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Catastrophic Flooding Predicted as Harvey Lashes Texas Gulf Coast; Hurricane Harvey Could Bring 12-Foot Storm Surge; 17 Million Under Storm Warnings As Hurricane Moves In; Trump Briefed On Preparations For Hurricane Disaster. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news. Catastrophic and deadly. Hurricane Harvey is now a powerful category 3 storm with winds of 125 miles an hour, already battering the Texas coast and putting 17 million people under storm warnings.

Officials warn of a very significant disaster. Devastating floods, the storm may bring a wall of water up to 12 feet high and it's forecast to dump up to three feet of rain on parts of South Texas and Louisiana. The National Weather Service some places could be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Widespread impact. Tens of millions of people who are not in the storm's path may feel the disruption with canceled flights, delayed shipments of goods and rising gas prices.

And federal response. The president was briefed on the storm before heading off to his Camp David retreat and may make an early disaster declaration. The White House says he'll visit Texas next week as federal emergency teams prepare to deal with a potential catastrophe.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Hurricane Harvey is now a major category 3 storm with winds at 125 miles an hour. It's hammering the Texas coast right now with landfall expected tonight; 17 million people are under storm warnings and the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, says Texas is about to have a very significant disaster.

The immediate concern is a catastrophic storm surge in which a wall of water up to 12 feet high is expected to slam into the coast. FEMA's director says that part of the storm has the potential to kill the most people and cause the most damage.

But that's just the beginning. This storm is expected to stall, dumping rain on South Texas and parts of Louisiana into the middle of next week. Make that a lot of rain, more than 2 feet in many areas and up to 35 inches, close to 3 feet of rain in some places.

The National Weather Service says the combination could leave wide areas of South Texas uninhabitable for weeks or months. Residents on the coast were urged to evacuate before the storm moved in, triggering a mass exodus. Those who stayed have boarded up and stocked up and many could be risking their lives.

FEMA has brought search and rescue teams and disaster equipment to the region and hundreds of Texas National Guard members have activated.

Facing his first natural disaster, President Trump was briefed on the storm before heading off to his Camp David retreat. Earlier, he spoke with the governors of Texas and Louisiana and tweeted that he's ready to assist as needed.

The White House says he plans to visit Texas next week. We're standing by to speak to the FEMA director and officials across this region and our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are standing by with full coverage.

As hurricane Harvey moves in. People along the Texas coast have been given a last warning right now to move out. Let's go straight to CNN's Martin Savidge. He's in Corpus Christi for us.

Martin, what's the scene there now and what's expected?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, hurricane Harvey has begun to roar here in South Texas. The winds, which have been building all day, are now reaching some of the strongest we've felt. On top of that, the rain is almost nonstop.

One official says this will be the storm that people here remember for the rest of their lives. Still to be played out, though, is will it be remembered for everyone making it through well or something far less?

The language they used to describe it, we haven't heard since the likes of Katrina. And even though it's near to making landfall, when it does, that's not the end. It will only just be beginning.


GREG ABBOTT, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: This is going to be a very major disaster.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): A dir warning from the Texas governor as hurricane Harvey bears down on the Texas coast, with the window to evacuate now closing, officials are cautioning residents to get out of the storm's path.

ABBOTT: You have the power and availability right now to be able to avoid being stuck into a search and rescue situation if you make the decision to get out of harm's way before it is too late.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Millions of people in Texas are being warned to evacuate. The Texas Army and National Guard have been activated ahead of the storm's landfall, packing winds above 100 miles an hour. Harvey is expected to dump 15-20 inches of rain. And if it stalls, some inland areas could get up to 35 inches, where coastal areas --


SAVIDGE (voice-over): -- waves as high as 20 feet and a storm surge endangering everything and everyone in its path.

MICHAEL BRENNAN, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: This is life threatening storm surge inundation. So water moving in from the ocean as hurricane makes landfall. We can see 6 to 12 feet of flooding. I'm 6 feet tall. Double my height in certain areas along the coast here.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Farther inland, floods and possible spin-out tornadoes are the concern..

THOMAS BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: You've got nothing to lose but your life. Now is not the time to lose faith in your government institutions.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): With possible widespread and prolonged power outages, residents are stocking up on dwindling supplies.

We're out of generators, we're out of water and we're out of sand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for calling (INAUDIBLE) Home Depot. We're out of generators, we're out of water and we're out of sand.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Keeping an eye on the situation from Washington before departing for Camp David, President Trump tweeting this photo of a hurricane briefing with his top Homeland Security advisers and the first lady weighing in as well, tweeting, "For those living near the path of hurricane Harvey, stay safe. Thoughts and prayers of an entire country are with you."


SAVIDGE: With every minute that goes by, Wolf, the wind levels here just get that much more stronger. So far, reports of limited power outages; no major damage. The mayor is saying his goal is to make sure that they get through without any loss of life.

If they do, it will be considered really, really fortunate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are people staying put there in Corpus Christi, Martin, where you are, or have a lot of them left?

They're fled inland?

SAVIDGE: A lot of people did leave. There was no question, when we came in last night, southbound on 37, a stream of traffic going north was very heavy. So you saw that a lot of people took heed for the warnings they've been getting to officials. It is not a mandatory evacuation for the city here.

But it was enough for people to say, hey, we're leaving. A lot of people did but if you didn't, city officials say it's too late now. Stick with your original plan. Stay in your homes and hunker down until it's passed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So your sense is most people decided to stay and try to ride it out, is that right?

SAVIDGE: The sense it may be about half and half. Certainly those out on Padre Island, a lot of people left; those that were out there on Aransas as well, it seems, that they may have left.

