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Interview With Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro; Interview With New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; Trump in Texas; North Korea Fires Missile Over Japan; Record-Breaking 51 Inches of Rain Near Houston. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 29, 2017 - 18:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: staggering destruction. Tonight, stunning new glimpses of the flooding in Texas, as record-breaking rainfall swallows home after home, block after block.

Officials are now warning that bridges and roads could collapse and some houses could be underwater for weeks.

Beyond measure. We are following urgent rescue operations on the ground and in the air in real time. The scope of this disaster so big, it is still not clear how many people remain trapped and in danger right now.

No congratulations yet. President Trump visits Texas promising to wait before he praises his team and himself until all storm victims get relief. How is he doing in this early test of his leadership through a natural disaster?

And saber-rattling. After Kim Jong-un's most provocative missile test yet, President Trump says once again that all options are on the table. Stand by for CNN's exclusive reporting both inside North Korea and on America's last line of defense against a missile attack.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: And we are following the breaking news on this catastrophic flooding in Texas. Right now, rescuers are racing to take advantage of the last hours of daylight before victims face one more night in dangerous rising waters.

In Houston alone, at least 3,500 people have been rescued so far, but many others are still desperate to reach safer ground four days after Hurricane Harvey hit land. Houston police confirming tonight that one of their own died in the flooding. At least 12 deaths are believed to be connected to the disaster.

Authorities, however, expect that number to climb. The deluge continues shattering records. More than 51 inches of rain has fallen in the Houston area. More is coming as Harvey is expected to make a second land fall tomorrow. Reservoirs are overflowing. Levees have been breached, prompting new orders for residents to get out now.

More than 17,000 people have fled to shelters across the state of Texas and escaped immediate danger, but are now facing cramped and stressful conditions.

The disaster spreading into East Louisiana, and parts of the state are bracing for more heavy rain and flooding in the hours ahead. Tonight, President Trump is promising that storm recovery under his administration will be better than ever before. He made a quick trip to Texas, meeting with officials in Austin and Corpus Christi. The White House says that he stayed away from the flood zones to avoid getting in the way of those rescue efforts.

This hour, I will speak with Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Our correspondents and specialists also standing by.

First, though, to CNN's Brian Todd in Houston.

Brian, I know you have been out with the Customs and Border Protection officials airlifting victims to safety. How many did you see in need out there tonight?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we saw dozens in need, and this unit has rescued hundreds of people from flooded homes.

We have been flying all day with this unit, the Air and Marine operations Unit of Customs and Border Protection, flying in such poor conditions, filming in such poor conditions that the inside of our camera lens have developed some condensation, as you can see.

These guys have operated at a furious pace, often pulling people from their homes in very dramatic fashion.


TODD (voice-over): From the air, this is what Houston looks like to responders urgently trying to rescue flood victims, inundated houses, roadways and businesses stretching in all directions.

CNN rode along with the Customs and Border Protection agents in the Air and Marine Operations Unit as they piloted helicopters to save people in some of the worst-hit areas.

In our Black Hawk, we hover next to another helicopter as a hoist is lowered. Six people and a dog were lifted out in that one operation. Other victims have been rescued by hoist, like this rooftop rescue on Monday of four people.

In one of those neighborhoods, we touch down in a sliver of a parking lot that's not flooded. And our first wave of evacuees is hurried onto the chopper. (on camera): We just landed in a very heavily flooded neighborhood

north of Houston and picked up nine people, cramming everybody they can into this chopper.

(voice-over): One 80-year-old victim told us there is waist-high water in her house and she lost everything. She was evacuated by boat to a collection point, then by helicopter from there.

(on camera): What would you have done if these guys hadn't shown up?

LAURA COX, FLOOD VICTIM: Well, we would have had to go to the attic. And I don't know what would have happened. They're lifesavers.


TODD: (voice-over): Aerial rescues like this operation using a hoist and a basket are particularly challenging and in these conditions with each flight, these agents have to deal with significant danger.

OSCAR PERU, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: You have multiple aircraft doing the same thing in the same vicinity, right? Low visibility and then also going in there and pulling the people out of, you know, the water that's 40 feet high.

