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Rescue Efforts Continue in Texas; Chemicals Ignite in Flooded Plant in Texas; Brother of Victim Who Lost Van Full of Family Members In Hurricane Harvey Discusses Experience; Texas Governor: 24,000 National Guard Troops On Harvey Rescue Efforts; Interview with Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CYNTHIA HARMON, RESCUED FROM HER ATTACK AFTER FLOODING: All right. Thank you so much.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Be well. Gentlemen, thank you for your calm.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone. You are watching NEW DAY. I'm Alisyn Camerota coming to you live from Houston this morning in the aftermath of Harvey. We do have a lot of breaking news to get to. First, there is a mandatory evacuation this morning of the communities around the Barker Reservoir here in Houston. It's just west of where I am. And that's because the reservoir is right at its breaking point. It is on the cusp of going over. It is at 101 feet. So there is a mandatory evacuation. Officials were waiting for first light here in Houston, and that has just happened. In the past few moments, it has gotten light enough for people now to try to make their way out of those communities.

Chris, the danger is not over here. The water in downtown Houston has receded. Where I'm standing, I am next to one of the bayous, the Buffalo Bayou. It has gone down, but it is still incredibly dangerous at these dams. Their floodgates need to be open and the reservoir may spill over. So a lot of breaking news from here this morning, Chris.

CUOMO: Well, a lot of the places flooded, the water is not expected to crest until tomorrow or the next day, according to the FEMA head, and the story is right behind you. A bayou is supposed to be a slow moving artery of water. And look how fast that current is. It's like a major river. And that just shows how overcapacity they are.

We also hear there's a mix blessing that's going to start today. We have the first responders are going to start going door to door. Why is it mixed? Because hopefully find people alive and who knows what else they're going to find?

Another breaking story is that there have been explosions reported at a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. That's about 25 miles northeast of Houston. Ten sheriffs' deputies had to be hospitalized. The smoke that they inhaled at the scene appears not to be toxic, but inhaling any smoke can take you down.

This as another emergency unfolds further east in Beaumont. The city's two sources for water are cut off because of historic flooding. Imagine the added distress of now having no water on top of having to survive these floods.

We have all of these breaking stories covered. Let's begin with CNN's Polo Sandoval in Richmond, Texas. People think, Polo, you're surrounded by water. At least you have water. You can't drink it, you can't bathe in it, you can't use it to cook.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the irony in all of this too, Chris. And now another day is bringing another round of these mandatory evacuations, these latest ones just mentioned a little while ago are added to the ones that have already been in place here in Fort Bend County, Texas, not far from Houston. At least people in at least three communities here in the area are being asked that as soon as the sun comes up, pack up and head out because of the danger there of the rising waters in that county.

Let's go to Houston, though, where officials there also extremely busy this morning. They will begin the very difficult task of going door to door in these flooded neighborhoods, many of them still underwater, to make sure everybody that needed rescuing was rescued.


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


SANDOVAL: As that happens in Houston, here in Richmond, Texas, the Brazos River continues to rise, already reaching record levels, still expected to go even higher there, Alisyn. So from rivers to reservoirs, they are still posing serious threats for people here in Texas.

CAMEROTA: Yes, there's all sorts of danger, you're right. And then it is complicated because, as you know, there's all sorts of chemical plants and refineries here on the coast along Houston as well. And that's where we find Paul Vercammen. There has been an explosion this morning at one of these chemical plants. What do you know, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, they're somewhat disputing the term "explosion," and let me tell you why. At the Arkema plant in about 1:00 in the morning and again at 2:00, they had an ignition of what they call organic peroxides. These are petrochemicals. The Arkema official had been warning for days that this would happen. And that's because this plant became flooded. These chemicals need to be refrigerated. When they heat up, they degrade, and the term that they're using is they ignite. This happened twice, and they sent a plume of smoke in the air.

Taking this very seriously, they evacuated the neighborhood within a mile and a half of the chemical plant. Also, one officer, smelling these fumes, was taken to a local hospital. Nine others officers drove themselves to the hospital.

[08:05:07] According to the Harris County sheriff's department, they have been checked out and there's nothing serious here. They say that these fumes are nontoxic. As one official put it, it's sort of like breathing in the fire from a camp fire. But they are not erring on the side of riskiness. They're airing on the side of caution right now. And so as we look at what happened here, as we said, they expected this to happen without any refrigeration, the plant was vulnerable. So far so good, we are not hearing of any major injuries. Back to you now, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Paul, thank you very much for that clarification. Keep us posted on what's happening there.

