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Live Images from Navy Helicopter Over Beaumont, Texas; Lawmaker Assesses Situation in Texas, Interview with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D) Texas. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 30, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. In the deluge. Tropical Storm Harvey hammers communities near the Texas- Louisiana border. The Port Arthur mayor says his entire city is under water. An emergency shelter and a nursing home are flooded, and officials are pleading for more rescue boats.
[17:00:21] Rescue mission. Emergency workers and volunteers take their boats door to door, evacuating people trapped by the flooding. Our crews are out on the water with live coverage.
Death toll rising. As the sun finally breaks through over parts of the disaster zone and some waters recede, rescuers find more bodies. The storm's death toll now up to 28 and is expected to rise.
And pushing tax cuts. As the debate begins on how to pay for the recovery in Texas and Louisiana, President Trump hits the road, calling for sweeping tax cuts. Right now he's only offering an outline. Does anyone have the actual numbers?
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: The breaking news: Urgent rescues are under way right now in southeast Texas after Tropical Storm Harvey made a second landfall in nearby Louisiana. Harvey is finally moving on, but not quickly enough. It dumped 26 inches of rain in the past 24 hours alone on Port Arthur, Texas.
The mayor today declared, quote, "Our whole city is under water." That includes a nursing home where floodwaters trapped residents there for hours. Also flooded, a shelter which evacuees had to abandon after the water rose right under their cots. Police are pleading now for more rescue boats.
The governor of Texas says the disaster region is far larger than that of Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy. One-third of the Houston area now submerged.
The full scope of the catastrophe revealed as the sun came out today for the first time over the city. First responders and volunteers are going door to door in small boats, evacuating people trapped by the floods. Houston's police chief says there have been some 60,000 to 70,000 calls for help.
The flood waters could remain for weeks in some areas, and FEMA has called for volunteers to save houses when those waters finally recede. Fourteen thousand Texas National Guard troops have been activated, and the governor says 10,000 more are on the way from other states. We'll hear from flood advisers and local officials; and our correspondents, specialists and guests, standing by with full coverage of the breaking news.
And take a look at this right now. These are live pictures. A CNN exclusive, our Martin Savidge on this Navy helicopter here, which is flying search-and-rescue missions over Beaumont, Texas. Right there, one of those lucky enough to be saved aboard that helicopter right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven people...
SCIUTTO: Crews from on board that helicopter, those people you're seeing there, have just been lifted to safety by a Navy helicopter. That Navy helicopter still over those floodwaters looking for more of the many Texas residents who are still trapped by the floodwaters.
Let's go straight to Texas now, and that's where CNN senior correspondent Drew Griffin is in hard-hit Beaumont, Texas.
Drew, tell us what the conditions are there now. We know that earlier you saw some rescues underway.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: They're happening all over the place. The good news is Harvey is finally moving on. The rain has abated, almost stopped. But don't let that fool you.
The danger, the crisis, continues all across Southeast Texas right now with rescues in many places, water still rising. This emergency, Jim, is still on.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): A deepening humanitarian crisis in Houston and throughout Southeast Texas. Amid the historic flooding, victims are fleeing to shelters, convention halls, churches. Even a bowling alley and a furniture store now house flood victims.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They said water was rising, time to go. So that's what we did.
GRIFFIN: The destruction is spreading beyond Houston. Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, got pummeled with 26 inches of rain in 24 hours. The mayor of Port Arthur says his whole city is now under water.
This shelter flooding overnight, compounding the misery for people already forced from their homes.
BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: This is going to be an incredibly large disaster for the country.
[17:05:05] GRIFFIN: Multiple agencies are still making rescue after rescue while many more are still waiting for help. Emergency crews race against time to reach those trapped in their homes.
(on camera): How long were you in there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three days.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Amid the devastation, extraordinary acts of humanity. These two residents lost their homes but are working around the clock themselves to save their neighbors.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eat something, and just dry up a little bit, get a little bit of energy, a little bit of coffee in our system; and we're back out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
GRIFFIN: This group forming a human chain to save an elderly man from rushing water. And as we prepared to go live on CNN, a man mistook a flooded ravine for a street and drove right into the water.
(on camera): Look at this. Get out, dude! You got a -- you got a power cord? You got a rope? Hold on, I'm trying to get you a rope. Brian, call 911. Hold on, sir. Can you grab his car? OK. Grab it now. Wrap it around your -- OK. OK. Come on, buddy.
Are you all right now, buddy?
JERRY SUMRALL, FLOOD SURVIVOR: Yes.
GRIFFIN: Take your breath. We're going to pick you up. We want to get you off of this bank.
How you doing?
SUMRALL: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) great.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Later we were able to catch up with Jerry Sumrall.
