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Water Supply Cut Off in Beaumont, Texas; 47 Killed, 72,000 Rescued, Tens of Thousands Displaced in Flooding; Man, Dog Team Aid in Hurricane Aftermath; VP Mike Pence Consoles Victims & Hauls Debris. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 07:00   ET


MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are with you and we will stay with you until all of southeast Texas comes back.

[07:00:06] ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. I am coming to you from Houston, Texas, this morning where the mayor has been trying, Chris, to sound an optimistic tone, one week after Hurricane Harvey made landfall here in Texas.

Now that the rain has stopped, the skies are filled with helicopters searching for survivors. We have seen dramatic images of rescues around the clock.

More than 72,000 people, we're happy to report, have been rescued. As of today, though, Harvey is blamed for 47 deaths, and that number will likely rise.

So neighborhoods like the one I'm standing in, this is Wilchester West. They, of course, will have to rebuild. These houses are subsumed right now. At least their first floors, and their garages, their driveways, by water.

The White House estimates that more than 100,000 homes are either damaged or destroyed. And 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, there are concerns about contamination and diseases in these floodwaters. And I can tell you, Chris, the mosquitos are out in full force this morning. They, of course, thrive in this standing water and humidity here.

CUOMO: And I'll tell you what. Really a sad picture of the tragedy is that where you are, you know, if you look at that home behind you, that's almost the best-case scenario right now for people, is that their home isn't completely saturated with water, but their neighborhood is unlivable; and time is going to be the factor. This is not going anywhere for weeks.

Alisyn, stay away from those bugs. FEMA announcing that they have approved assistance for nearly 100,000 people. But remember, millions live in the affected area. Congress awaiting the Trump administration's initial request. It will certainly be for billions in emergency funding.

Will Congress take it seriously -- by seriously, that means not attaching it to anything else, not letting it get caught up in politics and bogus fiscal restraint during a time of need. We hear that the House could vote as early as next week on that first round. So we'll see what they do. Vice President Mike Pence in Texas consoling victims, helping out, helping clear. Seeing the devastation and the devastated firsthand.

President Trump is going to follow on his heels, going to Houston tomorrow to meet with victims in the flood-ravaged city. The most dire situation, Beaumont, Texas. We keep telling you the storm is gone; the situation is not. The city of more than 118,000 now may have no drinking water. Imagine living with no water for days to eat, cook, drink. They are waiting in long lines for their ration of bottled water. The outage is forcing the city's hospital to evacuate many of its patients, but where can they go? We have it all covered.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Beaumont. What's the latest?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, this is a city, Chris, that is suffering two crises at once. They're still dealing with water rescues in the city. Nearly 300 yesterday in the city itself. Many more in the surrounding county.

Here at Baptist Beaumont Hospital, evacuations. That lack of water -- it's not the floodwaters rising here, but it's that lack of water completely cut off the city. Two pumps to the city cut off by the rising Natchez River. The hospital has -- had started off with 193 patients. They are down to about 85 now. The most critically injured -- those in ICU, those on dialysis, nine prematurely born babies -- were all airlifted yesterday.

They have 85 patients left. They need to continue to airlift them, they say, because the freeways around Beaumont are either nearly impassable or completely impassable, and moving them is very, very difficult. They had to move them -- can't move them to Houston where they usually go. They go to Dallas, Jasper, Galveston. Even one patient went all the way to Missouri. When will this be resolved? It's not entirely clear. The Natchez River is expected to crest around 1 p.m. today. Once it crests and it starts to go down, then they will be able to get to the pumps and figure out how to fix the problem. It could be days.

Back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Miguel, thank you very much for that reporting, so we're going to get an update for you and all the folks in Beaumont beyond. Joining us now on the phone is Brad Penisson. He is with Beaumont's Fire Rescue Department, a public information officer at the city of Beaumont Emergency Operations.

Captain, thanks so much for being with us. How are people there able to get clean water today? BRAD PENISSON, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, BEAUMONT FIRE RESCUE

DEPARTMENT (via phone): We have been able to get trucks in overnight with the water, and we are setting up some points of distribution this morning. And we'll hopefully begin that distribution in just a few hours.

CAMEROTA: We just heard our reporter, Miguel Marquez, say that the Natchez River continues to rise. So what does that mean for you?

PENISSON: Well, most of our rescues have come to a halt now. But as we look at the river that's on the east coast -- or east line of our city, we're looking at -- it should crest today, and it will start following. Our biggest situation, like we said, is the water supply. It's cut off. We sent a boat out yesterday to survey the site, get some pictures and see what we're looking at. What we're also looking at is some alternative solutions, a temporary solution to get a pump up and working that would bypass that entire pump station and get water to our water treatment plant.

