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Gen. Russel Honore: Federal Response to Harvey "Amateur Hour"; Explosion at Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas; Congress to Face Vote on Emergency Funding; Live Helicopter Rescues in Beaumont/Port Arthur Area. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] REP. TED POE, (R), TEXAS (via telephone): I think the preparedness has been adequate thus far. Immediately, the local and state officials take control of the disaster and the immediate response. The federal government is a back up. So, so far, I think the federal response has been OK.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Why adequate and, OK, not great, not impressive? What would it take to kind of raise the bar, in your view, and your assessment of response?

POE: Well, the -- when I say, OK, I think they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Federal response has been, I think, very adequate or very good. We have all different agencies here. FEMA is not the only one. We have them all set up, ready to take over, really, recovery when that starts right away. So far, they are doing OK. I don't really have any criticism for really any government agency that is here and trying to work and then help people in this massive destruction of flooding throughout the area.

WHITFIELD: It's a monumental task, no doubt. There are so many immediate needs right now. Some people are needing to be rescued. People are seeing high water. We have seen images of water making their way into nursing homes and rescues continue.

If I could ask you about what has happened, also in Crosby, Texas, in your district, that's where the chemical plant, Arkema, had the fire. They had explosions. We heard from the executive that said, yes, there are chemicals housed there. When they get to the level they are in cooling stations. The cooling stations are down, when they get heated to a level, they are combustible. There was a fire, but the smoke was not a chemical fire but there was carbon in the air. The irritants got in the throats of more than a dozen fire officials. So, what are you being apprised of from that chemical plant and how concerned are you about the people who live and work or are stranded in that area?

POE: The plant has been evacuated for a mile and a half to two-mile radius from the center of the plant. The -- that's a mandatory evacuation. There are people that live beyond that, the Texas commissional environmental policy, is the one monitoring this issue. They say there's not a problem. There are more explosions we need to think of as not a massive amount of explosion, but these, there are nine containers, I understand, that these chemicals are put in nine containers. As you said, when the chemical gets warm, it expands, it explodes and there's a fire. That's the main thing, there's a fire. The air quality, my understanding is, it's not a massive problem, but is causing irritation and other things about eyes and coughing. That's why there's the evacuation. That's the closest update I have. The other containers, two or three that have exploded and caught fire, they say will follow the same thing will happen. It's because, as you have mentioned, the chemicals have to be kept cool. The refrigeration unit doesn't work because of six feet of floodwater in it. The two back-up generators don't work either. They are in containers and they are the size on the back of an 18-wheeler. That is what we are thinking about. We may see more fire in the next couple of days for the other containers.

WHITFIELD: And this Arkema manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used in pharmaceuticals to construction materials, pipes, countertops, et cetera, if you wonder what that plant is all about.

Meantime, while this really is a colossal humanitarian effort, this issue, this storm Harvey gets political because much of Houston, 80 percent of the people do not have flood insurance. People are going to be relying on federal funding in a very big way. What are your concerns about a bill being passed by Congress to assist people there when there are reportedly a number of members of Congress, some, you know, right there in Texas who were not big advocates of the same kind of funding for Superstorm Sandy victims?

[11:34:58] POE: Well, I think there will be an appropriations bill specific with Harvey and the devastation from Corpus to Louisiana in dealing with that. What is going to be in that appropriations bill, that relief bill, I do not know. FEMA is spending money that they have for this purpose. What this bill looks like certainly can't answer.

As far as Sandy goes, the political issue involved in Sandy was, I think most members were supportive of the appropriations for Sandy relief. But what happened, when the bill got to the floor, other members of Congress tacked on appropriations for things that did not relate to Sandy at all and doubled the cost of that bill. I think most members are, were, and still are supportive of specific bills of relief but members should not add on other things, pork projects or their pet projects. I think that's going to happen.


WHITFIELD: If that were to happen in this package, as it pertains to Harvey and other things attached to this relief package, would you still be on board, knowing the need of your constituents, or will you be arguing to streamline such a package?

POE: I mean, I want to streamline the package. I really don't see another bill like Sandy that adds on other things that are unrelated to the hurricane relief. I really don't think that is going to happen again. We are getting support. I'm getting calls from all over the country. Representatives from Massachusetts has called. We talk about -- you know, he talks about helping out the folks here. We don't talk politics. We talk about people. I think this is an event that is really kind of helping get rid of the political infighting, politics, rhetoric that we have seen taking place for the last several months. So, I don't see that happening, the possibility of a big package is going to be enough support for a specific bill to help the folks that have been devastated by Harvey. That's all it should be.

WHITFIELD: Congressman Ted Poe, thank you. Our best to you and your constituents and all of Texas and Louisiana. We appreciate it.

We continue to get an incredible scope of the devastation as a result of Harvey.

Anderson Cooper is inside a U.S. Coast Guard chopper for a firsthand look at the rescue missions take place there.