SUMRALL: It was all flooded, and I just got -- I was kind of disoriented. I was looking at the water, and I just thought I hit a curb, you know, like. And then I was going to go on the road. But it wasn't a road; it was a canal.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Did you think, "Dang, what did I do?"
SUMRALL: No kidding. I thought it was the end. If it wouldn't have been for your crew, I would have drowned, I swear to God.
GRIFFIN: Jim, there are many emergencies like that occurring all across Texas. And people responding all over Texas to this emergency, and they're going to need it, because as the waters eventually do go down, the misery is going to be revealed and try to build back all of these homes, these businesses, this entire community from this historic flood -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Well, small acts of kindness and heroism like that making all the difference for so many people suffering through these storms. Our Drew Griffin there, thanks very much.
I want to show you these remarkable -- and I want to be clear here, these are live pictures from on board a U.S. Navy rescue helicopter. It has just picked up seven people out of the water in Beaumont, Texas. Beaumont, Texas some of the hardest hit areas. And you can see it's just landed here now at dry land where that family can get out to safety. And that helicopter is going to take off right away again to go look for more people stranded.
This is four or five days after this storm hit the coast there, people still stranded in their homes and the water -- in the water, and you have rescues like this going on every hour, every day, all day and through the night.
And we're seeing a lucky family there right now. Seven people rescued from the waters by the U.S. Navy.
As the rain moved on to the east, the storm, the sun finally appeared over Houston, revealing the full extent of the catastrophe there. Rescuers out in force looking for those still trapped by the floodwaters.
CNN's Brian Todd has accompanied some of those rescuers down on the water. Brian, tell us what kind of people in need, the number of people you've seen in need today and how those rescuers are able to get to them.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they could only really get to them, Jim, on these boats. This air boat that we're on and some of these other private boats behind me, fishing boats and others.
Just a moment ago, we were told that there are some more people in need of rescuing at an apartment complex back into this Lakeside Forest neighborhood. They thought they had gotten everyone out, but they have not yet. We are told we have to wait for this Coast Guard boat needs to get a little bit ahead of us, because the power of this boat is just too great. It might wash them out a little bit. So we've had to let them go ahead of us a little bit down into the neighborhood. We're going to follow them there and see if we can see who in that apartment complex needs to be rescued.
This is a staging area where we just saw some rescuees being dropped off here. As you can see, the water's a little shallow here. They can be drop them off here where they're picked up in trucks and taken back to some dryer areas.
One of the things that we've noticed, Jim, just a short time ago: These waters have really risen just overnight and into today because of the release of the Addicks reservoir, that controlled release, really flooded the Buffalo Bayou, which is right near here, and these waters just came up today after the brunt of the storm had already passed.
So these people had thought they had dodged a bullet, but they had not. This water, it got up to our chests in some cases, covered cars. We were along with some rescues as they pulled people from houses and apartment buildings.
We were also told just a moment ago in -- back in this neighborhood, that there were some teenage kids, about four of them, going door to door, telling some elderly and other people that there's a mandatory evacuation. There is not a mandatory evacuation. One of the people with us is a DEA agent who thinks that these kids are telling people about that so that they can go into their homes and possibly loot them. So you've got a possible law situation here, as well, developing in these neighborhoods where some people may be trying to take advantage of people here, Jim.
SCIUTTO: That is always a danger in catastrophes like this, but you make a good point there, Brian.
Even though the rain has stopped, those water continue to rise. All those waters have to go somewhere. They've been coming down the rivers. They've been coming through reservoirs and that means people still in danger.
Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Joining me now by telephone from Beaumont, Texas, is Republican Congressman Randy Weber. It's his district that includes some of the hardest-hit areas from the storm -- Beaumont, Port Arthur -- completely under water, battered as the storm continues along the Gulf Coast.
Congressman Weber, thanks for joining us. I want to ask you if you could give us the latest update on the situation in your district?
REP. RANDY WEBER (R), TEXAS (via phone): Yes, thank you, Jim, for having me. Actually, I'm in Friendswood, which is a ways away from Beaumont, but Beaumont is my district.
SCIUTTO: So tell us what the need is there and how many more people do you believe are still in need of rescue?
WEBER: Well, Jim, it's unbelievable. This is the widest flooding. I was born and raised on the Gulf Coast 64 years. I have three coastal counties, starting at Louisiana: Jefferson County, which includes Beaumont; Galveston County and the southern half of Missouri County.
We hit -- my wife and I have been all over this district, going to the shelters and stuff, and it is -- there are still people trapped in houses. You're seeing the flood waters that -- the rain and the flood that made its way -- made its way over to Jefferson County as Harvey moved east. There's probably thousands, if not tens of thousands of people out there in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area that need evacuation. There's going to be shelters set up. But it is just so widespread, it's incredible.
