Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Officials Update Hurricane Relief Efforts in Texas. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: We are so proud to see that the water supply for Corpus Christi is either back up and running or shortly will be.

I know that TCEQ worked with Corpus Christi, as well as the other water providers, to make sure that can happen as quickly as possible.

We are still involved in search-and-rescue missions in Port Aransas and Rockport and Aransas County. We are grateful in those locations, as well as elsewhere, for all that HEB and Wal-Mart, Lowe's and soon to be Home Depot are doing.

So, there is much to do, and those are just the most immediate steps. Importantly, this is a place that Texas and FEMA will be involved in for a long, long time. We will be here until we can restore this region as back to normal as possible, or, as we are discussed at our meeting earlier, we need to recognize it's going to be a new normal, will be a new and different normal for this entire region.

But we will not stop until we get as far as we can.

I want to provide some important details and then pass the mike to Senator Cornyn and then to the National FEMA administer. But I want to explain a couple of details that citizens need to know about.

As governor, I have made a state disaster declaration for 54 counties across the state of Texas. In order for a disaster declaration to become a federal disaster declaration, it requires certain financial thresholds to be met. Those financial thresholds have been met in 18 counties.

There are 18 counties in the state of Texas I made a federal disaster declaration for that the president has granted. With that presidential grant triggers the involvement of FEMA.

Because there are a lot of people in your viewing area who may not know if they are on the federal disaster declaration list, I want to read these counties out for you, Bee County, Goliad, Cleburne, Nueces, San Patricio, Refugio, Aransas, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Jackson, Liberty, Matagorda, Victoria, and Wharton.

Those are the counties that currently qualify for a federal disaster declaration. Depending upon what is learned in weeks and days going forward, there may be more counties added to that list.

The reason why this is important is because if a county is on the federal disaster declaration list, there will be an abundance of resources that come from the federal government to aid people in those counties.

I want to provide you an address on the Web site that hopefully you will hear everybody else speak about, because this needs to be every person's go-to location on the Internet.

It is disasterassistance.org.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dot.gov.

ABBOTT: I'm sorry, dot.gov.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my fault.

ABBOTT: All right, disasterassistance.gov, disasterassistance.gov.

And this is Brock Long, who is the national FEMA administer, who will be reemphasizing that and telling you more about it. I brought it up because everyone needs to know this, because there are people out there who are desperately trying to get let's say funds they need to be able to stay at a hotel because they have no place to reside.

One of the places you can go is to disasterassistance.gov. Brock will explain more about ways in which people can access the assistance they need.

But I want to provide that to you now. I will be happy to in moments to participate in question and answer, but at this time I would like to turn it over to Senator John Cornyn.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Well, Governor, thank you for inviting me to join you here today.

And I want to join you in echoing the incredible leadership that we have seen here at the local level here at the county and the city level, the mayors, everybody pulling together in a typically Texas fashion.

[15:05:08]

CORNYN: A few years ago, I was at the disaster in West Texas, and I had a county commissioner come up to me and he said, Texas isn't just a place you're from. It describes who your family is.

And I remember that regularly and especially on occasions like this, because we're pulling together as one family as Texans to try to help those who have lost their lives and their families, those who have lost their property, their houses, and those that are in a bad way right now as a result of this hurricane.

But I have to say that Governor Abbott and his team, working out of these emergency management operation centers in Austin, Texas, Chief Kidd and others, have done a tremendous job. But it would not be possible were it without the support not only of the leadership of Governor Abbott, but also folks throughout the state of local government.

But as you will hear in a moment from the FEMA administrator, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, this is going to be a long haul. We're trying to save people's lives. We're trying to make sure they have a place to live, safe water to drink, sewage, electricity and the like.

But this is going to be a long challenge. And, in addition to the Web site the governor mentioned, disasterassistance.gov, some people may not have access to Internet coverage because they don't have electricity, but if they can make a phone call, they can call 1-800- 621-FEMA.

Did I get that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure did.

CORNYN: 1-800-621-FEMA. That's the first step that people need to take in order to get the assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that they're going to want to have if they qualify.

So, again, let me just close with this.

Thanks, Governor, for your tremendous leadership. And I know President Trump and his entire Cabinet have been very forward-leaning and very aggressive in their response. But the only way we're going to get through this together as the Texas family is to make sure that we're lashed together at the local level, at the state level and at the federal level.

And I can assure you that we are. Thank you.

WILLIAM BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Thank you, Senator.

