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Houston Officials Give Update On Harvey Devastation; Two Thousand Water Rescues In Houston, Hundreds More Need Help; Search And Rescue Efforts Underway In Hard-Hit Rockport; CNN Helps Son Make Emotional Connection With Father; Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 11:00   ET



JOE LAUD, HOUSTON EMERGENCY CENTER: -- we received approximately 75,000 calls that we did process as well and we've gotten our que numbers down to ten, meaning those are the calls that are pending that we do have to hold. That's a huge difference from yesterday.

There were probably about 120 to 250 down to about 10 to 15 on the que today. Yes, we are receiving a tremendous amount of calls, this is an extreme emergency. But we are encouraging citizens to call when they do call 911 to stay on the line.

Do not hang up because that just expands our trunk system, which overloads it. It puts out the whole numbers of people that can't get to so stay on the line. What we also initiated last night is a voice activated system that notifies people if they call 911, their call is being processed.

That's significant that citizens were experiencing a constant ring and thinking that our system was down. Our system has not been down. It's just long way to call so stay on the line.

We are also encouraging citizens that if they have received any calls from relatives, if they have contacted 911 previously, do not follow up with that. Do not test 911. We are just experiencing abundant of calls.

But we do have a good grasp on that and we are encouraging people, if they do need 911, please stay on the line and we will process that call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) for status reports, what should people call for and not call for?

LAUD: Extreme emergencies, life-threatening situations. A status report is not life threatening. OK? So, we discourage those types of calls. We really want to keep those lines open for life-threatening situations. Do not follow up with it.

We are receiving all messages from around the region. We are processing them and putting in their lines. This is just an extreme emergency. We understand where it's coming from. We do hope that citizens understand that we are processing the calls and hopefully help will be under way.

We want to go ahead and get the right information from the callers to provide the right resources. Right now, we are doing a tremendous job with the first responders and we are processing those calls and asking patience.

We are trying to do huge amounts on a regular basis, and we process about 8,000 to 9,000 calls. As we mentioned, we are about 75,000 calls this morning processed and served.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON: So, big emphasis on 911, we want to assure people that we will respond to them. Do not hang up. If you hang up, you go back to the bottom. So, don't hang up. We will get to you.

The calls are coming in through 911. The staff need to make sure that they are operating at full capacity. We want to make sure we do that and then once they come in, they are in the que and they are forwarded into the fire department, police department, or whatever the department is to deal with them and then we'll work through that.

Again, on the rescue portion, the emphasis, again, rescue people, especially seniors, those with disabilities, those with life threatening situations. That is the focus and the goal is to get to them before the day is out.

I want to also talk about the attics barker situation because they have started to release water from barker and they are releasing as of an hour ago about 2600 cubic feet per second from attics and about 2000 cubic feet per second from barker.

They are going to gradually increase that up to about 8,000 cubic feet, which will go up to about noon. The reason is, that's behind barker and attics. If they don't release it, then it will go around specifically attics, it will go around and it will create a major problem.

When the water is released, it will come downstream and add water to the whole Buffalo bayou. But right now, the flood level is steady for right now. As they increase the water and it comes down, the water level along Buffalo bayou in all probability will increase.

When I asked this morning Rus Poppy (ph) from the Harris County Flood Control District, can he quantify what that means? How much water will that increase in Buffalo bayou. They were still doing their modelling and could not specify at that time, but the water is -- water in Buffalo bayou is not going to go down soon.

[11:05:13] Right now, it's steady, even with the release. But the more they release, it could go up and so, it could create even additional problems, additional flooding. I'm asking them to quantify to give me some additional information on that. We are scheduled to talk somewhere around noon.

I do want to highlight that situation. They are releasing water, but it's a gradual release. They are indicating that if they don't do it, if they hold back the water and it builds up, then it will be forced, it will go around attics and the situation will be exponentially worse. This is a gradual release. Steve, you are more familiar, you want to speak to it more?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mayor. Yes, we were advised yesterday by the corps that they were going to start discharging the whole of attics and barker. Generally, before a flood, what happens is the gates are closed so they can contain the water coming from upstream so the downstream flooding can continue.

