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Harvey's Devastation: Post-Harvey Price Gouging Emerges; Harvey Disaster Aid Desperately Needed. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:05] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And don't worry about Harvey just yet. Right now, the storm is causing huge temporary job losses along Gulf Coast, but that won't show up in the jobs report. But certainly, we'll expect some economic impact, this is the fourth largest economy in the United States. It's enormous.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest projections for Harvey, the rescue, and the recovery efforts.


RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: A variety of new challenges are emerging in the wake of Harvey. Hospitals being evacuated, complaints of price gouging, and fears of more explosions at a chemical plant. We'll have all of the latest coming up.

Good morning. I'm Rene Marsh, and welcome to EARLY START.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Friday, September 1st, 5:00 in the East, 4:00 a.m. in Houston, Texas.

And we are now one week after Harvey blasted its way ashore as of tonight. And 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 the first explosion of an organic peroxide container about 24 hours ago. A 1.5-mile evacuation perimeter remains in effect around the plant.

MARSH: Another new worry this morning -- price gouging. One Houston convenience store reportedly charging $20 a gallon for gas. And $8.50 for a bottle of water. We spoke with Marc Rylander, a spokesman for the Texas attorney general. Here's what he had to say about those engaging in that gouging.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, thankfully, the Texas legislature in preparation for those kind of storms, several years back, they came up with stiff penalties for people who are guilty of price gouging. What they came up with was a $20,000 fine per occurrence, or if someone 65 years or older is affected, it jumps to an up to $250,000 fine per occurrence.


MARSH: So, this is a problem because Texas officials say that they've had close to 600 complaints about storm-related scams and gouging. Those concerns touching off social media hysteria. Bizarrely long gas lines that you're looking at right there, prices shooting up from $2.20 to $4.50 a gallon ahead of Labor Day. And some gas stations even ran out of gas.

BRIGGS: So, how about Houston's Addicks and Barker Reservoirs? Well, they're operating normally with no breaches and failures. Officials now say it will take three months to empty them, though, through controlled releases. Buffalo Bayou, where the water drains, will likely stay flooded for some time, several weeks at the deepest spots.

State and environmental officials warning to take precautions because contaminated sewer water tends to be released during major flood events. People in the flood zone must ensure they have access to safe drinking water.

MARSH: The city of Beaumont, Texas, still without running water this morning. It's going to take time to get the taps running again. Residents stood in those long lines. You're looking at it there, trying to get that bottled water. The failure of the water treatment system is causing other problems on the ground. We will get to that in a bit.

But overall, first responders have rescued more than 72,000 people since the storm hit. That doesn't include all the rescues by civilian volunteers.

BRIGGS: The U.S. military has deployed 6,000 active duty troops with an additional 1,100 ready to deploy. Harvey dumped an estimate 27 trillion gallons of rain on Texas and Louisiana over a six-day period. For some context here, if the storm hit Florida, this is how much of the state it would have swallowed up, nearly the entire state minus the panhandle there. And 27 trillion gallons, that would power Niagara Falls for more than a year.

MARSH: Massive.

Well, from Beaumont to Houston and beyond, there is growing concern about the hidden dangers in the floodwaters, specifically the possible health impact on countless evacuees and first responders who have been wading through it for hours if not days.

CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has more from Houston.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Rene, Dave, Thursday, we went out on a boat with an expert in water testing. And he took samples, and he's going test the floodwaters for all sorts of things, for bacteria, for materials, and for heavy metals like cadmium, and arsenic, and lead. And that's because an untold numbers of people were wading through the water. Some people spending hours there, and we want to know exactly what's in that water. [05:05:02] Now, we don't have the results yet, but this expert told us

that what he thinks is in there is fecal bacteria, as well as those heavy metals that I mentioned, as well as those chemicals. He says he's seen it before in floodwaters. He expects to see it again here.

And he and others are very concerned about the people who spent a lot of time in that water. They're especially concerned if people got cuts while they were walking, which was, you know, not a hard thing to do because it was so murky, you can't see where you're going. Also, concerned about people with underlying illnesses, also concerned about pregnant women -- Rene, Dave.


BRIGGS: Thanks so much. Important information there.

The strains on the health care system in southeast Texas mean a heavy demand for fresh nurses. One health company is meeting that need at its own facilities by bringing in hundreds of nurses from all over the country.

Joining us now on the phone, HCA health care chief nurse executive for the Gulf Coast, Kelli Nations.

Good morning, Kelli.

You say you brought together 200 nurses from around the country. What's their top priority?

KELLI NATIONS, CHIEF NURSE EXECUTIVE, HCA HEALTH CARE (via telephone): Yes, sir. Their top priority is to join our hospitals here in the Gulf Coast division to ensure that our nurses who have been working tirelessly during the storm, to give them some relief, so that they can get home and check on their families and home.

