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Harvey Regain Strength, Could Hit Houston Again; Rescue Workers in Boats Trying to Help Those Stranded in Homes; Was Texas Sufficiently Prepared for Hurricane; Texas Warned Alligators May be on the Move. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired August 29, 2017 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hello, everybody. Great to have you with us. We would like to welcome our viewers all around world. I'm John Vause.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: And I'm Isha Sesay. We're following two big stories for you. Catastrophic flooding in the US State of Texas has emergency crews scrambling to reach stranded victims. And another missile launch by North Korea, only this time the flight path was directly over Japan.
VAUSE: We begin in Texas, though, where fresh fears are rising across the southern coast as tropical storm Harvey ramps up for another run over Houston.
The region has already been drenched with 15 trillion gallons of rain, more than 63 centimeters since Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Friday night.
The storm continues to hover over the area and could bring another 63 centimeters of rain to metro Houston over the next few days. That's all the city sees on average in an entire year.
SESAY: Millions of people are currently under flood - flash flood watches and warnings. The Coast Guard says it's getting more than a thousand rescue calls every hour. One official tells CNN that 10,000 people are still trapped in flooded homes in just one section of Houston and many are without food or water.
VAUSE: While Houston is bracing for another hit from Harvey, meteorologist Derek Van Dam is in Sugarland, a little southwest of the city center.
So, Derek, what are conditions like there right now and what more do we know about the people who are still stranded waiting to get out.
DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The rain is never ending, John, and it's pretty unprecedented, to be quite honest. I can't really reiterate enough how immediate the danger and threat is across Houston.
We have seen time and time again how rapidly the water can rise, fall and rise again. There's a series of locks and dams and reservoirs that are in place across the western parts of the city that are helping prevent more catastrophic flooding, but they've had to do controlled releases to prevent the stressing of those reservoirs.
The evacuations are ongoing under the darkness of night, which makes things that much more complicated. You should roll the video to show you what happened just a couple of hours ago, just to my north and east, closer to the city center of Houston.
Some dramatic rescues taking place just off of one of the highways there and people waiting through waist deep water. They're carrying all their belongings that they could bring with them in trash bags, throwing them on to trucks after boats carried them to safety or at least to dry land. They're also holding a dog in their arms as well, whatever they can to just get to safety.
And also, just seeing the pure emotion in some of the evacuees' faces when they finally get to dry land, when we were part of some of the search and rescue operations last night, we saw people breakdown completely when they were finally safe. You could just imagine the set of emotions going through them, having to leave their home behind.
But at this point and stage, I would imagine that safety, obviously, is the number one concern and your belongings are the last thing on your mind. John? Isha?
VAUSE: Obviously, still - and, clearly, a difficult time for so many people and about to get a lot harder. Is there anyway, Derek, that they can quantify how much worse all this extra rain will make what is already a really dire situation?
DAM: It's hard to comprehend 15 trillion gallons of water. We have had already 750 millimeters of water fall just in the City of Houston. There are about 40 different reporting locations across this area.
That is unprecedented, eclipsing their worst flooding back in 2001 when Tropical Storm Allison stalled over the same area. By the time it's all said and done, rainfall totals of 1,250 millimeters not out of the realm of possibilities.
What do you do with all that water? How does the city cope? It's virtually impossible. So, we're really going to be testing the limits of what's possible here in Houston and evacuations. And search and rescue efforts are going to be a long-standing, at least for the rest of the night and into the day tomorrow, because more rain is in store, as you can see. It does not stop. It's relentless.
VAUSE: Yes. Derek doing a lot of hard work there for a lot of long hours.
VAUSE: So, thanks for staying with us, Derek.
SESAY: Thank you, Derek. We appreciate it. Let's bring in meteorologist Karen Maginnis now. She joins us now from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. Karen, thank you for joining us as well.
So, the expectation now is that Harvey will move to the northeast, towards far eastern Texas and Louisiana. This to date has been a very slow-moving storm system. What does the forecast show for what happens next?
[02:05:10] KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, I have to say the computer models are in fair agreement as we have seen throughout the history of Harvey in what's going to happen over the next 48 to 72 hours.
This is what we're looking at. Harvey is still out over the Gulf of Mexico. It moved out after just slogging its way across that mid coast of Texas. Then, we go into Tuesday evening and it's still going to be out over the open waters. It is going to intensify a little bit, but that's not really the issue.
The issue is that it is still dumping that rainfall over an area that is supersaturated. It's not even saturated, it's supersaturated. And we've been looking at some of the local TV stations, some of the Twitter events, people tweeting that they need various items, and they're talking now just the environmental impact, all the people that still need to be rescued.