TODD: Crews have rescued more than 3,500 people in Houston alone. As they race to save as many victims as they can, authorities are telling victims, hang in there.

ACEVEDO: Don't give up on us. Seek the higher ground. We will get to you. We have assets. At every passing hour, more boats are getting in the water.

TODD: In Baytown east of Houston, Hunter Lombard thanked first responders as they evacuated his mother in a dump truck.

HUNTER LOMBARD, FLOOD VICTIM: We knew it was going to be rough, but I wasn't expecting all this.

TODD: Authorities say more than 17,000 people have evacuated to shelters, more of them half of them at the Houston Convention Center, and more are still coming.

In Brazoria County, closer to the coast, a levee was reported breached, which could worsen the flooding there. And the Addicks Reservoir west of Houston began spilling over today. It has already flooded more than 2,000 homes and it will keep rising for the next day or two.

JEFF LINDNER, HARRIS COUNTY FLOOD CONTROL: The streets are going to be flooding. They will continue to flood. New streets will continue to flood. New homes will continue to flood.

TODD: Flooding along the Gulf Coast now stretches from Galveston, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana and beyond.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: And, of course, the rescue efforts are complicated by the fact that authorities don't seem to have an accurate count of how many people are still out there needing rescue, how many people are out there still stranded in their homes.

CNN has pressed officials in many jurisdictions about that. They simply haven't been able to give us estimates, because, of course, calls keep coming in and these rescue operations have to keep adapting -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: And it's a fair question. If they don't know how many, how do they know where to go to rescue those people? It's still an unending challenge there, Brian Todd.

Tonight, one of the worst disasters in American history taking a toll on Houston police. Listen to the department's chief talking about Sergeant Steve Perez, who drowned trying to get to his station after Hurricane Harvey struck.


ART ACEVEDO, HOUSTON POLICE CHIEF: It was too treacherous to go under and look for him.

So, we made a decision to leave officers there waiting until the morning, because as much as we wanted to recover him last night, we could not put more officers at risk for what we knew in our hearts was going to be a recovery mission.


SCIUTTO: Those first-responders suffering some of the hardest risk there. Sergeant Perez was a 34-year veteran of the Houston Police Department. He died two days after his 61st birthday.

Just a short while ago, Houston police tweeted this photo, saying they have their hearts -- their hearts are heavy, but they're going to get through this loss.

Certainly a lot of need tonight from them. Tonight, the Pentagon mobilizing troops to help with disaster operations, including as many as 30,000 additional National Guard forces available when and if they are called.

Let's get to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's in Friendswood, Texas, just outside of Houston.

Ed, I know you have been with the rescuers since the very beginning. What are you seeing there now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're here in Friendswood, which is southeast of Houston.

It is kind of a vivid reminder this isn't just a devastating story affecting just the city of Houston, but that it's widespread across the region. Friendswood here, small town, as I said, southeast of Houston, on the way to Galveston Island, in the last 24 hours we are told by officials here that more than 2,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and you still see a lot of these evacuation and rescue efforts being conducted by all these volunteers showing up in their own boats, many of them flat-bottom boats like that.

In fact, if you look back here down this particular street that we're standing on, there is another gentleman putting in a boat right now as we speak to go back into these neighborhoods, Jim, and to continue those searches.

A lot of rescuers I have spoken with here throughout the day today say that they have been going into these neighborhoods and they feel that for the most part everyone that wants to come out has been coming out. They feel very confident they have a pretty good handle at least in this particular area of Friendswood, and in various other smaller communities that we have been to around in this area.

A lot of other people who are staying behind are doing so by their own free will, either to protect their belongings or look out for their neighbors' belongings or just otherwise being somewhat stubborn. So, they say that they worry that more rain tonight, if that is indeed what falls on this area, could change that dramatically.

We have seen a great deal of rain earlier in the day. The last couple of hours has tapered off a little bit, so that's a sliver of good news. But many folks here are still anticipating perhaps some more rain and wondering and fearing exactly how that might change the situation in these already flooded areas -- Jim.


