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Babies Evacuated from Hospital; Door-to-Door Searches Continue in Houston; Rescues Continue in Houston; Chemical Plant Update; Hurricane Irma Churns in the Atlantic; Gas Prices Spike In Wake Of Harvey; Mayor: Most Of Houston Dry, "Recovery" Begins; Businesses Donate Over $72 Million To Harvey Relief. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:06] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, every. John Berman here.

A painful unknown up and down the coast of Texas this morning. Thousands don't know when the water will recede, and they don't know what they will find when it does. For some areas it could get worse before it gets better. The Army Corp of Engineering planning new controlled releases from those two major reservoirs that have been overflowing into Houston. The reservoirs could take three months before they are completely empty.

Officials now estimate more than 130,000 homes are damaged in the Houston area alone. Across the region, more than 72,000 people have been rescued. As of right now, 47 deaths are being tied to the storm.

In Beaumont, the water system, it is out. Floods have disabled the pumping stations and now a hospital had had to transfer its patients and shut down.

On top of all of that, there is Irma. Irma is a category three hurricane churning across the open Atlantic, getting stronger, heading toward, well, no one knows exactly for sure. And that is a serious problem.

We are watching all of this, but we do have some breaking news this morning.

I want to get to Miguel Marquez. He's at the Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, where evacuations began yesterday. And some very important news this morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're about to see those evacuations get underway. Again, we're expecting a helicopter any moment to land here.

They have 11 babies. There were two healthy babies born here in the last 24 hours. They have nine that were born prematurely that they need to get out. Just a short time ago, we got -- seconds ago, really, we got a look at

some of those babies in the neonatal intensive care unit here. The nurses caring for them incredibly well. They are nervous about these babies leaving because they are concerned that -- about their safety as well.

I want to bring in the doctor who is in charge of the neonatal intensive care unit here, Dr. Snehal Doshi.

These are your babies. What's going to happen here today?

DR. SNEHAL DOSHI, NEONATOLOGIST: Yes. These are our babies. We're planning on taking them to safety and taking them over to UTMV where we have running water and all the supplies that we need to take care of them.

MARQUEZ: And UTMV is in Galveston. So not too far a ride away.

You were telling me earlier, we were chatting for a bit, you were telling me earlier that there are some parents who are stuck in the floods and can't get here? Is that right?

DOSHI: Absolutely correct. There are some parents who simply haven't seen their babies for days just because it's not safe for them to come to the hospital.

MARQUEZ: How difficult is this? This is -- you know, you're a doctor, you're used to pretty intense situations, dealing with emotions of parents. How difficult is this right now?

DOSHI: It's extraordinarily hard. Not only am I physician, but I'm a parent as well. A lot of our staff, we haven't seen our own children for days. And so we very much understand what these parents are going through.

MARQUEZ: Babies are fragile. Prematurely born babies are incredibly fragile. Moving them in helicopters, most children don't take a ride in a plane or a helicopter for many, many months or years. How tough is this operation that you guys are doing today?

DOSHI: It's extremely tuff, but we have a lot of support staff. We have over eight agencies that are coordinating everything, letting us focus on the task at hand, which is to take care of the infants, and they're coordinating transport and supplies and everything else that we need.

MARQUEZ: And perhaps the most amazing story you told me was a woman who was pregnant with twins in the floods, air lifted out of there to your hospital, had the kids, one it fine, the other needed to go to ICU. Tell me how she's doing.

DOSHI: She's doing extraordinarily well under the circumstances. She's recovering. She's able to walk around. She's coming to see her baby in the NICU and also taking care of the healthy one. And so we're going to now -- she came in, was life-flighted here and now we're going to life flight her out with her babies. MARQUEZ: That is a lot of flying for someone who's just had twins.

You're from here. You work here. What does this say about Beaumont, about this place?

DOSHI: You know, we're all one family. So, you know, we do what we can. We come together in times like this. It makes me proud to be an American. It makes me proud to be a Texan.

MARQUEZ: Doctor, thank you very, very much. Very nice to meet you.

DOSHI: Sure.