We have more breaking news to get to right now, because all eyes are watching Beaumont, Texas. And that's because, as we just heard General Honore tell us in our last hour, the grid is failing there. If the fails in Beaumont, Texas, then there's an entire cascading even of catastrophes that could happen. And at the moment they have lost both fo their water supplies. That's where we find CNN's Drew Griffin. Drew, what is the latest in Beaumont?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are going to go out and check the water pump that's in the Naches River. They should be doing that just about now. They had to take a boat out to do that. That failure is what caused all the water in the city of Beaumont to just go dry. It happened very quickly, 12:30 this morning, the word went out that the water supply, the pumps had gone out. And I'll tell you by the time I woke up this morning about 3:00, there was no water in the system.

It could be a quick fix. It could be a days' fix, and this city without water is going to be a problem, especially with all the water that is already surrounding it that you can't use, Alisyn. And that's one of the bigger problems here. They are going to begin now starting to door to door rescues, door to door checks to make sure everything is good. But as of right now the city water supply, that is the big problem in Beaumont. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Absolutely, drew. Please keep us posted on what's happening there. There's obviously great concern.

Now to the human tragedy and toll of this terrible storm. One of the most heart breaking stories that we have heard is the Saldivar family. They've lost six members of their family when their van -- they were trying to escape the flood waters, then loaded into the van, and the van vanished in the flood waters. The driver of the van, a brother named Sammy. He was able to get out. But he watched as the van then submerged with six of his young relatives and his parents.

So, we went and talked to another brother in that family, Ric Saldivar, about the heart breaking turn of events when he had just been told that the van and the bodies had been found.


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

RIC SALDIVAR, LOST SIX FAMILY MEMBERS IN HURRICANE: I said what are you planning on doing? He said well I'm going to stay and if the water starts coming up I'll put them in the truck and take them to your house. That's OK. That will work.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just me. I guess we got to get out of here. I fell asleep. Neighbor just woke us up. The water started coming in the house.

CAMEROTA: So then, when he realized he had fallen asleep it was starting to get too late. 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.


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

SALDIVAR: Well, my sister-in-law called me, and said that -- she was hysterical and said Sammy lost control of the van and mom and dad are gone and my kids are gone and my grandkids are gone. I said, what are you talking about? What happened? Sammy lost control of the van and it sent in a bayou and everybody's gone.

I finally got a hold of Sammy. He said that of course he was barely able to talk. They came up to a bridge where a road and Green River come together, and the bridge was overflowed, but dad said, go. You can make it. I can see the guardrail. Go. And Sammy told -- we were taught you listen to your dad. Dad was really demanding even at 84 years old. And so he went.

[08:10:00] And like I told Sammy, I said I can't see myself doing anything different. Dad told me to go I would have tried to make it. Of course like anybody else, he panicked. He said him, mom and dad were in underwater. They were underwater, and he got out of the van. He didn't even take off his seatbelt. The window was half way open. He just got out. And he came - he grabbed a branch or twig, what he called it. He called a twig. I don't know if it was a branch or tree or what. And the kids were screaming. He could hear them screaming and crying. Of course they wanted the out of the van. And he kept yelling at them climb out the back, get out the back doors.

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

SALDIVAR: Yes. Van go down knowing 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: He went over there by himself 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, I knew then. They said the 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: And so you were very close with your parents.

SALDIVAR: Oh, yes. All of us were.

CAMEROTA: And to lose them so suddenly is --


CAMEROTA: A bigger challenge.

SALDIVAR: Yes, but 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 they were so sorry. Whatever you need, everybody, just whatever you need. I guess they can imagine going through something like this. And like I told the sheriff, I said I'm so glad you saved my brother. I just -- I didn't want to lose my brother. I'm sorry. It comes up so fast. I can't stop it.

CAMEROTA: Everybody understands that. I mean in other words, it could have been worse, there could have been more loss.

SALDIVAR: Yes. Yes. I mean if he went down. He even said -- what's wrong with you. I mean, if he went down, we wouldn't know. We would still think they're at a shelter or something or at least hoping that's where they were. We wouldn't know. Andrew wouldn't know to go look for the van down there. We wouldn't know what route he took. I told him to take the back roads because the freeway were flooded, but I wouldn't know if that's where he went.

