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Catastrophic Flooding in Houston, Southeast Texas; Storm Could Pick Up Strength, Hammer Houston Again; Reports: North Korea Launches Another Missile; Reports: North Korea Launches Another Missile; National Guard Rescuing Texas Trapped by Flood; President, First Lady to Visit Texas Tomorrow. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Apocalyptic flooding. Houston facing an unprecedented catastrophe. Streets and highways are now rivers. Neighborhoods have become lakes. As the waters rise, so does the death toll. Authorities predicting Tropical Storm Harvey will force upwards of 30,000 people into shelters and that almost half a million people will seek disaster assistance.

[17:00:29] Waiting to be saved. More than 2,000 people have now been rescued from flooded homes. And with more than 76,000 911 calls just from Houston alone. Many more are waiting to be served. Private citizens now using their own small boats to ferry trap residents to safety. More than two feet of rain has already fallen, and that could double in the next few days. Tropical Storm Harvey has barely moved since slamming to shore as a hurricane, and may become even stronger. How much worse could it get?

And presidential response. Calling the flooding, quote, "historic," President Trump will visit Texas tomorrow, says he may travel Saturday to Louisiana, where he has also declared a federal emergency. At the same time, he's caught up in a new controversy, defending his decision to pardon former Sheriff Joseph Arpaio.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: The breaking news, desperate rescue operations are under way at this moment in Houston where epic, devastating flooding has put much of America's fourth largest city under water. It is a race against time as some areas in the south Texas disaster zone have already received an astonishing two feet or more of rain, with another two feet or more likely to come in the coming days. That is 15 trillion gallons of water so far and still counting.

With first responders, the Coast Guard and other agencies stretched to the limit, the entire Texas National Guard, some 12,000 troops, has been activated. And private citizens have rushed to join the rescue effort, using their small boats to help pull people from submerged homes and vehicles. There have been at least 2,000 water rescues in just the past few days. Federal authorities expect the storm to drive at least 30,000 people

to shelters. They predict more than 450,000 will seek some sort of disaster assistance. Dallas has now opened a mega shelter to take in many thousands more from the flood zone.

And there is growing concern that Louisiana may be next to feel the brunt of this storm. It simply won't quit.

President Trump will travel to Texas tomorrow, and Saturday he plans to go to Louisiana for which he's also issued an emergency declaration. Of the flooding, he said, quote, "There has never been anything like it."

He just praised the efforts of emergency workers and neighbors helping neighbors. He said the federal government will be there for residents of both states.

Our correspondents, specialists and guests are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories. Let's get straight, though, right in the middle of the disaster zone, where Tropical Storm Harvey continues its assault. CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Richmond, Texas, just west of Houston.

Polo, tell us how bad the situation is there now.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, bad enough to really make authorities require that people are leave the area of the Brazos River, which by the way, Jim, normally flows about 100 yards from where I'm standing. Instead, though, that river slowing overflowing its blank -- banks. Authorities say later today it will reach record levels.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Guadalupe Coval (ph) is leaving his home and all of his possessions behind, carefully stacking items he hopes will be spared. Thousands of scenes like this are unfolding in and around Houston, America's fourth largest city. The entire Texas National Guard has been activated in response to the storm. First responders are struggling to contend with the sheer number of people that have needed help. Citizens with their own boats are assisting in search and rescue efforts.

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: We need the whole community, not only the federal government forces, but this is a whole community effort from all levels of government and it's going to require the citizens getting involved.

SANDOVAL: Described by the National Weather Service as catastrophic, nearly 7 million Texans now affected by Harvey. FEMA officials say they're preparing to be on the ground for the next couple of years.

LONG: This is a landmark event. We have not seen an event like this.

SANDOVAL: With 25 inches of rain on the ground and another 25 inches expected to fall, some rivers and waterways are still days away from cresting, which could add up to Houston's average annual rainfall coming in the span of a few days. Some 13 million people, from Corpus Christi to New Orleans, are under flood advisories as Harvey's coastal bands repeatedly pummeled inland areas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I see the water rise to my second floor. The water is so deep that we cannot swim. We could lose our lives trying to get out of this. All the neighborhood is trapped inside their houses. If some people can come and rescue only three people, we say, well, we just want the children to get out, because they are the more important.

[17:05:36] SANDOVAL: Water churns as the waters rise. Texas officials are defending how they prepared for the monstrous storm.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D), HOUSTON: You literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road. If you think the situation right now is bad, you give the order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: As far as an evacuation, now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made. What's important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives.