And it looks like as it makes its way onshore for a second landfall, going into Wednesday morning, there is still the rain right across Houston, right along that I-10 corridor, right along that Interstate 45 corridor, all the way down towards the Galveston Bay and then impacting Louisiana.
With how much more rainfall? Maybe 25, maybe 250, possibly 500 millimeters. It's not going to stop. Houston is going to see varying degrees of moisture, of precipitation, but the fact is it's going to last several more days is the huge problem they face, even longer.
SESAY: Karen, we appreciate it. Thank you. It does not look good at all.
VAUSE: Thanks, Karen.
SESAY: Thank you. Amancia Aldridge evacuated from her home in Houston. She is safe with her family and joins us now from her grandparents' house.
Amancia, thank you so much for joining us. I understand you live in an apartment complex. Tell us about what happened to you. When did the water start to rise in the building?
AMANCIA ALDRIDGE, HOUSTON RESIDENT: So, the water started to come inside of the place sometime today. But it was pretty much surrounding the outside of the building.
SESAY: So, the water was surrounding the outside of the building. We're looking at the pictures, that water, it looked like it was deep and it looks like it came up quickly from what we've been hearing.
Go ahead. ALDRIDGE: Yes. The water comes to about the chest. So -
ALDRIDGE: - it was a very deep water. The water came kind of quick because, at first, you think, OK, it's just going to rain in bursts, but nothing is going to really happen. And then one morning, you just wake up and then all the water is there.
SESAY: And just tell me - as you say, rise - it came up very quickly and then suddenly it was there. What went through your mind when you looked at and saw that you were surrounded by water?
ALDRIDGE: Well, when we were walking out because the Coast Guards came to rescue us, I thought this is real. Watching it from outside the home, on the outside, is different than actually getting inside of the water.
And once we had to evacuate and actually walk through that much water to get on the Coast Guard truck, it's very shocking. It's unbelievable to say the least and it feels like you're just in a movie of some sort. It's very, very, very scary.
SESAY: So, talk to me about the Coast Guard rescue because I understand the Coast Guard got not just you, but you and some family members. But things didn't go quite according to plan. What happened?
ALDRIDGE: Right. So, the Coast Guard came on the street to pick up everyone in the neighborhood. And as we were turning out - well, first, the Coast Guard, I think, they were really trying to be very helpful by getting so many members of all the families on the truck as much as possible.
And so, when they turned on the main street, unfortunately, the truck took a turn and flipped on its right side into the water.
SESAY: Oh, my goodness.
ALDRIDGE: So, yes. So, we had about 20 people on the truck, four dogs, and my mom actually almost fell in the water and she had to actually hold on to the truck to keep from falling over.
And everyone was kind of hanging on - hanging on in the water. I think the Coast Guard - you can see the water is so deep, you can't really tell the difference between what is the street and what is the lake or the water.
[02:10:07] And I think the Coast Guard actually was turning, he probably thought that he was turning on the street, but it was actually all water.
SESAY: So, tell me about getting out of the truck. Tell me how you got out of the truck and - it must have been terrifying.
ALDRIDGE: Very, very, very terrified. Instantly - I panicked instantly, but I just thought I cannot panic. I have to be strong. I have my daughter on this truck with me and my family. And I just thought we have to get off this truck immediately. But you have to do it strategically because shifting the weight in the truck can cause everyone to collapse over into the water.
So, thankfully, some civilians showed up out of nowhere, volunteering to help us get out of the water. And the first thing I did was say, please grab my daughter. So, I got my daughter and I handed her to him. He took and put her on the lower end of the water.
And my step dad, he really coordinated almost everything for us. He was so great at shifting everyone to the right side of the truck to make sure that we need not lean and go further into the water.
SESAY: Well, Amancia - I'm so thankful that you are safe and your loved ones are OK. How old is your daughter?
ALDRIDGE: My daughter is ten.
SESAY: OK. We're pleased she is well and we're wishing you the very best. We hope you get through this safely without any more issues.
Amancia Aldridge there joining us from Houston. Thank you so much.
ALDRIDGE: Thank you, Isha.
VAUSE: We'll stay in Houston now.
Rafael Lemaitre is joining us. He's the former director of public affairs for FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Rafael, thanks for being with us. What are conditions like where you are? How high is the water? How are you coping right now?
RAFAEL LEMAITRE, FORMER PUBLIC AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, FEMA: Well, this has been a slow burn. This is a storm that seems to be unraveling in slow motion. Even days after landfall, we're seeing continued catastrophic situation around the city. I'm about two miles north of downtown Houston in an area called The Heights and, thankfully, we're a little more elevated than many other areas and still fortunate to have power like many other citizens here, but still many without power as well.