CAMEROTA: What did you say to the deputies who saved your brother?

SALDIVAR: Oh, my God, thank you, because he said we were actually going. I said oh, my God, thank you very much. You know, golly, you all saved my brother's life. I didn't know it was the two that saved him. I was just so happy that they did that, that somebody heard him screaming. I don't know who, but somebody heard him and they showed up.


CAMEROTA: Chris, look, it's obviously inconceivable for most of us to be able to imagine that level of loss in one family. You can hear Ric there. He's clearly a positive person. He says so touched by the outpouring of love that he's gotten from coworkers and friends and neighbors and everyone.

But I do want to alert people, Chris, to this sickening scam that's happening. Believe it or not, there are people who are trying to cash in on the Saldivar's tragedy, and they have set up these bogus, phony Go Fund Me pages trying to get money for the Saldivar family. There's only really one page that the real family wants to be out there. This is the verified one. This is Catherine Ramos Saldivar. We're only putting it up because we don't want people tricked by these disgusting scams.

The family is actually not asking the public for anything. They're not asking the public for money or anything other than that we've just all keep them in our prayers, Chris.

CUOMO: Who knows what they'll need going forward, but there's no question that crisis brings out true character. Good people do good things, bad people do bad things.

So right now, let's take a look at the situation. This is live picture of one of the reservoirs, OK? This is live picture of one of the reservoirs, OK?

[08:15:01] So, you're seeing what the problem is. Chad Myers has been speaking to this very directly all morning. A lot of these structures are built inside of what would be the reservoir area, literally, as he would say built inside a lake.

So you're seeing the runoff, spillage, full capacity of that reservoir, and you're seeing the basis for the appraisal of FEMA and other experts saying that they haven't seen the worst of the cresting yet. That's why emergency managers have ordered mandatory evacuations along that west side of the reservoir, because of fear of imminent flood.

All right. So, Alisyn, just beautifully told you the story of the kind of loss that's there. I say beautifully, because it deserves the respect of that reality.

But there's another reality as well. Last night on CNN, we had a man who was separated from his 88-year-old father.

Imagine this. He couldn't find him. He knew he had been brought somewhere. The father doesn't have his phone, didn't have the numbers memorized. That would be expected. He was trying to find him.

He came to us. You did what people do best. You spread the word, tried to help. It got back to him, and guess what? Twenty minutes after the interview, Bradley Allen got information about where his father was and he went and they had each other ones again.

And Bradley Allen joins us on the phone right now. Bradley, did I get it right? Is that how it happened?

BRADLEY ALLEN, SON OF MISSING PERSON HARRISON ALLEN (via telephone): That is correct. That's very correct. A lot of people called and I appreciate all the calls about prayers and stuff. I had to keep on moving through the calls. They were coming in at an amazing rate, I never knew a phone could ring so fast.

For some reason, the phone paused for one minute and another call came in. I was suspicious they were just helping to pray and everything or else they might be the right one. I have to answer every single one from all over the country and this one lady said I think my night manager's checked your dad into the hotel. I couldn't believe it.

It's like, you hang on just a minute. Can you verify his full name? They were very secure, you know? And then they said, OK. Can you verify the address he would register under?

She said yes we have a man with in a registration and the night manager saw your show and called the hotel and said, hey, we found that man that was on TV. And so, after she verified that he was in the room, she wouldn't give me the number or anything. Right thing to do, a policy, but she connected me to the room and I said, this is Bradley Allen, are you my dad? And it was. I could not believe it.

Then he told me the unbelievable story about turning around and getting up in bed and saying oh, my gosh what is this on my feet? It's water. He got up and someone was banging on the back door, some citizen somewhere banging. I'm here to help you. He went to the door. He said get whatever you can in a bag. You got like 30 seconds to get to the front door. Open up the front door.

He opened up the front door and the man slid a kayak into the house strapped him in and pulled him to safety. This street was roaring with water and somehow this man had him tied on and paddling with the other kayak and somehow got him to safety where the Houston Police Department took care of him and put him in the dump truck and got him over to the highway.

So, yes. He couldn't stop. He was dying to tell his story. It was really nice you all were able to do that. But there were also thousands and thousands or hundreds of miles all the way from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, Houston, all the way to Louisiana. Small town, huge city, they're everywhere, but thank you all so much.

CUOMO: Well, listen. It's not us. I mean, you know, people realize that at times like this, we're all connected. We're in it together and people stepped up an social media, of all places, for all the negative stuff that can happen there.