SANDOVAL: As Harvey drifts along the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and surrounding areas are bracing for impact.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D), LOUISIANA: In all likelihood, the worst is yet to come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: I should tell you that the Brazos River, Jim, You see it right here. continues to rise. This is now somebody's backyard. The owner of this home that's us a chance to be there told us the last time this river made it up to here at about 54 feet. This time it is expected to make it close to 59. So the individual who lives here has already packed up his belongings, will be staying far away from here. The county judge here, Jim, is concerned that the levies could potentially lead to some serious trouble, as well, calling this an 800-year flood -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Polo, as waters rise quickly, you stay safe there, as well. Thanks very much.

With authorities overwhelmed, private citizens are playing a big part in the rescue efforts with small boats, even kayaks and canoes, to help bring residents to safety.

CNN's Brian Todd has been out on an air boat in a flooded Houston neighborhood today. Brian, we've been seeing you through the day, even take part in some of these rescues as you come across people. Tell us -- tell us what you saw.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, extraordinary scenes in this neighborhood of northeast Houston. I'll show you over here to my left some of the people who were rescued from some of these homes that have taken shelter here at the convention center. We think, we're told, up to maybe 5,000 people will be here by the end of the day.

What we saw there in northeast Houston was extraordinary. This was a neighborhood called the Lakewood neighborhood, a poor neighborhood in the northeast section of Houston. We were out with a private team of rescuers. A guy named Seth Roberts was leading them. And it was him, one other guy who is a veteran, and a gentleman, a petroleum engineer who had an air boat who were going out into these neighborhoods, pulling people out of their homes.

We came across two families who were waiting on the hoods of their cars, and they had been waiting there overnight for anyone to come and rescue them. The guy I was with, Seth Roberts, said he tried to get to that neighborhood last night. It just got to be pitch black. They couldn't see anything. They had to quit late. They ventured out there and took us with them today.

I spoke to a lady named Marilyn Rice and her daughter Lisa shortly after they were rescued on the boat. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARILYN RICE, RESCUED FROM FLOOD WATERS: Everything started floating, and we picked up what we could to try to save it; but it didn't do no good, because the water just took over everything.

I knew God was going to send someone for me. We've been praying so much, and the church is praying, and people have been praying for us, so I know we was going to get out of here.

TODD: What do you say to these gentlemen here?

RICE: I thank God for these gentlemen!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: That scene is repeated. That scene is repeated all over that neighborhood this afternoon and this evening. Just dozens and dozens of private rescuers going out there in everything from the air boat that we were on to fishing boats to kayaks and pulling people away from their homes, getting them to dry -- not dry ground but, of course, higher ground, safer ground not too far away from them.

What we're told by the Harris County Sheriff's Department is they're now telling people to hang towels outside their windows so that they can be identified. Don't just call in and give your address, because, of course, in these conditions addresses are very hard to find. Hang a large towel outside one of your windows so that they can come and find you. That's the kind of thing they're up against, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, no question, Brian, and if you're doing rescues, if other private citizens are, you get a sense of the authorities, emergency responders being overwhelmed.

Brian, we're glad to have you there. Please stay safe, as well.

I want to get the latest forecast now from meteorologist Chad Myers. He's at the CNN severe weather center.

Chad, you and I spoke about this on the air on Friday. You said then, and we're seeing it play out, that the trouble with this storm is its staying power hanging over those areas. How much longer can we expect that to happen?

[17:10:05] CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's just not moving. This thing is going to move 2 miles an hour for the next 48 hours. So still just lingering around. Everywhere that you see white, all the way from east of Houston almost to Austin. Twenty inches of rainfall or more has fallen in those areas, and more rain is coming.

Now, Dayton, you're the high number so far, 37.2, and it's been raining since that measurement. I bet they're already over 40 inches on the ground. That is just east of Houston proper.

Here's the latest radar. It is raining in Houston again. It is raining in Lake Charles. It is raining in Baton Rouge and also New Orleans. We're worried about New Orleans for tonight. We're also worried about New Orleans, because the storm may linger at least another 48 hours.

Here's the new model. Brand-new 5 p.m. advisory. The storm does get back into the Gulf of Mexico, briefly, and then turns and gets very, very close to Houston and then travels on up into Arkansas. The quicker it moves the better.

This is the overnight radar. This is what we're expecting the radar to look like tonight. Very heavy rainfall in Houston and also Lake Charles. Run this again. This is already midnight, and it's going to rain in New Orleans. There may be eight inches of rain in New Orleans by morning. We know what happened with 12 inches in 12 hours in Houston.

New Orleans, you are under the gun. Same thing I told people in Houston on Saturday. Wake up early, look outside. See what's going on. See what happened overnight in Houston proper, because there are many areas here in Louisiana, especially the southern parishes, that will pick up between 8 and 10 inches of rainfall in the overnight hours, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Chad Myers, you've been watching it closely. Thanks very much for -- for keeping track of it. We're going to come back to you.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Al Green, whose district includes some of the hardest hit areas of Houston. Congressman Green, thank you for taking the time here. We know you've got a lot on your plate down there.

