in breakfast now. CUOMO: So what was that like to deal with the Coast Guard getting there -- that's great news -- but them putting a hole in the roof and being hoisted into the helicopter? How as all that?

HARMON: Kind of happy and scared all at the same time.

I've never been in a helicopter and I was scared. So, the young gentlemen, they were -- they were really good. They knew I was scared so I had my eyes closed and they guided me to get in the basket as we went up and when I got in the helicopter they had me get out with my eyes closed.

CUOMO: Were you worried that it wasn't going to happen?

HARMON: Yes, in a way I was because of the fact that we had been calling and even my son and my grandson was calling different hotlines every time somebody sent us a number.

So it's like 12:00 a.m. that morning when the water first started rushing in and the lines was just busy or it just kept ringing. But we never gave up. We just kept calling.

And then I had a lot of family and loved ones that kind of put me out there in the media and Facebook, which allowed a lot of them to call in for me because we had cell phones and the kids had used theirs first and theirs died, so I mainly just had mine.

So -- and we tried to save as much electric as we could because the lights upstairs was on but we turned them off because I was scared to use them because the water rushed in so fast we didn't get a chance to unplug any electricity or anything, and that's why didn't go downstairs in the water.

And it was just horrible because we all had to use the restroom, we all were getting hungry, and we were frustrated. And the kids kept me crying because I really was freaking out and crying. And -- but --

CUOMO: How'd they keep you calm?

HARMON: Talking to me, telling me don't cry, it's going to be OK.

I suffer with anxiety real bad and that's really what it was, but they know what to do. They know how to calm me and talk to me and it worked, it really did.

I don't think I would have known what to do if I didn't have these kids with me --

CUOMO: Well, I'll tell you --

HARMON: -- because I also had my seven-year-old (ph) granddaughter and my 12-year-old son. They're both still sleeping right now.

CUOMO: Well, it's good. It's good that they're getting their rest. It's tough to have kids around. I know that it only heightens your anxiety because you know you have to take care of them. But I've got to tell you, the men by your side, the young men, they look confident and --

HARMON: Thank you.

CUOMO: -- and I'm sure that you raised -- you now know that you raised good, strong, young men, and what does it mean to you that in your hour of need they were there for you and they were keeping you calm?

HARMON: It was horrific, it was, but they're my heart -- they're my heart. They really took good care of me.

CUOMO: Well, you take of each other.

HARMON: I'm sorry.

CUOMO: No, no, no. Listen -- hey, thank God they came and that you're all together. And now, it's just something that you can use as you go forward in life, you know. It just makes the bond with each of you stronger because you got out of there.

Are you starting to think at all about what comes next? How do you get out of that shelter and what the planning is, and the insurance, and all that stuff? Are people helping you?

HARMON: Yes, they are. They're already starting to help us and once things settle it's just going to have to be something me and my husband have to get together and just plan out.

I haven't really been thinking about it right now. I'm just trying to settle and just kind of digest all what was going on because I really was scared. And I really was scared up until last night because I was worried about everything.

But the boys, they really -- they're good. They just kept saying don't worry about it right now, Grandma. You know, they don't want very much.

Just settle down and we're here. Just get something eat and rest. So, that's what I did while we were here. So --

CUOMO: Well, they were right --

HARMON: -- I guess --

CUOMO: -- and now you're in a better place and you can figure out what comes next together and that's the blessing in it, that you're all still together and you're well.

And you can tell those two young men the poise, the confidence, the calm that they used in that terrible situation, it will serve them well the rest of their lives.

So I wish you the best. Let us know who we can help you going forward. We'll stay in touch, OK? HARMON: All right. Thank you so much.

CUOMO: All right. Be well and gentlemen, thank you for your calm.

All right. There is a lot of news. There's some breaking developments. Let's get after it.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.