Return to Transcripts main page


Levee Breach in Brazoria, Texas; National Guard Briefing on Harvey Strategy; Houston Officials Speaks about Rescue Efforts. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 29, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:54] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Rain in Harris County, downtown Houston is reporting 48 inches of rain from Harvey. This is the most reported rain in the U.S. from a tropical cyclone. We are following the breach of a levee in Brazoria, Texas, south of Houston.

Joining me now on the phone is Judge Matt Sebesta, from Brazoria, Texas.

Judge, what is the impact of the levee breach?

JUDGE SEBESTA, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS (via telephone): Yes, ma'am. The water is coming over the top of the levee, it started an hour or hour and a half ago. It is a subdivision along the river. We have known for several days that the water was going to breach the levee, from the projections. Hopefully, most of the people are gone from the subdivision. We went door-to-door two days ago, letting them know flooding was imminent. We hope most are out. We have assets on sight to assist with anybody that needs to head out and come to Angleton. That is where we will be sheltering folks. They need to come out to Highway 35 and head north toward Angleton.

BROWN: What is your biggest concern now that this levee has been breached?

SEBESTA: The biggest concern is the few folks that may have disregarded our warnings. And we don't want anybody hurt. This is a significant event. We are going to see the worst of our flooding is still yet to come and I don't want to see anybody hurt or worse over the next several weeks that we have this event ongoing.

BROWN: Judge, are there enough resources, enough volunteers to help these people in that community?

SEBESTA: In that community, yes. However, this event is going to be, as it continues to develop is going to be much wider spread than just this small community. We have the San Bernard floodplain, the river floodplain that is going to be impacted today and ongoing as it has waters come out of the rivers and get through the community. Folks have, I believe a little bit of a misunderstanding that the flooding may be at its peak right now. River waters have not yet, most of these areas, we have had tremendous amounts of rainfall over the last three to four days with more rainfall today and tomorrow. That's all the flooding thus far other than this flooding, this is river water. But we have the Brazis River at the elevation it was last year and continuing to rise. The San Bernard continues to rise. More rains are going to exasperate the situation. So, we need all folks that are in our mandatory evacuation areas that we put out 48 hours ago, hopefully, few are left in these areas. Those that are left need to get out now.

[11:35:07] BROWN: Clearly, you make the point that an already horrible situation could be worse in the coming hours or days.

Judge Matt Sebesta, thank you very much.

SEBESTA: It will be worse.

BROWN: Yes. Thank you very much, Judge.

I want to go to a Pentagon briefing about the resources being deployed there.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES WITHAM, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, AIR NATIONAL GUARD: -- by any other method. There's also almost 300 animals rescued. Not only the humans associated, but the pets as we continue to alleviate the pain and suffering that the citizens of Texas are experiencing right now.

I don't want to leave Louisiana out of the equation. As the storm continues to move across the gulf and potentially make what is called a third land fall, Louisiana is posturing capability to advance currently 400 airmen in the state of Louisiana. The state continues to preposition equipment and material in advance of anticipated large flooding across especially the southwest portion of Louisiana there. The governor has not requested a gold status commander yet. The Louisiana National Guard has preidentified a dual status commander in the event Title 10 forces look like they will be required in Louisiana. We anticipate Louisiana will also request a dual status commander, as Texas has already done.

I would like to emphasize, before we go to questions, this will be a long-term effort. You know, usually, when the Guard responds to hurricane-type events, we talk about the first 72-96 hours with life sustaining takes place and then a recovery effort. Due to the nature of this storm as it spun across southwest Texas for days and dumped record or historic levels of rain, our response to this hurricane has been very different than we looked at before. And the planning associated with that had to be different because of the nature of it. As you look at the historic rainfall, up to 40 to 50 inches localized in certain areas there and then sustained flooding over a period of multiple days and potentially weeks, as you talk response and recovery, our response is very sustained. In fact, it's phased in terms of how it comes in as population areas become isolated and are in need of food, medical, water supplies or lift by boat or rotary out of that area. So, the planning for this has been very different. Normally, we plan response for the first 72 hours, 96 hours, weather passes, and we are in a recovery mode. We will be doing life-saving and sustaining efforts for a longer period due to the nature of the storm. All the associated command and control structures as the Department of Defense looks at ramping up capability because the demand signal is not there immediate and draws off in the recovery phase. This will be sustained demand for DOD forces over time. So not only the National Guard, but the Title 10 forces underneath the dual-status commander. This will be a unity of effort over a sustained period by the entire Department of Defense in support of civil authorities to ensure we do all the life-saving, life-sustaining pieces, again, for periods of days, if not weeks, before we are into the recovery mode. The planning associated with that, we have sent a large planning team to assist Texas, you know, in terms of the national capabilities so that Texas is fully aware of everything that the Department of Defense postured under U.S. NORTHCOM on the Title 10 side and the additional capabilities that come from surrounding states on the National Guard side to be able to add to that.