REP. AL GREEN (D), TEXAS (via phone): Thank you for having me. I greatly appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you -- I just to want ask you, if we can, to get a sense of the number of people in danger right now. I mean, we see our correspondent go out and they drive down flooded streets, and they see people on the tops of houses, sitting on their cars getting rescued as we're watching in pictures here now. Do you have a sense of how many more people are in that dangerous situation?

GREEN: Well, thank you again. I'm out in this area known as Fort Bend, the areas where we're about to have an experience that might be quite devastating if the Brazos River overflows. And we're talking about tens of thousands of people out here alone that are in harm's way.

We are currently opening up a shelter and a school out here for people who have been required to evacuate areas that ordinarily have not flooded. This is a major catastrophe, and we've got to do all that we can as quickly as we can to get people out of harm's way.

SCIUTTO: We're watching -- you can't see this, of course, but we're watching live pictures now from Harris County, Texas, and you can see some first responders out there in their boats picking more people up.

One difficulty we've heard is of folks having difficulty reaching 911, that 911, the emergency services are just overwhelmed. They've been resorting to Twitter, to putting white towels or blankets, hang them outside their homes.

Are you confident that the emergency responders know where all the people are now who need help?

GREEN: No, I'm not confident that they know where they are if they're asking people to hang towels out their windows. That is an indication that they need more help in locating people.

And yes, the 911 system has been overwhelmed. I recall the mayor indicating that we had about seven to eight times the number of calls we normally would get in a 24-hour period.

There is clearly a crisis that is lingering. And in Houston, Texas, it is not only the amount of rain but also constant rain. Because constant rain, when you're near sea level, can cause these flood conditions to continue.

I'm hoping that we'll be able to get to people quickly. The National Guard has been beefed up. The governor had 3,000 initially. Now he has 5,000 in. We have our watercraft, our vehicles trying to get in to people. But with all of that, we still just don't have enough.

This is unbelievable, and it needs more attention than we can possibly give it immediately, it seems. My hope is that we can deliver, and I'm going to do all that I can to make sure that we get people to safety.

SCIUTTO: We're watching live pictures here, another boat rescue of a family in a flooded home. Is there an estimate, Congressman Green, of the number of people still in need of rescue? Are we talking hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands? Do we know?

GREEN: I don't think we know, but I can just tell you that in one area alone where I am currently, we're looking at at least 10,000 people. So when you measure this across 600 square miles and all of Houston is flooding, the number gets pretty big. We just don't know. [17:15:12] But I do know this. We have to get them out. We have to

get to them. We can't have people lingering on rooftops, people in attics. People have got to stay out of those attics unless you've got a way out with an ax. But we do want to make sure we get to people.

SCIUTTO: It sounds like you need help. It sounds like you need help. Are you getting the help you need from other parts of the state, from the federal government? I know that even the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy have been offering resources. Are you getting the help you need?

GREEN: Well, this is one of those times when we cannot get too much help. We need as much as we can get from whatever sources, and we need to coordinate it, of course. But we can't get too much help, and I'm hoping that all of that help that is out there is on the way. Please, whatever can be done, I'm making the appeal myself, those who can help other neighbors, help them.

But in the final analysis, neighbors can help neighbors, but the federal government has to step up, step in and take care of its people. This is why the federal government exists. We've got to do more to take care of our people.

SCIUTTO: What specific help do you want from the federal government? Is it small boats? Is it the Navy?

GREEN: Well, I think that people who are stranded on rooftops, we ought to be able to get them out. Helicopters are not unreasonable. In fact, some people have been extricated by way of helicopter in Houston. And as we need more manpower, then I think we ought to bring that in. But we don't want people stranded on rooftops. We don't want lives lost while we have some vehicles that could be airborne and saving their life.

SCIUTTO: I understand that, of course, a big -- and of course, for folks who don't know Texas or Houston very well. You've got a series of rivers. You've got a whole network of levees. You've got reservoirs that the Army Corps of Engineers is talking about draining now. What -- what's the concern about those levees being breached as these rivers continue to rise?

GREEN: Well, the Corps, as they have explained it, is having to deal with bad choices and selecting the better of bad choices. If the Corps does nothing, according to what's been recorded, then we may have a breach. There will be an overflow. And you won't have a controlled release of water, which could devastate areas immediately around those reservoirs and some other areas, as well.

Or you can have a controlled breach, if you have, a controlled release, and in controlling it, you can minimize the damages that will be done, but there will still be some harm done.