MARQUEZ: John, the big question is, when the water will start flowing again. The drinking water will start flowing again. The river here, it all depends on that, when that starts to recede. We expect it will crest around 1:00. It will then go down in the next -- in the days ahead. Then they'll be able to get to the pumps and get the water back up and flowing.


BERMAN: All right, Miguel Marquez for us in Beaumont. We should see those evacuations soon of those 11 babies right now in the NICU. And I just have to say, if you have not had a baby in the NICU, it is one of the most emotionally taxing things that can happen to any parent. So my heart goes out to all of those parents right now, some of whom can't even get to their babies in that hospital.

[09:05:09] Our thanks to Miguel and our thank you to that hospital. Again, those babies being evacuated right now.

We have some live pictures right I think I want to show you in the Houston area. Look at that. That's a railroad bridge right there. You can see the debris just stuck, caked on to that railroad bridge right there. Workers now on top. There is so much work to be done to the infrastructure right now in and around the Houston area. And in some cases they're now just learning how much work needs to be done because the water recedes to the point where you can see this mass of debris.

Let's get to Ed Lavandera. He's in the part of the Houston right now.

And, Ed, where you are, this is where we can see some of that controlled release from the reservoirs, which could, in essence, create some deliberate flooding.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, and it's also going to take several month to everything -- for everything here to settle back to normal in term the where the reservoir stands and the water levels behind those reservoirs.

But here in this neighborhood, we're on the west side of Houston. And this is one of two main areas that are left of major concern in the city -- in the area -- in Harris County in the city. This here -- this part here on the west side. There's also a section in the northeast Kingwood area that is also still having some high water. So these -- some of these neighborhoods here on the west side still impassable.

Some staggering numbers, John, of the scope and scale of the destruction and the devastation caused by these flood waters. County officials say that 136,000 structures across Harris County have been damaged in some way by these flood waters. Just a staggering number, especially when you consider that many people still haven't even gotten back into the homes to begin the cleanup process.

In other parts of the city, we have seen that cleanup process beginning. And you've also seen those search and rescue teams fanning out and combing through those neighborhoods looking for victims, essentially. And that is the grim task that is going on here over the next couple of days as well. And that is why we've seen the death toll continue to go up.

The death toll now, as a result of Hurricane Harvey here in Texas, stands at 47. A number of people discovered in these -- where the flood waters had receded who clearly hadn't tried to escape or couldn't get out of harm's way fast enough and were captured in these flood waters. So that grim task continues as well throughout the day today.


BERMAN: All right, Ed Lavandera for us in Houston. Ed, just terrific work over the last week. Thanks so much for this report.

Joining me now on the phone is Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. He is the sheriff of Harris County.

Sheriff, thank you so much for being with us.

And I do have to say, even before we start, I don't think you've slept in the last eight days, so we appreciate you being with us right now. You've simply been everywhere.

Can you give me a sense right now of the rescue situation? Are there still people in Harris County looking to be rescued/evacuated?

SHERIFF ED GONZALEZ, HARRIS COUNTY (via telephone): There are still some pockets. They're much smaller now, obviously. But in the western part of the county, where your reporter just mentioned, there are still some active rescue type stuff happening with some high water areas. The rest of the city or the county has largely moved into recovery, and we have moved largely into order maintenance mode now.

BERMAN: By the way, I should tell you, sheriff, we're looking at live pictures right now of a railroad bridge over what I think is some kind of river or stream that's been largely washed away. And I think this is the first chance anyone's really getting a chance to look at it because the waters have receded enough to see just how much damage is done.

The waters have also receded enough in some places for officials to go door-to-door in houses across Harris County. As you're doing this, what are you finding? GONZALEZ: Well, we now have started discovering deceased individuals

inside the homes. So I'm sure -- and, I mean, we hope not, but I'm sure that that's also likely to continue as well as we continue this process for the next few days.

BERMAN: One of the greatest fears has been when you have a chance to reach some of these places inside homes you will find people who were trapped there and may have died as a result of the flooding. Has that happened yet in any of the numbers that you feared?

GONZALEZ: I believe so. I haven't gotten all the particulars other than, you know, the different counts as they've been going up. So I haven't had a chance to get a debrief on some of the circumstances in which they were found.

