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Challenges in Harvey's Wake; U.S. Response To Russia. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Huge, temporary job losses along the Gulf Coast, but that won't show up in today's report. Keep in mind, Houston is this country's fourth largest country, larger than the GDP of the entire country of Iran. So, it will have some impacts.

RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: It certainly will.

BRIGGS: All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest on the rescue and recovery effort in Houston.


BRIGGS: A variety of new challenges emerging in the wake of Harvey. Hospitals being evacuated, complaints of price gouging, and fears of more explosions at a chemical plant. We have all the latest right now.

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

MARSH: And I'm Rene Marsh. It's Friday, September 1st. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East and 3:00 a.m. in Houston.

Now, just one week after Harvey blasted its way ashore, there are new, growing concerns emerging from the storm. Overnight, the death toll climbing again. It now stands at 47. At the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, more blasts are expected following that first explosion of an organic peroxide container about 24 hours ago, and a 1.5-mile perimeter remains in effect around the plant.

BRIGGS: Another new worry this morning: price gouging. Texas officials say they've had close to 600 complaints about storm related scams and gouging. One Houston convenience store reportedly charging $20 a gallon for gas and $8.50 for a bottle of water. Social media hysteria touching off of panic, with bizarrely long gas lines, as you can see here, and prices shooting up from $2.20 to $4.50 a gallon ahead of Labor Day. Some stations even sold out.

MARSH: And as for Houston's Addicks and Barker reservoirs, they are operating normally with no breaches or failures. Officials now say it will take three months to empty them through controlled releases. Buffalo Bayou where that water drains will likely stay flooded for some time. Several weeks at the deepest spots.

And state and federal environmental officials are warning people, take precautions because contaminated sewer water tends to be released during major flood events. They say people in the flood zone must ensure they have access to safe drinking water.

BRIGGS: The city of Beaumont, Texas, still without running water and it's going to take sometime to get taps running again. Residents stood in long lines trying to buy bottled water. Failure of the water treatment system is causing other problems on the ground. We'll have more on that a little later on.

Overall, though, first responders have rescued more than 72,000 people since the storm hit. That does not include all the rescues by civilian volunteers.

MARSH: Yes. And Harvey was massive. It dumped an estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain on Texas and Louisiana over a six-day period. That is enough to fill the San Francisco Bay more than ten times over. It's a huge storm there.

BRIGGS: It's hard to fathom the scope of this storm and the size, the amount of water that poured in. But skies are clearing over Texas. But that doesn't mean the flooding threat has passed.

Let's bring in meteorologist Derek Van Dam who is at the site of all this flooding when the storm hit.

Derek, good morning to you.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Dave, it's hard to fathom that the storm is still producing heavy flash flooding rains across the central parts of the U.S. This is where it's located now. You can see that swirling mass of rainfall just to the south of Nashville. It's tropical depression now. It's cleared out from Louisiana and Texas.

But as you mentioned, the flood threat not yet over. Let's talk about the immediate threat across the Ohio and Tennessee River Valley. We have flash flood warnings in and around Nashville, northward into Kentucky.

And then still, flood warnings extending from Louisiana into southeast Texas. That's where we focus our attention on the river gauges. Still, 28 rivers at major flood stage including the Brazos River just west of Houston, in the Richmond area. This is particularly important because it has reached a record level, eclipsing previous records, by the way.

And what I want you to see on the rain gauge is that it is expected to stay at record level for the next four days, before slowly receding into the middle and end parts of next week. So, just because the skies have cleared, it doesn't mean that we are in the clear just yet.

Let's talk about another threat. We have yet another hurricane that has its eye set on impacting the United States. You can see it forming across the Atlantic Ocean.

This is major Hurricane Irma. Winds sustained at 115 miles per hour. Still, a widespread in the consensus of the models that we look at as meteorologists. But one thing is for sure, it will be a strong, formidable storm over

the next seven to ten days. Will it impact the United States?

[04:05:01] Time will tell -- Dave, Rene.

BRIGGS: Derek, real quickly, the heat that is now hitting in Houston, I see some wind chills, some relative humidity. We're talking north of 100 degrees in the Houston area. How might that impact, do you think, this recovery effort?

VAN DAM: Well, it's incredible to imagine just how hot and humid it can get across the south. We've all felt that, especially if you live there. But now that it's cleared across the Houston area, you can imagine that humidity levels with all the moisture on the grounds and the floodwater still present across the neighborhoods and communities there, that it just will feel that much more muggy, that much more uncomfortable.

You can imagine, too, there's the threat of all kind of toxins in the water. We've touched on that several times already as well -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Seeing a projected 103 heat index at 3:00 p.m. in Houston today. That does not make it any easier. Derek Van Dam, live for us in the CNN Weather Center, thanks, my friend.

The cleanup effort facing Houston is mammoth. Volunteers across the region who helped with rescue and shelter operations are now throwing themselves into the cleanup challenge.

Joining us now on the phone, John Stephens. He's the senior pastor of the Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston.

Thanks, sir. Good morning to you.

Tell us what you're doing to get out there, not just to rescue but to help start this cleanup process.