SCIUTTO: You're saying that still today there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people, who are still in need of rescue in the Beaumont and Port Arthur area?
WEBER: Well -- well, I don't know if it's strictly in Jefferson County. I'm talking about across my district.
WEBER: Jim, there are people who stayed in their houses. What you have to remember is that the floodwaters are coming and going. They've gone up -- I mean, they've gone down, and then they come back up. Because we're getting rainwater down our rivers that was deposited in Texas up above us. And you've got some dams and some reservoirs that the Army Corps of Engineers is having to let water out of so the dam doesn't get compromised, crack or break. And so you've got a lot of floodwater. This thing is not over yet. They're talking about flooding still occurring in houses. You know, 10,000 may be an exaggeration. Maybe it's three, or four, five, six thousand. But I will tell you, there are a lot of people out there to be rescued.
SCIUTTO: Those numbers still staggering.
Do you believe that you have the resources necessary to get to those people still awaiting rescue? We've been watching live footage from a U.S. Navy helicopter, and just the scope of the devastation is overwhelming.
WEBER: Well, yes, we don't have enough. We had Marines being deployed. We have amphibious what they call track vehicles being deployed. They can go through any kind of water. You never have enough.
We couldn't preplan for assets, because you never know where the rain's going to fall into which river, into which watershed, so you can never really plan to put your assets to one -- you know, one area or another.
But they're all being mobilized. I know you're seeing the stories of the great tech (ph) -- the great citizens that have come together. People from Louisiana have come over, people from all other states. They've brought boats in. They're now in there, bringing people out.
We've actually set up an e-mail address, HarveyDisaster@gmail.com where people can e-mail us if they have questions or if they have a need or if they know somebody that needs to be rescued.
So I'm happy that we got this kind of great response. No one could have ever anticipated how widespread this flood was going to be.
SCIUTTO: Listen, as we watch from that helicopter there, I'm just imagining how many homes where people may still be looking for aid.
We understand -- we're just getting news that two U.S. Navy ships are going to be deployed from Norfolk, Virginia, down to assist in the aftermath. The Army, of course -- the military brings with it a lot of assets that local law enforcement doesn't have. More aircraft, more surface boats, et cetera.
Do you think you need the Navy now, to call in the Navy to get these people to safety?
WEBER: Well, it will -- it will depend on the rain. You know, if the rain stops and as much of the water is let out of those dams and reservoirs as I talked about, wouldn't -- here's what we know.
Right now we're in the stage of rescuing people, protecting lives, getting, you know, people and their animals out. And so we want to be sure that we get everybody rescued to a safe, dry place and get them, you know, warm clothes, an environment with medical attention, to get that taken care of. At some point we'll come back and assess exactly how the process went.
[07:15:21] No, we don't have enough assets on the ground. I mean, we -- we literally -- there are Humvee vehicles, military vehicles that have been picking people up. As I said, there are amphibious vehicles that have been picking people up, helicopters you saw, Army boats, small air boats that have been going in there. We could use lots more to get these people out as quickly as possible.
And so once it's all over and done with, we will assess how this went. You know, we've got experience on the Texas Gulf Coast with a hurricane. This kind of flood, we've experience with floods. But this is a flood of what they would call biblical proportions, and that magnitude, you couldn't have had enough assets in place for it.
SCIUTTO: I was just thinking biblical, as well. That's the word that came to mind.
Listen, Congressman Weber, we know you've got a lot of hard work to do. We're thinking of you. We're thinking of your staff and of the residents of those areas there. So take care. We hope to talk again.
WEBER: Thank you, Jim. Blessings to you.
SCIUTTO: Joining us now, as we watch -- continue to watch live pictures. This from a U.S. Navy helicopter over one of the hardest hit areas here. We just heard from the congressman, Beaumont, Texas. All that water, and the water is still rising, because it's coming from -- from further north in the state. All that rainwater has to go somewhere. It's flowing down to cities and towns like this.
We're joined now by CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
So we now know that the U.S. Navy is being called in to help. How long will it take for those ships to get from Norfolk down to the coast of Texas?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the Navy is telling us it's going to take a couple of days. Two amphibious warships. They will come with significant ability. The thing they can mainly do is they can stay offshore, fly their
helicopters over the impact area. They're going to have anywhere between 200 and 400 Marines with them, but they don't have to live off this devastated community. They're going to come with their own food, water, housing. They stay on board the ship. They fly back and forth. They can conduct the kind of missions you're seeing right here.
This is what is so important right now. Your previous guest was talking about it. Get enough assets into the area and get people out. So you are seeing that the U.S. military, the National Guard, the reserve, the active duty, responders across the region mobilized, but the military, with the guard and reserve, can really generate the -- literally, the air power, the land power to begin to move across this area, hopefully, more rapidly and get people out.