So, we're coping as best we can right now.
VAUSE: Just taking a closer look at the immediate response to this disaster.
At one point, there was this photo which was put out on Twitter. It was a call for help for a group of elderly residents in a nursing home. The photo went viral and the people inside that home were saved. But that just seems so kind of random in the scheme of things. Is that how it's all playing out at the moment?
LEMAITRE: Well, social media is definitely a new tool that we have now where we're able to connect with people and get the word out about where help is needed most. The fact is that - I think that when it comes to this particular disaster, we're going to be in response mode for a very long time and in recovery for an even longer amount of time.
Thankfully, there are neighbors here that are essentially the first responders in this situation who are doing their part in saving lives everyday along with the state and local officials and the federal officials that have arrived.
So, hopefully, things will get better soon.
VAUSE: There was some criticism that an evacuation order was never issued through Houston. Here's the head of FEMA explaining why that order was never given.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROCK LONG, FEMA DIRECTOR: The city of Houston is huge. It's 2 to 3 million people. Pulling the trigger on that is an incredibly difficult situation. A lot of times, when you're facing a city like that and a rainfall event, you have to ask people to shelter in place because of the time frame that you're given. The time frame to evacuate the city in Houston could take days - days, literally days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: Do you agree with that? Does that all add up to you?
LEMAITRE: I do. In fact, if you look at the number of people who die in disasters like this, most of the people who tend to pass away are in their vehicles, they're on the roads. If you look back to Hurricane Rita in 2005 where there was an evacuation ordered, this isn't a city of 2 million people just within the inner part. Six million, if you include, the entire Houston, Harris County area.
And evacuating that many people in a limited amount of time may sound nice, but, in reality, it could have ended up being more catastrophic. There's going to be a time when we can kind of debate whether or not these decisions were the right ones.
But, right now, I know that the local officials here are very much focused on the response and on saving lives that are currently in peril here.
VAUSE: Just very quickly, we're almost out of time. But two weeks ago, President Trump signed an executive order rolling back an Obama- era regulation which required all government constructions to take into account the flood risk, which was being caused, and the future flood risk being caused by climate change and rising ocean temperatures and sea levels. The timing now seems almost ironic.
[02:15:12] LEMAITRE: It's totally self-defeating. This was the strongest move by the federal government to protect Americans from the most common and costly disaster we see in the United States, which is flooding. We can debate climate change all we want, but we know that the truth is that these floods are getting more common and more costly every year.
In fact, just over the past couple of years, we've dealt with multiple 500-year and 1,000-year flooding events just last year in Louisiana and even just a year-and-a-half ago here in Houston and Texas area with the Tax Day and the Memorial Day floods.
To rescind an executive order that enables government buildings to be built safer and stronger actually ends up saving taxpayer money in the long run because we know these floods are going to happen again.
So, it was a self-defeating effort by the Trump administration and I hope that at some point they might reconsider that.
VAUSE: We will see. Rafael, thanks so much. Appreciate you being with us.
LEMAITRE: Thank you.
VAUSE: Well, still to come, North Korea has test fired another ballistic missile. Japan is calling it the most grave threat ever. What makes this test so dangerous? Just ahead.
SESAY: And a first-hand look at the devastation. More on President Trump's planned visit to Texas. And when he gets there, this is what he'll see. On the left, before Harvey; on the right, the catastrophic flooding the storm is leaving behind.
You're watching CNN.
VAUSE: Well, the US and Japan are now looking to ramp up the pressure on North Korea after its latest missile launch. By our count, this is number 21 this year alone. This time, the fight path of the missile was directly over Japan's northernmost island Hokkaido, home to more than 5 million people.
Warning sirens were heard on the island urging people to take shelter.
SESAY: Well, the missile was in the air around 14 minutes. It flew 2,700 kilometers and broke into pieces over the Pacific.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calls it the most grave threat ever.
VAUSE: For more, CNN's Andrew Stevens is live in Tokyo and Paula Hancocks also live this hour in Seoul, South Korea.
Andrew -- first to you, Tokyo has warned of a firm response. What would that look like? And given the conversation in the last hour or so between the Japanese Prime Minister and the U.S. President, it seems that this will be coordinated at least between Tokyo and Washington. Paula, first to you, there is a lot of concern coming from Tokyo. At the same time, there has been an extraordinary response from South Korea.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. This is a stronger response than we've seen from previous missiles certainly. We heard from the defense ministry official that the air force here in South Korea carried out a bombing drill very shortly after this missile launch, saying this was in response to the missile launch.
We have four F-15 fighter jets dropping eight 1 ton bombs on to a shooting range about 150 kilometers from the DNC, the North/South Korean border.