Good day, folks. As I have been saying, emergency management is about partnership. And the bottom line is these guys around me, these county judges, these mayors, these first-responders, the disasters always begin and end with these guys.

And when their capacity has been exceeded, the governor steps in with his support and providing tremendous leadership and capacity. And my support is designed to backfill the governor's needs and to make sure we are here to support you guys and we're going to be here for several years helping you guys recover.

I have guys on the ground already here in Corpus Christi and around the area. And while all eyes are on Houston watching the unfolding flooding, just north of Corpus Christi, we're very -- we're fully aware that Port Aransas and Rockport took the full brunt of a Category 4 hurricane when it comes to the winds and the storm surge and there's a tremendous amount of damage. To this point, we're continuing to support the life safety efforts.

We personally have rolled in 8,500, roughly 8,500 federal staff members, people from around the federal government, to be in Texas and some of those are in Louisiana just making sure that we're anticipating any additional issues that occur there.

Of those 8,500, about 1100 are out performing search-and-rescue. It's my job to coordinate the resources of the federal government. You have seen the Coast Guard choppers. We're backfilling the National Guard as well, support from National Guard to we have Customs and Border Patrol in town. We have all kinds of people providing security to all types of things that are going on from the federal government.

The other thing that you are starting to see is, the state of Texas, you guys are a very capable state. We all know it, and you guys have tremendous capabilities of providing lifesaving, life-sustaining commodities.

We are also backfilling that. We brought in -- already we have over -- it's two million liters worth of water, two million meals, tens of thousands of tarps ready to backfill the needs of the citizens here. And I'm proud to say that already just north of here in Rockport, trucks are already arriving. We're pushing them out through the points of distribution on behalf of our state and local partners as well. And this is -- this is the way it's supposed to work.

We're a unified effort. We're a team. And we all depend on each other going forward.

As the governor said, of the 18 counties, it's incredibly important. I want to continue to push this message. The first step to do, if you reside in one of those 18 counties under the individual assistance disaster declaration that the president swiftly approved for the governor, start to register now online first, disasterassistance.gov. If that's not working, then again as the senator suggests, 1-800-621- FEMA and start the process there.

[15:10:22]

Additionally, I have got over 1,300 staff members connected to the NFIP, the National Flood Insurance Program, in the state. Obviously, those people are starting to disperse through the state. And we would also, if you're an NFIP holder, go ahead, contact your insurance agent to activity your policies and we are prepared to start processing claims on that as well.

Right now,we're also continuing to help with power restoration. And, folks, you know, as the senator suggests, this is going to be a very long event. You're going to get frustrated. You're going to be tired. Your routine is going to be disrupted for weeks.

We are striving for a new normal here. But FEMA is with you, and we're here for you, you know, to support you, Governor, as well as all the local judges and mayors. We're doing our best. Thank you.

ABBOTT: A few last things and then some questions. One piece of news, and that is today I authorized the deployment of

all of the Texas National Guard to address the challenges that Texans are facing all the way from Corpus Christi to Houston, Texas. That would include all of the 12,000 available members of the Texas National Guard.

We want to ensure that we are doing all we can to maintain safety and security of everybody in the entire state of Texas. Lastly, and that is one thing that I often say, and that is our lives are not determined by the ways in which we're challenged, but how we respond to the challenges we face.

Every time I see Texans challenged, I'm always impressed to see the way that we respond, to see the way that our fellow Texans would take out their own boats and go rescue stranded Houstonians who otherwise could have drowned. There's so many heroes in Houston who literally saved the lives of their fellow Texans.

The same is true of what happened in this region where the hurricane first hit Texas, Texans helping Texans. That is what we do as a state, and I don't think anybody does it better. I'm so proud to be a Texan and proud to be associated with the men and women who have helped their friends and neighbors during this catastrophe over this past week.

Knowing who we are and what we are, I know that we will get through this even stronger than where we were before the storm hit.

With that, I would be happy to take some questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Governor Abbott, the president of the union firefighters association, Marty Lancton, told FOX News that his firefighters are being under utilized as a lack of planning from the city, which is why so many civilians had to take part in the rescue.

Have you heard that or do you have any information on that?

ABBOTT: I would have to direct you to the city of Houston on that.

QUESTION: Governor...

ABBOTT: Sure.

QUESTION: ... it's obviously still a work in progress and this is an ongoing situation, but so far how would you judge, how would you grade the government response?

ABBOTT: Well, we have been -- the state of Texas has been dealing with the federal government for about seven to 10 days at least before the hurricane hit on a daily basis, frequently, multiple times during the day.

