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Beaumont Loses Water Supply, Hospital Evacuated; 47 Killed, 72,000 Rescued, Thousands Displaced; VP Mike Pence Consoles Victims & Hauls Debris. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look at comparisons, it's far larger than Katrina, far larger than Sandy.

[05:59:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This hurricane is of a magnitude that I've never seen before. The food is running out; the water is running out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just unbelievable, a nightmare that we can't wake up from.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a long way to go. It's not months, but it's years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The death toll continues to rise as the president prepares for his trip to the flood zone Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen a lot of things. But that terrified me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not even real. You see this stuff on TV. But this is total devastation in every way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't fight Mother Nature. She's given us one right now. But our citizens are resilient; we're ready for it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, September 1, 5 a.m. here in Houston.

One week ago today, Hurricane Harvey made landfall here in southeast Texas. Today there's no rain. Instead, the skies are filled with helicopters searching for survivors.

We have seen dramatic images of these rescues around the clock. More than 72,000 people have been rescued. The storm's death toll continues to climb. As of today, 47 people were killed by Harvey's wrath, and that number will likely rise.

Neighborhoods like the one I'm standing in, this is called Wilchester West. They, of course, will have to rebuild. The White House estimates that more than 100,000 homes are -- like the ones you see behind me -- either damaged or destroyed. The scope of Harvey's catastrophic flooding is captured in these stunning satellite images. Entire neighborhoods that were once green are now submerged in brown water. So of course, Chris, there are concerns about contamination and diseases in the floodwaters that you see behind me and all across the Houston region today.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Waterborne illness is almost a certainty, FEMA announcing that they've approved assistance for nearly 100,000 people so far.

The job is going to fall to Congress. They're awaiting the Trump administration's request for billions in emergency funding, the first wave of help to kind of deal with the fallout of the disaster. Sources tell CNN the House could vote as early as next week on that first round of funding.

Vice President Mike Pence in Texas consoling victims, seeing the devastation firsthand, even chipping in in some cleanup. President Trump plans to go to Houston tomorrow to meet with victims in the flood-ravaged city.

The most dire situation, though, is taking place in Beaumont, Texas. That's a city of more than 118,000 people. They have no drinking water. Their pump and the backup pump are both flooded. So people are waiting in these long lines for a ration of bottled water. This outage is going to force the city's hospital to evacuate many of its patients. They're having a hard time placing them.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Miguel Marquez live in Beaumont. What's the situation there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, the situation is they have two problems on their hand. They still have too much water coming down the Natchez River, which is right here. You can listen to this thing.

This is the middle of -- It's rapids in the middle of Beaumont this morning. And they don't have any water coming out of the faucets. That's why the hospital has had to shut down. They still have 85 patients left. They -- it has been military-like maneuver there, getting patients out. The most critically ill. Those in the ICU. Nine premature babies were moved out, all of them by helicopter.

They have to do that, because the roads, even the freeways around Beaumont are all shut down. Officials say that they're going to continue moving patients out in the next 24, 48 hours, all of them by air. So we expect more of that sort of activity today. This is a town suffering some of the worst. They had 300 water rescues in the city of Beaumont alone yesterday. They had over a thousand in the county surrounding it. This is a place literally in the throes of two different crises at once.

Officials say that they -- the one good thing about the hospital is that they're not doing it in haste. This was planned out. They can do it methodically. They have enough water to get by for now that was trucked in, but they need to get patients out so that they can take care of them in other facilities -- Chris, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Miguel, thank you very much for all of that reporting. We're going to get an update for you and our viewers right now, because joining us on the phone is Beaumont Police Officer Haley Morrow.

Officer, thanks so much for being here. What can you tell our viewers about the 118,000 people who live in Beaumont? Where are they?

OFFICER HALEY MORROW, BEAUMONT POLICE DEPARTMENT (via phone): Well, right now our first responders and our city Public Works Department is on -- running at 110 percent. They are furiously working to get an alternative solution that will get our water system up and running.

Of course, we're having to think outside the box and try to get something together so that we can start pushing water to our water treatment facilities plant and get water running to our citizens.