SCIUTTO: Yes, you have to think this is not a time to be stubborn. Get to safety when you can get to safety. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

President Trump has wrapped up a quick trip to Texas, where officials briefed him on the unfolding flood disaster there.

Let's get to CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray.

Sara, what did the president and the people with him get out of this visit there?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this is really an opportunity for the president to go there to see some of this for himself and to acknowledge this is going to be a long recovery effort, and reassure residents there that Washington has your back.

Along the way, he made some lofty promises, including saying he wants the response and cleanup effort in Hurricane Harvey to be a model for future natural disasters.


MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump traveling to storm-ravaged Texas today to offer some reassurances to the Lone Star State.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody. I just want to say we love you. You are special. We're here to take care.

MURRAY: Touring a local emergency operations center.

TRUMP: The world is watching and the world is very impressed with what you're doing.

MURRAY: And vowing to local officials that they will have the federal support they need.

TRUMP: We're going to be working with Congress on helping out the state of Texas. It's going to be a costly proposition. Probably there's never been anything so expensive in our country's history.

MURRAY: Texas Governor Greg Abbott praised the Trump administration's response so far, saying federal officials have kept a low profile, but offered vital assistance behind the scenes.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: The president and his Cabinet remain in constant contact with me and my staff, and they all had one thing to say. Texas, what do you need? How can we help? You can count on us.

MURRAY: Trump treading carefully in Texas, stopping short of declaring a job well done, as thousands of evacuees remain in storm shelters and Harvey's rain moves toward Louisiana.

TRUMP: We won't say congratulations. We don't want to do that. We don't want to congratulate. We will congratulate each other when it's all finished. Thank you for coming out.

MURRAY: But even he couldn't resist a moment to marvel at the crowds who came out mostly to cheer the president's visit.

TRUMP: Thank you, everybody. What a crowd. What a turnout.

MURRAY: Trump's tour of Texas just days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, marking a grim milestone in his young presidency, the first major natural disaster he has presided over, marshaling federal assistance and offering words of comfort and resilience.

TRUMP: I will tell you, this is historic. It's epic, what happened. But you know what? It happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.

MURRAY: The White House carefully selected sites to stop on Tuesday to avoid disruptions in areas where search-and-rescue operations are still under way. But navigating storm damage and a lengthy expensive recovery effort is just one of the crises confronting the Trump administration this week.

After North Korea launched a missile over Japan, Trump spoke with the Japanese prime minister and said they mutually agreed to put more pressure on North Korea. The president issuing a statement, saying, "Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime's isolation in the region and among all nations of the world. All options are on the table."


MURRAY: Now, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is one that is still plaguing so many families and the president has made clear this trip to Texas today will not be his last visit. He is, in fact, planning to return this weekend to Texas as well as to Louisiana -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray at the White House, thanks very much.

Tonight, thousands of storm evacuees are finding shelter in cities well outside of Houston, in Dallas, Fort Worth, as well as in San Antonio.

We are joined now by Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro. He is in San Antonio.

Congressman Castro, I know that your city has done a great deal to help take in the many evacuees from the Houston area. How many are you seeing and how many more do you expect to see?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, over the course of the last several days, we have seen thousands, many of them were in the first wave that got hit from Corpus Christi and the Gulf Coast, Victoria.

So, they came over to San Antonio. The challenge for a lot of people living in Houston is that the storm originally was not supposed to go there. In fact, San Antonio was supposed to get hit. And for the most part, we have been spared a lot of or hardly any damage.

And, so, a lot of folks in Houston didn't evacuate and didn't come to San Antonio or to other cities. But the mayor in San Antonio has worked with the Mayor Turner in Houston and offered anything that we can do to help. And I believe that we have sent supplies and manpower to be helpful in Houston already.

SCIUTTO: We have talked to a number of the evacuees who have been told they may not be able to return to their homes for weeks, possibly months. Is San Antonio prepared to take in these evacuees for some time now?


CASTRO: We absolutely are.