So look at these helicopter pictures. Unbelievably dramatic. And what they are doing right now, as you look at this, they have people on board -- military personnel, Navy and Air Force -- and they are scanning continuously. They are looking for any signs on the ground: people on rooftops, people waving sheets or towels out of their windows, people who have to be rescued who are in imminent danger from the floodwaters, and the only way to get to them is by helicopter.
If somebody is on their roof, these are the kind of helicopters, these types of helicopters, that fly overhead, they lower a basket with a rescue person attached and then -- or they have a belt, and they bring these people up to their helicopters. It is dangerous precision work.
The problem is they can only rescue a couple of people at a time. Then they have to go back, reload, essentially. But, you know, you don't want to call this a military operation. This is humanitarian disaster relief. But it's the same skill set that they do use in a combat zone. If they're in a combat zone, they're looking for targets. Right now they are looking for people desperate to get out, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Well, the U.S. Navy, as you know, Barbara, has enormous experience with humanitarian aid, even going back to the Asia tsunami. They responded there, to Katrina. They know how to do this kind of work and do it well.
And I just have to say, as we're watching this -- again a reminder to our viewers. This is a live picture from aboard one of those U.S. Navy helicopters. Actually, a joint operation between the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force.
A 360 view. They just did a 360 view, and literally, as far as the eye could see, flooded homes, flooded neighborhoods, flooded communities.
We're joined now, as well, by retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, former spokesman for the Pentagon and for the State Department, certainly knows a thing or two about the Navy's capabilities.
But John, as we get the first aerial sense of the true scope of this disaster, that looks to me like a job for the U.S. Navy.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As Barbara rightly says, the Navy and the Marine Corps can be of definite assistance here , both from the air and also on the ground. And you can tell just from looking at the devastation and the widespread flooding, certainly there are military capabilities that can be brought to bear, not even just by the Navy- Marine Corps but by the Army and the Air Force. You've already seen the National Guard.
[17:20:10] This is going to take weeks, if not months. And I think everybody in the military that has contributed to this realizes that they could very well be involved in some way for quite some time.
SCIUTTO: One question I've had from the beginning, is as you go through these neighborhoods -- and we see this helicopter hovering over this community -- how scientifically, if that's the right word, are they doing this search and rescue? Are they -- are they setting up a grid so they know what areas they've covered before, so they're not doubling over again; they can go to places where they know that aid has not been able to reach yet?
KIRBY: Well, I suspect that they are very much part of the larger command-and-control structure under FEMA, that they're not just out there, you know, cowboying this thing and doing it on their own. I suspect that they have certainly been given areas where they have been wanted to fly and places they want to search, and I suspect that that will continue. But I -- I know that the Navy is looking at this from a perspective of support to local and civil authorities, not to supplant them.
SCIUTTO: Stay with me, Admiral Kirby. We're going to come back. And again, as we watch these live pictures, a U.S. Navy helicopter, searching the flooded communities of Beaumont, Texas, for survivors. A short time ago, we saw a live rescue on our air, a family of seven pulled up to safety in that helicopter. Please stay with us. We'll be back after this short break.
[17:26:03] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. These are live images from Port Arthur, Texas. This is the continuing evacuation of a nursing home there that we saw earlier on our air: flooded, people carried out in their wheelchairs, sometimes on hospital beds. Now they've made their way to dry land, and some of them, it looks like, being taken onto military helicopters to even safer ground.
This scene being repeated, really, across the hardest hit areas of Texas, and of course, the residents of that nursing home some of the most vulnerable victims of this disaster.
In addition to these live pictures, we continue to have live pictures from over Beaumont, Texas, exclusive images from CNN. There they are from a Navy helicopter. This is a joint U.S. Navy-Air Force operation, rescue operation, flying over Beaumont, Texas, one of the hardest hit areas close to the coast there.
We have with me Barbara Starr, retired Admiral John Kirby.
Barbara Starr, can you describe the kinds of special capabilities that the U.S. Navy brings to a rescue operation like this?
STARR: Well, what the U.S. military, including the Navy, brings is the fundamental thing that is needed right now, by all accounts, and that is the ability to generate a high volume of continuous rescue missions.
This is so far beyond -- look, the first responders, the people of Texas have been doing amazing. All kudos to them. It breaks your heart to see what they're all going through. But this is, you know -- biblical catastrophe? You bet. This now requires high-volume, continuous, 24 hours a day capability, rescue power, pure and simple.
So that means you have to have helicopters with infrared sensors. You have to be able to scan wide areas, see who's out there, get to them quickly. You can't have elderly people sitting for 24 hours, you know, with their feet in the water at a nursing home.