Just to give you a round figure of numbers, we are looking at posturing, just on the National Guard side, an additional 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers and airmen that, if requested, could be brought in. Those capabilities include engineering capabilities, high-profile vehicles, additional rotary wing assets. That will be to finish the response phase, and then go into the recovery phase. Just like first responders get tired and burnt out, Guardsmen will get tired and burn out. This has to be a phased approach. And Texas is planning for that phased approach, not only with the organic National Guard forces but National Guard forces that could be brought in from surrounding states through emergency assistant contacts.

Again, I would like to emphasize that our response to this hurricane has been different than anything we have experienced before. And we expect it to be much longer in terms of the response phase and what we would normally see during a hurricane, just due to the nature of the storm, dumping historic, record amounts of rainfall in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.

With that, I'll pause. Questions.

Yes, sir?

[11:40:03] BOB BURNS, REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Bob Burns with Associated Press. Question about the chain of command. You mentioned General Hamilton being dual commander for Texas. He reports to the governor, is that correct? And you mentioned he would have command of federal forces, if that's the right term, in addition to the National Guard. Are there already active duty federal forces participating?

WITHAM: There are. I'll start with the last piece first, then back up into dual status commander, a brief explanation of that. United States Northern Command has postured well over 1,000 active personnel in support of it and their associated equipment. Obviously, Northern Command --

BROWN: That was Major General James Witham, from the National Guard, reiterating the Harvey effort will be a long one, a long-term effort, and he also pledged thousands of National Guards troops and military assets for the regions.

Thousands of victims have been rescued from flood-ravaged homes in Texas. Countless others are stranded.

And 24 hours ago, Leidys Schull was one of them. She was trapped inside her home with 10 other people. She was in the thick of a life- threatening situation when I spoke with her yesterday.


BROWN: What is the feeling. You said 11 people trapped in this House, including children. How is everyone handling this right now?

LEIDYS SCHULL, HOUSTON RESIDENT (via telephone): We try to be calm, but I worry about the children. That's our concern. As they say, like some people can come, three people, oh, choose from here. Somebody is -- to come to this address. A whole street under water. A lot of people that need help. Please.


BROWN: She joins me now for an update on her status.

First off, Leidys, break down what you have been through. After the show, we were texting back and forth, saying you haven't been rescued, then a moment saying we are all out. Tell us what you went through.

SCHULL: Yes, we were concerned about the whole situation, about the kids in the House being trapped and unable to get out. They would have somebody who was around the area and rescued us. They happened to be at the House. A safe place where we at now with my kids and my family.

BROWN: Explain how you felt when you realized someone was finally there to get you all to safety.

SCHULL: I was so happy. Very happy to have the possibility to survive. To -- for me, it was, like, born again with my family. It was amazing. I am so appreciative for everyone and you guys. We were able to be rescued and out of the House.

BROWN: Tell us the story, if you would, about the rescue. How did that happen?

SCHULL: We saw -- with we share with all the people concerning about us. We see more boats coming in to our House but it was too many people there. It was a slow process. We were screaming for help, asking for help and help. We have babies, can you please help us. He was touched by that and came in to help us to get out with the babies. They came back and got the other half of the family. Otherwise, 11 people.

BROWN: I was going to say, that's a lot of people for one boat.


BROWN: What's amazing here is, this is not the first time you have been through this. You were a victim of Katrina. How do the two situations compare? SCHULL: Yes, it was a very different equation because we had

mandatory evacuation in Katrina. We did evacuate. Our house was on the second floor. In that moment, we were not trapped there. We were away from that. This time, it was -- we with were trapped inside the house. It's two different scenarios there.

[11:45:04] BROWN: So, where are you now? Where are you now and the rest of your family?

SCHULL: Yes. We are in the hotel on I-45. It feels like a safe area. It's not flooding at all. My concern, also for those people who live in areas where recently flooding, just evacuate. Don't wait until the last minute. Just evacuate. Your life is very important.

BROWN: OK. It's amazing to see these houses.

Leidys Schull, thank you very much.

The Houston mayor is speaking now about the rescue efforts.