MARSH: So, in places like Beaumont, where we're hearing basically, they have no water. How does that complicate things as far as disease and illnesses that you all may see when you respond?

NATIONS: Yes, ma'am. When the patients do not have any water, that really makes their home life very difficult. So, here in HCA Gulf Coast Division, we work to have preventive measures to ensure that our patients have water in the facility.

So, we stationed water tanks and generators around the facilities prior to the storm.

BRIGGS: Of course, also in Beaumont, there are hospital evacuations going on. They're paused overnight and early this morning, should resume again once the sun comes up. How concerned are you about the most sensitive patients, in particular the NICU patients? And their health, already tenuous, evacuating and trying to find other hospitals around the region?

NATIONS: Yes, sir. Those most critical patients are really a concern to the health care system. The key is to get them out as quickly as possible, and to transfer them as safely as possible. And here in the Gulf Coast division, we did a lot of what we call depression prior to the storm to transfer patients out prior to the storm.

MARSH: And, of course, on your screen, we're seeing before and after shots there before the storm, after the storm.

I want to ask you about what are you expecting to see as far as on the ground there, illnesses, give us specifics, what sort of infections or illnesses will result? We've been talking about this area of Texas, highly concentrated, with a lot of chemical plants, superfund sites, things of that sort. So, what are you expecting?

NATIONS: Yes, ma'am. Right now, in our emergency rooms, we're seeing a lot of individuals who have chronic diseases that are presenting that have been without medical care. So for example, we are seeing patients with dialysis, that need dialysis, individuals with chronic diseases such as COPD and heart failure. So, those individuals are presenting with exacerbated illnesses, as well as we are preparing and continue to prepare, we still have our command center in place to continue to watch what's happening with our plants here in the Houston area.

BRIGGS: You mentioned the 200 nurses you brought together. What are the resources you need for those people out there that want to help groups like yours?

NATIONS: Yes, sir. We have an organization within HCA that is helping us recruit these nurses. And the great thing is because of our resources with HCA, we are able to ensure that they're meeting the same rigorous standards that our nurses are within our organization. We have nurses from all specialties, labor and delivery, neo-natal ICU, trauma, medical, surgical. Really we have everything covered.

BRIGGS: That's great.

MARSH: And do you have enough manpower? I mean, we just see how many people are in need. Do you have the manpower that you need right now?

NATIONS: Yes, ma'am. We do. HCA has done a fabulous job of supporting us from a corporate division and local level, that we have over 200 nurses that have been brought in by buses, planes, helicopters. And we're doing quite well with that.


BRIGGS: The HCA is all over it, on top of it there in the Houston area.

Kelli Nations, the chief nurse executive there for the HCA -- thanks so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate what you're doing.

All right. As flooding continues to cripple America's energy industry, the Trump administration is tapping into an emergency oil reserve.

A check on CNN money now. Many key oil refineries off line. So, the Energy Department will send 500,000 barrels of oil to one that's still operating, keeping gas flowing to the rest of the country mainly through the Colonial Pipeline, a major gas pipeline to the East Coast.

[05:10:03] It usually transports 100 million gallons each day but shut down when it ran out of gas to fill it.

Meanwhile, companies are booking gas tankers from Europe to ease the U.S. shortage. Millions of gallons already on the way. The goal -- shielding Americans from higher gas prices, especially before a huge travel weekend. The average gas price already up ten cents and could go higher. That's because gas futures hit a two-year high, up 28 percent since last Friday. Usually have more than 30 million Americans hitting the road this weekend.

MARSH: Lots of people for the holiday.

Well, President Trump is ready to return to Texas. He's donating to the relief effort with his own money. How long will it take for Congress to get Texas the help it needs? That's straight ahead.


MARSH: Well, a growing sense of urgency in Washington to keep federal dollars flowing for disaster response after Harvey.

[05:15:02] CNN has learned the Republican-led House could vote on a funding bill as soon as next week. Leaders on Capitol Hill still awaiting specifics from the White House which says that a proposal should be coming soon.

BRIGGS: Tomorrow, President Trump and the first lady will return to Texas and also visit Louisiana. Mr. Trump has pledged $1 million of his money to help victims of Harvey.

CNN contributor Salena Zito joins us. She's reporter for "The Washington Examiner", a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Good morning to you, Salena. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

So, the president, as we mentioned, $1 million of his own money. Heads back to the region tomorrow. The first criticism was that he didn't show that empathy that so many were waiting for. Mike Pence certainly did that in his visit yesterday.

And you've seen the president take on a different tone. In particular in his tweets, one says: Texas and Louisiana, we're with you today, tomorrow. We will be with you every single day after to restore, recover, and to rebuild.

How should we judge his response and his handling of this hurricane and its flooding?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think to date, I think the president has come across as competent and functional, something that Washington has criticized him for in the months leading up to this disaster. You know, the national disasters especially ones of scope and epicness that this one has really can judge and frame a president's presidency, even this early on in his term.

