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President and First Lady Arrive in Houston; DHS: Flooding Has Damaged Or Destroyed 100,000 Homes; Federal Responders Rescue 28,000 People And 1,600 Pets. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired September 2, 2017 - 12:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

At any moment now, President Trump and the first lady are expected to touch down in Texas amid these new images of Harvey devastation. This house in West Houston catching fire just this morning while submerged in flood waters.

Meanwhile, many residents in other neighborhoods are returning to their homes and removing piles of debris and putting them curbside. When the president and first lady arrive, the two have a jam-packed day.

They will visit a disaster relief center and meet with storm survivors and then greet Texas congressional delegation members before leaving for Port Louisiana.

And then later on today, the president and first lady will meet with the Louisiana delegation visit with the National Guard and with the volunteer group known as the Cajun Navy.

Here's where we stand right now on Harvey. There have been 50 storm- related deaths, but as floodwaters subside that number could go up. More than 72,000 people have been rescued, and we have reporters covering all of these angles.

Let's start with Athena Jones who is in Houston. So, Athena, what is on the president's agenda when they arrive?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well, the president and first lady are expected to touch down in about 20 minutes at an airfield a little bit southeast of where I am right now. They're going to be meeting at that airfield with survivors of Hurricane Harvey.

They're also going to be traveling to a Hurricane Harvey Relief Center, then they'll be meeting with the Texas delegation, the Texas congressional delegation as Congress prepares to debate this emergency aid for Harvey. And what's different about this trip, Fred, from the trip the president made earlier in the week on Tuesday is that on Tuesday he met with state and local officials. He toured an emergency operations center.

But he didn't come into any direct contact with people who are actually impacted by this massive and still unfolding natural disaster. Some of the president's critics said we didn't get a chance to see the president act as comforter in chief or consoler in chief.

We might get a chance to see him do that today as he interacts directly with victims. Listen to what the president said, his message to the folks down here in his weekly address.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: When one part of America hurts, we all hurt. When we see neighbors in need, we rush to their aid. We don't ask their names or where they're from. We help our fellow Americans every single time. All American hearts are with the people of Texas and Louisiana. We mourn and pray and struggle through the hardships together.


JONES: So, that is the kind of language we might expect to hear from the president today during this second visit to Houston. There are no formal remarks planned, but we do expect to hear from him.

And a lot of folks are hoping to see him follow in the footsteps of his vice president, Mike Pence, who just a couple days ago prayed with or over Harvey victims, rolled up his sleeves and helped clear debris at one point.

And he hugged people who had been affected by the storm. Some critics who believe the president didn't show enough empathy on his first trip are hoping to see more of that from his second trip here to Texas -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones, unless he does the costume change on board Air Force One, I don't see that moving of debris in that suit and fine wear that they oaf got on there, but we'll see what happens. All right. Thanks so much, Athena Jones. Appreciate it.

So as tens of thousands of people return to their homes to assess the damage, Houston's mayor says his city is, quoting, "open for business." Small signs of recovery are beginning to emerge with fewer people in shelters and power being restored in many areas and many residents are now wondering what their next steps are.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is live for us in Houston at the NRG Stadium, the center where a whole lot of people were taking refuge. But what's happening now, people have been leaving, heading to their homes?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have seen some people leaving this morning, Fred. We've seen people finding their way out, getting in taxis and going someplace. Maybe they're going home or with friends and family.

We did get some updated numbers here as of 5:00 this morning local time. Right now, they're saying they have about 1,700 people that were here in the shelter this morning. At their biggest capacity, they had over almost 4,200 people who have been taking advantage of this shelter.

What they're doing with the shelter, it's not just putting a roof over their head while they figure things out, it's also helping them figure things out. There's FEMA inside, computers, also looking for children who are here.

[12:05:07] School has been pushed back to start until September 11th for many schools here, but they're still looking to help get those students get them, figure out a way to get them to school once school starts and keep them up to date on their curriculum.

So, many different ways trying to help these evacuees. The other concern that they have here, Fred, is that they have a lot of volunteers, a fantastic number coming and showing up to help the people here.

They're saying with the holiday weekend coming up and after that, people are going to start going back to their normal lives, but they are really asking people to remember that a lot of these people will still need help going back to their homes after the water recedes and pulling out all of that destroyed furniture, everything that's in there.

So, while the immediate need and response has been fantastic, they're hoping people here in the greater Houston area and across the country remember that there's still going to be months and months of work ahead -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Right. So many people really don't know how to navigate, you know, where do they go from here. It is good to know and I'm sure they are comforted that there is legal assistance right there at the energy center to kind of help them figure out how do they get emergency aid.