The issue here has to be the fact that they are getting a lot of water in the watershed upstream of the dams and they are concerned about the water levels rising very, very quickly.

So, what they are doing now is a controlled release rate. At the same time, while they are releasing the water out of the reservoir, they are also realtime monitoring the water levels in Buffalo bayou.

As the mayor said, they are going to try to maintain what is happening there today. So, you are not going to see a gradual decrease in Buffalo bayou as you are going to see it at the current level as it is today.

If we get more rain downstream or if they get more water upstream, then that's probably going to change. We are not anticipating any increase in flooding downstream along Buffalo bayou.

There was a comment that some of the residents don't know where they live, next to what bayou, but if you live between I-10 and West Hunger, that's Buffalo bayou. Those are the neighborhoods that are going to be challenge over the next couple hours and days by the way. Thank you, Mayor.

TURNER: Thanks, Steve. Let me say, this is a dynamic situation and things could change. They could change by the hour, they could change literally by the day. It's very dynamic. But, as we get information, what I will tell you is we will provide that information to you.

So, I have asked them to quantify they do their modelling and if, at 12:00, there's a need to increase more, I want them to tell me they are going to increase more. If they increase more, I want them to tell me, is that going to raise the level in Buffalo bayou and whether or not there's going to be more flooding of homes in the area.

So, this is what we know at this time. This is a very dynamic situation and things literally change day by day. Then I want to talk about the northeast water plant because as of 6:00 p.m. on yesterday, well, you have tributaries that are flowing into Lake Houston.

And as, you know, the water is continuing to rise. More water is filling into Lake Houston, more than 10 exits out of Lake Houston into the gulf. And as of 6:00 p.m. yesterday, the northeast water plant was completely submerged and what that means is that we are trying to pump it out.

We are working on pumping it out and I'll have a better sense over the next couple hours, I know public works is working on it to try to pump it out so it doesn't cause the northeast water plant to go down.

But, as of 6:00 p.m. yesterday, because of more water flowing in than they can get out, the northwest water plant was submerged and now we are working to get that out. If we can get it out, can't get the pumps in, it will have an impact on the system. I can speak to that a lot better in the next couple hours. Howard? Is there anything else that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you covered it all. I think that's a good example of how dynamic the situation is.

TURNER: Because the reality is, water is continuing to rise. We were impacted throughout the entire region. Not just the city of Houston but throughout the entire region. No problems with respect to the other plants, the southeast plant is still operating at 5 percent reduction. The northeast plant yesterday was fine.

But now as of 6:00 p.m., it is totally submerged. We are working to get it out so it doesn't have to shut down. I won't know that until another couple of hours, and then I will let you know what the impact of that can be.

With respect to the number of people in our shelters. As of now, well, as of the time before I came out, that number was about 5,500 in all of our shelters. All of our shelters.

[11:10:11] And so -- and I suspect that number is going to rise. So, we have been talking with the Red Cross, our partners -- where is my Red Cross partner? I don't see him. He's not here.


TURNER: He's working. OK. He's getting more cots. That's the other thing the mayor of Boston is sending in, he's sending us more cots. The number right now is about 5,500. I suspect by the end of the day, that number will rise exponentially.

Some people just need to come in from their homes for the evening, for the night, for example. There were some who came in from the mountain area, came in for the night and then got back to their home or with relatives.

But 5,500 for now, the number is expected to rise. We are working with Red Cross and our other partners to make sure that we have the supplies, the food. People are needing clothing. Literally, people are coming in and they are coming in wet. They need clothing.

We have asked some of our business partners for things like diapers, baby formula. Things of that nature. We have kids, babies, up to senior citizens. They are needing everything. They are needing clothing, food, medical supplies.