And what we heard in the press release as well was that they said this was to show the capability of being able to destroy the enemy's leadership. So, a very specific threat there to North Korea, to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, pointing out that they are able to retaliate in a very quick situation, saying that they could retaliate like that in an emergency situation.
[02:20:22] So, certainly, we are seeing some kind of response from South Korea from a political point of view. President Moon had actually called for a strong response. We know the foreign minister here has spoken to the US foreign minister Rex Tillerson actually saying that it was disappointing that North Korea chose to carry out this missile launch even though the offer of talks was on the table. John?
VAUSE: OK. Paula from Seoul. And to Tokyo, Andrew, the missile flight over Japan seems to be almost a nightmare for defense planners there in Tokyo.
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, John. Previously, the North Koreans had launched missiles in Japan's direction, but they had always used a very high trajectory, which meant that the missiles flashed down in the Sea of Japan between North Korea and Japan.
Now, clearly, there has been a missile which has traversed across Japanese airspace. We have seen it before, but the North Koreans in the past mostly have given some sort of indication they were going to do this. There was no indication today, and that is why Shinzo Abe is so upset about this.
Remember, these are most likely multiple-stage rockets, which separate during flight, a piece of that rocket could still fall on the Japanese mainland even if the missile is a success.
Shinzo Abe making his point very, very clearly in a press conference. Just listen to what he had to say about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHINZO ABE, PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN (through translator): The missile which passed over our nation represents the greatest and gravest threat to our nation ever. It also is an egregious threat to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEVENS: Abe has been very busy today, not only meeting his emergency cabinet members and discussing what to do, but also talking to Donald Trump, a 40-minute telephone conversation apparently.
Mr. Trump saying that the US stood behind Japan 100 percent and would, of course, come to Japan's defense if needed. And both sides pushing for more action, tougher action against North Korea, starting with an emergency meeting which they've called for of the UN Security Council. John.
VAUSE: OK, Andrew. Thank you. Andrew Stevens live in Tokyo. Also, Paula Hancocks live in Seoul with the very latest. Thank You.
SESAY: Well, President Donald Trump plans to survey the damage in Texas Tuesday. It's the biggest natural disaster since he took office.
VAUSE: He acknowledged recovery will be a long and difficult road, but thinks the country will come back in his words, "bigger, better and stronger than before."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tragic times such as these bring out the best in America's character - strength, charity and resilience are those characters.
We see neighbor helping neighbor, friend helping friend, and stranger helping strangers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Well, joining us now Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas. Both are CNN political commentators. Gentlemen, welcome.
First off, I want you to take a listen to the president discussing the situation in Texas during the press conference with the Finnish president earlier on Monday. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's the biggest ever. They're saying it's the biggest. It's historic. It's like - really like Texas, if you think about it. But it is a historic amount of water.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: Dave, the president summing up the situation in Texas as only President Trump can. He's also been tweeting his way through this crisis using lots of exclamation marks. Your assessment of how he's responded so far.
DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There's no doubt that President Trump has like come out and tweeted about the hurricane and promised financial aid and FEMA aid and that his administration was going to respond.
But I thought what was extraordinary was the fact - the time that, pardon me - a president is supposed to bring the country together and is supposed to be a beacon of strength for the country, a time of tremendous devastation, he's fanning the flames of polarization across this country.
He spent the weekend pardoning a known racist, a convicted felon, Sheriff Joe from Arizona, and then he endorsed a book deal from a Milwaukee sheriff who, of course, is a controversial figure who labeled Black Lives Matter as a hate group, basically equating them to neo-Nazis. And then, at the same time, he doubled down on the wall.
So, he's furthering splitting the country rather than bringing the country together.
SESAY: John, go ahead.
JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: As much as my friend Dave wants to turn this disaster response into a partisan issue, the president actually deserves kudos. And he's received it across the aisle for doing a good job, empowering FEMA to do what they need to do to get things done.
[02:25:05] Everything seems to be according to plan. And for once the exclamation points, the braggadocious nature of everything being the biggest, is applicable in this scenario.
SESAY: What about the point of mixing politics with a natural disaster in pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the timing of all of these things emerging. The Arpaio stuff, officially instructing the military to ban transgender, all of that happened on Friday as Harvey was taking center stage.
THOMAS: The president - the government doesn't stop just because there's a natural -
SESAY: The government is calculating. You know that. All governments are. Do you think that timing was such to dump it and so people would miss it, that news?
THOMAS: It's funny. On Friday, I heard both stories. I heard Democrats speaking out both sides of the mouth. One was this is a strategic cue to pander to the base. Well, if you're going to pander to the base, you do it loudly, so they hear it.