I understand, Anderson, you are over the Beaumont/Port Arthur area right now?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's right. We have been flying over this area for about 20 or 30 minutes. It's a Coast Guard crew who launched about an hour and a half ago.

They just believe they have somebody waving to them. It's a confusing situation, though. They can't tell if this is somebody who wants to be rescued or not. The rescue diver, Evan Galant (ph), is ready to go down, if necessary. But, there's a -- they are trying to figure out exactly -- it's one of the difficulties the Coast Guard crew is having is the lack of communication. They get information based on 911 calls. A lot of the people that they have been rescuing, they just see, they get a visual on and then they hover over the area. They give them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to get an indication of whether they need to be rescued.

Right now, there are hovering low over this area that's extensively flooded, trying to get a sense of exactly what to do. They were going to send down Evan, the rescue diver, just to see and talk to this person. The other concern is, as you can see, with the helicopter until the air, there's another helicopter in the air nearby. That's another concern for the Coast Guard crews and the helicopter crews out here. There's a lot of assets in the air. And while there is central communication coordination between them, they have to constantly be on the lookout to make sure they are not getting too close to another air asset.

It seems like they are getting --


WHITFIELD: You know, Anderson --

COOPER: Sorry, go ahead.

[11:39:56] WHITFIELD: Looks like your photographer zoomed in on what appears to be a person on top of the roof. I understand what you are saying, though, in that these rescuers are trying to determine from many feet above whether the person they see actually wants to be rescued or not. We see your diver is now strapped in and soon-to-be hoisted or descend there.

COOPER: Yes. He's definitely getting ready to go. The pilots, Dan Miller and Matt Mayer, they are just hovering now in place trying to coordinate with the other crews also in the air. Evan looks like he is about to go over. They have a basket that they can also lower in order to bring up anybody who is not able to come up or to bring up multiple people. Right now, they are just going to -- Evan is going to go down on his own and ascertain exactly what the condition is of this person.

Earlier, they saw somebody who seemed to be waving a white towel needing help, but I believe another crew responded to that.

WHITFIELD: You talk about the risks, you know, Anderson, with how precarious it is, A, to try to spot people. You have other assets in the air. There he goes now, about to descend. These folks are fatigued. They have been doing this now inside of this six days since Harvey. Have any of them talked to you about what fuels them. As we see now, there is a person on the rooftop there that that basket is getting close to.


WHITFIELD: Looks like three people, actually.

COOPER: They have had --


WHITFIELD: Go ahead, Anderson.

COOPER: They have had crews out since early this morning doing rescues and circling. It is hit or miss. It's a question of getting out there and seeing what's on the ground. They do get 911 calls. They get word of people. There was a call earlier of somebody who needed dialysis, hadn't had it in a while. Another crew was going to go pick up that person.

This is the first rescue this morning that this crew that I'm with, piloted by Dan Miller and Matt Mayer, has undertaken.

I'm just listening as the pilots are coordinating with the other air assets in this area.

They have room for six or eight people on this chopper. Obviously, if there were more people to get rescued, we would get off.

Now, the rescue swimmer, Evan, is down there. He is going to try to ascertain what the situation is. We are going to move up to try -- so we are not creating more of a water -- we are not upsetting the water or the area around there, just hovering the area. Evan will communicate with the chopper to say whether or not they need evacuated.

WHITFIELD: When we looked again, maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me, there may be one person. It is difficult to discern because there are items on the rooftop. That's part of his job, assessing, you know, who is in need and what the condition of that person is.

Anderson, give me an idea if that person needs medical assistance. Go ahead.

COOPER: We are in an area between Beaumont and Port Arthur. They circled over Beaumont for a while. As bad as it is, there are a lot of folks with boats on the ground. The pilots here believe that it seemed like folks on the ground had the situation well in hand in Beaumont. And anybody who might have needed rescuing would have been able to be taken out by boat earlier. So, they started to move on.

Now, we have been hovering around this area. It has been interesting. Part of I-10, we just crossed over part of I-10, which is still under water in this area. Some vehicles were trying to make it through the water.

We also passed over a gator farm that had supposedly several hundred gators. We only saw a couple. The folks at the gator farm told other news organizations that the gators were all there. We are now just waiting for word on what's going to happen.

WHITFIELD: Then, quickly, I know you are also listening to the pilot simultaneous to hearing me, if a person they rescue needs immediate medical attention, are they able to assist with some of that on the aircraft, on the chopper there?

[11:45:10] COOPER: Not really. I mean, what they do is get them on this chopper, then they get them to an area as close as possible so they can get medical attention. Not everybody needs medical needs. Some of the medical needs may be a situation like the person I talked about before who needed dialysis, hadn't had dialysis. It's one of the things you don't think about in a situation like this, not people who are necessarily injured based on the storm or flooding or having been in the water, but their regular medical needs they can no longer get taken care of. They need medication. They need dialysis. But right now, I just got word, I think -- I'm trying to listen to the pilot at the same time I'm talking to you. I believe they said this person does not have a medical issue. But I think we are heading back to try to get closer and bring the rescue swimmer back up. I'm not sure if they are bringing this person up or not.