The problem is this. The floodwaters still rising in some areas. These helicopters -- and there's more than a hundred of them out there from a number of agencies, including the military -- work incident by incident. They can lower rescue forces and try and get people out.
SCIUTTO: And Barbara...
STARR: This is now a wide crisis.
SCIUTTO: Barbara, just so our viewers are aware, in the upper right- hand corner, that's from that U.S. Navy helicopter.
On the left here, and again, you see uniformed military there assisting. This is the continuation of the evacuation of a nursing home. Behind that group of people there is one of the patients in a wheelchair. It's hard enough to get out of floodwaters on foot. Imagine that in wheelchairs, in beds.
It is -- and again, that kind of scene, that kind of rescue being repeated across the hardest hit areas of the state of Texas. This is the new normal there for the coming days.
We're joined now by Democratic Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee. Her district includes much of the Houston area which, of course, remains under water.
Congresswoman Lee, we just spoke with your colleague, Republican Congressman Randy Weber, who said that in his district, he still believes thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, still in need of rescue there. Where you are, are you concerned about similar numbers still being threatened by the floodwaters and in need of rescue?
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: As the days have gone by -- first of all, thank you, and let me offer my concern for my neighbors in Beaumont. As the mayor said, they're under water. And certainly, pray for those in the nursing home and pray for the families who have lost loved ones or have loved ones missing.
But as the days have gone on, I've been here at the George R. Brown Convention Center since it opened on Sunday morning. I have seen people come out. I've been out on both rescues and attempted rescues in places where waters is high. My fears rise.
It rises, however, on the resilience and the greatest effort of human humanity -- of humanity ever, volunteers to rescue, along with the first responders and the United States military, as you heard, Coast Guard and others, that there are people still remaining.
Yesterday I went up to a place far up northeast, and fortunately, I had an ambulance with us that took out a person that was bedridden. I don't know how many of those are still there or people who are in places where the water has risen to the second floor.
We don't want to frighten people, but we want to ensure -- as I've said, my first priority is that everyone that can be rescued is rescued, and that means, of course, in Beaumont, in Victoria, in Rockport and places, and then, of course, in the greater Harris County, Houston area. We've got these shelters but I believe we should still continue to work to make sure we rescue everyone.
SCIUTTO: We're getting our first reports of some of those brave citizen soldiers, as it were, some of the civilian rescuers who have gone out on their own to rescue people from their homes. But the first reports of some of them being lost, losing their lives while trying to conduct these volunteer rescues. Are you concerned by that? Is it your concern that now the emergency responders should be taking over more of that responsibility from the civilian responders?
LEE: Well, Jim, first of all, I've got to pay tribute to the greatest, as I said, the greatest response from humanity that I've seen.
This response was from the vast depth of what America is about. There were no questions about citizenship or status or papers, nothing about faith or anything. It was people from all walks of life who came out; they just couldn't be stopped. They were so emotional, so charged.
But I do want them to be safe. And yes, we, to our understanding, have lost some who are either still missing or we're looking for. You can't stop people from wanting to help. They're driven by their passion and concern.
But I do believe -- I know in the last 48 hours, I was grateful that 12,000 of the Texas National Guard was here. We've been asking for them. I'm glad that they were finally given permission to come. Now we have aspects of the United States military.
I think as we begin to work on the recovering part, we will need these individuals to at least give us the confidence that the high technology and the sophistication of the military has made us feel comfortable that everybody has been found.
SCIUTTO: Congresswoman Lee, as we've been speaking to you, we've watched, live on our air, the rescue of a little boy, perhaps his father, the little boy crying as he goes onto one of these U.S. Navy helicopters.
Scenes like this being played out, plucking people from dire situations, life-threatening situations to safety. Yet more of the brave acts that you're talking about, Congresswoman Lee. And as we're there, we've been seeing this happen live on our view. Both the relief as they get to safety but also just the stress of this, the fear of this in the face of this disaster.
LEE: Well, let me -- let me take the high road of resilience and spirit, but of course there are -- fear is to be expected. This is an unspeakable, unprecedented, huge catastrophic event.
I went through as many storms as we can count, and certainly, I went through Katrina. I was not in New Orleans, but we received all of those survivors, those guests, and Hurricane Rita where we lost a number of people on the road. This surmounts those hurricanes, because Hurricane Harvey has not stopped. And we did not know what direction it was going.
And also, it showed the world that Houston, as much as we love this great and wonderful, energetic city, is 50 feet below sea level. We became an ocean. Our bayous were intended to give us relief, and they did the best that they could. So did the reservoirs. We don't have levees; we had reservoirs. But all of that converged with 50 inches of water, and all we could see is ocean. We still are under water, and we don't know what we'll find as it begins to go down.