You know, a lot of people left their homes. They don't have the paperwork for their homes, but they have lot of questions about what's next.

ELAM: Exactly. The questions are overwhelming. Think about what you would be dealing with right now in a time like this. So, because each one of these natural disasters they learn something, and they implement those new lessons to put it in place and help people right where they're staying because it makes it easier for them.

They'll stay open as long as they need to in a shelter like this, but at the same time, they want to start working from the moment they get here to help these evacuees get back on their feet and rejoin the population and having a normal lifestyle outside of the evacuation center.

WHITFIELD: All right. Normalcy is a long way away. All right. Thanks so much, Stephanie Elam there at the NRG Stadium in Houston.

All right, now let's go to CNN's Kaylee Hartung. She is at a water plant in Beaumont, Texas, that's been a big problem there no clean tap water. So Kaylee, officials say that the water levels are still too high to actually install these new pumps that have arrived but then, you know, what's the forecast on when they might be able to restore some kind of tap water?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, everyone here is trying to figure that out. I know the picture we have for you doesn't show a lot of action, but just down this drive and around the corner that's where the pumps for city of Beaumont are.

But as you said, the river still too high for the Army Corps of Engineers to come in here and assess the pumps that exist before they install the six they that brought into town late last night.

As those waters stay high, they're hoping that maybe this afternoon that assessment could take place, but it's hard to predict as these water levels continue to change. But a temporary fix has been put in place.

Yesterday, ExxonMobil and some other private partners working with state and federal officials to put in that temporary fix. Some people are saying they have a trickle, some a flow of water out of their taps.

That boil notice still in very strong effect here if you have that water coming out of your faucets. Some people telling me maybe it's enough to wash your hands but not much more than that.

So, with this water crisis continuing, there are water distribution sites around this city for people to get clean water to drink and maybe take a little bit of a bath with. There is one the city is running just off the 1700 block off of I-10. They are moving about 10 cars a minute.

Yesterday, they helped 6,000 cars getting them water and some of the MREs, meals ready to eat, that they had on site as well as a bag of ice. There's another center set up at the Antioch Baptist Missionary Church, the Southeast Texas food bank distributing from noon to 3:00 as well.

We are waiting on word from the city that they will be opening a second water distribution site as well. Really impressive the efficiency with which the city is working to get people clean water to drink -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow, I'm sure a lot of people are very relieved to know that there is clean water now available, just means waiting in line, but they're all working together there. All right. Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much, in Beaumont, Texas.

All right. Still ahead, Congress returns to work next week and one of the first order of businesses, the Trump administration's request for a massive cash infusion for FEMA. Will Washington be able to put politics aside and deliver on the president's promise of quick action to help Hurricane Harvey victims?



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Live pictures of Ellington Field near Houston. This is where the president of the United States and the first lady will be arriving via Air Force One momentarily. They'll be arriving there.

And the expectation is they will be getting to see firsthand some of the devastation, actually meeting with some of the victims of Hurricane Harvey as they embark on their whirlwind of a day.

Not only will they be in the Houston area but also heading to Louisiana and they will be meeting with people there and also meeting with a volunteer group called the Cajun Navy. You saw a number of rescues that took place in the Houston area and even parts of Louisiana thanks to the courageousness and volunteer spirit of the Cajun Navy.

We also expect the president will be meeting with the governor as well as possibly the mayor of Houston and as that happens we'll bring it to you live.

All right. Let's bring in now our political panel to discuss this visit about to get under way. Alice Stewart is a CNN political comment commentator and a Republican strategist. Michael Nutter is a CNN political contributor and former mayor of Philadelphia. Good to see both of you.

Alice, let me begin with you because the president was in Texas inside this week following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

[12:15:08] And there were some who have been praising the fact that he is already requesting nearly $8 billion for immediate relief. At the same time, he's also being criticized by some for not showing enough empathy for the victims.

How important is it for a president to be able to do both, you know, get the business at hand of helping to bring aid to victims and at the same time being kind of, you know, the comforter in chief?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is important to have a well-rounded approach to this, but look, I was one of the biggest supporters of the president's first visit to Texas because it was important.

He didn't go to area where there's rescue and recovery going on. He went to see what needed to be done there and see what kind of aid they needed. I have a relative who was at the emergency shelter where the president did go and said that the workers there needed to see him there.

And they were encouraged by his visit because that showed them that, yes, he is committed and he is going to follow through on what needs to get done. Also, the vice president's visit this week was important in that he was compassionate to people there and was able to visit with them.