So the question becomes, as it has been explained, which do you choose? To allow nature to determine where the water goes, or to have a controlled release and allow that to, hopefully, minimize the damage that will be done, understanding that there will be additional flooding by virtue of the release?

SCIUTTO: We're still seeing these live rescues underway now. Again, it looks like people, regular people in their boats, some first responders, as well, coming out to rescue their neighbors just as you've been speaking about here, Congressman Green.

One, I've got some cousins who are down in Houston facing the same thing, and they've been told not to expect to go back to their homes for weeks, possibly. How long is this disaster going to be for the people of Houston?

GREEN: I think that we have to prepare ourselves for a circumstance similar to what we had with Katrina. I was in New Orleans after Katrina, and it took a long time for New Orleans to recover. We will have a -- we will have a long-term recovery process, and it's going to require funding from the government. Only the federal government can step in with the resources necessary to take care of the people after this horrific event.

My hope is that we will be amenable to working together, and I think we will, and making sure that we provide the resources for the recovery that will be long term. There will be short-term recovery, short-term temporary housing, but we still have some long-term problems that will have to be dealt with that relates to not only residential properties but also to businesses. A lot of businesses are taking on a lot of water, and that's going to hurt the economy. We have a lot of work to do, and we have to plan for a long-term effort with a lot of resources from the federal government.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Green, we're going to be doing our part to stay on top of this and get the best information out to residents there that we can, but we're also thinking of you and your constituents as they go through this. We wish you the best of luck.

GREEN: Well, may I just add, you have done your part, and you're continuing to do your part. And I'm grateful to you, because you're putting a face on what might just be statistics, so thank you so much.

[17:20:08] SCIUTTO: They're all people. Congressman Green, thank you.

Coming up next, much more of our breaking news. We're getting new information now on the flooding as well as on the forecast as Tropical Storm Harvey continues to pound southern Texas. And coming up, Louisiana, as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. We have much more ahead on the catastrophic flooding we've been following in Texas and Louisiana. But we also have new braking news here into CNN, and that is reports of another North Korean missile launch. This coming from South Korean news agencies.

{17:25:13] This missile, they report, traveling over U.S. allied Japan. An extremely threatening move. We have the advantage of the only western reporter inside North Korea at the moment. That is CNN's Will Ripley.

Will, tell us what you're hearing there inside Pyongyang?.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim.

The Japanese prime minister's office just tweeted moments ago that North Korea has apparently launched a missile in the early morning hours. That missile potentially could be in the air right now. Japanese state broadcaster NHK has just reported that the missile has actually, as you mentioned, flown over Japan. There have been notices going out called a J-alert to people living in Japan's northern regions, including Hokkaido, to take cover. This is a system that Japan put in place after previous North Korean launches to make sure that people have a plan in the event of a provocative act, such as a North Korean missile launch.

But if, indeed, these reports are accurate, that the missile has not only approached Japan but has now overflown Japan, that raises the question, where is this missile headed? What is North Korea trying to do?

We know that North Korea and officials, and they've been telling us here in Pyongyang. they have said that this is an extraordinarily tense time because of the ongoing regularly scheduled joint military drills that are now in their second week, those drills happening just miles from where I am here in Pyongyang in South Korea. Thousands of South Korean troops training alongside U.S. soldiers.

And North Korea has been issuing warning after warning about this, including a letter that was just written to the United Nations Security Council, where North Korea said that they're watching very closely the actions of the United States. They said the situation is approaching, what they say, a tipping point, and they have said that if there is some sort of escalation, that North Korea doesn't take responsibility for it. They say that the U.S. would be responsible for that.

And so what we've seen over these last several days is a series of warnings. Over the weekend, North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles, two of them traveling just over 150 miles, coming down in the waters off of Japan.

And now this breaking news. Apparently, a new missile launch this morning. This missile launch much more provocative than the launch over the weekend if, indeed, these NHK reports are accurate that the missile has overflown Japan.

Obviously, there's a lot of fear in this region. There has been a lot of tension building up ever since that threat several weeks ago, when North Korea talked about firing an intermediate-range missile and bringing it down 20 miles less from Guam, home to Anderson Air Force Base, naval base, Guam more than 160,000 American citizens. Secretary of State Tillerson, just within the last week or so, praised leader Kim Jong-un for showing restraint, for not going through with that launch plan. And we don't know where this missile is headed. We haven't gotten any official confirmation from North Korea. That likely won't come for at least several more hours.