Others said he's trying to bury the news, so that no one knows he's pardoning a racist. I can't speak to the president's intent. All I know is he took action.
SESAY: All right. So, let's listen to what the president said because the president explained his actions. Let's roll the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assume the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. The hurricane was just starting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: So, it's about the ratings. Dave?
JACOBSON: There you go. He's bragging again, right? The reality is Donald Trump never misses an opportunity to exploit his self- indulgence when it comes to being an egomaniac. And the reality is like he wants to be in the headlines and clearly Hurricane Harvey was taking away from that.
But I think here is the other issue. Like, he has to govern and he has to get a bill through to actually fund the relief. And this weekend he was tweeting to Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri, bragging about his electoral victory over the weekend at a time when he should be talking about the hurricane. He's going to need her vote to pass a relief funds bill
SESAY: John, the president is going to go to Texas on Tuesday. The question is, can he stick to the script. Can he keep it about Texas? Or does it become about the president?
THOMAS: I think, at this point, they're one and the same. I think the president is focused on the federal government giving the proper response to the governor of Texas, who said that he's been thrilled with the reaction and the relationship that the president has had towards Texas at this point. Time will tell.
But so far, I give the president - I think most people - a pretty darn good rating in terms of handling this disaster.
SESAY: Apart from Dave. Dave, what are your expectations for the president's trip on Tuesday?
JACOBSON: I think the question is like, is he going to act presidential? Will he be cool, calm and collected and measured? And from what we've seen throughout the last seven months of this presidency, I doubt that's going to be the case.
THOMAS: I think the difference is Dave wants - he's concerned about temperament. I am concerned about actions and results.
JACOBSON: We shall see.
SESAY: Gentlemen, thank you.
JACOBSON: Thanks. VAUSE: Well, Houston city officials are trying to reassure undocumented immigrants. There's no risk of deportation if they need to be rescued or seek shelter or other help.
The mayor says, everyone who needs help will be helped regardless of immigration status. A storm hit days before a new Texas law takes effect, cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities.
That law which requires police and other officials to enforce federal immigration statutes is currently being challenged in court.
The city tweeted this message out about an hour so ago. We will not ask for immigration status or papers from anyone at any shelter. This rumor is false, assuming that the rumor that they would ask, is in fact false. It's a little confusing that tweet.
SESAY: Yes, it is. When we come back, a lot more from the Texas flood zone. This was a scene just before nightfall in Houston. In a moment, we'll hear from a pastor helping the stranded as those flood waters rise.
[02:31:22] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: No letup in the rain. Tropical Storm Harvey regaining strength and threatening to bring more to America's fourth largest city.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Houston has already seen more than 63 centimeters of the rain since Friday. That could double by this weekend. About 8000 people are in shelters and thousands more are waiting for help.
Our own Paul Vercammen has more details now from Houston.
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRRESPONDENT: Rescue after rescue here at East Houston. This is Tidwell Street. And it's also Beltway 8. You can see people coming out of here with their belongings.
Excuse me, sir, I'm glad to see you made it out. How long had you been there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since Thursday.
VERCAMMEN: Since Thursday. What was going through your mind as these rain waters came down? I'll walk with you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. It was scary though.
VERCAMMEN: Scary though?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
VERCAMMEN: As many of the residents here relayed to us, it happened so fast. One minute they were in their houses and the next minute they were trapped. So what they started doing is using a ferry, a shuttle system. Volunteers from all over the Houston area bringing their boats there, the flickering light in the back, going into these neighborhoods and helping get these people out. Tales of six people, a family up on the roof. Others trapped inside. And they never quit. Some of these men and women volunteers had been up for 24, 36, 48 hours. And the rain subsided for a while and then it kicked up again. As you can see, it turned the streets into rivers. No easy task. But one thing, the resolve of the people in Houston showing itself again and again as they decided they would come down and volunteer and work tirelessly to help their fellow Houstonians out of tough situations.
I'm Paul Vercammen. Now back to you.
SESAY: Tara Butler and her son were evacuated from their home in Houston. She joins us on the line.
Tara, thank you so much for being with us.
Tell us of your experience of the storm. What happened to you and your child?
TARA BUTLER, HOUSTON RESIDENT (via telephone): Well, we were prepared for rain but we could not predict the amount. The cars were swimming in water. My son and I were lucky to live on a second floor but the first-floor residents were flooded and they had to climb up to the second flood. We had to wait for rescue boats. And it was a raw deal.
SESAY: It sounds like it. I hate to make you go back but take us back to just being in that -- in that space and knowing that the waters are arising below you and neighbors coming up. What was it like? How was your son dealing with it all?