But I think the visit today by the president will be an opportunity as they have said to visit with storm survivors and show the compassion that some people wanted to see.

But more than anything, there is a time for action which he showed earlier this week and today is the time for him to actually get in there and speak with some people who are personally affected by it. I think both visits are exactly what the president needed to be doing.

WHITFIELD: Michael, we're seeing air Force One land right now at Ellington field Joint Reserve Base near Houston. So, what are your thoughts on the expectations of a president particularly when you have a natural disaster like this and they visit the area? How important is it and who should the president be visiting with?

MICHAEL NUTTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Fredricka, it's tremendously important how the president, how a governor, a mayor deals with any of these kinds of disastrous situations.

Certainly, for the president when you look at -- you made reference to the past, whether it is President Obama, President George Bush 43 and certainly President Clinton, those three presidents in a row I think demonstrated or had to demonstrate unfortunately numerous times the consoler in chief side of the job.

So, it is a balancing act. There's the consoling part. There is the action part. You know, I don't want to get too much into personalities. I'm not sure that Donald Trump has a whole lot of empathy within him. That's not really been demonstrated.

But put that to side, he is there. He is the president. It's very important he meet with, of course, the elected officials, the folks who are doing the work on the ground, get as many updates as possible, find out what he and the federal government can do.

But it's also important to meet the volunteers and the real people who have been devastated by this incredible storm and whether it is folks who have lost loved ones, still looking for loved ones if that's the case, or people who have literally lost everything.

Being on the ground, literally being where they are to talk to them, to hold them, to console them, to say a word, and especially for the children and our seniors who are vulnerable, that is critically important.

And so, I think that the significance of this visit is very, very high and will set the stage for what happens next week and I hope that Congress acts swiftly. I communicated with Mayor Turner just yesterday. They need 100 percent reimbursement.

They need funds on the ground right now to start moving debris. They need more FEMA resources and all that the federal government can bring, and so Congress should not mess around with this. It will not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Texas and parts of Louisiana and other parts of the country have been devastated. This is not the time for politics. This is a time for people to act with empathy, seriousness, and get the job done.

WHITFIELD: And so, Alice, you know, congressmen get back on Tuesday. They'll be seriously considering pouring over nearly $8 billion aid package in addition to the president meeting with, you know, congressional delegation today and city officials and even victims.

We heard as early as yesterday Congressman Al Green, who had some criticism saying access is really important, open lines of communication really important. It can't just be the handshake or the meeting today, but there has to be a continued relationship that's embarked between the president and these local officials and congressional delegates.

[12:20:10] How much pressure will they be on this president? How important will it be that when the mayor picks up the phone and calls the president about anything that this city needs that they're able to do that as opposed to, you know, waiting for president to reach out to them.

STEWART: What we're seeing already is great coordination between FEMA and local officials. We're hearing that more and more every day by people in Texas and Louisiana. One thing people in Texas should be comforted by is that reassurances by FEMA that they're not just going to be there this week and next week and the next month.

They're planning already to be there for many years to come in the vital rebuilding effort. They understand this is going to be a long- term commitment by the federal government in order to get them back to what will be the new normal there in Houston.

That is reassuring words for people there on the ground and we heard repeatedly from the governor there in Texas that the president has been extremely hands on and extremely committed to making sure they get the resources that they need.

Whether it's personnel, whether it's troops to help rescue people, water, meals ready to eat, he says the president has been very involved. There was "New York Times" article earlier this week where they talked about the president normally skims over details.

But he's ally delving in in the case of hurricane Harvey because he has seen the devastation and wants to provide the necessary funds. And the $8 billion request from the Trump administration is much higher than was originally discussed because he knows of the vast amount of work that needs to be done not just now but long term.

So, he is clearly demonstrating his commitment to making sure they have the resources and manpower they need there.

WHITFIELD: And Michael, nobody wants politics to stand in the way, especially as you look at the immediate need for people right now who have lost everything, 80 percent of those impacted do not have flood insurance.

They might get that $30,000, you know, and some change from FEMA to assist, but they're going to need a lot more financial aid in order to, you know, restart their lives and perhaps even relocate.

But then you've got lawmakers who say wait a minute, particularly in the northeast, hey, when sandy, you know, came through New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, there were lawmakers in Texas that said no or, you know, put obstacles in the way before they were able to get assistance.

And now members in that, you know, tristate area are now saying wait a minute, is this going to be, you know, hypocrisy that many of these Texas lawmakers want the same kind of aid, immediate aid that Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York wanted. How is this likely to play out in your view?