WHITFIELD: OK. You said that chopper is equipped to be able to handle six people. This is your first rescue of the day?

COOPER: It is. They said they can fit about six to eight people on board. Basically, squeeze them in. Obviously, if more people were need, we would get off the chopper to make more room. At this point, you know, there's not a lack of Coast Guard choppers. There's also customs and border protection as choppers in the air. U.S. military choppers are in the air, Navy and Army as well, National Guard.

There's a lot of assets in this area. As I said, that's one of the dangerous things, the pilots are constantly on the lookout, just visually turning around, looking to make sure they are aware of any other choppers and exactly what elevation they are. Sometimes one chopper will hover low and another will pass overhead. It's obviously a situation pilots want to be cautious about and aware of.

Earlier, somebody had a drone in the air, which is also a concern for helicopter pilots. Of course, any power lines or antennas in the air, so there's a lot for the pilots to look out for.

Even though the weather is no longer an issue, yesterday, there was driving rain, problems with wind. It was a difficult weather condition for the pilots. Today, it's sunny, it's a little hazy. The weather is not so much an issue. It's a number of air assets in this area.

WHITFIELD: Of course, because of weather like this that is more optimal. Does that raise the hopes of them canvassing a greater area?

COOPER: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you.

WHITFIELD: Because the weather is better today, does it increase the chances of being able to stay in the air, conduct more searches?

COOPER: Yes. It absolutely does. We have about three hours of fuel when we took off. We probably can stay in the air another hour and a half. A lot of these crews are constantly checking in with each other to determine exactly how much fuel they have. That's why this chopper actually responded to this, because of the amount of fuel we still have that they still had to fly around with.

You can see just the extent of the flooding. The water, you know, water in these. You can see the trucks down there. There's water high up to the trucks. Again, a lot of these areas have been able to be reached by boat. You can see a number of people on the ground with small boats. We have seen a lot of boats going through some of these roads that are flooded, checking in on people.

Now, we are basically circling this area of waiting to find out whether or not that person needs to be brought back up.

WHITFIELD: Anderson, how --


WHITFIELD: Yes. Go ahead.

ANDERSON: Yes. Hold on.

OK, I just talked to Dan Miller, the pilot. The word from Evan on the ground is the person they were talking to, they said there's another person inside the house. We believe it's the person's wife. Evan, the rescue swimmer, the rescue diver, is going down into the house now to check on that person and to see, A, if they do have medical needs, if they need to be evacuated. And also trying to figure out how to get that person downstairs onto the roof. That's critical for them to get hoisted up on to this chopper. It's not something that -- that is -- seems like a couple of minutes in order for Evan, the diver, to actually to assess exactly what's going on.

[11:50:34] WHITFIELD: Wow. That's extraordinary coordination, communication there in the chopper as you circle the area looking for others.

Anderson, we'll check back with you.

Anderson Cooper is onboard a Coast Guard helicopter there. They spotted an individual on a rooftop. Zeroed in on that person. You had the rescue diver, swimmer, descended. Images from earlier. Descended to that rooftop. Anderson has done an extraordinary job explaining how the diver communicates with the person on the rooftop. And doesn't appear to be injured but another person is inside the house. And extraordinarily, that diver will then get into that home, try to assess the condition of that other person. And then be able to potentially rescue at least those two people, thus, we know, at that house right there in the Beaumont, Port Arthur area.

We'll continue to watch these live images.

We'll take a short break and check back in with our Anderson Cooper. We'll be right back.


[11:50:53] WHITFIELD: Welcome back everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in New York.

Moments ago, we showed this live as it was happening, a Coast Guard helicopter and a rescue diver descending now because there's a person on top of that roof they spotted while they've been canvasing the Port Arthur/Beaumont area.

Because our Anderson Cooper is inside that chopper and, hopefully, can resume or conversation with him he was able to tell us the diver assessed that the person on the rooftop appears to be OK. Does want to be rescued. Because there are occasions people are near their homes and don't want rescued and they have to, then, make the assessment when they encounter folks. And apparently, the person on the rooftop communicated there's another person who is inside the house. And so that diver/rescue swimmer will get inside the house, try to assess the need of that person. Meantime, the chopper will continue to canvas the area looking for anyone else who needs assistance, and then return when the time is right to put any number of people, pets, et cetera, inside the basket.

In our conversation, live as it was happening, Anderson was telling us that six to eight people can be in a basket, and then they are brought back up to the chopper. And then they will continue to look for others, if they need to rescue. But this is what they're seeing. Conditions are much better in the air. Clearer skies for choppers to try to get to any and all who need rescuing.

We'll continue to monitor events there in south Texas, and also now in Louisiana, and we'll bring you more.

We'll be right back.