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Door to Door Searches Start; Beaumont Water Supply Failing; Cleanup Begins in Dickinson; Cajun Navy Helps Out. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Are here to have this discussion. Let us know if it isn't going the right way. We will expose that process.


CUOMO: Thank you, sir.

All right, so another update that we're getting from the ground is that door to door searches start today. And you're going to hear a tone shift on this because this is good but it's a mixed kind of blessing because who knows what they're going to find as they start going house to house. Hopefully they find people stranded. But we're going to have Houston's fire chief with the expectations, next.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. I'm in Houston this morning trying to report on the aftermath of Harvey.

We're also looking at live pictures right now of Vice President Mike Pence. He is preparing to come here to Texas to look for himself at what's happened to this state in the aftermath of Harvey. He's going to be going to Corpus Christi and he's going to be going to Rockport. That's where the storm first made landfall as a very strong hurricane. And so, obviously, there is just vast devastation across the coast of Texas and even inland and Vice President Pence is going to be getting a view of all of that today.

Meanwhile, we are entering a new phase here in Houston. Firefighters are about to beginning going door to door. They are going to be searching for what could be thousands of people who stayed behind who were stranded or who weathered the storm in their homes and there is no -- no idea what they might find.

[08:35:14] So joining us now on the phone is the Houston fire chief, Samuel Pena.

Chief Pena, thank you very much for being here.

How are you going to start to figure out what region to go door to door in?

SAMUEL PENA, HOUSTON FIRE CHIEF (via telephone): Good morning, Alisyn. Thanks for having me this morning.

So we've already selected the area that we're going to start with. We'll be starting in the south west part of Houston. It's an area that was devastated by the floods. They had immense inundation. And -- but the waters have receded enough to be able to start with this next phase of the operation.

The same process, same wide area search process that we're going to execute beginning at the -- 9:00 this morning is going to have to happen in different parts of Houston. But at this point, this area has -- the environment in that area is such that we can begin this second phase.

CAMEROTA: And, chief, I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but there's just no telling what you'll find. You know, at the moment, the death toll, while tragic -- I mean the last number we had is 37. Obviously, it could have been much worse. It could have been catastrophic, such as in Katrina. And so what are you bracing for as you go door to door?

PENA: Well, you know, we hope we don't find anything in those city hopes. But I can tell you that the area that we're searching is -- as a result of it being inundated with at least three feet of water, or sometimes completely underwater were these -- were these structures. We -- it's going to be an immense undertaking. Crews are going to be searching, just in that area alone, in the area of operation that we're starting today. We've got over 16,000 single family home that we need to search. Over 2,500 multi-family homes.

So it's going to be a huge undertaking. It was devastated by Harvey. And we've -- you know, again, we hope for the best, but really we are preparing to -- for what's anticipated.

CAMEROTA: Yes. That is a huge undertaking.

And, you know, yesterday, I went out with the Cajun Navy, you know, this ad hoc team of hundreds of volunteers. And we went to this neighborhood that was subsumed by water and you just think nobody was there because how could they be living in this neighborhood. Their cars were underwater. Their first floors were underwater. But, sure enough, we found people who were still there. They were still just weather it in their homes.

PENA: Right.

CAMEROTA: So you are -- I mean I think it's really impossible to underscore enough what you may be in store for when you knock on all of these doors.

PENA: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, at some point, when the operations began, the first day we ran close to 5,500 calls for service. And then as the days went on, they started getting a little bit less. We were still over 4,000 the second day and so on and so forth. But they started to come in less. And, you know, we -- part of the reason was maybe their cell phones were dying, the battery was dying, and they just couldn't get -- reach assistance. So, yes, there are -- we expect to find people, you know, in these

areas. You know, some of them have made it up to the attic and that's where they've been waiting for a rescue.

But I can tell you that the area that we're searching, it's going to be on foot. It's going to be door to door. You know, our process is not going to be -- we're not going to mark up our houses. It's -- we're going to use a GPS system to track the houses that we've -- that the firefighters have searched. And then they'll be able to have the data so we can see what the progress is and what we've found.


PENA: But, you know, my hat is off to the firefighters and first responders and all the workers that are -- that have committed to this -- to responding to this incident. We have firefighters right now and -- that haven't been home since the incident began for three to four days. So they haven't even assessed what conditions in their own homes. But they're committed. They're -- they have a huge sense of duty and I couldn't be prouder of the men and women of the Houston Fire Department.

CAMEROTA: Well, we understand and we want to echo those sentiments. They're doing God's work. So, chief, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. And, obviously, we are watching very closely what you all find today.

Thank you for being with us.

So while I'm here on the banking of this bayou, let me just walk you around, Chris, and show you what we're seeing today because it changes by the hour. So let me just show you what's -- what we're facing today.