NUTTER: Yes. Well, first, I want to encourage -- I'm a former elected official but my political colleagues in the northeast, this is not the time in my view for payback. The citizens of Texas have nothing to ultimately with what their elected officials do or don't do in Washington, D.C. so that will be very bad.

Second, this is not about politics. It really is also, though, about policy. Alice made reference to the president finally focusing on some details. That's a nice pat on the back, but this is a detail job.

The other detail, though, is that the president rolled back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard about ten days before Harvey hit. You can read that in "The New York Times" and a number of other publications which will result in areas being rebuilt to a lower standard than the already low standards for flood mitigation in the first place.

That's a policy mistake. And so, if the president wants to focus on detail, he really should take a second look at the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard that he just rolled back that was, of course, under President Obama.

And since he's focused on repealing everything that President Obama did, he might want to rethink that particular strategy because you will waste hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding to standards that already will not meet the current 100-year flood standard and we know from climate change that these storms will be worse and more intense.

So, this is a policy issue going forward that I hope the president and his administration focus on. But they need to get money on the ground now, working with Mayor Turner, working with Mayor Landrieu in New Orleans, working with the mayor in Beaumont and the many other cities and towns that have been devastated through this.

[12:25:01] So, it's no time for politics. It is time for policy. It is time for action. We can't do anything about what people did or didn't do during the course of Hurricane Sandy. This is about Harvey right now and about storms that will come in the future. Get those folks the money and the resources they need right now, no nonsense.

WHITFIELD: And there's the president and the first lady coming off Air Force One right now in a much more casual attire as they embark on their whirlwind tour of Texas and Louisiana today.

Also joining us in the conversation as we look at these live pictures having an idea about what the day may bring for the president and first lady, General Russel Honore with us as well as Athena jones, White House correspondent, who is already on the ground there in Houston.

So, General Honore, I'd love to get your perspective on whether you believe this kind of trip, which may be a little different from the trip earlier in the week by the president and first lady, because they'll be meeting with flood victims and seeing, you know, up close and personal the devastation, whether this will be a real reality check.

You heard former mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter talk about the rollbacks of this president on the Flood Risk Management Standards. We know he has proposed cuts for FEMA and the EPA.

But now he's going to see what natural disasters do. Do you believe this will be a reality check for him as he embarks on policy -- on what he backs in terms of policy changes moving forward?

LT. GENERAL RUSSELL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Absolutely. You know, in the first week here and continues today, the search and rescue and keeping people alive as the governor of Texas said many times priority number one.

When they get in that car, and I laid witness to this personally 12 years ago, the big ask will be coming. It will be replace the dams, if the governor don't ask for it, shame on him. He should ask for them.

The other ones will be FEMA compliance. You've had floods here before. If you're a poor person and you got a grant from FEMA to go back boo into your home and when you're flooded again, when you get that last grant FEMA gave you, three years of flood insurance.

If you did not comply and maintain flood insurance and you flood again, they will not give you anything. That is called a compliance order written in as an incentive from Congress for people to maintain insurance.

The problem is poor people can't maintain insurance because it's too expensive. That being said, that standard should be waived because a lot of these pool have recently been flooded as recently as three or four years ago.

The next thing I'm sure he's going ask for is debris percentage. The percentage allowed by the regulations is 75 percent. I'm sure the governor's going to be ask them to raise that to 95 percent if not 100 percent compliance as he did in Louisiana last year for flood. I'm sure the governor and the mayor should be asking for a drainage system for Houston. This is the third mayor that has addressed this with the administration and they're only here for two years and they of never gotten this resolved and we see what happened without a proper drainage system for this town that it becomes paralyzed and it is the center of our energy industry.

The other thing I would hope that they would ask the president is to go ahead and approve the Clean Safe Plant Act. It was written because of what happened in West Texas when first and local responders didn't know what was going on in that plant and that plant destroyed that community.

The previous administration created that policy and just in the last month the EPA put that policy on hold. It would have forced plants like this one in Crosby to inform local first responders what was in the plant and how -- what they were do if the plant caught fire.

Guess what, that plant Is on fire right now. That plant was built in a flood zone. That plant should have never been put there. The EPA and the Corps of Engineers approved that plant going into the area where it is. Now it's flooded. It's under six foot of water and we have a mess on our hands.

Hopefully, he'll ask the president to tell the EPA and the Corps of Engineers to stop approving plants in wetlands. As Mr. Nutter said earlier, we need to stop putting plants and refineries inside of wetlands as the sea rise and we have these strong storms they could have catastrophic events.