So this is catastrophic; it is an emergency. We need the eyes and ears of Washington, the president, the Congress. I'm glad to say that the leadership of the Congress have called me. I feel confident that there will be no divide on getting our money, and we ask that the president join us in making sure...
LEE: ... that the bill is signed quickly. I'm in meetings where they're begging for money right now.
SCIUTTO: Congresswoman, again, as we speak to you, another family, a child, a baby, really, in her mother's arms, lifted up, plucked from danger in one of these baskets from a rescue helicopter. This is -- you're seeing in that little face there the need -- the need of the many thousands of Texans facing this disaster.
[17:35:21] Congresswoman Lee, we wish you the best. We know you've got a lot of work to do. We're going to keep following that work. Thanks for joining us.
LEE: Thanks to CNN. And my prayers are for the little baby and all of those. That's what it's all about. God help them, and we're going to keep working.
SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr with me, Admiral -- retired Admiral John Kirby with me, as well. Barbara, you and I have been in our share of helicopters. You know,
this looks -- we know that they train for this. No one does it better than the U.S. Navy, these kinds of rescues, but these are also not easy things to do. This is delicate work; it's risky work.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's risky. They're flying -- you know, we know the weather has been so bad. We have heard and been told they've been flying at the edge of the envelope because of the weather. They're trying to stay out there; they're trying to get to people.
But look at the pictures we just saw. Pulling civilians up in baskets and, basically, this little baby, there's -- you know, on the floor of the helicopter, no immediate seat belt, no safety. Because they're putting them on the floor, I'm quite certain -- and John Kirby can correct me if I'm wrong -- that the crew chiefs are telling them, "Please just sit down, stay put. We're going to fly you out of here."
You know, a typical safe military -- it's safe, but it's at the edge here because of the extremis. Normally, there would be seats; there would be seat belts. The crew chief would make sure everybody's buckled in, and they wouldn't fly until everybody has got their seat belts on. There's no time; there's no capability for that here. They are putting as many people on as fast as they safely can. They are sitting on the floor of these helicopters and, you know, staying put. And as the helicopter flies away, the crew keeping them safe but trying to get as many people out as fast as they can.
SCIUTTO: You know, this is -- this is, Barbara, as we're watching here, just a remarkable moment. Because on the left-hand side, you see one end of the spectrum: an elderly patient rescued from a nursing home in a wheelchair in one military helicopter. On the other side, we just saw the other end, a baby perhaps a few months old in her mother's arms, rescued, as well. These are the most vulnerable, and you have the U.S. military at work here saving lives.
John Kirby, you've got many years in the Navy. These are war fighters. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the pilots have served their time in deployment. But they are very good at this kind of humanitarian operation. They train for it, and they've got a lot of real-world experience.
ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is a mission of the Navy. It's one that we do repeatedly and consistently around the world. So you're right.
Not only that, but they've got to be trained for over water search- and-rescue, because the Navy operates at sea. And sometimes you have pilots go in the water, or sometimes you have sailors go in the water. So they have to train to do this. They have to know how to do it very, very well.
And Barbara is right, I mean, these are specially-equipped Seahawk helicopters. They're MH-60s, and so they're -- they've been sort of stripped down to conduct this particular kind of mission. SCIUTTO: So a Navy version of the Blackhawk we often see?
KIRBY: It's the Navy version of the Blackhawk, but it's made for exactly this kind of mission. They did take the seats out, the other things and other equipment that you would use on this particular kind of helicopter so that it could be especially equipped to conduct these kinds of rescues to get as many people in there as possible.
SCIUTTO: You know, Barbara made the point about the danger that those pilots, their crews face. In the lower right-hand corner, you have the storm systems still swirling there over these areas of East Texas and Western Louisiana. Those are difficult conditions for those crews to fly in.
And there we see another. Again, I want to remind you, in the upper right-hand corner, this is live. Another rescue under way by this Navy helicopter. It looks like it's a woman. I was trying to see if there was another baby in there, as well.
But you have now sitting there a baby, a toddler, multiple rescues under way by the U.S. Navy. And again, this is live. You see the youngest, the most vulnerable right up to the oldest, the most vulnerable.
How are these crews, John Kirby, trained to handle -- it's difficult to carry people in distress in these conditions.
KIRBY: It is, and you know, they're -- obviously, they're anxious; they're scared. I'm sure they've probably never been hoisted like that into a helicopter, and flying in a Navy helicopter itself, you know, can cause some people angst. But I'm sure they're glad to be off the ground and heading to safety.