JOHN STEPHENS, SENIOR PASTOR, CHAPELWOOD UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (via telephone): Yes. So, we've been out since Sunday doing a lot of water rescues at that point. That kind of finished up on Wednesday late afternoon. And then on Thursday and Friday -- I don't even know what day it is to be perfectly honest with you, sorry.

We started putting our staff together at our church to really start doing volunteer collections, supply collections. We're now trying to cooperate with other groups in our neighborhood, in the west side of Houston where we're located and along Buffalo Bayou, to be ready to respond, to help families when they get back into their homes, to start with mucking out their homes, to get the drywall out, the carpet out, to sort of just get ready to prevent the mold and the mildew. But we don't really know when the water is going to do. We're just trying to get everything ready for that at that point to get going.

MARSH: So, Pastor Stephens, we have a graphic. I want to pull that up, just the context as we talk to you about how jumped in to help in the rescue efforts. I mean, this graphic just showed you how massive the storm was that you were in the mix of here. That is how large.

I mean, when you look at it there, it stretches from north of what you hook at it, it stretches from north of New York, almost touching Connecticut, it looks like it travels well beyond Delaware there, down to Virginia Beach. I mean, this was a massive storm. What were you seeing? How difficult was it for you as you tried to navigate all that water to get people out and to safe areas?

STEPHENS: Yes, it's -- I mean, it's really staggering. You know, Houston's floods, I heard them talking about the heat and humidity. Houston's hot all the time and it's humid all the time, 105, 106- degree heat index. So, we've been having that, you know, for the last month or two.

But to see the water's coming up, where they're coming up, there are homes that are being impacted of people who never flooded or at least in their memory. And back along the bayou, those homes that we were going to, it's so deep, get up to your chest, almost your shoulders. And you've got people on second floors.

You know, one of the amazing things, we got out a lot of elderly folks, a lot of folks who couldn't wade out. But there were people that were on the second floor, at least on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday, they didn't want to leave. And then we started getting calls of people, I would leave my phone number with them, and they would call on Wednesday morning saying, all right, we made a mistake. We need to get out. They thought they could ride it out. But the waters are not really going down at this point, and that's the problem.

And it is -- it's amazing, hard to describe that it comes up blocks and blocks, neighborhoods -- solid with homes from the Buffalo Bayou. Where we are, we're just working in our patch of territory on the west side. It's everywhere. It's all the way out to Katy, Cinco, Fulcher (ph), north of there, now you know they're hitting hard in east Houston, and now in Beaumont, and Port Arthur.

And I had friends come from Georgia with a boat to help. They left yesterday at 5:00 in the morning to go to Beaumont. Usually takes an hour, hour and ten minutes to get there. It took them six hours to get there and get a boat in the water.

And they just found so many -- it's so difficult to help people. All these people need rescuing over there. But these boats and these guys who are, they can't get to them.

[04:10:03] It's just so hard to get down to Port Arthur, for example.

But, you know, people will do what they can and what we're trying to do now is just ready, at least on our end, the rescues are done. So, now, the work we're doing is coordinating volunteers, coordinating how we can get in to help people. Just -- we're just calling this next stage cleanup stage. That's where we are at this point. That's what we're going to be doing.

BRIGGS: So, that's essential as we move forward. But I'm curious your role as a pastor and keeping spirits up and keeping the faith in your community. How essential is that at this time and how needed is it with the long road ahead?

STEPHENS: Yes. I mean, you can hear on some of these -- some of the videos I put on social media, when we have some of this. But really, the thing is, their spirits, it's -- it amazed me. It was inspirational. Some of the older families we were getting out. I mean, they were positive. It was inspirational for me.

You know, I mean, the thing is you can't -- you almost can't think about this on a big scale, because it's overwhelming emotionally, mentally. I mean, you have to just look at what you can do in front of you in the short term, you know, one step at a time. And try to just keep people as positive as you can.

Just look at the little things, you know, what can you do. And now, you've got so many people who are not affected. And they want to work. They want to do something. They want to be involved.

But, you know, we have to hold them back and say, look, there's nothing to do right now except wait. And that's a hard thing for people to do when they see this on TV and they know their friends are affected. But we just -- there's not a lot we can do until this water start to recede, other than help put our friends up.

You know, some folks are able to get in, to get some stuff, but a lot of things around here, you can't go back into the water. The police will not let -- it's smart, it's not safe. And there's looters now around. We're hearing stories about that.

There's even -- the police were telling us when we were in the water on Wednesday that some of the rescuers that were going on were actually getting boat-jacked. Some people waving them down and they would steal their boat and stuff like that. I mean, I don't think that was pervasive, but there were stories of that. So, you had to be careful.

People are ready to get to work, Houstonians have -- and Texans, I can tell you, I'm originally from Georgia. The Texans, they are amazing. They are not scared. They're ready to go and ready to work to get this city back on its feet.

BRIGGS: Texans are showing the very best of human nature amidst the worst of Mother Nature. Rescue, shelter, clean up, recovery, and keeping the faith there in the Houston area. Pastor John Stephens, thanks so much for being with us and doing what you're doing there.