But in the city area here, it's hard to tell because everyone right now is indoors. So you certainly don't see a lot of people out. They're sheltering where they can.

BLITZER: Martin Savidge, be careful over there, we'll stay in touch with you. Good luck.

Good luck to all the folks over there in Corpus Christi.

Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera right now. He's in Galveston, Texas, which more than a century ago was the scene of the deadliest storm in U.S. history.

So, Ed, how are the people preparing there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting here, Wolf, because we're on the eastern edge of this island or where this storm is going to come on shore. And if you look, this is Seawall Boulevard here in Galveston and traffic is still moving quite considerably.

We've seen this throughout the day. So there's not really a sense that here on Galveston island that many people here, we just have voluntarily evacuation orders. And this was an island very accustomed to a very similar type of storm. It was in 2008 that Hurricane Ike ravaged this part of Southeast Texas.

So people here are accustomed to these types of storms, understand the warnings. I've spoken with a number of emergency management officials, who say that for the most part, they feel that a lot of people are paying attention to those warnings but once again, they are seeing a number of people who are choosing to ride it out in various places.

And what the concern is, Wolf, is that as this storm comes on shore, that it will potentially stall out over this region of Southeast Texas. And it's not just one isolated area that they're worried about. From Corpus Christi all the way to where we are, Galveston, and not just along the shoreline but inland as well, where as many as 3 feet of water could be falling in some isolated places; 25 inches of rain expected in many other places. So that is the serious threat of flooding.

And we're told that from various emergency officials that there have been prepositioned high-water rescue teams and boats fanned out across this region to be able to respond more quickly to what they anticipate will be a number of high-water rescues here over the course of the next couple days. So that is a real threat and a real concern for emergency teams here on the ground -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So the double concern, 125 mph winds which will be devastating and potentially deadly as well as enormous flooding, which could also be very devastating and deadly. And people have to deal with both of those, right?

LAVANDERA: Yes, it's feels like there is not just one issue that people here are dealing with. The winds and that kind of sustained wind brings all sorts of damage. I'm sure there will be reports here in the next couple of hours of heavy damage along the coastline and in those communities right along the coastline. But this is a threat that isn't just isolated to --


LAVANDERA: -- these coastal communities. You can be 30 or 40 miles inland and over the course of the next few days, it's that storm surge. And if the storm settles down over this region, as the rain falls inland, the storm surge, as it continues to push north, won't allow those floodwaters to recede as quickly.

And that means that water's just going to continue to rise in many areas and that's is what's going to be a very dangerous situation. What is interesting is, you can talk to many people here and they will remember the most minimal of tropical depressions and tiny little tropical storms that have caused widespread flooding and created deadly situations.

This is a far bigger storm so the potential for that kind of deadly flooding is very real and is something that emergency officials down here are very concerned about tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'll ask you and I asked Martin, you got a sense that a lot of the folks there have decided to ride it out and stay put or have many of them fled?

LAVANDERA: Here on Galveston island, you can see just from the traffic alone, we have -- when we drove in last night, there wasn't an exodus of people driving north. So in many times, you kind of drive away from the hurricane force winds. That's what's very deadly.

So we're a little bit on edge of the storm here. Perhaps that's why people feel more comfortable staying here and riding out the storm and not heeding those warnings of evacuating.

It's just a voluntarily evacuation for many parts of this particular area where I'm in; as you head further south, those become mandatory evacuations. And that's where the greater concern is, as we watch and see what kind of situation those people will find themselves in, in the coming hours and into tomorrow as well.

BLITZER: All right, be careful over there, Ed Lavandera in Galveston, Texas, for us.

I want to go to CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam. He's in San Antonio for us. That's where FEMA is positioning search and rescue teams ahead of what it says is likely to be a very significant disaster in Southern Texas.

Derek, what are the preparations there?

What's going on?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, as you said, we're in San Antonio, which is a federal and state-recognized evacuation city. So FEMA setting up their search and rescue stages here and their teams means that they're prepared for all possible scenarios, all incidents that could happen as the days and weeks unfold.

This storm we know and we've already warned about it is a slow-moving storm. So one small wobble of the eye can take it closer and closer to San Antonio. And even though this is the closest major city from the coast for evacuees to flee to, doesn't mean that this city is safe from the true furor of what is now a major hurricane barreling down toward the Southeast Texas coast.

So we're anticipate anywhere from 5-7 inches, maybe locally 12 inches of rainfall here, a foot of rain could potentially flood this city. There are a lot of low-lying places. People and authorities know that. They have already blocked off some of the roadways here in downtown San Antonio in preparation for the flooding.

We're just now starting to feel the winds pick up and you talk to the people on the streets and the general dialogue in this city being San Antonio and the Riverwalk here, which is synonymous with the country and San Antonio, is that they remember 1998, when major flooding affected this city. And they don't want to see a repeat of that.

But it's incredible, Wolf, to just find out what the city is prepared for in terms of flooding. They literally have dams and locks on the north and south sides of the city that alleviate and -- alleviate the water levels here and prevent major flooding from actually taking place.

So this city is prepared. And with FEMA staging search and rescue groups here, you can imagine that really this is ground zero for those types of things to be happening.

BLITZER: Yes, people are going to be relying on those FEMA officials to help because this is potentially going to be a huge disaster. Derek Van Dam, thank you very much.

Let's get the latest forecast from our meteorologist, Chad Myers in the CNN Severe Weather Center.

Chad, so what does the storm look like right now?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Still gaining strength. Still getting lower pressure and higher winds every three hours or so; 125-mile-per- hour storm right now. That doesn't mean it's 125 here and 125 here. That 125 is only one at its core, right there in the eye of the storm and that will affect this area right through here.