And to date, he -- he -- there shouldn't be any great large criticisms of him. You know, if he would have faked empathy, he would have been criticized for that. I think going -- you know, going there as -- in a business sort of sense, right, he brings his cabinet members there, all the ones that deal with all the sort of problems and the aftermath. And then he's going back.

And I expect you will see more of what you saw with his -- with Pence and his wife and you will see those things with him and the first lady, Melania. And she is probably going to take the lead on the empathy visuals.

BRIGGS: Yes. It's a tough play for Trump. We've clearly seen that. Melania seems to strike the right tone on that.

ZITO: Right.

MARSH: Of course, you know, as we move forward next week, all eyes on funding, Congress comes back. And we cannot go without reading this John McCain op-ed this morning where he pretty much, as we were saying, he lays down the line. He says: There's never been truer than today when Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.

So, he's not holding back at all. So that's in the backdrop. As Congress comes back, they have to deal with funding for Harvey. They have to deal with tax reform. They have to deal with avoiding a shutdown.

How does this all play out next week?

ZITO: Well, I think Congress will want to more than anything else be functional, right? I think the talks of a shutdown and we want this and this one wants that, I think these things start to pull back, they already have. And Congress wants to be seen as having the empathy and ability to competently handle a natural disaster.

To date, as I said earlier, the president has struck that tone. And you hear from different members of Congress that I've spoken to that they understand that sort of all that divisional and sometimes immaturity that went in sort of patching together and make health care pass or, more importantly, repeal and replace, I think you're not going to see that tone. People have watched Texas and Texans, have volunteers from across the country come together and sacrifice a lot, and I think they expect it from their representatives. These representatives are the people that are closest to them in their lives. And they expect that empathy to build -- go from the bottom up.

BRIGGS: Also next week, so Congress returns Tuesday. The very next day, that deadline on DACA, the DREAMers legislation, state's attorneys general, have the deadline of September 6th. Many expect the president to rule on that today and maybe get rid of it, but some expecting to grandfather in the 800,000 people.

Now, Salena, in the context of Harvey, there are a quarter of the Texas construction industry, undocumented workers, more than 100,000 DREAMers in the state of Texas.

[05:20:00] What will we learn if the president gets rid of DACA today or Monday or Tuesday? And does that play to the base if, in fact, he gets rid of that program?

ZITO: Well, you know, in the reporting of this in the past seven months, even since before he was even sworn in, you've seen the softening of -- on that issue with him. You've also seen a softening in the polling. People are less willing to see people separated from their families and less willing to see people that have -- that not only work and are part of the communities, attending colleges and working in fields, not only in labor but also in science.

And I think you're going to see -- I mean, obviously I can't predict what the president's going to do. To date, the signals that he's been sending is that to keep the -- what did you say, 800,000 that are still currently in the country to stay in the country.

BRIGGS: Could be a tough play for the business community. Many tech CEOs, retail CEOs, and I mentioned the construction industry want that program to continue. Salena Zito, we'll see you in just a bit, thanks for being here.

ZITO: Thank you.

MARSH: All right. And coming up, thousands of rescuers for the -- thousands of rescues, I should say, for the Coast Guard in the last week. Next, CNN takes you into the skies for an up-close look at rescue efforts.


[05:25:56] MARSH: Well, in the last week, more than 6,000 people and at least 1,000 pets have been rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. That work goes on. Air crews searching for people stranded by the storm.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung took a flight with a chopper looking for survivors in Texas. She has more from their launch point just across the border in Lake Charles, Louisiana.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rescue missions in the air are ongoing for the U.S. Coast Guard and so many other military assets in the area. For a group of coast guard helicopters taking off from an airstrip in Sulphur, Louisiana, not far from the Texas state line, the focus for the past two days has been Port Arthur, Texas.

But on Thursday afternoon, when I loaded up with a five-man crew in a Jayhawk H-60 helicopter, we had just gotten word that a dam was releasing water, and there was an area where waters were quickly rising ten miles north of Beaumont. We headed there with a call for service saying that 20 people were

trapped on a roof. When we got there, we saw those 20 people in a house surrounded by boats. Those people loading up into the boats and getting to safety very quickly.

These trained men aboard there helicopter quick to praise the efforts of the volunteers with their boats, the Cajun Navy, if you will, who have come out in mass numbers. Our crew headed to Orange, Texas, another place where the waters continued to rise on Thursday. There an elderly woman was rescued. She told me, I've lost my car, I've lost my house, but I have my life. I'm thankful for that, and I'm thankful for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Her story one of thousands just like it, and there will be more -- Dave, Rene.


BRIGGS: There sure will be. Kaylee Hartung doing a great job down there, like all our correspondents covering this disaster.

All right. Dangerous water, price gouging, broken infrastructure, potential explosions, just some of the challenges facing Texans trying to emerge from Harvey's wrath. More next on EARLY START.