BUTLER: He was talking to his friends who live in the area and comparing their experiences. They never experienced anything like that. I haven't either. When I saw the water rising and rising and rising, we didn't know when it would stop. It was overwhelming.
SESAY: Did you call 911? Tell me what you did when she realized this water was not going to stop rising?
BUTLER: I called 911. They told me to call other numbers, like the Coast Guard Command Center, the non-emergency police station. There were multiple numbers that I was told to try, and some were busy, but we just had to keep trying. And finally, myself and other neighbors did get through to some of these lines and put ourselves on the list. Then we waited. A waiting game. Finally, boats started to come. Of course, they had to pick up people who were injured. There was an unconscious woman, a pregnant woman, an elderly woman. We just had to wait for them to get those people out first.
[02:35:41] SESAY: How long did you have to wait before it was your turn?
BUTLER: We started trying to leave this morning around 10:00 a.m. is when I decided we have to get out. And I finally made it to my sister's home nearby around 4:00 p.m.
SESAY: Wow. At 10:00 a.m. and you didn't get there until 4:00 p.m.
BUTLER: A long time, yes.
SESAY: You are now at your sister's. Your car was submerged. The building you lived in, the first floor had water rising up. What does the road ahead look for you, you and your son?
BUTLER: Well, right now, we don't know. Of course, were thinking of all -- you know, when I was riding in the boat, I could see all of the damage, the school, the businesses, the home. It was just unbelievable. I don't know how long it will take for things to be normal. I'm just taking it one day at a time. My employer has been supportive. We just don't know when things will be back to normal. My sister's area is pretty clear. It's hard to get into it because of the water surrounding her. Butt her street is dry right now. We'll let it one day at a time.
SESAY: That's the best course of action for many people in your situation. One moment to another.
We are grateful that you are safe, you and your son, and that you are with your sister.
Thank you. In the middle of this ordeal, you took time to speak to us. We appreciate it, Tara.
VAUSE: Rescue teams are working around-the-clock. They have boats on the ground and try to reach victims that have been trapped in their flooded homes.
CNN's Brian Todd has been right there when some of these rescues unfolded.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Flood waters are still rising in Houston and its suburbs, making rescues an urgent priority. In house after house, stranded residents signaling for help.
Marilyn Rice and her daughter, Lisa, said, overnight, waters in their house rose and rose.
MARILY RICE, HOUSTON RESIDENT: Everything started floating and we picked up what we could to try to save it but it didn't do any good because the water took over everything.
TODD: They were up all night and huddled on the foot of their car until they were rescued by good Samaritans.
(on camera): What do you say to these gentlemen. RICE: I thank God for these gentlemen.
TODD (voice-over): Another resident, Beverly Johnson, was waiting on her car since last night when it was too dark for rescue teams to see.
(on camera): The rescue team leader, Seth Robinson, said he came to this neighborhood last night to try to find people, trying to get people out of their homes. He said it got pitch black. He couldn't find anyone to rescue because he couldn't see anything.
These people had been waiting on their car since last night. Seth and his team finally got to them.
(voice-over): Flood rescues are the top priority in Texas as rain from Hurricane Harvey continues to pour down.
Houston's mayor says more than 2100 people have been rescued from high water. Some even by Coast Guard helicopters.
But countless more have been saved by private individuals, which the head of FEMA said could make all the difference.
BROCK LONG, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: 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.
TODD: Private individuals have stepped up, using jet skis, paddles, even canoes to rescue families, carry what little they can with their most precious valuables in plastic bags.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How much water is in your house?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seven feet maybe.
TODD: This comparison by "The New York Times" shows how deep the water is just west of downtown Houston. On the left is a normal day, on the white flooding now.
Flooding will only worsen in the coming days, forecasters say. About 25 inches more rain could fall in addition to about 25 inches that has already come down. More than 6000 victims have already been evacuated to centers in Houston. And authorities are bracing for that to reach up to 30,000 as flooding worsens under the continuing rain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to have to leave. There's just too much water.
TODD: Overnight, authorities made an excruciating choice intentionally releasing water from two dams in West Houston because they're so full.
SEBASTIAN TURNER, HOUSTON MAYOR: If they don't do it, they say they hold back the water and it builds up, and then it will be forced, it will go around Attics (ph) and the situation would be exponentially worse. [02:40:13] TODD: But that means even more floodwaters will hit neighborhoods downstream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to go. The waters coming up fast.
TODD: Residents downstream forced to evacuate, even though their streets are not flooded yet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're giving us to, our time is already out, so we're out.