Of course, one of the most horrific was finding four children and their great grandparents that were deceased inside a van that had submerged in the water. We discovered that about two days ago. And so I'm sure we'll be finding things like that.

BERMAN: We've been speaking to their family. That is such a tragic, tragic story.

Sheriff, what's the most important message you have to the people of Harris County? What do you want them to know as of this Friday morning? And what do you want them to do over the next day or two?

[09:10:08] GONZALEZ: Well, this has been catastrophic and devastating for our region, but we're a resilient group. We have a can-do spirit. We've been through difficult challenges in the past and we're definitely going to rebuild. You know, it's a -- because I look out right now, it's a beautiful day. You know, sunny and bright right now. So, I mean, there's better days ahead for us and we're going to recover. We'll rebuild and we're out there still maintaining public safety and order. And they can feel comfortable to progress in their recovery effort because we're going to keep the area safe.

BERMAN: We saw you yesterday near the Arkema chemical plant in which there was that chemical reaction. There was a fire. There was smoke. There were some first responders taken to the hospital. There was concern the Arkema company made clear that they felt there might be a series more of events just like that. Have there been any more fires at that chemical plant?

GONZALEZ: It's been kind of a fluid situation over there. Dynamic. There were a total of nine box containers that contained some additional material in there of these organic peroxides. So we were anticipating that the -- their temperature was starting to drop and was kind of creating a similar situation as earlier where these containers could pop. You know, some people have referenced them as kind of the puncturing or even exploding and popping. So there could still be some of that. I haven't checked this morning yet to see if it has. But we anticipate that maybe all of us could, at some point, have some kind of rupture.

BERMAN: And, sheriff, I don't know if you've had a chance to look at the long range weather maps or if you're a frequent visitor to the National Hurricane Center, but there is this new hurricane churning in the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma, category three. It isn't exactly clear where it's headed now, but is this something that is anywhere on your radar? You know, could Harris County, could the Texas coast, if it does take that awful turn into the gulf, you know, could you handle this type of thing?

GONZALEZ: Yes, we could. I mean we're always prepared. You know, we've been already thinking a little bit ahead if something like that happened. We're hopeful it doesn't. We've been kind of keeping an eye on this. And, you know, you have (INAUDIBLE). We're like, oh, no, I don't think we can handle another one. But we definitely could operation wise. You know, it just -- it would be very difficult considering what we've been through just now and already in recovery mode just kind of have to start from scratch all over again. But we'll do what's necessary for our county and we'll get it done.

BERMAN: We are sure you will and we certainly hope you don't even have to when it comes to Hurricane Irma. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez for us of Harris County, thanks for being with us. Again, thank you for everything you've done over the last week.

GONZALEZ: Thank you. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Again, you're looking at live -- you're looking at live pictures right now from the Houston area. That railroad bridge clearly part of it swept away by the flooding. They're getting a chance to look at it right now and get a sense of the debris that is everywhere.

I was just talking to Sheriff Gonzalez about Hurricane Irma, which is churning in the Atlantic. And, yes, let's stipulate, we do not know where it's going. That doesn't mean that there are millions of people who aren't looking at it with enormous concern right now.

Let's get to meteorologist Chad Myers at the Weather Center to learn what we can about this storm.


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The concern is, John, that it was a tropical storm yesterday. And by the time I went home yesterday afternoon, it was a category two. Now it's a category three. Forecast to be a category four. So we're in the warm water of the Atlantic.

Now, here's Africa. And here is America. So this is a long-term storm. We'll be watching this for days. We'll watch it for five days just to get to here. It is going to be a long event over big water, and this storm could fluctuate up and down, but it is forecast to be 140 miles per hour storm as it makes a run at the islands. There's the Leeward Islands right there. One hundred and forty miles per hour. That's not until Wednesday. Tuesday night, Wednesday morning. So there's a long track for this to go.

And if this doesn't turn to the left, if it stays up here, then we're in good shape. It's going to be a gutter ball. Bermuda, I don't know yet. Going to watch -- if it stays up, you still could be right in the middle of this thing. But as it turns to the north, that's what we're hoping for, and big, right-hand turn that continues to the Northeast and finally away from North America. That would be the nice part.