And in the meantime, we believe that we're going to have a point of distribution center set up very soon, as early as a few hours. We are telling our citizens to be looking for a press release with detailed information and the location on that.

We are just continuing water rescues. They are not happening as often as they were initially, but we're still working on that. So our emergency operations center is running on all cylinders. We've got a lot of different operations going on. And now the state assets and the different agencies that are coming down to help us are finally getting here, getting into place.

CAMEROTA: Good.

MORROW: And we're just trying to get our plans together.

[06:05:04] CAMEROTA: Good. I mean, obviously, you can use all the help you can get. We're looking at aerial images of your town and your city, and it looks incredible. I mean, just submerged by this water. But there was a mandatory evacuation in Beaumont, was there not?

MORROW: Actually in the city of Beaumont, we have not had a mandatory evacuation. We initially started out with a voluntary evacuation to the areas very close to the Pine Island Bayou and the Village Creek. That's up to the north of our city limits. So a few other places are doing mandatory evacuations, but the city of Beaumont is not right now.

CAMEROTA: It sure looks like -- when we look at these images, it's hard to imagine how people stayed behind. We heard Miguel Marquez, our reporter there, just say that there were 300 water rescues. What happens now? How are people who are in these -- still in these homes, how are they going to get water and get out and survive this?

MORROW: Well, for the most part, like I said, the water rescues have slowed down. Our shelters are closed. We have been able to -- some people have been able to return to their homes. A large percent, maybe more than 50 percent, have been able to return to their homes because water has receded in many areas.

And the other small percentage of people who were still displaced, we are able to get out of the city. We've had a couple of different plans. You know, we start with Plan A. And if that doesn't work out, we move on to Plan B. And so it's just been one thing after another. And we just continue to take what's getting thrown at us and try to address it as quickly as possible.

But No. 1 is life safety. So we're still doing a few water rescues.

CAMEROTA: Yes, of course.

MORROW: The first thing is getting the water to our citizens. So as soon as we have the point of distribution center set up, we're releasing a press release, and we're going to start giving out water to our citizens.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. We're just looking at how challenging these water rexcues are. You know, branches come up with people up to the helicopter. Very, very quickly, before I let you go, we've all heard that heartbreaking story of the 3-year-old girl who was found clinging to her mom's body. The mom sadly had passed away, and the little girl had hyperthermia. Can you give us any update on where she is and how she's doing, that little girl?

MORROW: I can. She's doing well. She's made her recovery, been released from the hospital. She is with family. She's just a little sweetheart. All the nurses and officers fell in love with her. But she is doing well. We've had a lot of questions. She is fine, and she's with family.

CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you so much for the update and the status report, Officer Morrow. Obviously, we will check back with you as all of this unfolds this morning. Thank you.

So this is a tale of two cities. Here in Houston, where I am. Rescue crews resume their door-to-door searches in daylight. About two hours from now, that will happen. But there are these heavily-flooded areas of the city. Houston's mayor declares the city is open for business. So CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in West Houston with more.

What's the situation, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

Well, there are still two main areas of the Houston area that remain flooded. And neighborhoods like this here in West Houston and then another area on the northeast side of town.

And as water has receded in many places, it's also come with the grim discovery of bodies and people who died in those floodwaters. As we mentioned off the top, the death toll now stands at 47 because of Hurricane Harvey and the destruction it has wreaked here in Houston. And that clean-up process begins, even though here in some of these

neighborhoods, you know, residents are still anxiously awaiting for these floodwaters to recede.

Nearly 140,000 homes damaged by the floodwaters across the city. So that is just a staggering number. And it really kind of speaks to the daunting task of cleanup that lies in the weeks ahead here. And of course, those warnings also going out to residents to be very careful about the contamination in these floodwaters, sewage. And we've seen the oil slicks and the gasoline up in those neighborhoods. So all of this very difficult to contend with and something residence need to be aware of -- Alisyn.

Absolutely, Ed. Thank you very much for the reporting. Let's get more updates now.

Joining us is Colonel Paul Owen. He's the commander and division engineer of the Southwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Colonel, thanks so much for being here.