TODD (on camera): The leader of the rescue team we were with estimates he's pulled hundreds of people from their homes so far. This work is not done yet. Authorities are also telling people in those neighborhoods to put large towels, display large towels outside their windows so rescuers can get to them. Because in these conditions, addresses are almost impossible to find.
Brian Todd, CNN, Houston.
VAUSE: Pastor Terrance Johnson says his Higher Dimensions Church in Houston is trying to partner with the Red Cross to provide shelter and other aid. He joins us now.
Pastor Johnson thanks for spending town with us.
How is everyone doing right now?
PASTOR TERRANCE JOHNSON, HIGHER DIMINSIONS CHURCH: We're trying to make it. Our spirits are good. We'll pressing through it. The toughest thing I've ever seen or experienced since I've been living in Houston. Our spirits are good. We are together. Real strength.
VAUSE: You're not an official shelter but the doors to your church -- and there are three of them -- they're open. How many people are you caring for and how many are you expecting in the coming days as this gets worse.
JOHNSON: One thing we're doing, we were at the convention center today volunteering with the Red Cross, with our mayor and Sheila Jackson Lee and Mayor Sylvester Turner. We're reaching out and partnering with the Red Cross. We over 13 shelters and continuing to add shelters. And so we already rescue 5000 people, you know. And so more have been rescued we don't know about yet. We're just excited about how the city has come together in a time like this. We are really strong because of the community. We have unity in the community. So I'm excited about how Houstonians are helping each other.
VAUSE: It's amazing you can find the positive there. But that is crucial right now. What do you need at the moment? If someone is watching, what could we all do to help?
JOHNSON: I think, as a minister, we need your prayers, you know, so that is so important, that people are praying. And things that we need, socks. We need medical help, those individuals, medical professionals. We need blankets. We need a lot of clothes. We need shoes. So many individuals who came into the shelters without shoes, with wet clothes. We need diapers, wet wipes. Just all those basic necessities that will help a person get through the next couple of days.
VAUSE: By all accounts, it seems the disaster could get worse before it gets better. How are you planning for that? How do you prepare for that?
JOHNSON: I think the way you plan, you know, unity. Making certain that we stand together. What happened, we can't predict the future, though we can prepare to the best of our abilities for it. I think, unity, just consistent communication. As long as the community comes together, bands together, is willing to help each other, tangible as well as entangle, we can make it through it. And so, we are hoping the rain will be leaving and the flood will be receding soon.
VAUSE: From your lips to God's ear.
VAUSE: I think everyone is praying for that as well.
Pastor Johnson, thanks so much for being with us. And continue doing what you're doing. Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thank you so much.
[02:44:43] VAUSE: An update now on a story from our first hour. Celebrity televangelist, Pastor Joel Osteen will be opening his church in Houston, Texas, on Tuesday. And it will offer shelter for the homeless. Pastor Osteen received serious backlash of social media over his response to Tropical Storm Harvey. He issued a statement saying the church was never actually closed but the weekend services had been canceled because of Harvey. And then, on Monday, on Facebook came this post, "Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding. We want to make sure you are safe." A spokesman says several hundred people can be housed inside the mega arena, which seats more than 16,000. The church will also be used as a donation center.
SESAY: Still ahead, with thousands still stranded in Texas, many are asking, were officials prepared for the devastating storm.
VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. Tropical Storm Harvey is unleashing more rain and more flooding days after making landfall as a category 4 hurricane. The deadly storm is regaining strength and could deal Houston another devastating blow in the next few days.
SESAY: Thousands have already been rescued by first responders but many victims are still stranded, desperate for help. Officials are telling residents to hang a towel or sheet outside their window so the emergency crews can spot them.
VAUSE: CNN's national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, is with us now from Boston. She was an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.
Jill, thank you for being with us.
Right now, in Texas, many residents are stuck in these flooded homes without power. The plumbing doesn't work. It's night time. It's pitch dark outside. Clearly, this is terrifying. What are the increased risks they're now facing until first light?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The first is, of course, public safety and public order. It is night time when looting could occur, other crimes occur. You have an overextended first responders and police officers who have been working day and night the last couple of days. So one of the reasons why Governor Abbott brought in the National Guard in full force today was to ensure that you could just keep calm and the peace.
The second increased risk, of course, is to first responders and volunteers. There are things in the water. There are dangers that can't be seen in the dark. Unfortunately, a lot of those rescue missions will be held off for couple hours. People who are stuck in their homes will just sort of have to wait even longer, until daylight tomorrow morning when they can then you begin the process of restarting what still is essentially a recovery effort right now.
VAUSE: Those minutes will seem like hours.
VAUSE: And hours will feel like days right now for those people.