But if you look, you know, through the windows there, you can see the treetops are moving quite a bit. As Barbara said, these guys are flying at the limits. This is still an active storm system. So not only are these rescues dangerous in and of themselves, even if the weather was perfect, they're made more perilous by the weather conditions that they're flying in.
[17:40:08] Now obviously, they're not going to break through the safety minimums. Safety comes first to naval aviators, of course, but they are definitely in harm's way themselves as they continue -- continue to fly these missions.
SCIUTTO: Everyone stand by. We continue to watch live pictures, rescues under way, but also the first sense of the true scale of this disaster. Flooding literally as far as the eye can see. Stay with us. We're going to be right back after this short break.
[17:45:16] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. We are following breaking news. Multiple rescues under way as we speak in east Texas as tropical storm Harvey came ashore again this morning. We're with our Brian Todd. He is in the Houston area with some of
those many civilian/citizen rescuers going out on their own, looking for people in need.
Brian, I know you've been with them for much of the day. They're going house to house, in effect.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really are, Jim. This is the Lake Forest neighborhood. They just went to this house here and knocked on the door and whistled and tried to get anyone's attention who might be on the second floor because they did have information that there might someone in this house needing help. Nobody responded, so we're kind of pushing off here.
And our photojournalist, Eddie Gross, is going to pan over. You can see the level of devastation here in this neighborhood. The water is about waist deep right here, but it gets even deeper down here.
Let's see if Eddie -- I know we're in the shade here. We're moving past a tree we can go down here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did this place get more water in the last two or three hours?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
TODD: They're just checking on water levels here. These are other volunteers out here helping.
SCIUTTO: And this is the kind of communication that's going on, Jim. These guys and other private rescuers basically are just yelling at each other as they pass each other. What have you seen? Where do people need help? Where do you need to go?
So we're just cruising around, knocking on doors here, and trying to get people's attention. And we're going to see if we find anybody in the next couple of hours.
SCIUTTO: Brian, is there anyone coordinating these rescues? It sounds very sort of seat of the pants there. I mean, is there any sort of central authority saying, you go to this street and you go to that street so people know what's already been checked and what hasn't been checked?
TODD: You know, I have to say, Jim, that's what's extraordinary about this. There really is no central authority directing this. A lot of it is word of mouth between these guys as they pass each other on boats.
There is a staging area where we were at the top of the hour, as we were about to get under way to this neighborhood, where they gather. And sometimes there are officials there acting in kind of a semi- official capacity, but they're not acting on behalf of the police or the fire department. They're just people who are cops off duty coming in here. This gentleman here is a DEA agent who has volunteered his time here.
This gentleman is the one who told us about -- that he had encountered four teenagers going around knocking on doors, telling people that there was a mandatory evacuation when there was not. He thought they were taking advantage of these people so they could go into their houses. So it's --
SCIUTTO: Brian --
TODD: -- a very loose and still kind of dangerous situation around here.
SCIUTTO: Right, sure.
TODD: Not only law enforcement wise, but obviously with the water levels.
SCIUTTO: Brian, as you have been speaking there, we just saw -- just a few moments ago, we had seen a U.S. Navy chopper pick up a family in need in one of those rescue baskets, including a baby, a toddler. Now, that baby, that toddler, the mother there, some other adults have been taken to dry land, and that crew -- thanking them. You could see them there being thanked. They're going to hop right back in that helicopter and go look for more.
I'm also -- oh, it looks like the little one wants to get another ride there. There's exciting moments, there's stressful moments.
I also have with me Admiral John Kirby.
When you hear from Brian Todd there, it is heroic --
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, it is.
SCIUTTO: -- to have these citizen rescuers, volunteers out there.
KIRBY: It is.
SCIUTTO: But it doesn't appear that there is the coordination you would expect four or five days in so that you get a sense of who is taking care of which neighborhood, so that you make sure that every area has been covered.
KIRBY: Well, I think they are trying to put those measures in place, Jim, but, I mean, again, you look at that footage. You can see just how widespread it is. It would be difficult to try to control each and every one of them. And they have no communication, so it's hard to have command and control over civilian forces like that.
I mean, I think everybody's just trying to pitch in and do what they can. One of the things that the Navy will be able to bring, when these two ships arrive, are small boats and small craft and sailors who can man them, who can actually go ashore as well and help in these water-borne searches. And they would have good command and control capabilities. So I think as --
SCIUTTO: But you said that's five days away. Is that right, if they're coming from Norfolk?
KIRBY: They're about five days away. It will take about five days for those two ships to get there. But I do think they are trying to put those structures in place even now. It's just -- it's difficult. And I think --
KIRBY: The focus, rightly, I think, by all these brave neighbors really helping neighbors, is just to get people safe.