Normally, the outside world learns about this sort of thing first, and then North Korea confirms it later on. But we have seen an uptick on military activity here on the North Korean side. Not only that missile launch over the weekend but also a Special Forces operation that Kim Jong-un was supervising. Those images released on state media also over the weekend. And now these new reports once again of another North Korean missile launch, with alerts going out to people living in Japan's northern regions to take cover -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Let's just make clear to our audience here, the significance of this.

First of all, the range of the missile taking it over Japan brings it to a different range than the missile launches we saw just on Friday, those three shorter range missiles. Japan a U.S. ally. Japan home to several U.S. military bases, housing tens of thousands of U.S. troops, warships, aircraft, et cetera.

At this point what will be happening is U.S. intelligence satellites, et cetera, will be measuring the trajectory of this missile to see exactly how far it was going, to what altitude it went. All these -- all this kind of data is going to tell us exactly what kind of middle -- missile it was. Medium range, long range, ICBM possible. We don't know those details yet.

But you make a good point, Will, here. This is one in a series here, and just after, I just might remind our audience last Tuesday, President Trump said at a rally in Phoenix that it appears that North Korea now respects the U.S.

But what kind of message does a missile launch like this shot over Japan -- what kind of message is North Korea, based on its past history, trying to send not just to the region but to the U.S., as well?

RIPLEY: Well, and pardon the noise behind me, Jim. This is the hourly tune that plays on loud speakers here in Pyongyang. It's a song to remind people of the sacrifices of their late leaders. You'll hear it playing for the next few minutes.

North Korean officials, when we landed here, they made very clear that, even though there had been several weeks in terms of a pause of activity on the military side, because there hadn't been any launches from North Korea since the intercontinental ballistic launch at the end of July. They said that we should not be fooled by that. They said this is the most tense -- and this is the words of North Koreans -- this is the most tense situation on the peninsula they have personally experienced in a number of years.

[17:30:32] And they traced it back to that rhetoric, that back and forth between President Trump when he threatened to rain fire and fury on this country, said that the American nuclear arsenal was locked and loaded.

Long after the U.S. news cycle moved on from that and we were talking in the United States about other things, North Korea has still been sitting here. They've been steaming about that. They haven't forgotten about it. But sometimes their response takes time.

And so there was rhetoric, and now we're starting to see in this second week of the military drills, North Korea clearly sending a message to the U.S., a message of defiance, a message that they have their own arsenal that they say they're not afraid to use if they feel they are provoked.

And so, while the first week of exercises was quiet, now here we are on week two, and just in the last few days, we've seen three short- range missiles being launched. We've seen a special forces operation with commandos apparently practicing a dry run for an attack on South Korean islands, and now this morning another missile launch. As you said, the type of missile, we don't know. We don't know, even where it's headed just yet. That is being tracked by the United States, by Japan and by South Korea right now.

But clearly, this is once again an escalating situation that has gone beyond the rhetoric, and now North Korea is trying to demonstrate its military activities.

But North Korea has launched dozens and dozens of missiles, more than 80 missiles under Kim Jong-un, more than his father and grandfather combined. All of these launches thus far have been test runs, designed to show the United States and its allies the capabilities of North Korea. These are not missiles that have been aimed at a city. These are not, we believe, missiles that have been armed with an actual warhead. And so while we don't know at this point what has been launched or where it's headed, if we look at previous actions by North Korea, they have conducted these missile tests as a way to demonstrate force but not as an actual attack on anybody.

But that certainly is little reassurance for the citizens in Japan who received a J-alert on their phones just within the last few minutes telling them that they need to take shelter.

This is obviously a very frightening development for people in the region. Here in North Korea, they are constantly on a war footing, and so we're seeing a demonstration of that unfolding live right now.

SCIUTTO: We're going to continue to check back in with Will Ripley. He's the only western reporter inside North Korea right now.

That music, by the way, you're hearing in the background, as Will noted, is music they play every hour there as a tribute to their leaders.

I want to get this up take, as we just got this in the last couple of moments, to our viewers. South Korea's joint chiefs have issued a statement that North Korea fired an unidentified projectile into the sea east of the Korean Peninsula. And the Japanese broadcaster, NHK, has now alerted that that missile

through over Hokkaido. It's a northern island of Japan. And into the Pacific Ocean, now sending out alerts to the Japanese population. We're going to continue to stay on top of that story with North Korea.

Meanwhile, coming up, we're going to go back live to one of Houston's flooded neighborhoods, where the National Guard is trying to pull people out of their homes, get them to safety. We're hearing of thousands of people in need of rescue.

Also President Trump is asked why he announced his pardon of controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio just Friday night, just as the hurricane was hitting Texas. We're going to tell you what is answer was.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:38:30] SCIUTTO: Our breaking news. The urgent search and rescue effort in Houston's flooded neighborhoods where crews are going house to house, looking for people trapped by the high water.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is with members of the Texas National Guard. The entire Texas National Guard has been mobilized.