In fact, yesterday, San Antonio offered to take in 10,000 evacuees right away. We did the same thing after Hurricane Katrina as folks had to flee New Orleans. And, so, this city, just like other cities in Texas and around the country, will step up in any way that it can to help the people of Houston.

SCIUTTO: We see so many examples of that, average citizens, neighbors helping neighborhoods. It's been remarkable to watch. One thing that's been difficult for us to get a handle on, and it

seems like authorities just don't know, is how many more people are in need of rescue. You see these kind of piecework rescue operations. You have the first-responders, but you also have citizen soldiers, as it were, going out and doing rescues.

But we haven't been able to hear an estimate of how many people are still stranded in their homes. Have you heard from the authorities the scale of the rescues that still need to be done?

CASTRO: I have not heard a specific number. But based on everything I have heard, I suspect that it's in the thousands.

And also now what you're facing is a situation or challenge with secondary effects. The longer that this storm goes on, the more people who need medical attention because they are on dialysis or diabetic and they're running out of medicines. People who stocked up on food even, or who didn't stock up on food are running out of food.

It becomes not just a challenge with the water, but also with the secondary effects of this flood, and the situation just gets worse.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I read that something more than 100 people have a baby every day in Houston. You have people going into labor, I imagine, facing those kinds of things.

CASTRO: Right.

SCIUTTO: Do you believe that Texas Governor Abbott is utilizing all available resources? I know, for instance, the U.S. military is still standing at the ready if need be to send in more National Guardsmen, for instance.

CASTRO: I'm glad that the governor first worked with the members of the Congress and asked the president for the disaster declaration for Texas, that he marshaled the Texas National Guard to help out.

Now all 12,000 Guardsmen are working in Houston and the surrounding areas on search-and-rescue and, unfortunately, in some cases on recovery. And, so, I think that the governor has stepped forward to do everything that he can to be helpful and to marshal the state's resources and also ask the federal government to do its part.

I will say, Jim, that when we go back to Congress, that Texas is going to need probably a supplemental aid package of billions, tens of billions of dollars, and also that the Congress needs to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, which is set to expire on September 30th.

SCIUTTO: And that may be a challenge. A lot of competing priorities as you go back from the recess in terms of budget, including the president's promise to shut down the government if he doesn't get money for his -- for the wall.

Congressman Castro, we know you and your team and your constituents are doing great work there. We support you. Thanks for taking the time tonight.

CASTRO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead, more on the rain and flooding still being unleashed by Harvey and the danger in the days ahead. I will speak with the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, about the flooding threat in Louisiana right now exactly 12 years after Hurricane Katrina.



SCIUTTO: We're back with our breaking news coverage of the storm in Texas. These are live pictures now.

This scene being played out across the state, rescues still under way. We were just told that thousands more, it is believed, are in need of rescue across Texas. The disaster now extending in the neighboring Louisiana, four days after hitting the coast as a hurricane, Harvey about to do even more damage.



SCIUTTO: Tonight, New Orleans at risk for devastating floods exactly 12 years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall there.

We are joined now by the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu.

Mayor, thanks for taking the time tonight.

MITCH LANDRIEU (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: Thank you for having me, Jim. I appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Now, Mayor, I know I don't have to talk to someone from New Orleans about the experience with devastating storms. But as this storm takes that turn to the east towards Louisiana, what are the conditions like right now?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, before I begin, our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody in Houston. Those images that everybody is seeing right now were very real to us 12 years ago. We lost 1,800 people.

And so Houston and all of Texas has gone through just a dramatic, probably the most catastrophic storm that the United States has seen. So, we're thinking about them. And as soon as we clear free here, we're going to be over there helping them like the rest of the country and the world helped us.

That weather pattern that you just saw actually has actually gotten a little bit better for us in the last couple of days as that storm kind of starts going northeast. And it's starting to move at a fairly decent clip now. If something sits over you at two miles an hour, it causes dramatic

interest. But we're ready for it. The rain impacts have been less than we expected, but what we've gotten, we've been able to handle. And we're prepared for what's coming our way.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure you are. I do understand that the pump systems responsible for keeping New Orleans dry, that they have suffered some technical failures this year. Is that a concern as the rainfall comes your way?

