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Mother Thanks General Russel Honore for Saving Their Lives; Hurricane Irma Churning in the Atlantic; Evacuees Return Home to Devastation; Texas Governor Gives Update on Hurricane Recovery Efforts. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 14:30   ET



[14:31:03] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: The absolute worst of circumstances in Houston, Texas, has brought about the best chance for one family to say thank you, the kind of thanks you can only say in person. The kind of thanks more than a decade overdue. It is meant for the man who led the military effort after Hurricane Katrina, General Russel Honore. And it is coming from a mother who, now in Houston, lost everything back in 2005, except what matters most. And for that, she is giving the general all the credit.

Let me go straight to Stephanie Elam, who has this awesome assignment this sort of reunion.

Stephanie, tell me all about it.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was an honor to tell this story, Brooke. But it's the kind of reunion that you can see that this mom has wanted for years. For her boys to know the man that saved their lives. And she reached out to General Honore several times, social media, but this was the first time they actually saw each other face to face since that fateful day.


ALEXANDRA WHEELER, VICTIM OF HURRICANE KATRINA: I really owe this man my life. Because the things he did for my children.

ELAM (voice-over): Nearly a week after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Alexandra Wheeler was at the end of her rope.

WHEELER: We hadn't eaten in maybe six days. I ran out of formula and food for them. So, they were really hanging on bay thread.

ELAM: After the levee broke, flooding her neighborhood, Wheeler waded through the water with her 6.5-month-old twin boys.

WHEELER: I had one in a carrier and one in a basket.

ELAM: At one point, something in the murk murky water caught her food.

WHEELER: It was to bodies collided like this. Their arms where stretched out. They were full of water. And they raised up to the top from me lifting my leg up.

ELAM: By the time Wheeler made it to the convention center, she and her boys were starving, dehydrated and exhausted. That's when she first heard his voice.


ELAM: Unarmed, Wheeler and a group had been stopped by the military.

WHEELER: We're like, we're the victims. What are you pulling guns on us for?

ELAM: Then she saw the three-star commander who ordered the guns lowered. General Russel Honore, the man who led the military response after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, is also the man Wheeler credits with saving their lives.

HONORE: Grab the babies. Come on. Come on.

ELAM: It's a moment CNN captured as it happened. The general personally coming to Wheeler's aid.

(on camera): What do you think would have happened if you did not run into the general?

WHEELER: We would have died. We would have -- it's no question. We would have died.

HONORE: Hey, Tiger. Let's go.

ELAM (voice-over): Almost 12 years later, to the day, Wheeler and her boys rode out Hurricane Harvey in Houston, the city that became their home after Katrina. While the water came close to their apartment, the family fared much better in Harvey.

And after years of trying to get in touch with the general --

HONORE: I understand there's some who-dat boys over here.

ELAM: -- finally, the opportunity to thank the man in uniform who had shown them such compassion. And for the general, a chance to see how those tiny babies who were once so close to death are now thriving.

HONORE: Boy, you guys grew up in 12 years.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Thank you for saving our lives.

HONORE: Well, God bless you.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Thank you for saving your lives and our mom's life.

HONORE: God bless you.

ELAM: A bond forged in devastation, unbroken by the passing of time.


ELAM: And a bond that's united somehow because of hurricanes because obviously the general is here in Houston for that reason. But he did say that he hopes to keep in touch with the boys now. And he asked them what they plan to do as they get older and said that he hopes to be there when they graduate from high school -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Stephanie, to see these boys in their matching plaid, you know, wrapping their arms around this man and saying, thank you for saving our lives, I mean, obviously, they never could remember. It's something that's going to stay with this mother forever.

How is this family now?

[14:35:13] ELAM: I mean, they're well. They moved to Houston. They ended up going through San Antonio and just to let you know just how close things got for them, both of the boys coded in the hospital after they were air lifted out to San Antonio. It was dire. It was worse than Alexandra knew it was. But they settled down in Houston because she just couldn't see going back to New Orleans. They still have family there. But she made it, they made it through. The water got close to their apartment this time, but they made it OK. She has some sleepless nights watching over the boys, but they are well.

Can I just tell you that those two boys are just delicious? So well mannered, so well spoken. Sweet boys. And so thankful to have this moment to meet this man they've heard about all their lives. And if it hadn't been for the general stepping in, who knows what would have happened. The boys were so close to death.

BALDWIN: Thank you for providing such a bright spot in an incredibly murky week. Russel Honore is the man. We knew that. And we're just reminded of it.

Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

ELAM: He won't take credit. I should just tell you that he wouldn't take all the credit himself.

BALDWIN: Of course, he wouldn't.

ELAM: He wanted to spread it out to all the other military that was there. But they really think it's all about him. I just need to point that out.

BALDWIN: I got you. I got you.