The water treatment plant itself is still functional. We just need to get a water supply into that plant. We're looking at some other avenues to get their -- get that working.

CAMEROTA: OK. And when you say, Captain, that rescues have come to a halt, is that because everybody in need has been rescued or because it's impossible to do more rescues?

PENISSON: Well, our main thing here in Beaumont, is on the east side of our city is the Natchez River. On the north side is the Pine Island Bayou. The bayou has crested, and it has stopped now, so that -- that is -- we've got most of the people out of there.

The east side on the river there, that is a very sparsely populated area, so it's not as bad there. Yesterday, we did close our shelter, one of our shelters. Several people chose to go back home. Some of them went to stay with family and friends, things of this nature. Others are being moved out as we speak.

CAMEROTA: Captain, as -- as you and I speak, the -- we're watching video of some very dramatic rescues from yesterday. It's just incredible. I mean, this captures what emergency responders are up against. That there's a man who is trapped in the raging floodwaters. He would surely have been washed away.

But an emergency responder is able to attach a harness to him and then try to take him up to the chopper above. But of course, this is a heavily wooded area. There's lots of trees. So they're having to go up through the branches and, in fact, they take one up with them as they go. What's -- what are the biggest challenges facing your fire department right now?

PENISSON: Well, from the fire department standpoint, the first thing I heard yesterday morning when we lost our water supply is what we're going to do when we have a fire. One of the things we did do right away is contact the state and request a task force of tankers. Those arrived yesterday evening. We've got them staged down here in Beaumont, so that they would respond with our fire trucks in the event of a fire.

Each of our fire trucks carry anywhere from 500 to 750 gallons of water on the truck itself. So we, on the initial attack, we have some water there where these tankers are going to be able to support that and be able to fight structure fires.

CAMEROTA: That's very good news. It is very good news to hear you have those water tankers standing by if needed. Captain Penisson, thank you very much. We'll keep a close eye on Beaumont today.

PENISSON: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So about one hour from now, rescue crews here in Houston will get first sunlight, and they'll be able to resume their door-to- door searches in parts of the city that are still under feet of water.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in West Houston with more. What's the situation there, Ed?


Well, according to Harris County officials, the -- there are two main areas, still, of concern in the Houston area. This neighborhood you see behind me still very much under water. This is on the west side of town near those reservoirs that we've talked so much about over the last few days and also another area on the northeast side of town.

And as the floodwaters have receded in many places and the cleanup begins, those firefighters and first responders going through the neighborhood and making the grim discoveries of people who weren't able to escape the floodwaters or were trapped on their way out or just couldn't escape it.

The death toll has now risen to 47 across -- because of Hurricane Harvey. Those teams will continue to fan out across the city and continue those searches, as well. That's the grim work being done as well as the cleanup which will take months.

And across the city, county officials say 136,000 structures have been damaged because of the floodwaters. That includes neighborhoods, the homes and businesses. A lot of work in the cleanup process that still needs to be done. And in some places here, like over by where the reservoir is on the west side of town, officials say that it could take several weeks, if not a couple of months for those reservoir water levels to get back to normal. And that means that this water here will be a slow drain and will take time to leave these areas -- Alisyn.

[07:10:03] CAMEROTA: Ed, that is what we keep hearing. It's going to take a lot of patience from people here in Texas to get back to some semblance of normal. Thank you very much.

Listen to this next story. They came all the way from California to help rescue the victims of Harvey flooding. A dog named Jester and K- 9 specialist Davis Doty have been working together for a decade. The one-time rescued dog, Jester, has become the rescuer. Davis and Jester join us now.

Great to have you guys here. So what does Jester do in a situation like this?

DAVIS DOTY, K-9 SPECIALIST: Jester and I, we are tasked with locating victims, either in structures or in the wild land environment or other locations. And I do that with my partner, Jester. And he gives a focused bark indicating live human scent.

CAMEROTA: So he picks up a live -- a human who is trapped but still alive. Give us an example of some of the things that you guys have pulled off.

DOTY: We have pulled off rescues in Laguna Beach where people have gotten lost in the wilderness, and they were incapacitated. They couldn't get up and move. So we can send our canines into the wilderness to find them. Other examples are where floods like this where it's caused -- it's caused the structures to collapse or even when they haven't collapsed, we can send the dog in or down a street. And much more efficiently than humans, we can use the awesome scent of smell from the dog to pick up on that.

CAMEROTA: Is it true that in the few days that your task force have been here, that you have done something like a thousand rescues?