LANDRIEU: Well, that's always a concern. But what we have received over the past couple of days, we have been more than capable of handling.

And, of course, we have been preparing the entire season for a particular event like this. So, we feel pretty good about it, but as the weather service will tell you, these things changed dramatically. We watched them hour to hour, minute to minute.

Some of the things that we thought were going to come our way, fortunately, for us, did not make it. Unfortunately, for Texas, that storm sat over them. And, unfortunately, I don't think that they're seeing necessarily the worst of it, not only just from a rainfall, but an interior flooding perspective.

So, we continue to watch. We continue to be prepared. The governor and I have worked very closely with FEMA and with the White House to make sure that we are prepared, but we feel like we're in fairly good shape. But you always knock on wood when you say that, because we have seen what can happen 12 years ago.

And, unfortunately, Houston is suffering the worst of it right now.

SCIUTTO: Yes, sadly, storms turn. They change direction. They can strengthen, I suppose.

I know that, during Katrina, and I don't always look back, but I know you learned a lot of lessons from Katrina. You have those famous images of people packed into the Superdome to find shelter. Does New Orleans have the shelter resources it needs if evacuations are called for?


Well, first of all, the entire state does. And, of course, we don't expect to have to call an evacuation, voluntary or mandatory, based on the weather patterns that we see right now. But in the event that the storm should turn, or if that thing backs off the coast and turns into something else, we feel like that we have the time to prepare for it.

But as you can see, the weather patterns right now, we're not really in the heart of it as we speak. If that changes overnight, we will be prepared to make different decisions.

SCIUTTO: I know that the decision about evacuation is difficult for any city officials. You don't know which areas are going to be hardest hit. Houston, of course, the mayor made the decision not to evacuate the -- story -- based on that, because before the storm came, they didn't know which areas were going to be flooded the worst.

Do you think Houston made the right call?

LANDRIEU: Listen, I would never second-guess a local representative or a local official on that call. You have to really make the call based on the best information you have from the weather service in partnership with your homeland security and with your governor at that time.

It just -- any storm like this, as I think the weather service said a minute ago, would inundate a city if it was just 10 inches. I think Houston got 50. Very, very difficult call and make. You can make it right, you can make it wrong. It's hard. But you really have to rely on the local officials who have the best information at that time.

SCIUTTO: Mitch Landrieu, we know you have got possibly some tough days coming ahead. We hope the storm goes past your great city, but we will continue to follow the story.

LANDRIEU: Jim, thank you so much.

We appreciate you all's support.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead, more breaking news: an urgent struggle under way to rescue people from the floodwaters submerging much of Houston, but after record rainfall, more rain on the way.

And President Trump responds to Kim Jong-un's latest missile launch, warning that all options are on the table. But now North Korea is upping the ante, calling its launch a prelude to more military options aimed at the U.S. territory of Guam.


SCIUTTO: Breaking tonight, weather officials say that more than 51 inches of rain has now fallen in the Houston area. That is a record- breaking amount. It's a new measure of catastrophic flooding that's so vast it can be difficult to comprehend.

[18:35:08] Take a hard look at the scenes of devastation here. Water appearing to stretch for miles -- and it does -- consuming homes, cars, entire neighborhoods, leaving only the tree tops visible in some places. Thousands have been rescued, but many are still trapped tonight, waiting for help to arrive.

We spoke to a Texas congressman earlier. He believes that thousands more still need rescue.

We heard President Trump today promising Texans that, under his administration, storm rescue and recovery efforts are going to be stronger than ever before.

Listen to Mr. Trump talking with the crowd in Corpus Christi, Texas, just a short time ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We love you. You are special. We're here to take care. It's going well. And I want to thank you for coming out. We're going to get you back and operating immediately. Thank you, everybody. What a crowd, what a turnout.

This is historic. It's epic what happened. But, you know what? It happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything. Thank you all, folks. Thank you. Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Flag of the Lone Star State there.

Let's bring in our correspondents and specialists.