They heard your need and responded for you because that's what people do. They help one another.

And I'm so happy for you, Bradley. I mean I can't imagine what it was like for you not knowing where your pop was. I'm really happy you have each other. I hope that find of ending comes for so many others who are still out there stranded and still trying to find their loved ones.

Hold onto each other. I hope he is well and I hope you both recover quickly and get back on your feet.

ALLEN: Thank you so much. I should meet him later on this morning for a first time in a long time.

CUOMO: Oh, beautiful. Send me a picture. I know everybody loves -- everybody son loves to see their father, but I'm sure, this time is going to be special. Send me a picture if you can.

ALLEN: I sure will.

CUOMO: All right. God bless, be well, thank you for sharing your story.

ALLEN: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right.

[08:20:00] Alisyn?


CUOMO: Look, just like you have the situation for that family, you've going to have good stories as well. Thank God these two have found themselves and this family can be reunited.

CAMEROTA: We're so grateful that that happened. Power of television and I believe we're actually going to talk to them later on in the day. So we'll bring updates.

Meanwhile, the military presence is increasing by the day. Texas Governor Greg Abbott deployed additional 10,000 National Guard members here.

I believe that you're looking right now at the flooding that's happening around this reservoir, the Barker Reservoir, where people are being told to evacuate this morning and the Navy has also sent some of its equipment here.

So, joining us now is Brigadier General Patrick Hamilton, and he is the commander of all military forces, state and federal, that are operating within Texas to assist the recovery effort from this storm.

General, thank you very much for being here. What is most pressing for you today?

BRIG. GEN. PATRICK HAMILTON, COMMANDER, HURRICANE HARVEY RECOVERY EFFORT & TEXAS MILITARY DEPARTMENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Most pressing right now is continuing search and rescue operations in Beaumont and Port Arthur area.

As a matter of fact, yesterday we moved 500 trucks and 1,200 soldiers, airman, excuse me. Navy, Marines, active duty guard in a consolidated move into the area to begin rescue operations. One of the largest moves I think we've seen since World War II at one time from disparate areas into an area to start rescue operations.

I'm concerned about the water situation. We're staging tremendous amount of logistics capability to start beginning resupply at the direction of the state and local officials. I'm sure FEMA's helping with that, provide the water and will start doing the distribution. That developing situation is going to continue.

CAMEROTA: General, help us understand the numbers here, because we have been told yesterday that the Pentagon said it had 30,000 troops ready to go whenever Governor Abbott needed it.

Is it your assessment it's time to activate them?

HAMILTON: We are bringing them in, absolutely bringing them in, in a scaled fashion so they can be put into the effort in a coordinated manner. One of the problems when you flood an area with too much help, it becomes counter productive sometimes.

We have got right now 14,000 soldiers on the ground with another 5,000 flowing in right now. Some of those are part of that 30,000, bringing troops in from other places. We have a tremendous number of active duty units flowing in as well. This is a very coordinated operation and continues to grow.

CAMEROTA: General, Beaumont, Texas, is where so many officials are focused this morning because there's a mandatory evacuation there. This is what everyone feared, that the storm would pass, there'd be blue skies, people would have a false sense of security, return home and then a reservoir would tip. Or then the floodgates of a dam would open and a neighborhood would be in peril. And so, that's what's happening in Beaumont, Texas where the reservoir is right on the cusp of failing.

So, already, we've heard from one of our reporters, Drew Griffin, that the water is out there the water supplies are failing.

What's your plan for it some place like Beaumont starts dropping off the grid?

HAMILTON: Right. That becomes a large scale evacuation that's going to happen in that area. Air transportation, large aircraft transportation, all laid on to begin that operation, pulling people out, getting them to staging area, evacuation hubs and begin to move them out of the area.

CAMEROTA: All right. Well, we know that you have your hands full. We know you're keeping an eye on it.

Brigadier General Hamilton, hank you very much for joining us and obviously we'll be bringing everybody all of the breaking details as well.

Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Alisyn. So, the impact of Harvey is relative, right? I mean, what we're seeing in Texas is catastrophic. Louisiana, little bit different story. Somewhat spared. People had to be rescued, there's tons of flooding and they're not completely out of the woods.

The governor there has asked for the federal government to extend a disaster declaration to more areas.

Now, joining us is Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.