Unfortunately for Corpus Christi, you're very close to it, the rest of the area, pretty much unpopulated compared to Houston, let's say if this was going over; certainly not as populated as New York City. And this storm right now has a lower pressure than Sandy. A lower pressure at landfall than Sandy and think about how much damage Sandy did. And this storm isn't going to move after --


MYERS: -- it's done. It's 125 mph, a couple gusts of 155. I just saw a hurricane hunter aircraft at 7,000 feet hit a wind gust of 147. That's not the ground; that's up there where they're flying. But still, look how large the storm is. It goes all the way from Louisiana, almost Mississippi, all the way down to Brownsville.

This is what we know. We know it will go to the northwest for a while. After that, there is no idea. The models have no idea what's going on because there is a big high pressure that's going to land right there.

And it's going to say, no, you can't go any farther. That's it. You can't go any farther north. You're going to have to stop and go back. And some models actually turn it back to the south, into the Gulf of Mexico, again, maybe gaining strength. And then maybe up toward Galveston and Houston. Now think about this, this is five days' worth of lines here. So five days' worth of rainfall. A foot, two three? No. Victoria, Texas, the forecast is for 52 inches of rainfall.

This area right through here, Wolf, this is the size of Delaware. Everywhere that you see white, over 25 inches. Let's put 25 inches on top of the entire state of Delaware and see what happens. That's what's going to happen down here.

The water is going to have nowhere to go. It's going to try to get into the Gulf of Mexico and it's just going to get into the rivers and flood. There are going to be river floods in this area that no one has ever seen before. And I'm afraid that people say, ah, it didn't flood in Allison. I'm going to be fine. This will pale Allison. This will pale the flooding that we saw in Katrina on the east side and also nothing to do with the levees. But it's the water that's going to come down. These are going to be numbers that we have never, ever seen before, new record levels, I guarantee it.

And before the rain even happens, we're going to see storm surge, 12 feet of surge. And if you live anywhere less than 12 feet above sea level, anywhere from about Port Lavaca, maybe to Port Aransas, all the way, all the almost to Corpus Christi, you're going to be underwater.

I hope everybody made the right decision because bad decisions will cost lives with this storm.

BLITZER: Chad, it was exactly 12 years ago this week that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and we all know what it did. Not only in New Orleans but elsewhere. And this is -- that, when it hit, was a category 3. This is a category 3, Harvey.

Is it -- just compare these two hurricanes for us. MYERS: All right, well, let me get you a little bit closer to where we are here. This is the eye of the storm right now. And I will get you to the coast, because it's hard to see. Here's Port Aransas; there's the coastline. Here's Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi is slightly inland. There's a bay here.

But this is the eyewall of the storm. And this is what's going to push the water onto land. And it's what pushed all the water, it's that surge on the right side of the eye that flooded Bay St. Louis, destroyed Biloxi, destroyed Gulfport. That's the water surge that people aren't familiar with.

It's hurricane amnesia. We've never seen this. If you're less than 18 years old, you've never even seen a real big hurricane hit Texas. I mean, it's that -- so people don't have a concept. And if you've moved here less than 20 years ago, you don't truly have an idea of what's going on here.

This is the model, the European model, of where the rain is going to be over the next 10 days. It's going to move inland, it's going to continue to rain. It's going to rain in San Antonio. I know they think they're safe. San Antonio, do not let your guard down. Austin, do not let your guard down. And it continues to rain -- this is Friday of next week and it's still raining over Texas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Wow. All right. We're going to stay in very close touch with you. Stand by, Chad Myers, at the CNN Severe Weather Center.

Joining us on the phone right now, the mayor of Galveston, Jim Yarbrough.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

What are your biggest concerns right now about this hurricane as it approaches landfall?

JIM YARBROUGH, MAYOR OF GALVESTON, TEXAS: Thanks, Wolf. Things right now are fairly decent. We're worried about exactly what your guests have been talking about, the hovering or lingering effect over the city for the next 4-5 days. When we get those high tides, we can't drain; we get 25 inches of rain, the flooding, the impact on the island will be pretty significant.

BLITZER: The National Weather Service predicts Galveston, your city, Mayor, could get more than 2 feet of rain.

Is Galveston prepared for that huge amount of rainfall?

YARBROUGH: Well, I'm not sure you're ever prepared for this much rainfall but we are as prepared as we can be. You know, we've been working really since Hurricane Ike improving drainage and improving our infrastructure to handle these types of events. They are going to get tested over the next 3-4 days.

We're confident that our people will be safe and we'll just hunker down and get through it. In this business, everything's relative. We've got it bad but near as bad as our friends and neighbors down in Corpus and the Matagorda Bay area.

BLITZER: What about the surges?

How worried are you about those?

YARBROUGH: You know --


YARBROUGH: -- we're -- weather forecast are saying that 2-4 foot, 3- 5, maybe 8 foot on the west end of the island, we can handle those types of surges. Just to compare it, we were looking at Ike, same time, we were looking 14-20 foot surges. So well within reason, what we can handle.

Our seawall will protect us, behind the seawall. That's why we call for voluntary evacuation yesterday on the areas west and beyond the seawall and many people took advantage of that and have come into town or going out of town.

BLITZER: Are people, Mayor, heeding the voluntary evacuation recommendation?

YARBROUGH: Wolf, it's a strange phenomenon. Yes, they are, but they're not -- they're evacuating into the city proper. Because, as your guests have been describing, our normal location for our evacuees to go would be San Antonio, Austin, College Station.

Well, those places are going to hit worse or as bad as we are here. So we're doing vertical evacuation. We're in our hotels, in our high- rises and we're kind of hunkering down. And knock on wood right now, I think, based on the forecast we're getting, we're going to be fine.