We have a number of partners who are needing volunteers. Whether to send Georgia Brown or Campbell, we are needing that. But, the things are dynamic. People who may not have been in a crisis state yesterday may find themselves in a crisis state today. So, what we want to do is make it shelters available for them so they can come out of the crisis situation as they transition through this particular crisis. I think I have covered all that I needed to cover for this morning. If you have any questions, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mayor, can you talk about the Harvey (inaudible)?

TURNER: The Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund, that's available. You know, similar when we had the storm last year, we set up the Houston Relief Fund. We have now set that up, the Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund.

That will be needed as people -- after the storm has passed, the needs for people and families will continue. Certainly, they are going to make requests on FEMA and other agencies. What we discovered last year is you have to have some immediate concerns in housing, clothing, transportation, you name it.

Houstonians and others stepped up in a major, major way last time. So that's been established and people are starting to contribute. That will be a tremendous need. I want to thank people like Clay Walker and others who reached out to me and said, look, we are available.

I want to thank people like Kevin Hart who's already indicating and asking people to give. There are a number. I can't Exxon Shell, they have indicated and contributed to Red Cross. There's a tremendous need there. Some contributing to hurricane disaster relief fund. Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Turner, I want to know, a lot of people are stranded and then Spanish speaking people calling 911, do they have enough translators? Do we have all the personnel that is needed to respond to those individuals who cannot communicate in English as well?

TURNER: Let me say, we always need assistance. I'm certainly going to call on many of the elected officials, we have been meeting with them on a regular basis and asking them to speak to people in their respective districts, city council districts, senatorial districts, you name it.

I'm hesitant to say you have enough especially when you are dealing with a dynamic situation that literally can change by the hour, by the day. Let me just say, let me ask and hope they don't mind, you know, my Spanish is pretty good, but every now and then I have to call on someone for added assistance. Let me ask the chief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mayor. (Inaudible -- speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible -- speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible -- speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible -- speaking foreign language). [11:16:32] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Pamela Brown in for Kate Bolduan on this Monday. We've just heard from the Houston mayor, other officials in Houston as well updating us on the flood situation there.

What we heard was that there are 2,000 people who have been rescued so far. In Houston alone with 185 critical requests pending right now. Police have received about 6,000 calls from people in need of help or rescue.

Tens of thousands of calls pouring in. As you just heard the mayor said, people who may not have been in a critical crisis situation yesterday, may find themselves in a crisis situation today.

The work is ongoing there. You see here in the pictures, the massive flooding, streets turning to rivers. This is coming as Tropical Storm Harvey seems to landscape in Southeast Texas under torrents of water.

So far two deaths are blamed on the storm, but officials expect the number to rise. Right now, Coast Guard crews are looking for flood survivors in and around Houston by air and boat. Up to two more feet of rain could make a terrible situation even worse.

The Army Corps of Engineers is now releasing water from two Houston dams. We heard the mayor talking about that there. They say the water levels are rising so fast, they fear holding all the water back could create an even greater disaster.

Engineers are telling people who live near the dams to be vigilant. Some 13 million people from Corpus Christi to New Orleans are now under a flood watch or warning as the storm lumbers east.

And thousands of evacuees are headed to shelters including the conventions that are in downtown Houston. Our CNN crews are fanned out across the region. They have been hard at work.

First to Rosa Flores live at that convention center turned shelter in Houston. Rosa, the mayor just said about 5,500 people are in shelters now, that number expected to rise, quote, "exponentially" according to the mayor. What is the situation there right now, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, about 2,500 people are housed here at this convention center. I want to show you around just to give you a sense of what (inaudible) people are. So, people are walking in from this direction and they are signing up.

You also see volunteers and a sign-up area where the American Red Cross is taking everybody's name. Beyond these doors, Pamela, is where people are being housed, getting blankets, supplies, clothing. They are also watching the news to hear about the forecast.

There's a section for kids in that section, of course, kids are finally being able to be kids after being rescued. Many of them by boat, others have been air lifted. So, a lot of traumatic stories coming out of there. Now, there was a statement just released by former President Gorge H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. The statement says, "Barbara and I are in Maine, but our hearts are in Houston. We are praying for all of our fellow Houstonians and Texans affected by Harvey and truly inspired by the flotilla of volunteers.