Let's talk first about where we are, this neighborhood of Wilchester. All the flooding that -- that viewers see behind us, this in part was caused by the initial hurricane, but in part, this is you intentionally letting out the stress from the reservoir?

COL. PAUL OWEN, COMMANDER AND DIVISION ENGINEER, SOUTHWESTERN DIVISION, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Yes, that's true, so it's a smaller percentage. And we can't really tell exactly where all the water came from. We know that we have water that we are using controlled releases from, the Addicks Reservoir, which is north of here and from the Barker Reservoir, which is that way. And those two reservoir outlets are coming to combine in the Buffalo Bayou. And the water is flowing through Buffalo Bayou.

[06:10:0] CAMEROTA: And I just want to ask you about those controlled releases. Because obviously, for -- here are the aerials that we're looking at right now of the reservoirs. And I can only imagine, you know, the thought process and the tough decisions for officials, knowing that when they -- when you do that controlled release, other people are going to, by definition, suffer, and their houses are going to be flooded. So how do they make those decisions?

OWEN: Well, just -- we have a very prescribed water control manual that's worked out with the local county officials. So we have a very deliberate method of determining through all kinds of curves and metrics to determine exactly when we're supposed to release, when we should not release. And of course, we balance that with the needs of the people that are around here.

So one of our biggest concerns right now is, if we get another rainfall event at this point, we would be concerned because the reservoir is full. So if that reservoir is full and we get another big rain event, there is a potential for a more dramatic uncontrolled release than what we are currently having right now.

CAMEROTA: So what's the plan for today? OWEN: So today, the water -- we've still got water outflowing out of

both Addicks Reservoir and, as aggressively as we can do that, because we are concerned about a potential storm that could come and dump more water on this area.

CAMEROTA: Is that in the forecast or you're just -- you're just prepared for anything?

OWEN: We're watching a hurricane that's forming in the Mediterranean right now. So you know, again, that's -- that's nothing that we know for sure that's going to hit here. So the forecasting miles, I don't want to be part of that prediction. I want to watch what's in that National Weather Service, tell us where it can go. But a moderate rainfall here could potentially have impacts. And that's why we are releasing water from Addicks and Barker Reservoir. So that is having a little bit of an impact on this area, but this area -- we have to watch that very closely, and we'll do whatever we can. It will drain, and it's going down right now, the water.

CAMEROTA: How long do you think it will take for a neighborhood like this to drain?

OWEN: It will probably -- we think it's a couple of months before the water -- excuse me -- let me say it will take several weeks to drain from here. It will take a couple of months for the reservoir, which is normally dry, both reservoirs to drain completely. So we'll have water flowing out of the reservoirs for several months.

And usually, at a certain time, after a few weeks, it will be contained within the Buffalo Bayou. But it will take several weeks for this water to move out.

CAMEROTA: When are people here coming back to their homes?

OWEN: That's a good question. I'd have to talk to Harris County and figure out what their plans are for that.

CAMEROTA: So many people are displaced, and obviously, they just want to go home, but their homes are not habitable at the moment. You know, if your first floor is under water, it's just really, really tough. What's your biggest concern?

OWEN: Today we're continuing to watch the dam extremely closely to make sure it still performs as it's designed, and it is. And so I would ask that people have an understanding that the design -- the dam is working as we expected it to, and there's no, at this point, indication that there's going to be any kind of dramatic failure in the dam.

CAMEROTA: That's really a good note to end on, Colonel. Thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Let's get back to Chris in New York.

CUOMO: And also remember, they had always predicted that the water levels would not crest until later in the week. So there has been no major curveball here. You just can't move back into a house that has standing water if it. That's a toxic soup. So people are going to have to be patient. That's going to cause frustration, and it's going to demand leadership.

That takes us to President Trump. He's heading back to the disaster zone tomorrow. This time, he's going to meet with victims of the disaster, talk to the survivors. The battle over emergency funding is heating up in Congress. How are they going to do it? Are they going to redesign some priorities? Could this mean something for the wall? The political tests ahead, with Maggie Haberman. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:17:28] CUOMO: Vice President Mike Pence getting a firsthand look at the devastation in Rockport, Texas. That's one of the areas that's been hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey. The president pledging a million dollars of his own money for relief efforts ahead of his return visit to the disaster zone tomorrow.