BLITZER: I assume, in addition to the winds, I assume in addition to the flooding, are you going to lose power in huge parts of your city?

There's going to be no power, which presumably could go on for a while, causing all sorts of problems, right?

YARBROUGH: Yes, sir. When you lose power, this time of year, as hot as it is, it gets sticky and uncomfortable on top of dangerous. So that is a concern. The good news for at least the city as of the existing or current forecast, we don't anticipate hurricane force winds this high up the coast.

We're going to get a steady dose of tropical storm, 40-50, 30- to 40- mile-an-hour winds but we're going to be avoiding those 75-mile-plus winds that they're going to be getting down in the southern part of the state.

BLITZER: Do you think the city should have imposed, called for a mandatory evacuation?

YARBROUGH: No, sir. We looked at it, Wolf, over the last several days and, given the fact that the forecasts were such that all parts of our area, we're going to be getting anywhere from 15 to 25 inches, the fact that it is certainly a strong wind event but we're not in the hurricane warning section of the forecast.

And it's still holding true that we'll have tropical storm winds but not hurricane force winds, we think the voluntary evacuation in our low-lying and west end was the right call.

BLITZER: Are you getting all the assistance you need from the state and the federal government?

YARBROUGH: Yes, at this point we have. We haven't had a whole lot of need at this point. But based on our history, working with them in events past, we're quite confident, certainly from the state and the federal level, that resources will be here when and if we need them.

BLITZER: Mayor, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Galveston. Good luck to all the folks in Texas and Louisiana, for that matter, who are in harm's way right now. Thanks very much for joining us.

YARBROUGH: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: All right. Joining us now is storm chaser Ben McMillan

Ben, what's it like in Corpus Christi right now where you are?

BEN MCMILLAN, STORM CHASER: Yes, Wolf, (INAUDIBLE) from Corpus Christi where category 3 hurricane Harvey continues to batter the city. You can already see there are pieces of debris coming down from the trees and scattering the roadways. That doesn't include all the significant flooding and storm surge potential that we'll be watching as this hurricane comes inland.

We're expecting upwards of 6 to 12 feet in some parts of the city and, Wolf, this city is only 7 feet above sea level, so that could cause some significant problems.

BLITZER: So what are people doing there, based on your eyewitness account?

MCMILLAN: Most of the folks I've watched in the city proper, because of the voluntary evacuation order and the outer islands have been under mandatory evacuations. And we have seen very few souls out and about, which is good news. We certainly don't want to see any loss of life or injuries that may occur because of people not wanting to evacuate.

But that doesn't mean the threat is not over. This city will be battered throughout the next 48 hours by this hurricane with only strong winds but that copious amount of rainfall that's forecasted.

BLITZER: I take it the window for this voluntary evacuation is rapidly closing, if not closed already.

Are people still trying to get out of town?

MCMILLAN: Yes, Wolf, the city had provided buses. They were taking people north to San Antonio to get them out of the region. I don't know if those have stopped moving people but definitely it's going to be a lot harder now in terms of getting anyone out via public transportation.

I'll show you one more look here at the trees. Just all of this wind continues to batter the city. It will be a challenge to keep up with these conditions throughout the evening.

BLITZER: The people who have stayed, how are they going to survive this, what are they doing?

MCMILLAN: Well, the best option, unfortunately, if you're not out yet, don't try to drive in this. Shelter I place, put as many as walls between you and the storm as possible.

That way --


MCMILLAN: -- if you get a broken window, if you lose your roof, hopefully you're going to make it through OK.

BLITZER: And what are people doing at this last minute to prepare?

MCMILLAN: Wolf, they're just trying to stay in one place. Driving is not the best option. Even they pulled the fire trucks off the streets when the wind hit 75 miles an hour, according to the city officials we spoke with last night. So they don't want anyone driving out here.

And evenly, when they pull those emergency responders, there may not be anyone to answer those 9-1-1 calls.

BLITZER: Ben McMillan, you're a storm chaser. So tell us in the next several hours what you'll be doing.

MCMILLAN: Wolf, we expect this storm to really ramp up. We've had gusts in the Corpus Christi area to around 50. Unfortunately, this hurricane has winds as high as 125 miles an hour, which is only 4 miles below a category 4 hurricane, which is the second strongest hurricane on Earth. Hopefully we don't reach that level. But conditions are just going to get worse throughout the evening here in Texas.

BLITZER: Ben McMillan, we're going to stand by and check in with you later. Be careful over there. Good luck, good luck to you and all your friends and colleagues as well.

Ben McMillan, he is a storm chaser.

Chad Myers, let me go back to Chad.

Chad, you heard what the mayor said. You heard what Ben McMillan, the storm chaser, had to say. It's not a very pretty picture over there.

MYERS: It isn't.

Here's our storm chaser right there, Corpus Christi, that little dot. I left it on the map so you can see it. And you can see the eye less than 50 miles from him right now. It's this yellow and orange area that will have that 125-mile-per-hour wind gusts. You see it's on the east side there, west side, kind of coming around there now on the southwest side.

So this eye has been wobbling around and is headed toward Corpus. I still don't believe it's going to miss, the center of the eye will miss Corpus Christi. Great news for Corpus Christi.

Bad news for Rockport, bad news for Port Lavaca, as the storm moves in this direction, we're going to have a backwind and we're going to have a left wind from the storm, as we call it, backside here, but the front side is going to be through here.

And that front side is going to be affecting the shore lines, eroding the shore lines, with -- as our reporter was correct -- 12 feet of water, 12 feet of water plus waves will erode the shoreline completely, some of these islands may not look anything like it. And in fact, some of these places may not have power for weeks or months just trying to get the infrastructure back. That's just the first part.