I have spoken with the president on multiple occasions, with his Cabinet members, ranging from the secretary of health and human services, homeland security, transportation, energy. I'm leaving some out, but also the FEMA administer. And I would have to grade the federal government's response as an A-

plus. This is, if not the largest, it has to be categorized as one of the largest disasters America has ever faced. And to see the swift response from the federal government is pretty much unparalleled.

And so we are grateful for what's happened so far, but we know we're still early in the process. We need to maintain this. But a second component of it is the way that leaders at the local level have responded.

These are people who are living off of just a few hours of sleep a night, and they have one concern, and that is for the men and women they represent in their towns and counties. And it is because of their commitment to the people they represent that that coupled with the federal government's response that we are doing as well as we are.

[15:15:10]

Yes?

QUESTION: Some of your advice to the people in Houston is seen as contradictory to what the mayor said. Do you think people in Houston should have evacuated?

ABBOTT: Well, listen, decisions about evacuation are something that are behind us.

We are where we are right now, and we need to focus on first protecting life and doing all we can to rescue those who are in danger. Second, get them to an evacuation center. And, third, help them build a bridge to what their future will be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two more, everyone.

ABBOTT: Yes?

QUESTION: What are some of the biggest challenges you have seen people...

ABBOTT: Well, listen, the biggest challenge first is making sure we get every person to a secure place and then second is going to be the long period of rebuilding our communities.

That's something you can't just snap your fingers and make happen. It's something that everybody that you see up here together with us, we're all going to be in this together. And it's going to take a long time doing it. And so we will need the patience and cooperation of everybody in this region as we go through that process to rebuild the community.

QUESTION: Governor, have you spoken to Mexican officials? Have they offered support?

ABBOTT: Yes. I personally have spoken with Mexican officials and my staff has also spoken with officials from the government of Mexico.

And, yes, they have offered assistance.

QUESTION: And in what way?

ABBOTT: They said in whatever we need. They said whether it could be boats, whether it could be food. They said that they had been participants in helping with Katrina, and they were going to give some more precise ways and my staff will be communicating with them about specific needs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more right here and then we're out.

ABBOTT: Yes.

QUESTION: Governor, about Rockport and Port Aransas (OFF-MIKE) what would be offered to those residents who are still there, have lost their homes, their cars? Will they be moved to a shelter, bussed somewhere else eventually? What's the plan with those people?

ABBOTT: I'm going to answer part of that and I will ask Brock to answer part of it. Let's divide this up.

Let me tell you also -- and I should have mentioned this to you. We have come here. You may or may not know, but we will be departing here going to Rockport, so I will get to see firsthand what challenges they are facing.

But you mentioned buses. We do have buses available where we are evacuating people, and there are multiple locations. I personally greeted people who got on those buses from Corpus Christi and other areas around here. They went to San Antonio.

There also are buses that go to Austin, Dallas, to other locations. So there are multiple evacuation centers people can get on buses and go to at no charge. So that's one. Two is for those who are still here, there obviously is a need for food and water as quickly as possible.

We will be establishing, if it's not already established, which I think it is, points of distribution for water and all the supplies they need.

Separate from that, part of your question must be answered by the FEMA administrator.

LONG: Sure.

So let me take a second to explain this goal. The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery housing missions that the nation has ever seen. Once you start to wrap up the life safety mission and you're moving citizens who may be trapped or isolated, you're trying to get them to a shelter, you're trying to minimize the time that they spend in that shelter, and the governor proactively turned on what's called the Transitional Shelter Assistance Program under individual assistance.

This allows anyone in a shelter or someone who does not have financial means that's within these 18 counties to be able to receive assistance to hopefully find a hotel or a motel or to be able to eventually rent.

The goal of this is, is to, if we can't put you back in your home because it's destroyed or because the floodwaters are there and they're going to be there for a while, we want to get you out of the long-term sheltering. We want to try to find rent them if you have got them is kind of what we say. Let's try to rent out different facilities and be able to place people in those types of places.

In some cases, we have to look at alternative housing solutions as well. And then the last resort is to bring in manufactured homes and travel trailers, which we are utilizing the Defense Production Act to help us purchase and have priority to be able to amass those, bring them into the state.

But that is a long process. We don't just start dragging in manufactured homes and travel trailers right off the bat. They're not going to be on your property tomorrow by any means. This is a process where you have to be in, you know, into the individual assistance.

[15:20:01]

The goal is to try to find you a temporary -- a lasting solution that works that is within where your job is, and that's what we're working on.