Points of Light all -- who are answering the calls to help their neighbors. We salute them, the first responders and the local elected officials for their grit and determination in the face of this extraordinary storm. This we know Houston and Texas will come together and rebuild."

[11:20:03] Of course, they are fellow Houstonians and they are sending their thoughts and prayers to everyone impacted by this storm. Pamela, before I toss it back to you, the stories coming out of here are incredible.

Some of these people describing their experience as apocalyptic. Some moms saying that they had to carry their children above water while the water was at about chest level just to get them to safety -- Pamela.

BROWN: And to see all these people now, you know, they have reached safety there in that shelter. But you have to wonder the coming days, weeks and years hold for these people. Imagine many of their homes are now submerged under water. We heard the mayor say, Rosa, that he expects a number of those coming to these shelters in the area to rise exponentially. Are officials prepared? Are there enough volunteers there?

FLORES: You know, this is a very traumatic event for these people and children. Imagine waiting in your attic waiting to be rescued. So, there's a lot of confusion too in people coming in. I talked to some of them inside. They are a bit disoriented.

There's volunteers helping them out, but they are still trying to grapple with the fact that they have lost everything. They are still grappling with the fact that they are alive. Many of them feared they were going to die because the water started rising quickly.

They could see the helicopters. They could see the boats. They were taking people in critical condition or people in wheelchairs first, of course. So, imagine the mothers who are holding their children, waiting to be rescued.

The good news, as you mentioned, there are a lot of resources here. Capacity here, we are told by the American Red Cross is at about 5,000. They have a lot of resources, a lot of volunteers are opening their hearts and wallets with supplies, with money to try to get these people back in a reasonable footing.

As I mentioned, it is extremely traumatic event, extremely traumatic time for these people as they grapple with the fact that everything that they own has been destroyed -- Pamela.

BROWN: To think, just this morning, there were tens of thousands of calls coming into 911. This is still very much an unfolding situation there. Rosa Flores, thank you for bringing us the latest.

I want to turn now to CNN's Nick Valencia. He is in the hard-hit city of Rockport. Nick, one of the two confirmed deaths was in that city. What are you seeing on the ground right now?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a community that took a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey. Wind speeds of 120-130 miles per hour. Look what it did to these businesses. Not only did people lose their homes, they lost their livelihoods.

As I say this, we have seen the rain pick up. They can't catch a break weather wise. We know that during this hurricane, at least 60 percent of the community, of the 10,000 residents here in Rockport they decided to ride out the storm.

They didn't think or suspect it would be this bad. In the past, Rockport has been predicted to take a direct hit from hurricanes and that didn't happen. Residents I've spoken to, they thought it was going to be the same thing.

But this place, block by block, the devastation is mind blowing. We know that a lot of people are still in this community. Modern life just does not exist. There's no water, electricity, sewage systems, cell phone connectivity is very, very sparse and limited.

We met one of those residents who seemed hopeless. He had walked for 12 hours saying that his trailer park was leveled in Aransas County which encompasses Rockport. He couldn't get in touch with his family and friends. He didn't know where they were art.

And he was worried that the worst happened to his father. Fortunately, we have a satellite phone and we were able to connect Aaron Mitchell with his father, and what happened is nothing short of amazing.


AARON MITCHELL, RESIDENT OF ARANSAS PASS, TEXAS: OK, dad. I'm going to jump on the bus. I'll be there. Are you OK? Yes. I'll jump on one. Yes, I'm in Rockport. OK. Dad, I love you. OK. All right. Love you. I'm going to get off here. I'm going to -- I'll be right there. Yes. Yes, sir. Bye, dad.


VALENCIA: We can report that Aaron Mitchell, just a little while ago got on one of those buses. They are waiting to depart to Austin so he can be reconnected with his father. So many other residents here also may take that bus as well, Pamela.