This is unprecedented. There are comparisons made to Katrina, for example, but in your opinion, do you believe the city of Houston and the state of Texas was prepared as best they could be, not just in the days leading up to this disaster, but in the years leading up to Harvey?
[02:50:05] KAYYEM: It is going to be a question that every major city actually has to ask themselves. The short answer is no, simply because sprawl and growth occurred in ways that they did not imagine or prepare for, not simply a storm like this once a year, but storms like these are just consistently coming. And so, you know, it's very difficult for cities to plan ahead for the kinds of threat that they may be seeing, in particular, because of climate change or oceans and water that bring this kind of damage. Nonetheless, I have been impressed so far with the local, state and, of course, the federal response to, given the situation they had. I heard one of the emergency managers say we're doing the best we can with what we got. And a lot of times, in disaster management -- I certainly know this -- you have to judge success by whether the workers can mitigate the worst of damages. Knock on wood here, but we have some fatalities, but these are not catastrophic numbers. And that's the primary goal here, is to save lives. And to the extent that they can keep that number down, I would say the preparation I definitely were successful.
VAUSE: President Trump plans to visit the region on Tuesday. That is flexible. It could change. The White House says he's taking measures to minimize any impact on emergency crews and law enforcement. Regardless of what they do, it will still be disruptive, right?
KAYYEM: It is. This isn't political, because I worked for President Obama who visited the BP oil spill states when I was working that disaster. He came five times. And every time, anyone who has worked a disaster says, why does he have to come now. This is just the nature of that the tension between politics, which are necessary in a disaster and the role of the leader, and those out in the field who have to get the work done. I was pleased to hear that Governor Abbott and the president will be off site, won't be close to the images that we're seeing right now. And some ways, it does help galvanize the troops. They are exhausted. They have been working nonstop. So long as that that's the purpose, and it does not disrupt operations, it's not something that I'm too worried about. You know, we have to remember this is an ongoing disaster right now. It's not like we're in recovery stage. It's raining right now and we're still in the recovery stage.
VAUSE: The cost-benefit analysis to be done. Having the president on scene, showing support, engaged, it could be a morale booster. Can send a positive message?
KAYYEM: It can. I would prefer for the president maybe to show up at FEMA, the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in D.C., show his operational expertise in this regard, and save the visit until later in the week. The rains have not stopped. And that means that the kind of out moisture and flooding that we've seen is just going to be ongoing, at least -- according to the weather reports, at least through mid week. Look, I've learned, being in disaster management, that when a president or governor says they want to do something, you basically -- it will happen.
VAUSE: He is the commander-in-chief.
OK, Juliette, good to see you. Thank you so much.
KAYYEM: Thank you so much.
VAUSE: We'll take a short break. When we come back, a warning from an alligator expert to Houston residents. They are not the only ones seeking refuge from Harvey's floods.
[02:55:17] SESAY: Troubling news. Houston residents already pushed to the limit by Harvey are being told there are more than boats in the floodwater.
VAUSE: Alligators apparently don't like big storms any more than we do and now comes a warning from the Gator Country Rescue Park in Southeast Texas, expected a gator breakout.
CNN's Drew Griffin has details.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: So what's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED GATOR COUNTRY RESCUE PARK WORKER: This is gator country. We're actually kind of a refuge for alligators that are called nuisance alligators, where they are in people's pools, ponds or backyard. We try to give them a refuge here. We let them live here. Ever since three days ago, we've been working hard to catch a lot of these alligators that have been outside. We won't catch every one of them. We've got a lot in holding facilities. But we still have some alligators in these fences. These fences are about to go underwater. This tropical storm will not give up. It just keeps pounding us and pounding us. It's going to be days before this recedes.
GRIFFIN: So these gators, will they leave because the water is too high and it goes over the fence?
UNIDENTIFIED GATOR COUNTRY RESCUE PARK WORKER: Absolutely. There's no question about it. When you've got regulation-sized fences, and they're over the top level, some of these alligators, there's no question, some are going to get out.
The good news is, here's in southeast Texas, everyone is used to living with alligators. We have over a million alligators on the Texas/Louisiana gulf coast. We've got a bunch. Everyone is used to it. Everyone knows gator safety, how to stay away from them. Try to stay away from them.
However, there's no question, we're going to have a few of our gators get out.
VAUSE: The last thing they need.
SESAY: The last thing.
Our thanks to Drew Griffin for that.
I didn't hear any good news in that piece.
You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.
VAUSE: I'm John Vause.
The news continues next with Rosemary Church, in Atlanta.
You're watching CNN, the world's news leader.
[03:00:06] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: North Korea launches a missile that flies over Japan and lands in the sea. South Korea responds with a warning staging --