As you know, there's more to come with the rainfall because this storm is going to stop and it's going to rain for seven days.

BLITZER: It certainly is 52 inches, that's amazing. You know, a lot of people don't really appreciate that three of the top 10 populated cities in the United States are in Texas: Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. And I think Austin is just out of the top 10. Those are major, huge cities.

How are they going to deal with this?

MYERS: Well, there is going to be a time where the storm gets far enough to the west that we are going to -- here's -- right about there, different color -- somewhere in there would be San Antonio, Austin, Georgetown, Round Rock, that swath right through there.

This weather will get to that area and it will rain. I know it's called the Hill Country for a reason. If you go to San Antonio, it's significantly higher elevation than the sea. And that rising elevation will catch the water especially west of San Antonio Hill Country there, west of Austin, west of Georgetown, Round Rock and all the way up, maybe even toward Waco.

And that water will run back down toward the ocean, back down this way. And if you get 12 inches of rain in San Antonio and that's the forecast, there's going to be major flooding there, too.

What's going to stop that, if it does stop it, is that the storm never gets that close to San Antonio and gets back out into the ocean. But San Antonio -- I know a lot of people went there -- they could be in for a major surprise of what they're going to get, too. Not 125-mile- an-hour winds but 12-15 inches of rain and flooding when you thought you were evacuating. BLITZER: How long -- how much advance notice did the meteorologists give the folks in Texas and Louisiana that Hurricane Harvey was going to be so devastating?

MYERS: This came off the Yucatan Peninsula as a blob of nothing. Honestly, if you looked at the satellite that we color sometimes, it looked like scrambled eggs with a little Tabasco on it. It looked like nothing four days ago.

All of a sudden, the models picked up on it and said, wait a minute. This water is 86 degrees here. That is jet fuel for a hurricane and it exploded and the models knew by Tuesday afternoon, to answer your question, not until Tuesday did we know a category 3 hurricane was going to make landfall.

So 72 hours sounds like a lot of time. But when you have to board up your windows, find places for your pets -- because sometimes you can't take the pets with you -- find crates if you're going to try to evacuate, not all shelters take pets, it's not -- 72 hours is not a lot of time.

BLITZER: Especially for the elderly. People who can't just run out, that mobile, this is a serious problem in every one of these cases.

[17:30:03] You've seen it over the years and I'm really worried about -- I'm sure you are as well -- Chad.

MYERS: Exactly. Just in the very beginning of anytime you want to talk about a hurricane or a disaster is please check your neighbor, please, because they may not have a vehicle to get out of town. And they may be too stubborn to ask you for a ride to San Antonio. You have to push them and say, look, it's time to get out, time to get out now, we have to go.

So, it's neighbor helping neighbor and it's going to be neighbor helping neighbor now because this disaster will unfold in front of our eyes over the next three to five days, and we just hope that everyone made the right decisions on whether they should leave or not because I'm sure there were a couple of bad decisions out there.

BLITZER: I'm sure you're absolutely right. Stand by, Chad. I want to bring in Captain Tony Hahn right now, the U.S. Coast Guard Incident Command Post, he's joining us from Corpus Christi, joining us on the phone. Thanks so much for joining us, Captain. What are your biggest concern -- now?

TONY HAHN, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES COAST GUARD (via telephone): Well, Wolf, we're -- we've already actually cooped a small program in Robstown and, you know, our biggest concerns really are exactly what you've been talking about. So, the storm surge and the -- and the -- and the wind speed certainly are problematic, but the fair amount of rainfall and the flooding is going to be a big problem for everyone here. So, we're thinking about that very closely. Our goals are to typically to, you know, get our assets out of harm's way so we can be of use after the storm passes. We know this storm is going to stagnate for quite a bit of time, but we've already -- we've already been able to make some progress on helping some folks pre-storm, and so that's been good. So, after the storm passes, we bring our folks back, our aircraft, our helicopters, our boats, our different teams to assess the port. Our first priorities are always safety of life. We want to see who we can help, where we can help not only in the maritime environment but also certainly as we move inland to help out the major cities. As you saw during Katrina, we did a lot of that.

BLITZER: Remembering during Katrina, exactly 12 years ago this week in New Orleans, we saw all those folks crying for help, stranded on their roofs. And I know the coast guard played a very important role then. Are you going to be doing that this time as well if necessary?

HAHN: Oh, yes, sure, absolutely. You know, coast guard is very nimble in terms of pushing assets toward the -- towards the area. We have already multiple helicopters moving into Texas. Obviously out of harm's way, but as soon as we're able to set up operating bases with our helicopters, we'll be looking to put those and where the highest need areas are. The good news is we have people embedded throughout Texas and the -- and the county, the state and the city EOC, so we kind of know where the problem areas are going to be.

And we're all talking together very well. So, you know, the other concern I have, Wolf, you know, Corpus Christi, Houston, Port of Beaumont, you know, the three of the largest petrochemical ports in the nation, so we've got a lot of infrastructure we that we've got to take a very close look at, there's, you know, we want to make sure we can get the port -- ports open as soon as possible, but that take some really strong due diligence to make sure we don't bring in ships before the water is safe.

And in line with the ports being, you know, just so much infrastructure in the petrochemical world, we got to make sure that we've taken a close look that all that other refineries, all the waterfront facilities, we haven't had any pollution releases. So, we've already pushed a lot of those technical experts into the area, so we're able to do those port assessments, we'll have them right on hand to do that work.

BLITZER: Captain Hahn, has the window for evacuation for all practical purposes now closed?