So it's a long process. Housing is going to be very frustrating in Texas. And we have to set the expectations. But we already have disaster housing assessment teams on site. We're already working very proactively with the state.

I just got off the phone with Secretary Carson at HUD. They're going to be actively involved in this as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, guys. We have to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So that was the governor of Texas, Governor Abbott there, alongside Brock Long, who is the FEMA chief, and there was also Senator Cornyn there of Texas all briefing everyone on the latest.

A couple of notes, the governor did say that the meeting he was having was interrupted by a phone call from the president of the United States. We know Trump is heading to the Texas area tomorrow. And so he was just passing along the president's gratitude for all the leaders, the first-responders, and I think what they really stressed the most is that Texans are in this for weeks if not months here in terms of housing and dealing with all the water-related issues from this just catastrophic flooding.

Soon, President Trump also will speak publicly for the first time since Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane turning to massive parts of Texas including Houston. You can see the pictures behind me turning into this inland sea. At least six suspected storm- related deaths blamed on Harvey in Houston and one in Rockport.

Forecasters predict somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 25 inches of rain will still fall from now until Friday, bringing totals in some places to more than four feet. And as that rain continues to fall and the floodwaters continue to rise, so, too, do the challenges emerging in an event that is already catastrophic by any measure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was over five feet in our house. We barely made it out. I'm just so grateful that they came.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We have reporters all over the story and submerged in water, as is Scott McLean there in the Houston area, knee-deep.

You are near -- you're watching the controlled release of the water from two dams? It looks pretty bad where you are.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brooke. We are essentially standing in what is an extension of the Addicks Reservoir.

I will show you really quickly where we are. About 300 yards down, you can see reddish/orangish awning there. That's a gas station. Just beyond there, there's a golf course which really serves as sort of an extension of the reservoir. It's flooded, we're flooded. There's really no dry land between here and there.

If you were here earlier this morning, you would be able to drive down that street. In fact, people were driving down here with pretty regular cars, not big trucks, not high-water vehicles. You wouldn't have very much luck if you were trying to do that today.

You can see, it is even worse here in this part of the street. And I will just get out of way, Brooke, because you can see there's actually a rescue taking place just down this road. So a couple of police officers came by about 20 minutes ago saying that there were two elderly folks who were inside their home and maybe needed some help.

So this may be those elderly people. And if you see the other people, there's a green Sea-Doo and a couple other folks. A lot of the people are volunteers. They don't even live in this neighborhood. They just wanted to come out and do their part to help out. And that is what we're seeing here today, Brooke, people just, if you have a boat, if you have a kayak, even if you don't, people still just want to come and help out.

What we're seeing down here, though, is earlier there was some volunteer firefighters who had a high-water vehicle. Once you get further down this street, though, those high-water vehicles, it's still too high for that.

And so it's posing challenges for people in trying to get people out. But, look, let me take you over here, this brown house over here. I don't know if you can see that. We spoke to the folks in there earlier, the Alvarez family. They were part of the people who decided to take this voluntary evacuation seriously, family of four, young kid as well.

They were packing up and getting out earlier this morning. But a lot of other people that we spoke to said, I'm going to stay. Even if they got water on their floor, even though they have soggy carpets, some people have a foot of water. They still don't want to go anywhere. They put their things up in the attic or they put them up on tables or furniture to try to keep them dry, but a lot of people say, Brooke, this is my home, I don't want to leave it if I don't have to.

BALDWIN: It's incredible. It's incredible just to see here and sit here, from my perch, my dry perch, looking at you and the pictures and just you and all these people are living it there in Texas. And the fact that you were able to catch that rescue mid-rescue, hopefully that's a scene that is playing on all around these most devastated areas of Houston and beyond.

Scott, thank you to you and your crew for wading in the water for us just to show how bad it is.

[15:25:02]

Forecasters are predicting no letup for Texas. This storm is expected to gather more moisture before making the unwelcomed return to land.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

BALDWIN: I know a lot of you are sitting there thinking, how can I help these people? Guess what? You can.

CNN has a list of vetted organizations on our Impact Your World Web site go. So, just go to CNN.com/Impact. That's CNN.com/Impact for ways you can help.

Next: the desperate situation for people trapped behind these impassable roads, an in-depth look at which rescue routes are blocked by floodwater.

And this is kind of deja vu for one woman who left for Houston after losing her home because of Hurricane Katrina, which, by the way, was 12 years ago tomorrow. The catastrophic flooding is creeping now towards her new house.

We will talk to her.

You're watching CNN's special coverage of Harvey.

I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)