The water in Houston has been declared toxic because of the amount of chemicals that's in it and people are told to stay out of it because of this toxic stew that's been created because so many of these plants are right in the wetlands.

You go to Louisiana at the Sabine Pass, there's a plant there called Cheniere.

The elevation at Cheniere at Sabine Pass is three foot elevation. That's an $18 billion plant. The State of Louisiana gave them $4 billion to build it and they put it in a flood zone.

The storm surge at Sabine Pass was 7 feet. Guess what happened, that plant floods. It does a lot of taxpayers money went invested to build that plant and now it's under water. We got to stop building in the flood zone these plants and these dangerous refineries that we need for our national infrastructure but we've got to keep them out of the wetlands, Fred. And hopefully they'll discuss and ask the President to adjust those laws and enforce them.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And so, it's the short-term need that needs to be met by assistance that is requested to the federal government and it's the long-term plan as well.

Athena Jones, our White House Correspondent is also joining us now. She is already in Houston on the ground there with the look at the high waters behind you at CNN.

So, the President and first lady have just arrived. They are now in their vehicle and they're on their way. According to a schedule I was given before, they're landing. It says that they would be visiting individuals, you know, victims impacted by hurricane Harvey. Is that the first stop to your understanding?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi Fred. That is the first stop on the public schedule. We expect that the President and the first lady to be able to meet with people directly impacted by the storm and also to talk to volunteers who have been helping out with the people who have been hard hit by Hurricane Harvey.

I want to share with you some information we got from the press pool. That's the small group of reporters that traveled with the President and first lady from Washington in Air Force One, and they're in that motorcade. We're watching pull out of the airport with the President.

He -- we know that as they were landing on Air Force One, they were able to see some of the flooding -- some of the flooded areas. This is the something that the President wasn't able to do so much in his trip earlier this week because he avoided the hardest hit areas, in part that was not to divert resources that could go search and recovery effort to dealing with his visit.

So, now he had the chance -- he has had a chance while he was landing to see some of those flooded areas. And he's going to be visiting with storm victims. He'll also be going to a hurricane relief center and he'll be meeting with the Texas delegation.

I think you've mentioned this already but he was greeted their on the ground by Texas governor Greg Abbott, Houston Mayor Silvester Turner with also at there at Ellington Field. And the President has flew (ph) of cabinet and other officials with him.

I just want to name a few of them, Education Secretary Betsy Devos, with him, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, V.A. Secretary David Shulkin, Elaine Duke, who is the acting Homeland Security Secretary, and Tom Bossert, who is the White House Homeland Security Adviser. He's also joined by Chief of Staff John Kelly and Hope Hicks, who is the Communications Director.

And Fred, I think that there's no where that you could say that the President hasn't been engaged on this issue, even before the storm struck made landfall last weekend and he was holding video teleconferences with cabinet members and other senior official talking about the storm.

He's talked about it a lot on Twitter and other social media. We saw he's visit here here on Tuesday. He spoke about the storm in a bit more emotionally terms on Wednesday even in that speech he gave on tax reform in Missouri.

And in today's weekly address, he talked about the victims and the fact people will come together to support them. So, I think a lot of folks are hoping that in this second trip where the President actually has a chance to interact with people who are affected.

We'll see that we hear so much about him playing not just commander- in-chief but comforter-in-chief, consoler-in-chief. Will we see him hug people? Will we see him speak in personal terms about the challenges ahead? That's what people hope to see. Fred.

WHITFIELD: And Alice is, you know, in real time, we're going to see how the President is navigating what it is to be the commander-in- chief in a natural disaster and natural crisis interacting with people, et cetera. But also it looks like it's going to reopen conversations that perhaps the President thought were closed, that on climate change, on the issue of natural disasters, many forecasters.

Environmentalists say, they are only going to get bigger as a result largely because of climate change. Does this also put the President in a position where he has to show or may show openness to whether he is willing to evolve his thinking?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is certainly the time and place for that conversation, but I don't think it's anytime soon. Given that there are still immediate needs that need to be address there in Texas and the President has been very clear on where he stands on that issue.

[12:35:06] But, right now his main focus is making sure that he is the President of the United States and getting the help needed in Texas and Louisiana to where it needs to be immediately. And to Athena's points his visit on earlier in the week when he went to Austin. It was important to go there as he indicated to be away from where the rescue and recovery was and see first hand what needed to be done with regard to the emergency preparedness and the needs there on the ground.