HAHN: That's, you know, a question really for the state and local EOCs but I can tell you it's -- it'd be really -- it's really tough now, I already starting to see the outer bands and we're seeing quite a bit of rain. And I don't -- I'm not sure what the wind speed is but it would be tough at this point.

BLITZER: Captain Hahn, our meteorologist, Chad Myers wants to ask you a question. Chad, go ahead.

MYERS: The winds just gusted to 69 miles per hour, Captain. I was just kind of wondering, what is your threshold for a rescue at this point? Let's say you get a mayday call from a ship and I know every situation is different. But what if someone didn't get back to port and they need your help? Is it too late right now? Have to wait until the storm is over?

HAHN: I'd say this first. Our first goal as soon as we start our preparations for hurricane operations, is really to get the word out. So, all that (INAUDIBLE) as much as we can, we get the major large ships out of port, so they don't, you know, so they don't do damage to the ports from the storm.

[17:35:02] So, they're in a bigoted window of time where they can actually move out of harm's way. We also do a very strong public information campaign with recreational boaters to make sure, hey, don't go out right now. So, there are always people that sometimes end up in these situations. We have to -- we have to manage those case by case. Different assets have different capabilities but just about an hour ago we had a vessel that was grounded down in Port Mansfield, Texas and we're able to hoist 12 people off and get them to safety parts of the hurricane. So, we're evaluating this very closely every time and, you know, we want to make sure that we do things safely and we, you know, we have a fighting chance to even survive the mission. So, we take a look at those things closely.

BLITZER: Guys, you're doing important work. Captain Tony Hahn of the United States Coast Guard. Thanks to you, thanks to all the men and women of the coast guard. Potentially you're going to be saving a lot of lives. Appreciate it very much. I want to get back to Martin Savidge who is standing by in Corpus Christi for us right now. Martin, set the scene where you are.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, no question that this storm is getting worse. In the last half hour since we reported to you. The wind gusts here really have picked up significantly. There was a period where the sky seems to lighten but then it closed back in again. The rain started up and the wind gusts now have really, really become very, very forcible. Chad pointed out earlier, the storm surge is a real concern here because of the low-lying area, predominantly.

And here is the thing, they ram some models to try to see try to see just what would a 6 to 12-foot storm surge do along the South Texas Coast. They found that it could damage as many as 200,000 homes. And in this area alone, Corpus Christi, 34,000 homes. Now that's just a model, that's not an absolute. But it shows you what the potential is for damage here and that's only the storm surge. Once the wind goes by, once the hurricane becomes more a force on shore, that is just one massive rain maker and flooding comes on top of that.

You're already starting to see some aerial flooding that's taking place. Low-lying areas, roads near the waterways that have been washed over. So, there is some damage to infrastructure already happening. But the real impact is magnified not over the hours but over the days to come, Wolf.

BLITZER: Corpus Christi is a major city too, and there was not a mandatory evacuation you told us a little while ago. So a lot of people are trying to ride this out. What advice have the local authorities, state authorities, federal authorities given them? SAVIDGE: Well, first of all, they say, look, if you thought about

going at one point, that time has passed. If you had a plan to stay, stay with that plan now. Don't let anyone try to talk you out of it. And above all, don't let the fear of hearing of the noise and the wind howling change your thought process. You are going to be much safer now staying inside and staying where you were. They were evacuating people up until around the noon hour today. The local mass transit system was operating. They were taking them down to the natatorium there.

And there they had charter buses that were standing by to take people to San Antonio. That worked but then they actually have a stopping about an hour earlier then they had hope because the weather conditions were deteriorating and they're afraid they would lose their buses. This is something we saw in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, losing that element that you might need later to help evacuate people who could become stranded as the water levels rise.

So, there are a lot of lessons that have been learned from other storms that are being applied here. The other one is first responders aren't going to get out in this kind of weather. They just simply can't risk it. So if you've got an emergency, for the most part until the winds die down, you're on your own. If it's an absolute emergency, some may attempt it, but the wisdom is you just can't. And it's only going to get worse, Wolf. That we can feel right now. But think about this like Katrina instead, the winds come at you in almost a pulse. And you can sense it, if you're here, you actually feel the air pressure change and you know you're about to get (INAUDIBLE) it's not always a consistent blow, it rises and falls, but it's very much something that's really felt. Wolf?

BLITZER: Be careful there in, Martin Savidge in Corpus Christ. The folks are going to be bracing for the winds. There's no doubt there's going to be floods -- flooding and there's also going to be a lot of power outages as well. We'll get back to you. I'm going to check in with CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's in Galveston for us. Ed, what are the conditions where you are?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, for a while we had been seeing these bands of rain and wind coming on shore and everything would kind die-off in between those bands as they came along short. But right now, we're kind of been a low in terms of rain but he winds are really sustaining and keeping through the band.

[17:40:14] So that's kind of clear indication here that the worse of storm is really beginning to make its way onto shore here. And you can really tell here, if you look out onto the water, when we first started here just a few hours ago, about 100 yards out is where the waters were crashing onto the shoreline. Now you can see that storm surge making its way closer here to the seawall, along the Seawall Boulevard here on Galveston Island. So, this has been -- we've kind of watched slowly as this water has encroached and pushed itself closer toward the seawall.

As you can see, the sea wall extends through much of the island. Not the entire island. Once you get down that way toward the west of this island, Wolf, the seawall disappears and it's more residential. The homes out there generally built on steels 15 to 20 feet off the ground, so that helps with this type of storm surge. And many of those people when I drove out there this morning had been cleaning up everything underneath their homes and that sort of thing. Very quiet out on that part of the island and those barrier islands is really a of great concern, because the bridges that go onto these island as the winds pick up will be shut down and just become simply too dangerous to drive on those roadways.