Now, there will be huge waves. It could be a category four or greater than that in the Atlantic. So the waves up and down the East Coast would be life-threatening at least. That would be the big -- and also very big erosion up and down the East Coast. Abut I'll take erosion compared to a landfall.


BERMAN: Indeed. Chad Myers, we'll be watching this for days and days to come.


BERMAN: Certainly right now, not the type of thing you want to see at all.

Thank you, Chad.


BERMAN: All right, pictures from moments over Houston. You can see these folks walking down the street, still covered in water. We are on top of all the developments.

[09:15:10] Gas prices shooting up across the country because of Harvey. We'll give you the latest on that. Alison Kosik is in Dallas.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, the lines here at gas stations in Dallas are getting longer and longer, but the question is how real is this gas shortage. I'll explain when we come back.


BERMAN: Gas prices shooting up across the country because of Harvey. The storm reduced nearly 30 percent of the refining capacity in Texas. AAA says the average price now it's the highest for the year. In Texas, which is out of its mind already, leading long lines at gas stations not to mention frayed nerves.

CNN's Alison Kosik in Dallas for an update on this -- Alison.

KOSIK: Good morning, John. So, this is day two of these long lines. Check this out. This line is getting longer and longer as the morning goes on. These folks have been here since the wee hours.

[09:20:09] I caught some people who were here at 5 a.m., who said they set their alarms just so they could get up and get to the gas station so they can catch a moment when the gas station was refilling because we did see a tanker refilling supply at this gas station.

Here's the thing. A lot of this is social media generated. When the news hit that refineries in Port Arthur in Houston were shutting down, everybody got really nervous and everybody kind of in droves hit the gas stations all at once catching these gas stations off guard.

And what happened was all these people getting gas, there wasn't a moment to replenish the supply. You saw the supply disruption, but the reality is, John, there's plenty of supply. It's just sitting at the refineries and it can't get out because the refiners are shut down.

This is also causing a price spike. Not just here in Texas, where we saw a 17-cent rise in gas prices since Harvey hit, we are seeing it nationwide. The national average for a gallon of gas now sitting at $2.52. That's the average.

So, you're seeing some states like North Carolina up 27 cents in a week and places like Georgia up 29 cents a week and here's the thing, this may continue a lot longer than we first expected because these fineries may take a while to get back on line. One analyst I talked with said we could see prices hit, the national average that is, hit $2.75 real soon -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Alison Kosik for us in Dallas. People waiting in line to get their gas. Thanks so much, Alison.

Back to Houston now, this morning, the mayor says his city is open for business. There are fewer people in the shelters right now, and some people lost power, it is being restored.

CNN's Stephanie Elam at one of the Houston shelters. Stephanie, what are you seeing down there?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're at the energy center here in Houston and I just want to show you something that will make you feel a little warm in the heart here.

These are all volunteers who have dedicated their time to come here and help the people out in the shelter and like you were saying, the number of people here going down. When they first opened up Tuesday night at 10:00 p.m., they said they took in 3,500 people.

They say they now stand about 3,100 people that are here. Some people have gone home and some with family members. But they have had such a huge response from volunteers that they actually had at one point more volunteers signed up to come and help than people who were here in the shelter and needed this assistance.

They said on average they have three shifts a day and they've had about 400 people per shift. So, they're saying yes, they're here, prepared to be here for as long as they need to be to help the people that are in the shelter.

But one thing that they really say they really are good on physical donations, clothes, shampoo, and toothpaste, and all those kinds of things. At this point, they're saying, if you really want to help out, keep a lookout for how you can donate your time, but really what they need, John, is money to help the people who have been displaced because of Harvey. BERMAN: An important message. Stephanie Elam, thanks so much. Those shelters which are becoming less populous by the day, which is wonderful to see. Stephanie, thanks.

Joining me now Suzy DeFrancis, chief public affairs officer for the American Red Cross, which obviously is deeply involved right now in the relief and recovery efforts down in Texas.