[08:40:09] This duck pond right here, what I'm calling a duck pond, that was a parking lot a few days ago. And this sand dune that I'm now walking on, this was just a regular walkway. And you'll get a sense -- I mean no sand is supposed to be here. Obviously this was moved down the Buffalo Bayou by the raging flood waters here.

And you can get a sense of just how high the flood waters rose. If you look at this tree, you can see the baggies in it. That shows the debris and all the garbage that was brought down the river. And at the very top you can see one. So, obviously, the floods went above this tree.

In fact, the locals here tell us it went as high as those two trees in the distance. The flood waters at the very top, those leaves were peeking out on those tall trees over there.

So, obviously, there's going to be a lot of cleaning up to do. But this space is exactly what more cities need. This is park space. This is open green space. And it can turn into a flood plain if necessary. Because, obviously, no homes around here had to be devastated.

I went to bring in General Honore. He has been good enough to be with us all morning, walking us through what he's seeing here and what's next.

General, thanks so much.

So let's talk about the places that are in most dire need this morning. You're most worried about Beaumont, Texas, where the water supply is failing.

LT. GENERAL RUSSEL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. (INAUDIBLE) people (INAUDIBLE) water. Now we have to import water because I'm not sure if a boil water execution will solve the problem there. And I'm sure the mayor and whole team -- but as of today, they need to have truckloads of water headed to Beaumont. Then the problem you get of how you distribute it. Particularly people that may still be sheltering at home.

CAMEROTA: Yes, look, we heard from a general in the military, that they are, obviously, deploying more national guardsmen here. Is it your sense, from everything that you've seen, from your vast experience during Katrina, do they need more military troops here for the next phase?

HONORE: Yes. Comparatively speaking, Katrina, General Blum (ph) brought in about 50,000 National Guard and we had 20,000 federal.

CAMEROTA: Do you know how many are here? Do you know how many are here now?

HONORE: What the Texas state has, I think it's around 12,000. The governor mobilized his entire National Guard. Which was a good move. I thought it should have been done a couple days earlier.

CAMEROTA: It's 24,000 I'm being told as of this hour, 24,000, because Governor Abbott did deploy, I think, 12,000 more. But your feeling is that that's still half as many as they need.

HONORE: Oh, yes. They need a good 50,000 troops, at least.

CAMEROTA: But what would they be doing? What would those troops be doing right now?

HONORE: They've got to get out in all the small communities and help open roads, help stand up infrastructure, help get water systems back online, help with security and traffic control because the local police force have to focus on these knock and search. Only police and credentialed people -- we can't use the Cajun Navy to go into people's houses to see if anybody's in there. This is -- has to be done by credentialed law enforcement and first responders.

And they have a tough job. My heart goes out to them. They've been doing a great job. But this search, going into homes, is going to be tough.

CAMEROTA: And it's just starting now.

General Honore, thank you very much for all the experience and helping us while we've been out here. Chris, obviously we'll keep you posted throughout the day of what

transpires now that the real searching begins.

Back to you.

CUOMO: I've got to tell you, you know, the general's right. I was with him in -- down there for Katrina and this is an important step. It can be a great event when they start going in these homes. They find people who are still alive. But it is hard -- it's hard for the first responders. It's going to be hard for everybody to learn of the realities. So we'll stay on it. We have to cover it. That's the job.

Cleanup efforts are underway in some places, like Dickinson, Texas. That was among one of the hardest hit areas by Harvey. So, what is it like as they're cleaning it up? What are they finding? What's the reality? We'll go there, next.


[08:48:04] CAMEROTA: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

I am here in downtown Houston to show you the aftermath of Harvey. One of the hardest hit places, cities though, in Harvey was a place called Davidson -- sorry, I hope that's right. Which one? We're going -- Dickinson. Sorry about that. Dickinson. It's 30 miles southeast of where I am. And Dickinson is one of the hardest hit places because Harvey dumped more than four feet, if you can believe it, of rain there. And, thankfully, the flood waters are starting to recede there.

But let's check in with CNN's Ed Lavandera. He is in Dickinson. And he has been there since Harvey first hit.

So, Ed, tell us what you're seeing today.


Good morning, Alisyn.

Well, just a few days ago this particular neighborhood we're in here in Dickinson was under five to six feet of water. The water is gone, which is the good news, but now the dreadful cleanup of what is left behind. You can see this one particular home in this neighborhood already starting to clean out all of their belongings from inside the house ruined. And that also stretches out over here.

And this particular neighborhood backs up to a bayou, just on the other side of those homes. And that is where all of the water rushed into this neighborhood. This is a neighborhood where you saw many of those dramatic rescues by citizen volunteers and National Huard soldiers as well. So a great deal of gratitude for those people.

But now the cleanup process begins. And it is going to take a long time.


CAMEROTA: It sure is, Ed. Thank you for monitoring all of that for us.