So that is something that people need to be very cognizant of and aware of. You don't want to get trap on one of those bridges as the worst of those storm winds are coming ashore. But as you mentioned and as we talked about and can't stress enough, it's really the issue of flooding that we'll see. And in fact, some of those forecast models have shown, this hurricane will eventually come on land, stall out and perhaps even push out to see again and move its way back up here toward Galveston Island.

So a great deal of concern now as we're in the beginning to enter the thick of this storm about what will happen and how all of this will unfold. Emergency teams trying to get a handle on exactly where the flooding is going to occur. First, we'll get a handle on it as quickly as possible and make sure everyone is quickly evacuated from those areas. They have prepositioned rescue boats and first responders in those areas to deploy for the swift water rescues. That is what many of those emergency teams are bracing for here not just in the hours ahead but into tomorrow as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a very, very dangerous situation and our hearts and prayers are going out to all the folks there. Ed, stand by. Here in Washington, White House officials say President Trump is receiving regular briefings on this huge storm, even though he's spending the weekend at the Camp David retreat. Let's go to our White House Correspondent Sara Murray. Sara, can the White House avoid the failures that certainly happened after hurricane Katrina exactly 12 years ago this week?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is certainly something that they are cognizant of. And of course, there have been senators out there today warning President Trump, keep your eye on this one. Do not make the same mistakes that George W. Bush did. Now, earlier today Tom Bossert, the Homeland Security Adviser for President Trump, said that many of the people who are working in this administration who are advising the president on this storm also worked on Katrina, they learned their lessons from the past and they said that they are keeping the president up to date. Here's what Tom Bossert said where the president's main concerns in those briefings so far.


TOM BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: The president had three primary concerns. His first concern was the life safety and evacuation timing. Are people getting out of harm's way that needs to get out of harm's way? And then his second concern was do we have the appropriate resources to bring to bear? That was the question he directed at Administrator Long and Lorraine Duke. Brock Long reported to him that we did in fact have all these resources redeployed.

And really the third concern from the president's perspective after hearing the briefing was not only that the people in harm's way in Texas, be prepared and be evacuates as appropriate but the people in Louisiana, should the forecast wobble in any direction also be prepared.


MURRAY: Now, the president has spoken today with the governor of Texas as well as the governor of Louisiana. He headed off to Camp David and we've not seen him address this storm on camera, although he does continue to tweet and the White House says he may make a visit to Texas next week. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll stand by for that. Sara, I want to quickly go back to Chad Myers, our meteorologist in the CNN Severe Weather Center. A lot of people are asking, is it too late to evacuate right now, Chad? You and I, we've covered a lot of these hurricanes over the years.

MYERS: All right. I think it's too late to get off of Barrier Island. I mean, that was a mandatory evacuation, 48 hours ago. So absolutely nowhere to go now. Even if you can get over a bridge at 40 or 50 miles per hour and get anywhere in here, it's better than being within 10 miles of the shore anywhere there. It's the surge that I'm worried about, and I know we've been talking how 6 to 12, Galveston, not that worried. Here's what I'm worried about.

[17:45:01] The winds have been blowing in the same direction now for two days in this direction to Galveston to Victoria, to north of Corpus Christi, that's Port Aransas, you're piling that water up here now and we don't even have a landfall yet. But we have storm surge meters, little gauges, all along these bays that say we're already three feet higher than we should be. When this storm comes on surge, on shore and adds another six to nine feet, that's where the real rub -- people don't understand the power of what water can do either to yourself, tp your home or to a car.

It's no time to leave now, Wolf, because I don't want you driving through water, especially moving water that you don't know how deep it is. More people die because of water than because of the wind. In any hurricane you talk about over the years, added up, divide by the number of hurricanes, people die because of water and because what they did or didn't do when the water was coming.

BLITZER: It's going to be sundown over there in Texas and Louisiana for that matter fairly soon. It's going to be dark when this hurricane Harvey hits Texas and Louisiana. Just explain a little bit of the difference, a hurricane landfall category 3, 120, 125 miles per hour hits at night as opposed to during the day. I assume it makes matters a lot worse.

MYERS: It does, because you don't see things coming or don't hear things coming and you get alarmed by things you hear. But we've gone through -- I'm going to give you a weather lesson here, everyone here. There is a breathing cycle for a hurricane because of sheer. And we don't know about what the sheer is going to do to the storm because there's going to be wind. Wind means -- the sheer means it's knocking the tops off the storms. During the day, a storm won't grow as quickly as it can at night when all of that sheer -- you know when you're sitting outside on your rocking chair and the wind blowing during the day, and at night the wind stops blowing?

Well, when the wind stops blowing, that's good for a hurricane. A hurricane wants to get stronger when the rest of the wind stops blowing. It wants to be the only wind. So I guess if there's anything good, this isn't hitting at 8:00 p.m. or a.m. tomorrow morning because it's not going to have more time to generate itself of regenerate itself into something much stronger in the overnight hours. This is as strong as it's going to get right now, so there's something to be happy about that. There's not another eight hours in the water.

BLITZER: Stand by. I want to quickly go back to Martin Savidge in Corpus Christi who is seeing this firsthand right now. Martin, what are you seeing right now?

SAVIDGE: Wolf, the way this wind is acting here, if you've ever been caught up in the blast of, say, a jet engine, it's just like that now. You really get hammered by a very intensive blast. The way the water starts to ripple and just blasts along here, it's clear that this storm continues to draw near, and as it does, the winds continue to rise. This area, of course, is used to having to deal with hurricanes and tropical storms, so a lot of the construction has taken that into account.