And I think that's his number-one priority. And he has -- his main way of communicating as we all know is through Twitter and he has used that social media to issue a lot of support over the past several days and expressing his concern and his thoughts and prayers with the people there in Texas and Louisiana.

And I think he is going to take that one step further today as he has the opportunity to really visit with people and hear their stories. And him being there, nothing will divert resources to an area quicker than the President being there and that will galvanize support around the country to get resources to Texas.

And certainly this week as members of Congress go to discuss the relief package and the aid needed there, he's going to be able to convey personally stories he have seen, people he's met, and the situations on the ground that will be in valuable to him as he pushes that aid package through.

WHITFIELD: And then Michael --


WHITFIELD: -- yes, this crossroad, how much might this be a potential resets for this administration that has been plagued by so much in these first eight months of his presidency?

NUTTER: Yes. I would have to respectfully disagree with much of the first part of what Alice said. I agree with the tail end part. The President's ability to recount to the Congress and others that he talks to, the devastation that he personally witnessed, the people he personally talked to, the families that were damaged, this is the perfect moment for him to demonstrate a level of flexibility, a level of, you know, opening up of his heart or his mind to other ideas.

There is no way in the world that you could see all of this, experience all of this and not have it affect you personally. And I think that -- I mean that's an essential component of this job. Obviously, I was not the President but I was an executive. And when you see and experience some of these things at the most personal level, it should have an affect on you and how you think about things going forward.

There cannot be any more question, in Donald Trump's mind about the impact of climate and weather and resiliency and infrastructure and how we as Americans are dealing with these kinds of issues. And so, the President has to put some of the politics aside. I understand you campaign on whatever you campaign on and then there's the reality of the job.

The campaign is over. You won. You are now elected. And bad stuff happens. And there are some policy changes that could for the future help mitigate some of these issues. And so it is the perfect moment for him to reset or shift, at least open his mind to these kinds of realities.

[12:38:36] WHITFIELD: OK. We're going to leave it right there for now. Michael Nutter, Alice Stewart, Lieutenant General Russel Honore, Athena Jones, thank you so much. And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Hi, welcome back. The President and first lady are on the ground now in Houston. They just landed moments ago and right now, after getting off Air Force One, they are now in that convoy and heading toward victims of Hurricane Harvey. And will be meeting with them and seeing first hand the devastation that is so widespread.

So, as the water begins to recede across Texas, attention is still returning slowly turning to recover. House lawmakers in fact have scheduled a vote next week on a White House request of nearly $8 billion in relief funds.

Homeland Security estimates some 100,000 homes in the area have either been damaged or destroyed by flooding. For some residents, this can also be the beginning of a fight to get through legal red tape to get that financial aid. Only about 15 percent of Houston area home owners actually have flood insurance.

I want to bring in Sandra Brown. She is the manager of the Disaster Response Unit at the Lone Star Legal Aid in Houston. Good to see you. All right. So let's begin, and with people who were flooded and what they should be doing right now. They don't have flood insurance. What's your best suggestion?

SANDRA BROWN, MANAGER, LONE STAR LEGAL AID'S DISASTER RESPONSE UNIT: The most important thing for the 80 percent of the people that don't have flood insurance is to apply immediately for FEMA benefits at or 1-800-621-FEMA.

They also should consider for applying for disaster loans through the small business administration. I think small business administration needs to be renamed because they're the largest financial vehicle for disaster recovery. Lone Star legal Aid here in Houston. We're the free civil legal aid to help people.

[12:45:03] We've been doing FEMA appeals (ph) for people that feel that they're wrongfully denied. We've been doing this for years now. And we've developed a lot of expertise. People are telling us they're denied already.

There's a lot of people that are already appearing with other legal problems in our outreach. One example I learned right before we've got on the air is that landlords are attempting to evict people while they're within the term of their lease because they have an un-flooded property. They're speculating that they might want to wreck for more money.

So we're telling people if you're under your lease, you stay there. You can get a lawyer for free. You can get legal help for free through the Disaster Legal Services Program. It's activated from FEMA. It goes to the American Bar Association, Young Lawyer Division, goes to the State Bar of Texas then comes to the legal aids in the local area where you are.

It's important the number gets out. It's 1-800-504-7030. There are free lawyers, legal aid and pro bono lawyers here ready to help people to find out what the law is.

WHITFIELD: And that's horrible to hear that there would be landlords would be doing that to people particularly in this horrible time. So, you know, there are some folks who are getting to their homes and apartments for their first time now. And they wanted to just move everything out.