Stephanie, thank you so much for sharing that with us. I appreciate it.

Coming up next here, as the waters slowly begin to recede, families are getting that first glimpse back home of what remains, what survived the storm. Coming up next, see the heartbreaking moment a Houston woman returned home and found out her dog made it through the storm. And one week after Harvey, we are keeping an eye on a powerful

category 2 hurricane churning in the Atlantic right now. An update on its track coming up here.

Special CNN coverage after this.


[14:41:04] BALDWIN: In so many areas of Houston, Harvey's flood waters are finally starting to recede, and some evacuees are beginning to head home. And for many, what they're finding is just absolutely heartbreaking.

Rosa Flores is in a Houston neighborhood for us right now where she was with a woman who made that journey home.

Rosa, tell me about what you saw.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's completely heartbreaking, Brooke, because you see these people were so grateful to be alive. And we met Willie Marie Burton at the convention center. We came back home with her to see her house for the first time. Everything inside her house was completely drenched. And she was keeping it together.

But here is where she completely lost it because of the pain and because of the grief of returning home. Take a look.


WILLIE MARIE BURTON, HURRICANE VICTIM: I feel like crying, but then I'm joyful because I could have been in the water. And it could have got it. So I'm just grateful. I'm just getting back to see what's left.

The water is a powerful thing. This toppled over the sofa. And that little -- that love seat. And it just moved all of this stuff.

When you see it, whoa, the sink came up.

FLORES: And the refrigerator, too.

BURTON: And the refrigerator too. Lord, Lord. Whoa. Let's see what this is. I put this up here. Thank you, Lord. These are pictures from a long time ago. And this thing kept that dry. Didn't get wet. That's good.

Hi, Lassie. Hi. I know that storm scared you. But I'm glad you made it.

FLORES: It's OK, it's OK. You know we always get through this. We always take care.

BURTON: I know. This, too, shall pass.

FLORES: Yes, ma'am. BURTON: It will. I know that it will.

Today is my 66th birthday. What I'm going to do after we go through some of this is I just want to eat seafood. I love seafood. If I can get some seafood, I'll be happy. And if I get a Martini, I'll be happy. But if not, I'm just glad to be here.


FLORES: Such an amazing spirit. Now I just got a text message from Miss Willie Marie. She said she's headed to lunch to get that Martini. And she said she's gone through so much, she might have two Martinis.

Take a look behind me because I'm just a few blocks away from miss Willie's house, and this is Miss Evelyn Hawkins's house. And this is her entire church. They were actually just praying moments ago. They tell me that Mrs. Evelyn has helped so many people in her church, so many people in her community, that everyone came out here to help her out. This is the fourth time, Brooke, that her house gets flooded in. And every time her church comes out and says thank you to her because she has helped so many people in this neighborhood. Now, Miss Evelyn -- oh, hi.


FLORES: Doing good. We were just sharing with our anchor, Brooke Baldwin, that everybody in this community came out to help you because they said that you have helped so many people, and they were just so grateful.

HAWKINS: Yes. I try to help everybody.

FLORES: And now it's time to give you a little help, Miss Evelyn.

HAWKINS: Yes. Thank the Lord.

FLORES: All right.

Brooke, with that, I'll toss it back to you.

[14:45:07] BALDWIN: That's incredible.

Rosa, thank you so much.

And I have a feeling the woman before, after this live piece, she may have more than two Martinis after it's all said and done. Bless her and bless everyone in this neighborhood there in Texas.

Coming up next, as Texas is still reeling from the storm, there is a possible new threat, dare I say. It's called Irma. Powerful category 2 storm churching out in the Atlantic. Where Irma is heading. We'll talk about that next.

Also ahead, stunning images of the human toll Harvey has taken on Texas. The photographer who took these pictures for CNN shares the stories behind them coming up.


[14:50:11] BALDWIN: Just a reminder, we're waiting to get an update from the governor of Texas, Governor Abbott, so we're going to take that news conference as soon as it begins. Looks like they're getting set.

So in the meantime, let's talk about this next potential, dare I say, hurricane. You know while everyone's still in clear recovery mode, we're watching Irma churning in the Atlantic. Category 2 storm right now with winds clocked at nearly 100 miles an hour. Still a couple of days out, but you know, lot of uncertainty. Irma is a storm to watch.

Allison Chinchar is our CNN meteorologist watching Irma.

What is it, just too early to know where she's headed?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's still little bit early because we're talking, even if it did have potential for the U.S., you're talk ago week out from now. The good news is that most of the models we have don't have it going towards Texas or Louisiana. So that's fantastic news for the folks that are there.