And, Senator, thank you for joining us. I'm sorry for it to be under these circumstances, and that's why I made air quotes when I said spared because I know there have been areas that are hard hit. We spoke to the governor.

What do you know about the reality on the ground in your state this morning?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: We had some flooding, Chris, and it's not over for us yet. But, you know, for the most part, we dodged the bullet.

[08:25:04] Texas took it right in the gut. And I'm just -- I'm so sorry for them. I know what they're going through. We went through it in Katrina.

And all I can tell my friends in Texas is, there are going to be times you want to give up. Don't. We'll get through all of this together.

We've sent most of our resources in Louisiana to Texas. We have probably 500 citizens, not people who work for government, just citizens who got up and took their boats. They're called the Cajun Navy. They were in Houston, now they're in Beaumont, and Port Arthur just trying to help people get out.

We've opened shelters here in Louisiana so people that can't find their shelter in Texas can come over here to Louisiana. I'm just so sorry. I mean, this whole thing is just, as you put it, horrific. It just sucks. I'm sorry. That's the only way I know to explain it.

I don't know why bad things happen to good people. But they do. And we have to deal with it. And we're going to deal with it.

It's going to take a lot of money. But at a time like this, you don't think about the money. You think about the -- you don't think about the mathematics. You think about the moral aspect of it.

CUOMO: You shouldn't --


KENNEDY: It's not over.

CUOMO: You shouldn't anyway. That's true. I want to talk to you about that. There's no question that when we see the worst from Mother Nature, we sometimes see the best from human nature and the hope is the people who survive it are stronger than ever and people have a better sense like we saw in Louisiana and we saw certainly in New Orleans that that community came back and knew something about itself and how people care about each other that they may not have known as well before.

You talk about money. There are two different angles of a immediate concern. One is flood insurance. What do you hear about the sustainability of programs, payouts, efficiency that's going to happen? Because was we both know, that's the first big immediate fear after survival for people in areas that get flooded out is will I get the money to rebuild?

KENNEDY: If you had flood insurance and you paid your hard earned dollars in premiums, by God, you're going to get paid. Now, Congress is going to do whatever it takes -- yes, the flood insurance program is in debt about $25 billion.

CUOMO: That's why I'm asking.

KENNEDY: The line of credit will be extended. People will get paid.

CUOMO: All right.

KENNEDY: At some point when we get back to Washington, we're going to have to reauthorize the program. I have a bill I put together with Elizabeth Warren and Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez and others to try to do that. We have to have flood insurance.

But our main concern right now is first, let's get the situation stabilized in Texas and get people out of harm's way and then let's help them get whack on their feet.


KENNEDY: New Orleans did recover from Katrina. But we had a lot of help from the American taxpayer. I can tell you will right up front, I'm going to vote to give Texas whatever they need to get back on their feet.

CUOMO: Now, we didn't see that with Sandy. You know, I know a lot of lawmakers don't like this part of the conversation.

KENNEDY: I know.

CUOMO: They think I'm being negative. That's too damn bad, Senator, because we live through what happened with Sandy. People play politics with that bill.

A lot of people in the Republican Party did it. They said it was two thirds pork. It wasn't. That's why Governor Chris Christie was so angry about what happened, calling out Ted Cruz.

How do we avoid that this time around?

KENNEDY: You just don't do it. I mean, look, the folks in Texas, like the folks in New Jersey and New York in Sandy, they paid a lot of money in taxes for the federal government. They worked hard for that money. In a catastrophe like this, they're entitled to get some of it back. It's just that simple.

The first role of government is to protect people and property. And part of that means when bad things happen to folks, through no fault of their own, their fellow Americans help them. Now, I wasn't there when they voted on the relief for Sandy.

I'm there now the U.S. Senate and I can tell you, I'm about as fiscally conservative as they come, Chris. Some people call me cheap. That's OK. But by God, I'm going to vote to give Texas all the help it needs.

CUOMO: Good.

KENNEDY: It's just that simple.

CUOMO: Good, because there are plenty of times to save, and there's no question there's a need for fiscal responsible, but an emergency is exactly that. There are times to have setoffs and budgets. There are times to have clean bills.

This is one of those times, because they're going to need money in waves and it's going to have to keep coming. That's just the reality.

Senator, thank you for fighting that good fight for the people who are surviving this storm in your state and around the Gulf. We are here to have this discussion. Let us know if it isn't going the right way. We will expose that process.

KENNEDY: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Thank you, sir.