SYLVESTER TURNER, (D), HOUSTON MAYOR: I'm going to delay employees returning to work now. Instead of Wednesday, it will be Thursday and we will take it day by day. I am asking city of Houston employees of notices going out that working at these shelters will work as well. I'm encouraging sitting employees, if they can, if they can get in, safely, working at the shelters will be very, very much appreciated. We need their assistance. But, in terms of returning to work, we will continue to operate with just essential personnel through tomorrow. We will -- we will plan, we are still planning on having our regular city council meeting tomorrow. That will take place, but only essential personnel.

With respect to shelters, at the Brown now, we have expanded our capacity. Initially, the -- we capped it at 5,000. We have now gone beyond 9,000. We are looking for other shelter locations. In fact, we have identified a couple of other mega-shelters locations. I'm not going to announce it at this time. That announcement will be forthcoming. I want they want to get set up first, then I'll be meeting also with the county judge sometime around 12:30. We'll make a joint announcement with respect to an additional shelter. But, there are additional shelters that are going to be set up. The reality is, not only are we providing shelter for Houstonians, but people coming outside the city of Houston, who have been directly impacted by the storm. We are not turning anyone away, but it does mean that we need to expand our capabilities and our capacity. In that regard, we certainly made the official request to FEMA. We need additional assistance. So, we have asked them to provide supplies and cots, food for an additional 10,000 individuals. Hopefully, those supplies will get here as soon as possible. At the latest, we hope, you know, no later than some time tomorrow, if before then, it is need before then. But we are asking for an additional 10,000.

Quite frankly, in many ways, the city of Houston is serving more of a regional hub. So, not only are taking care of people from the city of Houston, but also accommodating people coming in from other areas. Additional announcement on the shelters will be forthcoming, probably in the next few hours. We just need them to set up.

Yesterday, the focus was on rescue. Today, will continue to be on rescue. That's critical and important.

Let me call on Chief Acevedo and he can give you an update on rescues and other related matters as it relates to law enforcement -- Chief?


Good morning. Overnight, the police department continue to operate throughout the city conducting search and rescue. Our rescues of last count well over 3,500 folks rescued and it's important for the city to know we're not just in a search-and-rescue mode but in a law enforcement and public safety mode. Last night, we actually had some arrests made of a crew robbing members of our community. Officers heard about it. They deployed in heavy rain. Found them. They went in pursuit and all of those suspects were taken into custody.

Here's what I'd like to say to people that would take advantage of individuals. This is the state of Texas, and we're a welcoming city, but we are not going to tolerate people victimizing, especially committing armed robberies of our city. We're going to catch you. And I promise you, we are going to push hard -- I've talked to the district attorney -- to seek the fullest -- two things -- the fullest prosecution possible for any crime committed and, secondly, we're going to urge juries and judges to give you the most, the toughest sentence that you can possibly get. So word to the wise, don't come to Houston. You'll be caught. I guarantee you, when you take advantage, including our own criminal element here, take advantage of people and prey on them under these circumstances is despicable behavior. And we're pushing hard to make sure you don't see the sunlight anytime soon. So we've got armed robbers last night, the middle of the night, and also more looters, a handful of looters at a game stop last night and the chief helped catch three of them.

It's all hands on deck. We're fully operational. We have resources coming throughout the state of Texas from other major cities. They are already in the aor. We are beginning to task them to give them specific missions. They will be doing two things. First, they will be conducting security at some of our locations where we have evacuees. And secondly, they will be relieving some of our officers in the near future. We will not be reducing our posture. Our officers continue to sleep in the stations. They will be continuing to sleep in these stations throughout the response phase. We are still in the response phase and probably not moving towards recovery for a matter of a couple more days. Or officers will not be going home. We've had 160 of our families so far impacted that we know of. And I can't speak enough about, not just the police officers and the firefighters, but all city employees, that this mayor leads, that no one has left their post. They're out doing their job.

Again, we're fully functional. Still trying to get folks. Like we said yesterday, don't give up on us. Seek higher ground. We will get to you. We have assets at every passing hour, more boats are getting into the water. Every passing hour, more high-water rescue vehicles have come into the theater.

And, please know, one of the delays has been this is a catastrophic event that I don't think we've seen when the Weather Channel starts creating a new color to, for rainfall, they've never used that color before. There's a reason they've used it. For all the Monday morning quarterbacking out there, you can't talk about hindsight. There is no hindsight in terms of an event that never occurred.

With that, just know that these relief convoys have been stuck because of all of the inaccessible roads but we're starting to get them all in and in good shape moving forward.

TURNER: Thanks, Chief.