They have either filed claims or they're going to be filing claims to get that kind of aid. What should they be doing? We see some who put piles of debris at the curbside. But then we're also hearing some reporting that they need to hold on to some of that debris so that they could get their full claim. Which is it?

BROWN: You have to document, document, document. You should verify with your claims adjuster, get permission. Confirm that in writing. If they tell you it's OK to throw it away. You should get out the damaged carpet, the -- this is practical advice. You should get out the damaged dry wall. That damaged carpet. Get it out so you don't get molds getting worst in your house. WHITFIELD: Because they're toxic than that, right.

BROWN: Yes. But, yes, this is a practical thing. But get it out to your back patio or your driveway. You have to document that huge pile that came from your house. You should be documenting each and every item you have. If your flood adjuster tells you it's OK to throw it out, that's great. Get that confirmed in writing. But the important thing is to get it out of the house right now.

But as a legal matter, you document, document. You cannot take too many photos. You cannot take too many photos of individual items that are destroyed. But if at all possible leave everything in a secure location for that flood adjuster to see it when they come or the FEMA inspector that's going to be out there for FEMA for 80 percent that we've got. You document everything.

WHITFIELD: Oh my gosh that was like in the backyard or somewhere where, once there are trash collections. Hopefully they're not taking that stuff away because that's the instinct to do when you put something out on the curb.

All right, so what particular have you been hearing from so many people that you're interacting with there at the center where you are? What are people saying? They have to be feeling very exasperated, frustrated, really at a loss.

BROWN: OK. People are having a hard time understanding the interplay between their flood insurance, the SBA, and FEMA. So at legal aid we've done this for a long time. So it's first apply to FEMA, apply to the SBA. You don't have to take an SBA loan right away. By applying the FEMA and the SBA you've kept your options open. The Small Business Administration, they give disaster loans right now. They've been activated to do that.

If for some example your flood insurance wouldn't pay for a period longer than 30 days if you got into dispute. You could apply to the SBA to get a loan to let you prepare now. And then when you finally resolve your insurance dispute, then you're going to be able to pay back the SBA loan. You can't do both. That's called duplication of benefits.

We have legal experts that can help people understand this process and understand any legal issues. So it's 1-800-504-7030. That's Disaster Legal Services activated by the State Bar of Texas. This is a unified response from FEMA, the ABA, the state to your local legal aids on the ground like Lone Star Legal Aid here, like Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, my counterpart there.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So Sandra before I let you go really quickly, is there a narrow window people have do these things? Because I can only imagine so many are feeling just so emotionally distraught. They just can't even think about, you know, filling out paperwork and trying to tackle this stuff because they're trying to deal with their emotions. But is there a window that they've got do this stuff within seven days, ten days or something like that? [12:50:02] BROWN: Absolutely. It's absolutely, the window is 60 days. At 60 days for the SBA, it's 60 days for FEMA. You should watch the news for extensions. Based upon or past experiences, we anticipate extensions, but as legal advice, I tell people you must apply within the 60-day window.

WHITFIELD: Fantastic advice. That Sandra Brown, thank you so much. Thanks for your time.

All right, the Gulf Coast of Texas is dotted with dozens of small towns and many are now trying to cope with this catastrophic flooding. But they've been largely overlooked as the focus remains on larger areas like the city of Houston.

CNN's Martin Savidge reports from one of those small towns still inundated with water.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wharton is marooned. Floodwaters either flow over or sit on top just about every road in and out of this town of 9,000. It's been like that since Wednesday when the Colorado River and other nearby waterways poured out of their banks flooding 60 percent of the town. How fast did it come up?

MILIO MATA, TEXAS WHARTON FLOOD VICTIM: I would say an hour. An hour from the time it took and everybody was out of there, maybe a little longer but it was quick.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The heart of the town is filled with water so are the neighborhood near by. Folks here are just trying to make do. Richard Brown and his son Alex were out checking on family and searching for food.

RICHARD BROWN, WHARTON TEXAS FLOOD VICTIM: Most of the staples are out. Milk, bread they just got a shipment that's why we were able to get that. We get lucky. But a lot of the aisles are empty, really picked over. Low on meat, eggs and eggs are gone.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Since we can't get to their home, they gave us video of what it looks like.

BROWN: There's our house. Every square inch of the backyard is submerged.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Groceries and gas are in short supply. The two shelters are filled. Betsy Walker and her husband Robert and their dogs and cats prefer to live out of their truck at parking lot at the junior college.