David Axelrod, if I could begin with you, by any measure, this is a test of the Trump administration. Major, really unprecedented natural disaster. From your seat, how do you think he's doing?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, there are a couple of dimensions to presidential leadership in -- in disasters like this. And this is, by any measure, a major disaster and very hard to handle.

One is, are you doing those things kind of governmentally that need to be done to respond? Are you cooperating with the state and local authorities? Are you providing the resources that are necessary? Are you getting the assets there that you can that can be helpful?

By that measure, it seems like things are going pretty well. You heard the governor of Texas speaking to that today in the meeting that the president had in Corpus Christi.

But there's another dimension to presidential leadership, and that's the dimension of empathy. Now, the clip you just played in Corpus Christi, which was later than that meeting, edged up to empathy, but you have a system -- you have a situation here where I think 15 people have died. You've got thousands and thousands of people who are dispossessed, who are in shelters and who are wondering what the future is going to hold. You have thousands of people still waiting to be rescued. This is a major disaster.

And I was struck listening to Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans. The first thing he did was extend his thoughts and prayers to those people who have experienced great loss and were still in an extremely difficult situation. And you just wanted the president of the United States to do some of that, to say instead of, "We're doing a great job. You know, it's not time to congratulate ourselves yet," but, you know, hinting that that will come down the line and so on.

How about this unbelievable human tragedy? Because presidents are supposed to be there for us in those moments, to lift the nation up, to lift the affected up, and to express on the -- on behalf of the nation a strong -- a strong sense of identification with those people. He just can't get there. He can't get past himself completely and be that empathetic leader that we need.

So, I'd say on the technique, fine. On the empathy, he still has a ways to go.

SCIUTTO: David mentions that moment there when the president is sitting next to the Texas governor, Abbott. Said, you know, "We'll congratulate each other later," almost couldn't -- chomping at the bit to that moment of self-congratulation.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, Bill Clinton in Oklahoma City, George W. Bush with the bullhorn after 9/11, Barack Obama singing "Amazing Grace," I mean, you have -- those who have covered it, and just Americans who have lived it have those moments of empathy, of the consoler in chief arriving sort of seared in our mind.

That's not who Donald Trump is. And to be fair, I think David is right, that that is the traditional role that we've seen of presidents, certainly, in recent history, of being the consoler in chief. And he's -- you know, Donald Trump is not warm and fuzzy; and that isn't how he sold himself. He did sell himself as a can-do guy.

So, the idea that he is chomping at the bit to congratulate himself, I think that's probably how he should be measured, because that's what he cares about, and at the end of the day, that really is what matters. Can the federal government and the local government, the state government, come through for all these people who are in need?

[18:40:04] SCIUTTO: And let's be clear. One thing we know, this is very early in this natural disaster. The rain may be fading in Houston, but the waters are still rising; and we had Congressman Castro say a short time ago that he believes thousands are still awaiting rescue. You have lives still in danger.

But Kaitlan Collins, this is Trump country. We saw him there raising the -- waving the lone star flag, and he got some cheers, as he was there in Texas. Were they happy to see the president come visit?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think so. I mean, we saw that whenever he came out of that briefing that he had today when he first landed in Corpus Christi, there were tons of people cheering and waving flags. He might not have gotten the same reception in Austin.

But regardless, the people are happy that the president is there. He's not in those areas that were the hardest hit by these floods.

But this can really define a presidency with people. We saw that with George W. Bush and Hurricane Katrina just 12 summers ago, because it really comes down to two things, and that's optics and logistics.

And with President George W. Bush, we saw him with the photo that everyone remembers of him looking out of Air Force One at the damage down below, which people thought made him seem detached from the destruction. And then logistically, his other failure was he had a FEMA administrator who was unprepared, underestimated the storm.

So, I think the Trump administration is certainly trying to learn from those mistakes. I mean, the president took his trip down there today. He made it very clear that it was important for him to get down there as soon as possible. And he has a FEMA administrator, Brock Long, who has been widely praised. He has a lot of history in emergency management.

So it does seem like they're trying to really turn the tide and make this work in their favor and do the right thing here.

SCIUTTO: The president said this morning...