So here's a look. You can see the remnants of Harvey still producing a lot of heavy rainfall right now over the Ohio Valley region. This is Irma. This is where we're taking a look at it. It's been heading into a more unfavorable environment. Colder water. It went through an eye wall replacement cycle. It's trying to hold its own. It's just not being able to do it very well. Right now, a category 2 storm. Winds around 110 miles per hour. Moving west northwest at about 13 miles per hour. That is expected to change in the coming days. It's going to dip further south. When it does that, it will encounter much warmer water. In doing so, we expect it to then be able to re-intensify back up to a major hurricane status, which means category 3 or higher.

So here you can see that really isn't expected to happen until about Sunday into Monday when it finally enters that slightly warmer water but certainly something to track.

Now, here's one of the models. This is the American model. Here's where Irma is currently. The American model has it skirting in between both the Bahamas and Bermuda, whereas our other model, the European model, takes it a little bit further south, more into places like the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. This would be the more concerning one for the U.S. because as it pushes its further south, it then becomes more, say for places like Florida and the Carolina coast as well. But this is just one model. And you don't want to put everything into one model this early on.

The other thing is going to be this particular system down here as well. This is not named. This is not even a tropical storm just yet. Basically, it just has a 50 percent chance of development over the next several days, so something also to keep an eye on. The difference with this compared to Irma, this one is this is going to be in much warmer water.

But Brooke, going forward, the point is that it's definitely a system to watch. Irma has the potential to make landfall in the U.S. Somewhere. We just don't know where and when it's going to happen.

BALDWIN: Got it. All right. You're watching that.

We're watching the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. I'm told he just stepped out here and is going to address reporters yet again. It's been a long, long week for these folks. Let's listen in.

GREG ABBOTT, (R), TEXAS GOVERNOR: Thank you for being with us here today.

I want to update you on both yesterday as well as news from today. Yesterday, I had a very productive visit with the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence. We met in Corpus Christi and toured around that region as well as Rockport and over to Victoria. We had the opportunity to meet with people whose homes had been basically turned into rubble. We got to shake their hands and hold their babies because they were going through the repair and removal process. The vice president and I even helped to carry away debris that had stacked up in the yards.

The most incredible thing that we observed was not the rubble but the resilience of strong, hearty Texas who were just happy to be alive, happy to be here in the Lone Star State.

Both in Rockport and Victoria, the most profound thing we observed were volunteers who were stacked up one by one in the hundreds who were helping out, helping their fellow Texans with urgent needs such as supplies, with assistance in repairing their homes. I talked to some of these volunteers in Victoria and asked them how they were doing. Asked them how their home was. Many of them said that their home was out of power, but yet they were there at the volunteer center helping other people around the Victoria area.

[14:55:14] One of the most profound things that we have observed in the aftermath of this horrific, devastating storm has been both the resiliency and the way that Texans have been united, supporting each other. We should laud and applaud the incredible efforts of our first responders, but when you look at the average everyday Texan, neighbor helping neighbor, it's been nothing short of remarkable.

Well, despite the fact that some areas are beginning the recovery process, areas such as Corpus Christi, there still remain areas that are deadly dangerous, such as in the Beaumont area.

Some update from there. In the Beaumont area, the Neches River continues to rise. It is about seven feet above the record, and it will continue to remain at or near that high for about the next week. This flooding poses an ongoing threat to Beaumont and the surrounding area.

We are, as a state, as well as with partners working with us, still driving in and flying in food and water. There are now seven points of distribution locations. Food and -- will and are determined by the county judge. One of those master locations is Ford Park.

Last night, 600 palettes of water and 400 palettes of meals were delivered. Last night, about 1,000 people were evacuated from the Beaumont area. Many of them going to Dallas, some going to San Antonio. And we anticipate evacuations from the Beaumont area will continue to rise. A lot of people in Beaumont are very concerned about the water system. And Beaumont is working aggressively at a fast pace to try to get the water system fixed. One thing that it requires are some pumps to get the water system back up, which may be the most expeditious route.

There are weather concerns also in the Richmond area in the lower Brazos -- in the lower Brazos area. The Brazos River will crest at an all-time high near Richmond, Texas. There may be some people who live near the Richmond, Texas, area who have not yet been impacted by flooding waters. You need to understand about the possibility that you could be impacted by flooding waters in the coming days. You need to remain vigilant about being aware of any type of warning by local officials about the necessity to evacuate. Just observe what has happened to your friends and neighbors in Harris County and other parts of Fort Bend County, knowing this water can rise suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, causing people to be stuck, if not overtaken. So, please heed all warnings and make sure that you maintain safety.

In working with the Red Cross, combining information -- I thought I recognized that voice.


In working with the Red Cross, we now have, across the state of Texas, 258 shelters that are now open. 107 of those shelters are shelters that are partnered with or in collaboration with the state in some form or fashion. And 151 are considered to be independent shelters, which would be the type of shelter that, say, a church would provide.

Last night, the overnight population --