We've got CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House. What do we expect?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.

Well, yes, the vice president of the United States, along with a slew of cabinet officials visiting the region. Now the administration is ready to get down to the business of talking about what is supposed to be the first down payment for the recovery effort there in the Gulf Coast region.

We're also told people on Capitol Hill are willing and eager to start talking about a longer term package. This comes at a time right after the August recess as Congress returns to Congress -- to Capitol Hill next week, and they have a whole slew of rapid action action items on the agenda. That would include the president's wall on the southern border, along with the stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating and raising the federal debt limit. But the vice president indicating the situation in the Gulf Coast has to go to the top of the list because of the urgency. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We expect Congress to move quickly on the initial legislation, and we'll be working very diligently in the opening weeks of Congress to accomplish that. Let me say we're very confident that members of Congress in both political parties appreciate the historic nature of this storm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: And Chris, as you said at the top, the president has pledged a million dollars of his own money to aid in the effort. He's returning to the region this weekend, expected this time to visit both Louisiana and Texas.

Back to you. CUOMO: All right, Joe. This situation is going to demand direct

action and a good plan and follow through by the administration. So let's discuss all the variables. We've got CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, good to have you on this. You know, it was interesting the $1 million thing. It's not unusual for Donald Trump to pledge money to a cause. It was somewhat unusual for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to ask reporters where you should send it.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I took it more as filibustering than anything else when Sarah Sanders did that, and I think in anticipation that they were going to be criticized, or at least see questions about where he had given it to -- I do think it is important to note that pledged does not mean donated yet. And I think that we know that the president has a history, certainly before he was president, of saying that he has given money that he did not give.

[06:20:12] David Fahrenthold of "The Washington Post" uncovered a lot of that during the campaign, money that was supposedly pledged to veterans, which turned out to be something of a gimmick around skipping a debate. So we will see where that money goes.

CUOMO: There is a difference between cynicism and skepticism. We did see what happened with that veterans situation. It got muddy. We'll see what he does with the money.

HABERMAN: That's right, that's right.

CUOMO: Certainly he has it.

HABERMAN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: But that's not the money that's going to matter. The money that's going to matter are going to be the billions. And there are already questions. I've been harping on what happened with Sandy. And I get that people find it frustrating. But you don't want to see a repeat of that. And already we hear, well, will it be tied to an overall financing of the government? Will it be tied to the debt ceiling? Those are the kinds of hang-ups that could delay the help. What are you hearing?

HABERMAN: There are a lot of unknowns and uncertainty going into this. And just to go back to your point about the president, by the way, to be clear, if he gives a million dollars, that is a big deal and he deserves credit for that.

CUOMO: Sure.

HABERMAN: I just think that it -- we need to see where the money goes. In terms of the government funding, you're talking about, really, an epic recovery effort. You point to Sandy, which is, you know, an excellent case that we know well from living in New York. New York is still rebuilding. You know, that area is still dealing with what happened. I think that the important thing that Congress is going to have to bear in mind, and the White House to bear in mind is the scope of this and the duration of time. There are various options they are looking at for September. One is a short-term effort; one is a larger effort.

But there are also other congressional and White House priorities that are coming up in September. And they are deciding how best to get through Congress with the votes necessary these various pieces of legislation. And it is early, but they are coming into a real deadline, because Congress comes back next week. And the Harvey recovery effort, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has talked about this with other members of leadership. There is a real urgency in getting something through quickly.

CUOMO: Look, again, the past is prologue. What happened with Sandy was you got the first chunk of money, but then there was all this follow-up and they need to become assessed, and it got mired in politics...

HABERMAN: That's right.

CUOMO: ... and connected to different efforts. Mike Pence said this is the priority. I hope Congress understands that is what he said. We'll know if they understand it by how much other stuff they attach to it.