AXELROD: Hey, Jim, if I could -- Jim?

SCIUTTO: Sure, sure, David, just quickly because I do want to get to the other David on the Russia investigation.

AXELROD: Yes, yes, if I could just make one small point. He wasn't in the hardest hit area, and he shouldn't have been; and he deserves credit for not going there. Because when a president travels, a lot of assets travel with him, and they need all the assets focused on rescue and relief.

SCIUTTO: And you're right, and that was intentional that they went to -- they went outside the storm's center, because they didn't want to create a distraction.

On any other day, news broken here on CNN that Donald Trump Jr. is going to give testimony, in effect, a transcribed interview with the Senate Intelligence -- Senate Judiciary Committee, rather, would be fairly remarkable. It is still remarkable. How significant is this?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's significant. Obviously, it's not what we're all focused on today, but in the coming days and weeks this will return to the Russia investigation. And this is significant. Right?

At one point Donald Trump Jr. was saying he was happy to go ahead and testify before Congress. Now this is -- he is speaking to members of Congress on the record, but it won't be before cameras. The American people won't get to judge his demeanor for themselves.

And it depends on whether or not the specifics of this closed-door meeting with senators, with Senate staff will be made available to the press and public so that people can evaluate what they think is the link between...

SCIUTTO: And the focus of this is going to be that Trump Tower meeting where the Russians promised...

BASH: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: ... damaging information on Hillary Clinton. He took the meeting. Just quickly before we go. BASH: And we've all kind of become desensitized to this. The fact

that a sitting president's son and namesake is going to testify on Capitol Hill voluntarily, willingly, about a federal probe in addition to this as a congressional probe, is pretty unbelievable.

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. We're going to be following it closely as it comes up next month.

David, David, Dana, Kaitlan, thanks very much.

Just ahead, more of the breaking news in the Texas flooding and the forecast for the days ahead.

And we're getting breaking news out of North Korea tonight. Kim Jong- un's regime making new threats after its provocative missile launch over Japan. We have an exclusive report, and that's right after this break.


[18:48:24] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: We are following multiple breaking stories this hour. Stand by for more on the flooding catastrophe in Texas.

Right now, we have breaking news out of North Korea. Kim Jong-un's regime following up on a provocative missile launch over Japan by making a new threat aimed at the United States.

CNN's Will Ripley is the only Western journalist inside North Korea right now.

Will, what are we learning?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, just within the last hour, North Korea finally publicly confirmed information about that launch over Japan. They confirmed the kind of missile, the Hwasong-12, this is the kind of missile that a few weeks ago, North Korea said that they would use to launch toward the U.S. territory of Guam, home to 160,000 plus American citizens and Naval Base Guam and Anderson Air Force Base.

Also significant, and North Korean officials telling CNN here in Pyongyang that this launch was essentially a prelude for future military options aimed at containing Guam, in their words. And they also said they expect to conduct more launches of this particular kind of missile which has a range of at least 2,300 miles, according to estimates. They are going to launch this kind of missile toward the Pacific Ocean in the future. So, North Korea following up on their highly provocative test with more highly provocative rhetoric, not ruling out launching missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam. How the United States and President Trump will respond, well, we have yet to see.

We have also yet to see if North Korea really means it when they say they're going to now start launching more of this kind of missile. But the sense that we are getting here, they are very confident about how the launch went off. They feel that technically, it did exactly what they wanted it to do.

[18:50:00] It flew over northern Japan, the territory of Hokkaido, terrifying residents who woke up to air raid sirens and heard messages on their phone and that missile went down in the Pacific Ocean, in an area that North Korea says it was intended to go down.

Will they step this up further and start firing those missiles south as opposed to northeast that they did yesterday, we have to wait and see, Jim. But certainly, this is another escalation and not just rhetoric. North Korea saying that they will be testing more of these Hwasong-12 missiles.

SCIUTTO: And these missiles, intermediate range ballistic missiles, according to the Pentagon's initial assessment, that is the kind of missile, is it not, that North Korea when it made its previous threat against Guam said it was going to use?