SCIUTTO: You know, we heard from the Texas Governor earlier today, and you've heard this uniformly, that this storm, the effects, bigger than Katrina, bigger than Superstorm Sandy. Really, no one has seen the extent of the devastation like this before.
SCIUTTO: So it's a challenge for emergency services, et cetera.
Barbara Starr, I know you're still there as well as we continued.
And, again, I want to remind our viewers, these are live rescues under way. That is a boat in the Houston area with our Brian Todd on it. They're going house to house looking for people who need rescue.
[17:50:03] You have a Navy helicopter, in the air over Beaumont. We have a nursing home being evacuated as well.
Barbara, as you watch this, how much is the military involved right now in getting a handle on these rescues?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are beginning to move in. You know, I think a few moments ago, what you were talking about, Jim, it's the iconic picture of the decades, isn't it? For an American service member to have a baby tucked under each arm and take those children to safety.
What does it take for a young mother to be able to get into that basket with her baby with those emotions of trying to get her children safe, and yet hand their safety over into an experience they've never had, to be winched up above floodwaters, being told to hold on to your baby until they can get them on that helicopter?
What we are seeing, what the next things are we are likely to see from the military in the coming hours is more high-water trucks, several hundred moving from Fort Hood, Texas down to this area. The Marines are moving in with a number of amphibious vehicles, so they can move through this high water.
Everybody is so grateful for the help that these neighbors have given each other. But, as you said, this is now so far beyond that. They have to be able to generate, very quickly, a massive number of rescue missions.
The Pentagon has been talking about trying to phase it in. The local forces are over worked. They're exhausted. They can't put everything in at once because the air space gets crowded. Everyone's familiar with that concept. They have to be able to prioritize where they go.
But what you're seeing -- what we're seeing unfold before our eyes is this massive area that needs help and needs it now. So I think what you're going to see is a step up of the rescue, generating more missions, generating them around the clock, Jim.
SCIUTTO: And you just have to hope that they get there in time. We're already a few days into this, and we heard from the Congressman Randy Weber saying that he believes thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, in need. They need urgent help.
We're joined now by Martin Savidge. He's been up with the U.S. Navy in these rescue missions. I believe he's on board one of those rescue helicopters right now where you're seeing these live pictures of the devastation, the flooding.
Martin Savidge, tell us what you're learning up there.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes. Right now, we are in a (INAUDIBLE) basically Black Hawk, the Seahawk. It's a Navy (INAUDIBLE). We've been hovering over Beaumont, Texas, and we've been operating here, I'd say, for over an hour and a half now.
We are hovering over a neighborhood. We're part of the search and rescue effort, the military search and rescue. You've not only got the Navy here. You've got the U.S. Coast Guard. You've got the Army National Guard, and the Air Force is here.
So there are a lot of military assets even now hovering over Houston, this particular area. This crew has rescued about 14 people so far. The streets down there in Beaumont and a lot of areas, heavily inundated with water.
On board, we've got a paramedic. He's from the Air Force. And then we've also got a Navy rescue swimmer.
And what has been happening is that this place is coordinate. So there's kind of an air traffic control going down. And once the -- he's identified in the neighborhood, then we move in.
We usually hover about maybe a hundred feet off the ground. And it's from that position then that bond (ph) the paramedics and the rescue swimmer into these neighborhoods. And they begin assess the needs of the people who are on the ground.
And then once they've determined how bad off they may be, then they begin transporting them. And this is an operation that has been going on ever since the water's began inundating the heart of Texas here.
SCIUTTO: That's our CNN's Martin Savidge there. The reason you're having trouble hearing him is he is on board that helicopter right now, that U.S. Navy Sea Hawk helicopter, that's been performing these rescues.
He says he's been with them the last hour and a half. Fourteen people in an hour and a half, but that really gives you a sense of how many more people need rescue and more resources.
If you're hearing of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, still in need of rescue, 14 by one helicopter in an hour and a half -- and there are other helicopters, there are other boats, but there is a lot more work to do. There are a lot more people in need of help.
We're going to continue to follow this live. Keep that view live from that helicopter there.
[17:59:49] Coming up, urgent rescue efforts underway as tropical storm Harvey delivers another blow. Our images from a Navy helicopter over Beaumont, Texas shows just the extraordinary scale of the flooding. We'll be right back.
SCIUTTO: Happening now. Breaking news. Submerged. New parts of Texas are under water as its historic flooding spreads and threatens many more lives.
Tonight, desperate new rescues and stunning new images from a nursing home and other locations where the most vulnerable have been trapped and struggling to survive.
[17:59:57] Still searching. More emergency forces are mobilizing tonight with many flood victims waiting to be saved and many others still missing. CNN is in the disaster zone bringing you coverage of a Navy rescue operation live as it unfolds.