There's another issue here, though. You're going to have priority issues for the White House, as well. The wall, the FEMA money and the budget money that was going to be redirected towards the wall. Have you heard anything about rethinking that for now, that you don't put that money toward the wall when that money could go to Harvey.

HABERMAN: There's some conversation about deferring the discussion of the wall and funding of the wall until December, so that at least you get through this interim period, where you need money both. Again, there is the debt ceiling issue where there has to be a vote at some point or there will be a government shutdown, and you need money to go to Harvey. So there is some realization within the White House that this might be a bit of a time buy in terms of dealing with the wall. I think we will know more in the coming days.

CUOMO: Were you surprised that they had Pence go down there and basically do the same job that the president is going to do when he goes this weekend?

HABERMAN: Not at all. I think that we have seen repeatedly in the campaign and in the White House. But I think that the president, these are not scenarios that he has -- A, he is not a -- a politician over many years. He is somebody who worked in business and worked in entertainment and worked in real estate. But I think just -- this is a language that does not come as easily to him, frankly, as it does to Mike Pence who has been in political life for a long time.

And we saw throughout the campaign that Mike Pence would often sort of stopgap these more emotive scenarios and situations where the president had more trouble and was a little stiffer.

I also think by the time Mike Pence went, conditions had eased a bit, and it was much easier. So I don't think it's a -- it's a huge surprise. I do think that ultimately, though, the administration needs to realize, and I do think some realize -- I don't know how much the president sees this, because this is his first time dealing with this.

What is going to matter is not going to be showing up and making trips within the first week or two. What's going to matter is over the duration of time, how the rebuilding and recovery efforts go. And that is going to be crucial.

CUOMO: And Harvey is going to play into different issues. Let's play some of his sound from a press conference yesterday that teed up a real battle to come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are the undocumented immigrants eligible for long-term relief, help?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What happens once they leave (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: Once the eligibility standards range across a number of different programs. It would be -- if you're an immigrant who has committed a crime, you're going to be removed. If you're an immigrant, I guess the question is, that's looking for assistance, that's eligible for citizenship, it's my understanding that you're not eligible in that case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[06:25:00] CUOMO: All right. So Bossert there saying something that's going to be very controversial, which is that these people in Harvey, you know they're not testing documentation right now. The president hasn't criticized that. The whole message is about unity and that we're all in it together.

And now you have that political reality, which is some of the survivors of Harvey may not get help because of their immigration status, takes us into DACA. Even Donald Trump knows that when it comes to immigration, this is perilous ground. He has change his thinking, at least his talking since he got into office, saying, "Ooh, this is tough with these DACA people. You know, they should rest easy."

Do you think we're going to get a Friday surprise, and they're going to end that program? Do you think that he's going to want to wage this battle on the Harvey front with survivors of that storm?

HABERMAN: I think he definitely does not want to wage this battle on the Harvey front. And I think, if anything, Harvey has given a reason for people in the administration who are hoping to delay this discussion some hope. I know that John Kelly, the president's chief of staff, has said to several people, you know, given that Texas is essentially under water right now and that Texas was a big driver of this deadline of trying to do a September 5 lawsuit or a lawsuit by September 5 over DACA that maybe this is not the biggest priority.

Some leaders in Texas say they plan to go ahead. But I think the administration is going to, at least at the moment, appears to be leaning into the possibility of delaying this -- a decision on this, or at least doing it in such a way that, basically, everyone ends up the same. This is an issue in terms of their status. This is an issue that has really vexed the president.

I do believe, based on conversations people have had with him, that he is very concerned about what happens to a lot of these kids, but he's under enormous political pressure from his base.

CUOMO: Well, he's getting pressure on both sides. You've got an open letter from entrepreneurs today saying you've got 800,000 people that create about $400 billion worth of GDP revenue in this country. They're integrated. They're real. They're positive. Leave them alone. So we'll see what happens.

Maggie Haberman, you made us better, as always. Thank you very much -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. You, of course, know Team Rubicon. They are the volunteer veterans, first responders, and they show up in crisis areas like this. So they are here with their specialized military training, and they're going to tell us what they're doing next.

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