MARSH: And coming up, it could be quite a while before running water returns to the city of Beaumont. Now, a local hospital is in the process of being evacuated. That's next.


[04:17:10] MARSH: The city of Beaumont, Texas, hit not only with terrible flooding but also total tap water outages. City officials now say they have no timeline for restoring municipal water. They say once the Neches River finally crests and recedes, they'll be able to assess the damage to pumps at the water treatment plant. BRIGGS: Meantime, the city is working to get bottled water to

affected residents as soon as possible. Officials planned to set up a water distribution point today. The flooding and water problems in Beaumont have forced yet another hospital evacuation which was suspended overnight and starts up again here in a few hours.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave, Rene, the city of Beaumont is experiencing a double crisis. They have too much water that's fallen from the sky and none at all coming out of their faucets here. We are at the Baptist Hospital in Beaumont where they are evacuating the entire hospital because the city, all 135,000 people in city and parts of the surrounding county are completely without water.

They started with about 193 patients. They were able to get several of them out. They're down to about 85 at this point. And these are not the critically injured. All the critically injured have been moved to Dallas, or Galveston, or Jasper, Texas. Even one patient was moved to Missouri. There are also nine prematurely born infants that were moved to Galveston, as well, out of this facility.

The rest of the patients, they say they have to move by chopper because Beaumont itself is literally almost cut off from the rest of the world. It sits up on a plain, and the freeways around it are cut off. So, they have to move people out by air.

It is with military precision that they are doing this, bringing in bank after bank of helicopters and then moving the most critically ill out first. And then moving down the line to those who are less critically injured -- Dave, Rene.


BRIGGS: Miguel Marquez for us there in Beaumont, and to his point, Becky Ames, the mayor of Beaumont, Rene, said basically, we're an island right now.


BRIGGS: Which is terrifying.

MARSH: An island without any water. Right.

BRIGGS: Without water. Right.

MARSH: Well, on the high side of all this, celebrities are putting their money down to fund relief efforts for Texans in dire need. Hats off to Houston Texans' J.J. Watt. I know you're a fan of his, huh?

BRIGGS: Big fan.

MARSH: Well, his grassroots fundraiser is now topping $13 million. Here's what he told Anderson Cooper. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J.J. WATT, DEFENSIVE END, HOUSTON TEXANS: This isn't a one day, this isn't a one week, this isn't a one-month thing. This is going to take months and years and years. So, I want to make sure that since we have this large sum of money, I want to make sure that I do it right over the long period. I want Houston to know that I'm with them in the long haul. I'm not just here for the initial fundraiser. I'm here to make sure that we take care of you down the road.


[04:20:00] BRIGGS: Way to be, J.J.

Some Hollywood A-listers also making big nominations. Ellen DeGeneres and Leonardo DiCaprio each contributed $1 million each to Harvey relief efforts.

Singer Miley Cyrus also digging into her wallet, donating a half million dollars. She did that on the "Ellen" show and teared up when she said it. It was -- you know, she's grown up from the "Wrecking Ball" girl we remember. But it was an emotional moment for her and for Ellen.

But celebrities, corporate America, sports stars, it has been the rare uniting factor in this country in a fractured, divisive time.

MARSH: And, hopefully, it's contagious and will continue.

BRIGGS: Yes, it has been thus far.

MARSH: Well, the U.S. decides to close Russian diplomatic missions in the United States. It comes a day before American personnel have to leave their own posts in Moscow. We have more of that, coming up, after the break.


[04:25:21] BRIGGS: Four-twenty-five Eastern, 11:25 a.m. in Moscow.

Retaliating against Russia, the U.S. ordering the Kremlin to close the Russian consulate in San Francisco, along with two diplomatic annexes in New York and Washington, in response to staff cuts at the U.S. mission in Moscow, ordered by the Russian government.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in front of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, and he's not alone.

Fred, good morning.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm certainly not alone. There was a lot of media here. Some of them have left because there was, Dave, a statement a short while ago by Anthony Godfrey. He's the deputy chief of mission for the U.S. embassy here. And he said these new U.S. measures are actually meant to stop the

downward spiral of relations between the U.S. and Russia. And here's why he said that -- he said that, look, the Russians want us to cut our diplomatic staff down to 455. Yesterday, the U.S. informed Russia that those cuts have been completed. But they also said, look, if you want parity as far as the diplomatic staff is concerned, there's also going to have to be parity as far as the diplomatic institutions are concerned that we can have in each other's country.

That's why the U.S. said you've got to close down the consulate in San Francisco. With that, both the U.S. and Russia have three consulates on each other's territory. The Russians have said they regret that move, they reserve the right to retaliate. The U.S. hopes that they're not going to be doing that.

However, at this point in time, it certainly doesn't look as though the relations between the U.S. and Russia are on the verge of in any way improving at all, Dave.

BRIGGS: Tit for tat on an international diplomatic scale.

Fred Pleitgen, live for us in Moscow, thanks.

MARSH: All right. And dangerous water, price gouging, broken infrastructure, potential explosions just some of the challenges facing Texans trying to emerge from Harvey's wrath. We have more after the break.