Suzy, thank you so much for being with us. Give me a brief overview right now of Red Cross operations there in terms of numbers.

SUZY DEFRANCIS, CHIEF PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Sure. Well, thank you for having me, John. You know, it's been one week, and today since Harvey made landfall. It seems like a lot longer than that. Unfortunately, while beginning to see the sun come out and some people going home, you know, evacuations are still going on.

Flooding could continue into next week and we're also seeing people in our shelters in Louisiana. I do think the Georgia R. Brown count has gone down, but I hate to say that overall last night we had 42,000 people in Red Cross and partners shelters. That's a tick up from the day before.

So, it's going to fluctuate around. I think we are well supplied. We are now reached like 400,000 meals and snacks that have been delivered along with our partners, but we're trying to do is get some big mobile feeding kitchens in that can serve like 10,000 hot meals a day.

You know, we want to make sure people get hot meals. We have about 2,300 Red Cross volunteers actively on the scene. I love your mention of volunteers. You know, sometimes what we'll see in shelters, some of our shelter residents, who have been affected, they like to volunteer in the shelter too. Everybody pitches in to help so that's wonderful to hear.

BERMAN: What's your area of biggest need right now?

DEFRANCIS: I think it's volunteers. I really do. I think the people who are volunteering now will have to go home, at least some of them that we've flown in. They usually stay for two or three weeks and we're going to need to replenish that.

[09:25:04] And the point I'd like to make is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We are going to be there with people in our shelters for weeks. We may certainly be in sort of an emergency relief stage even until Thanksgiving.

So, we really need people to sign up and be patient. You may not be deployed right away, but we certainly want you to know your interest and we can put you to work.

BERMAN: It was great seeing those lines of people signing up to volunteer behind Stephanie Elam in that shelter down there. Do you have a sense of how much you've raised so far in terms of Harvey relief? DEFRANCIS: So, we're going to have an accounting on that the beginning of next week. The reason we haven't given out totals so far is that they're changing so rapidly, I mean, really by the hour. So, once we have a better sense of that, and also, what we've spent so far, we're going to release those together and we hope early next week.

BERMAN: I think everyone wants the Red Cross to succeed. You play such a big role in disaster relief and you have for years and years. You also do know there have been questions over the last several disasters about how much of each dollar is getting to the people in need. What are you doing to assure people who want to give to the Red Cross that it is as efficient as it can be?

DEFRANCIS: Well, sure. Well, what we say is that we have a donate button on our online website and also you can write it on your check. If you want your funds to go to Harvey, you click that button, write it on the check, text Harvey to 909. That money goes into a separate account.

And as we spend it and disburse it, 91 cents of every one of those dollars goes to our relief services. So, what does that mean? It's the cot, shelter, meals that we're serving. It's also the cost of bringing our volunteers into the shelters.

It's the cost of the gas in our trucks to get the things there. So, it's everything that has to do with the relief effort for Harvey. Only 9 cents goes to our general overhead, what in the non-profit world is called management general and fundraising, which many people call it overhead.

BERMAN: How has Harvey been different than other disasters you've dealt with?

DEFRANCIS: I've been at Red Cross ten years, and I really think what strikes me about Harvey is the number of evacuations and rescues and people almost having to rescue themselves, really terrifying to see.

And I also think that, you know, as we look at the estimate now of 100,000 homes destroyed, these aren't homes with just like a little bit of water in them. These are homes that are really underwater. And so, I do think that the cost of Harvey is going to really maybe even outpace Katrina or some of the other big disasters.

BERMAN: Suzy DeFrancis with the American Red Cross, thank you so much for being with us today. Again, thank you for everything you do.

DEFRANCIS: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: We want you to know how you can help at home because everyone is asking us how they can pitch in. Go to We've got a great list of resources there to let you know how you can be part of this.

And there is so much need, as you can see by these live pictures we're getting in right now from KTRK. Again, this is in some ways our first chance to see the scope of the destruction there as the waters recede. Look at that house.

All right. We do want to show you that video that has gone viral, a Houston pastor playing the piano in knee-deep water after he returned home to grab his kids' favorite toys. He's next.