So one of the things that we want to show you is what's happening in these deluged neighborhoods. I had a chance to ride around with the so-called Cajun Navy yesterday. They are this ad hoc team of volunteers and they've descended on Texas to do whatever they can to help out with all of these water rescues. They came with their boats from Louisiana. So we'll show you what they've been accomplishing on this ride-along, next.


[08:52:22] CAMEROTA: OK, so you've probably heard us talk about the Cajun Navy. And that's this ad hoc group of hundreds, I think, of volunteers. Nobody has an exact number when we ask. Volunteers who have come in from Louisiana. And they've come in to help the folks here. Many of these are heroes from Katrina. They bring their boats, and they come here and they actually endured a treacherous day-long journey to get here over flooded streets et cetera. And they want to help rescue survivors.

So I was able to ride along with a group of them as we went to try to find people who were stranded in their homes, still, yesterday, by the flood waters. Watch this.


CAMEROTA: What's your role here? What are you doing here?

DAVID BILLEAUD, CAJUN NAVY BOAT DRIVER: We're trying our hardest to find locations that are in dire need. That's been the hardest part of this three-day journey.

CAMEROTA: And -- but why did you come here to Texas? You came from Louisiana, right?

BILLEAUD: Yes, Lafayette, Louisiana. We're part of the Cajun Navy.

CAMEROTA: And what is the Cajun Navy.

BILLEAUD: Hell if I know. I know that I went to Katrina to do the same thing. They started calling us the Cajun Navy.

CAMEROTA: Do you know where people are trapped in here?

BILLEAUD: I am 100 percent clueless.

CAMEROTA: Where the sheriff said they need help?

BILLEAUD: Yes, this was the latest call.

CAMEROTA: OK, so these are the boat loads of people who were stranded after they opened the floodgates on the dam. So there was a whole neighborhood here, a whole apartment complex where people were stranded. And you can see them with their pets. They have dogs in cages. You can see that in one of these boats there was a woman in a wheelchair. So lots of people. This isn't from the storm and the flooding. This is from releasing the

dam. This is days later and they're stranded in their homes and need to evacuate now.

So you can hear all the house alarms that are going off because of all the flooding. And we can also hear whistling from people inside to let us know that they're trapped in there.

Hello? What are you doing in there?



KITHCART: I'm a Marine. We don't retire. I'm a Marine. I'm not leaving.

CAMEROTA: Sir, we've been combing this whole complex looking for people. What are you still doing here?

KITHCART: I'm here because I was evacuated yesterday. They told us that the -- it was going to be a six-foot swell coming, which never happened. We only had two inches more water come into the complex.

[08:55:09] CAMEROTA: But now you do have a six-foot swell. Now it's happened. Your whole complex, your whole neighborhood is submerged.

KITHCART: Yes, ma'am. We're standing in feet of water. When I left out of here, we left out of -- in feet of water, but it was just two inches lower than what it is right now. So it only went up two inches.

CAMEROTA: So what does that mean, you think you can stay in here?

KITHCART: Well, we have three levels here. We still have electrical. We still have food. We still have power. We just shut all the power off downstairs. All the electrical outlets are shut off downstairs. The AC's shut off. But you have the upstairs. You have a refrigerator. You have electricity. You have everything. Running water and everything.

CAMEROTA: So are you riding it out here?

KITHCART: I was going to ride it out, but I don't want to be separated from my wife and daughter.

I want to tell you, in Houston, Texas, we had guys from Louisiana that were picking up African-Americans, Caucasians, Asians, any kind of race you can imagine. They weren't asking what race you were, what religion you were from, what background. They saw you as a human that need help.

And all the racism that everybody's talking about right now, that's one small pocket of ignorant people. But what I've witnessed over these last three day is that we have more people in this world that care about each other than the small pockets of people that don't care about each other. I'm taking that away as the greatest miracle that you could ever learn in life is to see real people helping people.


CAMEROTA: So, Chris, that, of course, is the silver lining to tragedies like this. You see the best in humanity and that man wanted to tell us about all of the goodness that he's seen. Everybody, lots and lots of people have told us about all of the generosity of neighbors and, you know, just residents helping each other.

And it was really interesting to ride around with the Cajun Navy because nobody's organizing them. So they just call different sheriff's departments and say, where do you needed the most help? And then they go over there in their boat and they try to help. And, sure enough, thy find people.


CUOMO: It's not always the best situation, but right now it's the best they can do. So it's good that they are there. And it was good to see you too with your personal flotation device. Stay safe. I need you when you come back. And we'll see you --

CAMEROTA: You know, I even wear it in the car, as you know, so I'm very safe.

CUOMO: Good. Good. I like it. It makes me look bigger in the suit.


CUOMO: I'll see you tomorrow morning. And I will see you tonight on prime time at 9:00 p.m.

There is breaking news, developments with Harvey. It's going to continue, CNN's coverage, with NEWSROOM with John Berman right after this break.

Please, stay with CNN.