Ed, I know you're on a truck there that's kind of ferrying people back and forth to safety.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim.

Yes, this is a National Guard unit out of Dallas known as the Wolfpack. And they have been combing through various neighborhoods south of Houston, areas that have been heavily flooded here in the last couple of days and where people have been desperate to get out of the situation.

We just picked up a group of about 15 people who were essentially trapped on an island in an apartment complex, and those people all wanted out of there. A lot of the apartments didn't -- hadn't taken on water. But their little neighborhood there was surrounded by water and many of them had lost their cars and lost the ability to even move around at this point. So getting out of that area was what they wanted. They were dropped off at a shelter.

These evacuation efforts are continuing not only here with the National Guard soldiers but really hundreds of volunteers who have shown up in these neighborhoods with their own boats to get a lot of these people out of the most flooded neighborhoods. And these efforts will continue here throughout the rest of the day and well into the night, as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Al Green represents part of Houston's some 10,000 people just in his district in need of rescue.

Ed Lavandera, we know you're going to stay with it. We'll come back to you. With political controversy swirling around, and President Trump is

vowing federal help for the storm disaster areas, he plans to visit south Texas tomorrow. Let's turn to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

[17:40:11] Jeff, that press conference with the Finnish president, certainly a lot of headlines there, but comments, as well, on Hurricane Harvey.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Jim, good evening.

President Trump is heading to Texas tomorrow, but he was talking about the recovery effort and the long-range plans here at the White House today, including his plea, if you will, to Congress to urgently approve the funds. He said it would not be a problem at all.

He struck a more unifying tone than we've heard from him in the past today in the East Room. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that you're going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president, and you're going to get your funding. It's a terrible tragedy.

We think you're going to have what you need, and it's going to go fast. Texas is a unique place. It's a great, great state, great people, and I think you'll be up and running very, very quickly. Really very quickly. So, yes, I think you're going to be in fantastic shape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So using those comments, saying that things are going to be in fantastic shape, may be understating the conditions we're seeing on the ground there. The president, of course, will be seeing that firsthand as he travels tomorrow. Not Houston, but going to other parts of the state.

But he also was asked, of course, about that controversial pardon last Friday evening of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff there, so controversial. The president bluntly said today he was not trying to bury the news on a Friday. He was trying to do it to get more attention to that controversial pardon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, a lot of people think it was the right thing to do, John, and actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. You know, the hurricane was just starting. And I put it out that I had pardoned, as we call -- as we say, Sheriff Joe.

He's done a great job for the people of Arizona. He's very strong on borders. Very strong on illegal immigration. He is loved in Arizona. I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly when they came down with their big decision to go get him right before the election voting started, as you know. He lost in a fairly close election. He would have won the election, but they just hammered him just before the election. I thought that was a very, very unfair thing to do.

When I mentioned him the other night, you saw the massive crowd we had. The people went crazy when I said, "What do you think of Sheriff Joe?" or something to that effect. The place went absolutely crazy when I was in Arizona last week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: The rally that he attended last week, but those were his base supporters. So yes, Jim, this was a popular decision among his base supporters.

But Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator John McCain, Senator Jeff Flake, the two Arizona Republican senators, they both said they disagreed strongly with this decision. So certainly, this is another example, the latest example of the president catering to his base here. But he is going to see firsthand the devastation tomorrow.

Back to the other major story of Hurricane Harvey. There is a sense here at the White House, Jim, that this funding bill may be much more difficult than the president is suggesting. Of course, it was after Hurricane Sandy, as well. Some conservative Republicans blanched at voting for that. We will see if that changes.

But this is coming, of course, at the same time in September as there is a potential government shutdown, the debt ceiling raised. So this is the first big test for the president in terms of a natural disaster. Also about the role, size and scope of government -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Let's bring in our political specialists now. And as we do, we're looking at live pictures there still of rescues underway in Hurricane Harvey.

Dana Bash, the president's comment there to say he announced the Arpaio pardon on Friday as the storm was coming in to get higher ratings, was that tongue in cheek or was he being serious? Because either way, it does seem quite disconnected from the suffering we're seeing on the ground in Texas.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it was tongue in cheek, I really don't. This is a person who understands ratings. He came from reality TV. He's kind of obsessed with ratings because ratings equals approval, equals all the things that we know that this president holds near and dear to him.

And he had just come from a rally where the president was just talking about it in Jeff's report where he got a lot of praise for it. But he was preaching to the choir there. I mean, these were the people who were kind of keeping Joe Arpaio afloat as kind of an iconic figure in that community, whereas in most other communities, many other communities, he was vilified and even, you know, found to be doing things that are absolutely illegal.