BESSIE WALKER, FLOOD VICTIM : My husband sleeps in the truck. I have a pallet on the tailgate. I sleep on the tail gate, that's where I sleep, works for me. It's nice, cool and hadn't rained on me.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The couple fled flooding in Houston and came to Wharton to stay with a friend. WALKER: We came from Rosenberg and we were here one day. I got a nice hot bath, dinner, the next morning my husband went to get cigarettes, came back, and water is everywhere.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Now they all sit in the shade by the road waiting for the water to go down.

Do you think towns like this are overlooked?

WALKER: Yes, I do. I really do because where is it? Where is FEMA? Where is, you know, you need a place to stay? We'll set up a place for you. Where is it? Because it's not here.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The Red Cross and the National Guard are here. Still, residents are feeling overwhelmed and overlooked, lost in all of the focus on Houston.

PAULA FAVORS, WHARTO, TEXAS PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: There's a lot of people even in neighboring towns that aren't even aware that we're still flooded. That we still cannot access parts of our town and that people are still displaced.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Do you feel forgotten, overlooked?

FAVORS: Absolutely. Sometimes you do feel forgotten.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Fortunately, what Wharton has plenty of, is people like Kelsey Polmer. She, too, grew up here and left. But after hearing about flood came racing back to help.

(on camera): You're like a whirlwind. You are.

KEYSEY POLMER, VOLUNTEER: Believe me, I'm trying to like keep up. Like I said I wish I had ten phones and 100 voices to get the word out.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): She's got tents going up and a food truck coming in.

POLMER: Yesterday we fed 400 people. Today we're hoping to feed much more than that.

WALKER: I've never soon such outpouring of help as I have in Wharton.

SAVIDGE (on camera): The good news is the water has begun to recede. However, this town's problems are not likely go away anytime soon. And it's not just Wharton. There are many other small towns just like it struggling just the same way.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Wharton, Texas.


WHITFIELD: And we've put together a list of ways that you can help those dealing with the flood. Just go to


[12:56:20] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. The effort to save flood victims in South East Texas is a non-stop effort.

In fact the President and the first lady have just arrived now in Houston. You see them there just moments ago at the top of the hour getting off Air Force One. And now they're in their convoy and heading to a location in the Houston area to see first hand the devastation and to meet face to face with many of the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

So, federal responders have also so far rescued more that 28,000 people, and 1600 pets, and joining us right not the commissioner of Galveston County Texas Ken Clark. Ken, from where you are, what are the greatest needs thus far?

KEN CLARK, GALVESTON COUNTY COMMISSIONER: The greatest needs we have at this point is now that the life issue are over we're in the process of recovery. We've set up food banks. We've set up shelters. We've set up medical mobile units to reach out to our residents to help in the recovery effort. We're doing such things as the Red Cross is going to be delivering meals and get encouraging people to sign up with FEMA to get their claims and their processes moving.

WHITFIELD: For some who are returning to their homes and to get that kind of process moving or you also finding that there were some people who are still in their homes who have endured now a week of virtual isolation that are just now for the first time getting assistance and aid, water, food, et cetera.

CLARK: That is correct. And we're working to try distribute aid to those individuals as we bring people back from the Houston shelters. So those people who were in Houston can begin the recovery process of their homes.

WHITFIELD: And what kind of condition are many of these people in mentally, physically? What are they expressing?

CLARK: It's been a very traumatic experience. Because when most people went to sleep on Saturday evening all was pretty much well. And a lot of them were woken up in the middle of the night and the early morning to find that they had water in their homes. And it's been a challenge ever since.

WHITFIELD: And how about for you personally? You are a public servant. You are, you know, trying to assist others and make sure that everyone has the services that they need. But then how about for you and your family have you even had a moment to handle things yourself personally?

CLARK: Well, it's, you know, people have more pressing issues than I have. Early in the week we were worried about life safety issues. Now we're moving into the recovery phase and trying to stay ahead of the process so we can try to minimize the impact on not only our residents but their families also. WHITFIELD: In Galveston County, you had a lot of wind damage in addition to flooding whereas, you know, further north. In Houston mostly its water damage, so talk to me about the structures that were hit with so much wind damage and how precarious it makes many structures which means it brings on another kind of danger.

CLARK: That it does. And we are working even over as we speak to implementing debris contracts to be able to begin to start the recover process and get the debris moved out so people can get back to rebuilding their lives.

[01:00:03] WHITFIELD: Galveston County, Commissioner Ken Clark, thanks so much, all the best to you.

CLARK: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All the constituents there, everyone there in Galveston County.

CLARK: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWS ROOM and we'll start right now.