RIPLEY: Exactly right. They said they would launch three of these missiles simultaneously. Fly them over Japan and put them down within 20 miles of Guam. I actually saw this kind of missile firsthand back in April. It was unveiled for the first time at the Day of the Sun military parade here in Pyongyang and it's the kind of missile they roll out on a mobile missile launcher.

North Korea also confirming that they launched these missiles from the airport here in the capital of Pyongyang, a highly populated area, and yet another reason why this launch was different from many of the others.

SCIUTTO: Will Ripley in North Korea, thanks very much.

And we will have more breaking news right after this.


[18:55:57] SCIUTTO: We are following breaking news.

North Korea just now following up its missile launch over Japan by issuing a new threat directly against the U.S. And with that threat comes the very real possibility that the U.S. one day may have to try to stop an incoming North Korean missile attack. It's last line of defense is in a remote part of Alaska.

CNN national correspondent Kyung Lah was given rare access to those ground-based interceptor missiles. She joins us now with her exclusive report.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this is a unit that is never off, hopes never to be used and says that they are the only protection should North Korea fire a missile against America.


LAH (voice-over): This is America's final shield, the last and only protection against an incoming North Korean nuclear missile. Housed deep underground in the heart of Alaska's wilderness at Fort Greely, about 150 miles north of Fairbanks. The heavily armed 49th Missile Defense Battalion secures 38 missile silos, dotting a landscape frigid even in late summer. The tip barely revealing what lies beneath.

We're allowed rare access to bring you up close to America's ground- based missile interceptors or GBIs.

COL. ORLANDO ORTEGA, COMMANDER, 49TH MISSILE DEFENSE BATTALION: This is what will be launched here out of Fort Greely to intercept any threat that's coming into the defended homeland.

LAH (on camera): the key piece of equipment is right here.

ORTEGA: The kill vehicle is right there towards the top.

LAH (voice-over): The kill vehicle, to take down any potential intercontinental ballistic missile coming to the U.S., including from North Korea which the U.S. could face in the future.

Here's how it works. North Korea launches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impact location is Los Angeles. We are engaging this threat at this time.

LAH: Instantly activating a secured room in Fort Greely. What you're seeing now is a drill, declassified, so we could show you generally how the ground-based interceptors work to protect the U.S.

COL. KEVIN KICK, COMMANDER, 100TH MISSILE DEFENSE BRIGADE: As the alarms would go off, what you'd see is the white shells that you see behind us would separate extremely quickly and then immediately, you'd see a flash of flame as that GBI would leave the tube at a really incredible rate of speed.

LAH: Outside the earth's atmosphere in space, if it works the interceptor kills the incoming nuclear weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We train to shoot a bullet at a bullet and destroy it so it doesn't destroy us.

LAH (on camera): Have the drills this year taken on a new meaning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What that does is just makes it more real for us because now I've got a leader of a foreign country who says I'm going to take my missile and I'm going to kill your citizens with it.

LAH: What kind of confidence do you have if North Korea launches a missile that this system would work?

KICK: I have 100 percent confidence this system will work.

LAH (voice-over): That's despite a 60 percent success rate. Out of 18 test launches, the interceptors have only struck its target ten times in controlled launches.

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R), ALASKA: Just because we have had some failures doesn't mean we're not learning. LAH: Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan believes the interceptors are still

America's best shot as a last defense as North Korea works closer to being able to strike the U.S. mainland, introducing a bill boosting the number of missiles to a total of 72, setting the possibility of 100 missile interceptors. So far, a cost of $40 billion to taxpayers.

SULLIVAN: Doing nothing in the face of this threat when we clearly have the capability to make sure we have a very protected homeland is not an acceptable option, and I think most Americans would agree with me on that.


LAH: So, what about the argument that North Korea will never strike, that this is all just a bargaining chip? Well, Senator Sullivan says the flaw in that thinking is, it assumes that Kim Jong-un is rational. He says this is expensive, Jim, but an important insurance policy -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Kyung Lah, thanks very much.

I'm Jim Sciutto. Thanks very much for watching.

CNN's breaking news coverage of the Texas flooding continues right now -- "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".