SCIUTTO: The people at his rally...

BASH: They're all white.

SCIUTTO: ... their homes aren't under water right now.

BASH: Well, OK. And that...

SCIUTTO: Their homes aren't under water right now.

BASH: And that goes to my next point. Even if he was tongue in cheek, which I don't think he was, the notion of the president of the United States saying that he announced something because ratings were high, where people were fleeting their home -- excuse me, fleeing their homes, under water, and some people losing their lives --

ACOSTA: Yes.

BASH: -- is abhorrent.

ACOSTA: It's remarkable, Rebecca Berg. Just the level of disconnect, right? Because this -- and the President did start off the press conference by talking about how, in his words, this was historic. It's historic, the catastrophe. Talking about he is going to go visit it to demonstrate that, and yet --

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Sure.

ACOSTA: -- the focus was on Arpaio --

BERG: Right.

ACOSTA: -- in the first hours of this historic storm.

BERG: Right. I mean, on the one hand, President Trump has done some of the things that you would expect a president to do in light of a natural disaster of this scale. He has been tweeting. He has been talking about it. He is going to visit some of the areas of destruction this week.

However, you're right, he has also had these moments, on the other hand, where he has shown he's not totally focused on that issue, or he has let these other issues seep in and, in fact, encouraged it, as with the Joe Arpaio pardon, and made light of that.

And in his press conference today, it was, I think, another instance of the President saying out loud what would usually be maybe your internal monologue, things that you would not usually disclose to the American people and the press about the process of how you considered doing this pardon.

ACOSTA: And to be clear, again, we are continuing to run live pictures of these rescues here. A short time ago, we had Congressman Al Green who represents part of Houston in his district. He said to us on our air that some 10,000 people, just in his area there, still awaiting rescue. So there are lives in danger as we speak.

Jeff, I know you were watching the press conference. Another headline, asked a very simple question by a Finnish reporter if Russia was a national security threat to the U.S., the President could not let those words leave his lips.

He said, I believe a lot of countries are a threat to the U.S. Interesting, particularly in the context of Finland, by the way, neighbors Russia and has a very long history of understanding the threat from Russia.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is consistent with the way the President talks about Russia. And the way he talks about Vladimir Putin in particular, is that, notwithstanding the fact that all the intelligence agencies have said there was a concerted effort by the Russian government to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump in this election, that he refuses to criticize Russia under any circumstances for anything.

And if we can just talk -- just to -- to go back to Arpaio for a second, you know, the timing is a question. I don't know why he announced it that day, but, you know, what he never says and what -- is what Arpaio was convicted of doing, which was violating the United States constitution by discriminating against Latinos over and over again.

This is something that had gone on for years in Phoenix. I used to live in Phoenix. I remember, you know, Arpaio has been a controversial figure there for decades. And the idea that he pardoned him, his first use of his pardon, with someone who had violated the constitution by discriminating against Latinos, is perhaps not surprising but shocking.

ACOSTA: And that was the source of a lot of the criticism you heard of that decision even from conservative quarters.

Just, again, as we're watching here, this is something that's taking place across the wide expanse of Houston. And that is rescues under way, saving people's lives.

A lot of those are first responders. They're in uniforms. A lot of them are people like you and me who are using their own boats, vehicles, canoes, rafts, you name it, to rescue people in genuine danger.

Dana, he -- the President was asked a question and followed up and followed up about his shutdown threats and how he can be confident that the funding is going to get down to Texas that he's promising in light of the fact that he's threatened to shut down the government to get his money for the wall. You know Capitol Hill very well. How do you rectify those two things?

BASH: Well, there is one simple way to begin to rectify it, which is, you know, unfortunate, because for people out there who want -- look at Washington and say it's hypocritical, well, this is just another example.

The last time there was an actual shutdown, part of the threat was in and about Hurricane Sandy and conservatives saying, we're not going to pay for Hurricane Sandy relief unless it is offset.

ACOSTA: Both Texas senators voted against that funding, too.

BASH: Bingo. The people who were believing that and saying that were not just Texas senators but also in the House. So a lot of the, as our friend Gloria Borger likes to call them, the hell no caucus is from Texas or people who are kind of like-minded.

[17:50:02] So I think that that -- because it's in their backyard, it might help the cause.

But it also might be another case of the President having some wishful thinking and some naivety about the Republicans and the people who he is dealing with and coming up against in the United States Congress and how they view not just the federal government, but the budgeting process.

And the desire and the demand for when the federal government spends money to have cuts elsewhere and to find those cuts isn't always easy.