And I certainly want to thank other cities, Mayor Price from Fort Worth, for example, sending down 100 police officers yesterday. I want to thank the city of Fort Worth. Of course, our Dallas Mayor Rollins, of course, they have set up to house up to about 8,000 individuals who are coming from the surrounding areas. The surrounding counties like Galveston. And I want to thank them. The mayor in Austin, also setting up to receive people from the region. And so I want to acknowledge him and the mayor of San Antonio has also extended his hand. So we want to thank all of our partners, mayors and other cities throughout the area, and throughout the country, for their support.

Let me also now call on the fire chief for a status report.

[11:54:02] SAMUEL PENA, CHIEF, FIRE DEPARTMENT: Thank you, Mayor.

Good morning, everybody. So as of midnight tonight, the Houston fire department responded to over 1,000 calls for service. Over 400 of those have been water rescues or water-related incidents. We have -- we've augmented our deployment teams, our boat teams with members from the Texas Task Force One as well as FEMA teams. We keep -- as resources arrive on-scene, we deploy them to one of eight area commands. Firefighters as well as police officers have been working tirelessly since this event began three days ago. We have some crews that are going on their third day in a row. So we've implemented certain things to ensure that our firefighters are receiving the appropriate rest, and nourishment, and have directed the staff to go ahead and establish operational periods. And there will be periods where we have less firefighters in the game, so to speak, because they are -- they are placed out of service to rest for a few hours, and then brought back in and rotating crews that way. It's difficult for us to bring in 800 individuals to replace the people that are on duty, because in a lot of areas we can't get in and the fire stations and can't deploy them to where we need them with their equipment. And that's a - logistically, that's an issue we're having to deal with. But based on command staff recommendation, we've decided to manage the resources we have on-scene and as we're able to bring in fresh crews from off-duty, we're doing so. But our operational profile remains the same. We are in a rescue phase at this point. We'll continue to do so until we ensure that we've serviced every call for rescue coming in to the 911 center.

Thank you.

TURNER: And an added note on rescues, and that is, Kingwood would be a focal point for today. We will continue to work on all area, but Kingwood will be a focal point, because there's more water that's coming in to the area. So in terms of water, water rescues in the Kingwood area, we are focusing on the area called the enclave, an area with primarily one-story houses in that area, and so water rescues are taking place at the enclave. Bariton in Kingwood, Royal Shores in Kingwood, closest to lake Houston, as well as Forest Gardens. Water rescues are out there. I know the fire department and the police department are sending additional assets in that area to the people in Kingwood. And they are being taken to Creekwood Middle School, which is a Red Cross shelter to get them out of that area for now. The next 24 hours, I think, for the Kingwood area is going to be very important. We're seeing how the water continues to flow, but we are watching that area carefully and I'm working very closely with council member, Dave Martin, in the Kingwood area. But, again, water rescues are taking place in Kingwood at the enclave, Bariton, Royal Shores and Forest Gardens. And they have been taken to Creekwood Middle School as a holding place for right now, and we're watching that area.

All other areas within the city of Houston we're focusing on, whether it's this area, whether it's in the inner city itself, Spring Branch area, down in the Clear Lake, on the south side, all of the areas, we -- a lot of our resources are all over the city.

I certainly want to thank, again, the first responders, police and fire, for being out there 24, 24/7. Not just during the daytime but some of the most hazardous times happen to be at night. And we're telling all Houstonians to continue to stay off the streets, I continue to ask all Houstonians stay off the streets. But our first responders are on the streets. They are on the street as night, in varied treacherous situations. And so I cannot say enough for them that are working around the clock.

I want to give you an update on the Northeast Water Plant, since that's very important to the city, and to areas, communities, that are supplied clean water by that plant.

Jeff, you want to come in and give us an update?

UNIDENTIFIED NORTHEEAST WATER PLANT EMPLOYEE: Crews are continued working at the plant. The water plant is operating. Houston's water is safe, and we don't expect any change in that situation.

TURNER: Thanks.

And I appreciate public works support on that effort.

A lot of conversation in reference to Addicks and Baric (ph) Reservoir. Indicated yesterday they were raising their release level from where it was yesterday, 5,000 cubic feet per second, up to 8,000 gradually and I think they've reached that point.

But I want, Steve, if you will, come and kind of bring us up to date on that. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mayor.

Good morning. This morning we were advised by the Corps of Engineers that the Addicks Dam will have what we call uncontrolled release rates starting this morning. Basically, the ponding levels in the dam have exceeded the elevation at the tail, which is the north end between Clay Road and Tanner. That uncontrolled release rate will continue through probably September 20th to some level -- degree of level, peaking out at some time during August 31, in about two days. We are in close contact with the Corps of Engineers as well as with --