A lot of the homes here have those hurricane shutters, those special metal velour kind of window frames that go up and go closed. So a lot of people right now have been sitting in the dark for a long time. They've literally been cut off from the outside world either by the boards they put up or by the special hurricane shutters they have in place. Right now it's that hunker down mentality. If you left, of course, you're now up in San Antonio or other places where evacuees are gathering. But if you haven't left, that of course, this is no time to even consider that.

And eventually you're going to have issues with the power going out. We haven't seen significant power outages, but that could happen. You also could lose your cell phone towers as a result of that communication could be difficult. So more and more people can feel a sense of isolation. And that's a point that officials here have known about, which is why they've increased the intensity and frequency of their briefings. They may not have any new information. They admit that.

But they want the public to understand that, hey, your city is still here, it's still functioning, and we are still concerned about you. That was one of the other lessons learned in Katrina. Isolation caused all sorts of rumors and wild speculation. A constant flow of communication to people helps reassure them, even if there is little else officials can do. Wolf?

BLITZER: It looks -- correct me if I'm wrong, Martin, as if even in the past hour alone, the situation has worsened. SAVIDGE: It has. I mean, now you look at the sky here and actually it looks a lot brighter than it was, just say, just a few minutes ago. But it's the wind that's really been intensifying here. We know the rain is yet to come and will come for a long time. But the first initial blast of this storm is wind. Now, initially people were saying, well, the wind secondary to the rain and it's still is, but the wind has gotten a lot stronger, we're now on a major hurricane category 3.

[17:50:11] Texas hasn't seen that in some time. And everyone has to remember exactly what a storm like that can do. And this one is going to linger a long time, Wolf.

BLITZER: it certainly will. All right. I want to go quickly back to Chad Myers. Chad, as bad as the wind will be, 125 miles per hour, that's awful. It's a category-3 storm. Katrina was a category 3 storm when it hit New Orleans, the Gulf Coast 12 years ago. As bad as that wind will be, we're talking about even worse, the flooding. You mentioned 52 inches potentially at some place. I don't remember 52 inches. Maybe you do but I don't remember hearing that number before.

MYERS: No, never. Never a number even close to that. Even when I was growing up and you and I are the senior members of this team. Thinking and remembering hurricane Agnes back in 1972, that flooded the Genesee River, that flooded the Susquehanna River. That just stopped. It was a storm that just stopped right over Western New York and Upstate New York and it rained for days. That's what we're going to see here, rivers that have never, ever been as close to as high as they will be.

There is the eye of the storm right there. Here's our intrepid reporter, Martin. Here comes the next batch of really bad weather. If martin thinks what he's seeing now is bad at about 69, maybe 70 miles per hour, this will be 90, and that will be about 20 minutes from now. Now, this is where 125 is, and it's still offshore. There is the shoreline right there. So, it's not on shore yet. But when that gets there, that's 125.

BLITZER: 125 is an amazing number. I want to go quickly back to Marty Savidge. Martin, we've covered a lot of hurricanes. You've been out there. Give us a little comparison. This one, Harvey, compared to some of the other hurricane at least at this stage a few hours before landfall. Give us a little comparison how this one compares.

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, every hurricane is different and this is one is going to have its own peculiar niche. Mostly it's going to be the rain. But what is interesting is that lessons and unfortunately the tragedies that have been seen with hurricanes past appear to have really been applied here. Number one, it's not just what the governments have been doing. And they've been doing a lot. It's what the public's been doing. They've been listening to the warnings, they've been heeding what's been said to them.

Well, not everybody but a lot of people have. They've taken it seriously. A gulf hurricane is one of the worst nightmares that they can ever envision of a storm hitting the U.S. because as Chad pointed out, just a day and a half ago, this was almost really nothing to worry about in the minds of most folks. Now it's become a monster. That's always been the fear that you would have a category 3 or greater storm that could materialize in, say, 48 hours. In this case 72 hours. That is not enough time to move large populations as you have to do.

What they did start doing was telling people, clear up everything around your house. 15,000 or 1500 items were brought into the city. The city asked for that because all of that becomes a missile. It becomes debris. It becomes a huge potential lethal object in the air. So, the city did what it could and the people helped out. And that's one of the significant differences so far. As far as what will nature deliver, we're already starting to see that, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, I hope the people are heeding the advice of the authorities, Martin. I wonder if they are, because this is going to be a catastrophic hurricane and it's only just beginning right now. Everybody stand by. Much more on the breaking news coming up. We're tracking the progress of hurricane Harvey. It's now a category-3 storm. The urgent preparations for what officials warn will be a very significant disaster.


[17:58:30] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Bearing down, a powerful category-3 hurricane is on a collision course with the Gulf Coast right now. Endangering the lives of millions of Americans. CNN is live across the danger zone as Harvey begins to hammer Texas and heads toward landfall. Possibly uninhabitable, forecasters are warning of catastrophic rains and flooding for days. That could force people to stay away from their homes for months. We're tracking the forecast and fears that Harvey could have the makings of another Katrina.

Calls to evacuate. Residents are being urged to get out of the storm's path now. If it's not too late already, emergency officials worry that too many people may be ignoring their pleas and staying behind. And under the microscope, President Trump travels to Camp David as he faces a critical new test. What is he doing tonight to help the nation respond to the first natural disaster on his watch?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The most dangerous hurricane in years is closing in right now on the Gulf Coast. It's become a monster. A category-3 storm packing winds reaching 125 miles an hour. Storm warnings are in effect for more than 17 million people as hurricane Harvey lashes Texas and plows toward landfall around Corpus Christi.

[18:07:00] It's threatening to unleash historic rainfall up to three feet or more. And catastrophic storm surges of flooding --