ACOSTA: And to be clear, even if you do get -- say you get bipartisan support and you pass a funding bill for this, but if you shut down the government to demand the Mexican wall funding, the government shut down, it doesn't deliver this money, right?

BERG: Right.

ACOSTA: Whether you got it on paper, regardless, the services would shut down.

BERG: Right. And --

TOOBIN: And, Jim --

ACOSTA: One -- we'll go to Rebecca, then you, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Sure.

BERG: And, you know, at some point, the government would reopen. It would find a solution to this problem. But it's worth noting that the President -- this adds to the President's to-do list in the fall, in the coming legislative session. And it's already a very crowded calendar for the President, for congress.

They need to get the government funded. They need to raise the debt limit. Both of which are not easy when you're thinking about the conservatives in Congress and some of the wish lists that they might try to fulfill with those measures.

And then they want to get tax reform done by December, which is, you know -- they essentially have 50 legislative days when they come back. None of this was going to be easy without this spending measure. Now, they're going to have to send relief to Texas.

ACOSTA: Jeffrey Toobin, remind me the state of the President's relationship with the Republican leadership in Congress. I'm trying to remember. I'm trying to remember.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: It's not so good. But one thing they do agree on is that manmade climate change is a myth. That's -- the Republican Party is united on that. And I think one question we should ask, even if the Republican Party isn't asking that, is what is the role of manmade climate change in disasters like this one?

It doesn't necessarily create storms like this, but does it increase the intensity of these storms? You know, climate change is part of this story. We focus on the heroism, quite appropriately, of the people who are trying to save lives. But why disasters like this occur and their intensity is also part of the story.

ACOSTA: Same questions came up after Hurricane Sandy. Jeffrey, Dana, Rebecca, thank you as always.

We want to check in now as we continue to watch live pictures of rescues in the wake of Hurricane Harvey with our Chad Meyers, CNN meteorologist. He's at the CNN center in Atlanta.

Chad, tell us what you're seeing now, particularly as it gets dark soon there. Certainly going to affect rescue efforts.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the Mayor assessed that earlier. And he said that because most of these boats do not have lights, they are not allowing them in the water at night.

Now, of course, some boats do, but not all. So I think if you are in a home right now that is flooding and the water is still going up, you may actually have to wait until tomorrow. What a frightening thought if you see the water still coming up.

I see the storm getting stronger, Jim. And this happened again on Friday night and again on Saturday night, and this is typical for a hurricane. Storms breathed in the day, and they get a little sheer because of the wind. And at night, they get stronger. All hurricanes.

You can watch them day in and day out, any hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, will get stronger overnight because of the lack of sheer. Now the storm itself, the center of the storm, is back over water. It's back over the Gulf of Mexico.

We said, how did that possibly happen? It tried to get to San Antonio. It stopped, it turned around, and now it's back in the water getting stronger again. Maybe not up to a hurricane, certainly maybe 45 or 50 miles per hour, but gaining moisture. Gaining the threat of heavy rain again for tonight and certainly for tomorrow.

This behind me is a map and a forecast model of what we believe the radar will look like overnight. Very heavy rainfall again for Houston. Like they need that. Heavy rainfall, Beaumont, Port Arthur.

And then I'm going to slide you over here to New Orleans, which we already know about the pump problem in New Orleans. And look at these heavy convective cells that happened all night long. Somewhere around 3:00, 4:00, or 5:00 this morning, it will be pouring in New Orleans.

I need you to wake up -- if you're in New Orleans proper, I need you to wake up and look outside early because there could be a flood right on your doorstep because the pumps are working. The pumps work for a while, three, four inches, great. After that, all of a sudden, look out, it starts to run off and pile up. And you can see it.

Look at these red zones here. Red, New Orleans. Red, Lake Charles, even some purple. That's 10 inches of rain by morning. This is the next 12 hours.

Jim, this is going to be a rough night.

ACOSTA: Twelve hours in the dark, people still stuck in their homes.

MYERS: Yes.

ACOSTA: It is certainly a harrowing evening ahead. Thanks very much. We're going to check back in with you.

Coming up, more breaking news. Houston and its suburbs face a growing catastrophe as urgent rescue efforts are underway to reach people trapped by the rising floodwaters.

[17:54:57] Historic rain flow amounts may double in the days ahead. New evacuations have been ordered.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. Historic and helpless. The death toll rises as Texans are deluged by epic flooding unleashed by a powerful storm that just won't go away.

This hour, thousands are scrambling to find food and shelter. Many others desperate to escape the water and the danger.

[18:00:00] Harrowing rescues. Emergency teams are working around the clock in the air, in boats, and on the ground, racing to save storm victims. Tonight, growing questions about whether hard-hit Houston should have evacuated.