DOTY: At least. The amount of rescues, and as fast as the water has risen, we have definitely had a chance and have been lucky enough to be one of the six first teams here to be able to do that.

CAMEROTA: And so you all drove from California to get here because FEMA activated you.

DOTY: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: So how long did that take?

DOTY: That drive was 29 hours. So I got the call late on Friday night. And we were on the road within four hours coming out here. So we encountered thunderstorms, lots of rain. But we didn't see the flooding until we got to the city.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. So -- so what are the challenges for Jester in a situation like. Let's say in this neighborhood, if you were to unleash Jester, what are the -- what are the problems he's been confronting here?

DOTY: The major problems we have with the dogs in a situation like this that's behind you is the high-water level. So although he can swim and move around, it's good to have him more on dry land. We can -- I can have him go through water, something like this to go across the street and search at home, but to have him on the land is the easier case.

There are times when we can put our dogs in boats and take them to a high-occupancy building, like an apartment building or multistory building and have the canine work those multiple stories while we wait in the boat.

CAMEROTA: You're going to have to do that. I mean, you've seen situations like that here. There are neighborhoods and condos where there are, you know, three stories, four stories, and it's hard to know. We were just going through one yesterday, or a couple days ago and maybe we heard people whistling for help, but couldn't tell exactly where they are. So is that what's in his future?

DOTY: Absolutely. And that whistling. He'll use his ears, but it's his sense of smell is what we're using the most. And so that he can hone; he can get right into where those people are at and give me those barks.

CAMEROTA: So tell us Jester's history. He was a rescue dog.

DOTY: Sure. When Jester was a puppy, he was constantly jumping over back walls. There were six-foot-high walls. And he was doing it over and over again, and the owners said, you know, "We can't -- we can't deal with this."

So the pound kept picking him up. And so he ended up being on a list to be euthanized. Right. So the Search Dog Foundation located him in Ohio (ph), was able to, with their team, find him, train him and take all of that energy of jumping over walls and put it toward finding and locating victims.

CAMEROTA: And now, I mean, look what he's given back.

DOTY: Right.

CAMEROTA: He's rescued how many victims, would you say?

DOTY: Well, Jester, and he's had a real world in Laguna with the person we found in the wilderness there. And we're hoping that we can do a lot of good out here in Houston. And that the foundation does truly match it with the fire departments. They give them to us. They're volunteer. They're for free.

And basically, for the reason of the FEMA mission. To come out here with all the cooperating agencies and stakeholders. It's not just Orange County that comes out here. We have the other fire departments, as well, Orange and Anaheim. And together as a team, it takes the entire team to make it work. All of those different aspects come together.

CAMEROTA: Well, we know you're going to do good work here. Thanks so much for telling your story with us.

DOTY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to see you. Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: Alisyn, thank you very much.

President Trump heading back to flood-ravaged Texas tomorrow. How will the president connect with the storm survivors in Houston when he sees the devastation firsthand? We're going to discuss that and the battle over emergency funding. Why would it be a battle at all? History dictates it might.


[07:19:00] CUOMO: The vice president, Mike Pence, rolling up his sleeves while touring hard-hit Rockport, Texas. President Trump is going to follow in his footsteps, going to Houston tomorrow, to see the catastrophic flooding firsthand. Now, this comes as the president has pledged a million dollars of his own money for relief efforts. But this is going to take many, many billions. And that's his real task, to get Congress to act and act the right way.

CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House.


The vice president and a slew of cabinet officials on the ground there in the Gulf Coast region surveying the damage. Now the administration is preparing to start talking about what will be the down payment for recovering and rebuilding the affected areas.

Also talking about a longer-term aid bill on Capitol Hill already. Congress coming back next week from its long August recess, a whole slew of rapid action items on the agenda likely to include raising the debt ceiling, a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government funded. Even perhaps the president's wall on the southern border.

[07:20:11] But the vice president speaking just yesterday, indicating in his view, the Gulf Coast has to take priority because of the urgency.


MIKE PENCE (R), 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. But let me say we're very confident that members of Congress in both political parties appreciate the historic nature of this storm.


JOHNS: Now, the president has pledged $1 million of his own money and apparently putting out feelers right now to determine where that money ought to be spent. The president expected to return to the Gulf Coast region tomorrow. This time he's going to go to Louisiana and Texas, also.

Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: Joe, thank you very much.

Let's dig deeper. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory. So the president is putting up a million dollars of his own money. He's going back down there to see people. That checks boxes. Those are good things to do. The big task is going to be controlling Congress in its approach to how it funds Harvey. What's your take?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that is the big question, especially when the president is threatening to fight Congress, his own congressional leadership, over the wall with Mexico, which is unlikely to happen, and the threat of shutting down the federal government.