[11:25:11] Local agencies, there's about a dozen or so buses waiting to take people like Aaron Mitchell north and evacuate them from this area. It is just -- I can't tell you what a touching moment that was to witness and being surrounded by all this devastation, it was certainly uplifting for this news crew -- Pamela. BROWN: Those little moments really have an impact. You have heard the governor say right now the focus is on protecting lives. We have heard Aaron Mitchell there. What else are you hearing from residents? What is the feeling?

VALENCIA: They don't know what to do right now. They don't know how to cope with what they experience. When we first got here, it was Saturday at about 7:00 in the morning just as the sun had come up. I cannot begin to describe to you the look in the eyes of the individuals who rode the storm out here.

It was as if they saw a near death experience. Right now, what we can say is the Army is helping out some of those individuals that are here like Aaron Mitchell. They're giving them MRE's meals, ready to eat.

They are supplying them with some water. It was unfortunate, though, last night some of those residents weren't able to get that food that was here being provided because they ran out. Supplies are limited here. Local agencies are trying to help out, but they could use a lot more here in Rockport -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Nick Valencia, very important reporting there on the ground in Rockport. Thank you so much for that.

VALENCIA: Thank you.

BROWN: FEMA Director Brock Long is encouraging Americans to come out and help Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey. You just heard Nick talk about the need for volunteers. Volunteers are already pulling people from flooded homes and stranded cars.

Cajun Coast search and rescue teams traveled with boats and medical equipment from Louisiana to Dickenson, Texas where they rescued 25 people stuck in a hotel. My next guest is the team's commander, Toney Wade. He is joining me now from Winnie, Texas. Commander, thank you for coming on.

TONEY WADE, CAJUN COAST SEARCH AND RESCUE (via telephone): Thank you for having me.

BROWN: First of all, just set the scene for us. What has the search and rescue efforts been like for you and your team?

WADE: The water is extremely high. Not getting very good intel on actually where we are needed or people are trapped at. A lot of water hazards, cars submerged, a lot of debris. It's been really tough.

BROWN: You said you have been getting lot of intel. Where have you been getting your intel in terms of where to focus your efforts? I know a lot of people have been tweeting out calls for help. Where have you been able to find those people who need help?

WADE: Well, we have been working -- we have gotten several phone calls of people scattered all over Texas. Unfortunately, we can't get to all of those. We have been working with the emergency preparedness, giving addresses of where they are and we have been trying to focus on that and focus on that and to answer the calls we have taking as well.

BROWN: Talk about the risk, you know, obviously people who need to be rescued, but for the rescuers, what has it been like?

WADE: It's been tough. We took off 2:00 Saturday morning and didn't get rest until 2:00 this morning. It's been really tough. The weather has been horrible on us, raining constantly. It's been really hard to get anywhere around with the roads flooded. It's really difficult.

BROWN: And also, you have that plus the emotional impact. These victims with near death experiences. What have been some of the stories from the residents you helped rescue?

WADE: The gratitude we are there to help them, get them out and do the best we could to get them comfortable and into a shelter, reunited with their family. Some were stuck on the second story for a couple days, with no electricity or power. They were happy. Rescue boats say they were screaming at them. They needed help. It was pleasing to us that, you know, we could get them out of that situation.

BROWN: Such important work you and your team are doing. Commander Toney Wade, thank you so much for joining us.

WADE: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

BROWN: And joining me now Texas Congressman Al Green. He represents Houston's ninth district, one of the hardest hit areas. Congressman Green, thank you for coming on the show. Are many constituents still stranded and in need of rescue at this hour?

REPRESENTATIVE AL GREEN (R), TEXAS (via telephone): Thank you. Thank you especially for putting a face on the numbers. Statistics can sometimes be cold. You are humanizing people. You are making it known these are people who are suffering.

I just got off the phone with Mayor Allen Owen (ph) and we have the Red Cross on with him. There is an emergency evacuation taking place out in Port Den County, which is a part of my congressional district in Missouri City.

They have hundreds of people that are going to have to be sheltered. They are trying to pull together the shelter as quickly as possible, bring in the cots, water, food --