So there's a lot of discussion about this, about how to approach it. But people have to remember that this is the core function of government, to look after people, to take care of people who have no other place to go, not even to their local government or the state government. They have to be able to rely on the federal government when something is this large.

I think it's a huge opportunity for a president who claims to want to dig in on details around infrastructure, to understand core function as president is to lead a federal effort to respond to disasters.

CUOMO: So what do you think Trump's options are? If -- and look, hopefully, it doesn't happen. But if we see a repeat of the Sandy mishegoss, and they try to tie the funding to an overall budget, or they try to tie it to a debt ceiling negotiation, you know, or they try to tie it to offsets of other government spending. All those things will delay the process, just like it did with Sandy. What are his options?

GREGORY: Well, his main option is to use the bully pulpit effectively and try to lead and to be the chief advocate for victims of this horrible flood and storm and to be able to use that leverage and perhaps to delay some of the fighting over the wall to focus on getting a package passed. And I think time is what's important.

As you've heard from lawmakers over the past couple of days, they don't want to somehow tie this to the debt ceiling fight, which would push a package off. I think the first order of business, they've got to get back, they've got to get this agreed to and get money working. You don't -- you know, you look at details like the fact that from Katrina, you had refugees from that storm who went to Houston, many of whom are still there.

There's so much time that it takes to settle people, to care for people long after the waters recede, this is a recovery effort that the federal government has really got to lead.

CUOMO: We still have emergency officials on the ground in New York and New Jersey dealing with Sandy. So now there's another implication to this. It seemed like there might be a little Friday surprise working, or at least a short-term policy move with DACA. But when you look at Harvey, could Harvey influence the DACA move? How so?

Well, you've got 500,000-plus estimated undocumented people there, many of whom are -- they're not being checked right now for any papers because of the whole exigency is about helping humanity.

Do you think that could change how the president deals with DACA, especially in light of the press briefing yesterday. Let's play this piece of sound about what his homeland security adviser said about who's eligible for help there?


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The undocumented immigrants, eligible for long-term relief help? What happens when they leave...

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


CUOMO: It's going to be a bitter pill.


CUOMO: For a lot of people if it comes to fruition. What do you think of it?

GREGORY: Well, you know, Bossert, by the way, Tom Bossert, who you just heard there, the guy that goes back to the Bush administration and their own approach to immigration policy which is far different, as you know, than President Trump.

I think Trump, who has been reluctant on getting rid of DACA for a long time, but has been pushed by conservative opponents of this Obama-era law. I think he's going to have a hard time doing this in the middle of the aftermath of Harvey. We'll see.

[07:25:12] And he's always acknowledged that this is a very difficult issue for him or to look at. If he wants to cave to some of those pressure -- the pressure from opponents, that he might move forward. I have to think, and certainly, people like his chief of staff, John Kelly, who want to delay this and not take on any more fights.

The rational calculus is not always the one that wins with President Trump. But we also know that he is malleable on some of these issues where he thinks they're too difficult, or he may not be ideologically, you know, predisposed to siding with opponents of DACA.

CUOMO: And also, it's always about the greater context. Right? What a cataclysm at home. You had Charlottesville that put him to the test about what he is as a moral agent. It did not go well.

Now you have Harvey, which is, you know, if you believe in fate or anything like that, what an odd turn of events to have this demonstration of the beauty of humanity, you know, when pushed to the extreme. Could it be a catalyst to try to harness that energy of, we're all in it together and use that to motivate policy discussion?

GREGORY: You know, there's always that potential. And I think the president, any president has an opportunity to create not a fresh start, not a reset, just to kind of start some new chapters.

I don't know if it's there with this president. I mean, even in his response to Harvey, it was so self-aggrandizing. And I think that's just an ongoing liability. But there's still opportunity for him to lead. And let's not forget the big piece. He wants to come into September after a horrible August of self-inflicted wounds and a lack of discipline.

He heads into September significantly weakened, and now with a real do-or-die moment here on something substantive, leadership on Harvey, this issue with the debt ceiling and, of course, tax reform, which could be a great unifier among Republicans. And he could lead that charge. He campaigned on the idea that it was going to be so helpful to the U.S. economy.

Now he's really got to get something done. And if not, he goes through his entire first year without any major legislative accomplishments. This is high stakes time now.

CUOMO: David Gregory, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Have a good weekend. Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. A young man terrified of losing his father, making an emotional appeal for help right here on CNN. I don't need to tell you about it, Chris. You were the person that he spoke to. We are happy to report that plea was answered. We have their reunion for you next.