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U.S. Responds to North Korean Missile Tests; Hurricane Relief Efforts Continue; Interview with Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. Aired 4-4:30ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: As waters recede, rescuers worry about what they will find.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Plucked to safety -- dramatic and risky rescue missions picking up across the Texas coast, as one county near the Texas/Louisiana line warns people, get out or die.

Show of force. Nuclear-capable American jets drop bombs near Kim Jong-un's border, as the U.S. answers the latest North Korean missile tests.

Plus, if they can get along, two governors, two parties, two potential 2020 candidates -- they are here to tell us their plan and to pull off the impossible.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with breaking news in the national lead.

The U.S. military on their way to get people out and get supplies in. The White House now saying 100,000 homes were affected by Harvey. Aerial rescues are going on right now across the Texas Gulf Coast, as crews hope to find people with no escape from the historic floodwaters that Harvey left behind.

Today, new dangers are popping up as the clouds move away. And officials at one flooded chemical plant in Houston are saying they are expecting more fires after two blasts overnight set off a fire that made more than a dozen sheriff's deputies sick. Still, the plant insists this is not a toxic fire.

And in the town of Beaumont, Texas, 118,000 people have no drinking water. People lined up at stores hours before they open this morning. After extreme flooding knocked the city's water pumps out of service, the desperate situation forced a hospital in Beaumont to move close to 200 patients from beds to stretchers, to choppers, all the way to facilities a couple hours outside of the city.

I want to start now with CNN's Brian Todd in Houston. Brian, you have been with first-responders going door to door

searching for anyone still stranded six days now after Harvey first hit.

Are they finding anyone?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, they're not finding people in a lot of these houses.

That does not mean that they're necessarily missing, but it does speak to the painstaking nature of trying to account for everyone. And again it also speaks to the idea that possibly the injury toll and the death toll may rise in the days ahead.

We're on an airboat in the Lakeside Forest area of West Houston. We need an airboat just to get around here. But again, the door to door, you know, the nature of going door to door here is pretty harrowing for some residents because they don't know whether they're going to find people.

So, they're asking people about their neighbors. And we just saw a high-water vehicle go down there with some Army personnel in it. Again, they're checking to see if anyone is around in these neighborhoods. This is occurring here in West Houston, as you said, days after the storm, as areas in East Texas are still dealing with horrible flooding and emergency rescue situations there.


TODD (voice-over): Southeast Texas flooding as seen from above by rescuers urgently trying to save people from the water. A victim on a rooftop catches the attention of a Coast Guard team and a diver goes down to help.

Soon, two flood victims are brought up in a basket. Helicopter and boat rescues are ongoing throughout the day, taking advantage of clearing skies and racing to help flood victims; 10,000 have been rescued by federal rescuers alone.

Southeast Texas is the latest area to get flooded by a storm that has dumped an estimated 27 trillion gallons on Texas and Louisiana. Beaumont's hospital had to close and evacuate all its existing patients, some by helicopter.

MARY POOLE, BEAUMONT HOSPITAL SPOKESPERSON: ICU patients, our NICU babies and our dialysis patients are going first, because they're the highest level of acuity.

TODD: That's because the Beaumont water supply serving over 100,000 residents is out. The pumps are flooded. Officials say it could get worse before it gets better.

KYLE HAYES, BEAUMONT CITY MANAGER: We think it's going to crest Saturday is what the National Weather Service is telling us.

TODD: Also still looming, more potential blasts at a flooded chemical plant. Residents heard an explosion at the Arkema plant in Crosby, where authorities say tanks of organic peroxide that lost their cooling systems are rupturing.

BOB ROYALL, HARRIS COUNTY FIRE MARSHALL'S OFFICE: We can expect similar type of decomposition in those other trailers, and maybe even all nine of them before it's over with.

TODD: Anyone within a mile-and-a-half had already been ordered to evacuate, but 15 officers were treated and released for smoke exposure.

RICH RENNARD, ARKEMA EXECUTIVE: The toxicity of the smoke will cause an irritation to your eyes, an irritation to your lungs if you breathe it, just like any smoke.

TODD: Rescuers continued in West Houston as well. In some neighborhoods, firefighters are already going door to door checking if people are OK.

Tony Rorai said the water in his house was several feet high. He has already started ripping out the walls.

(on camera): How do you feel about this, Tony? Do you want to stay here?


TODD (voice-over): Authorities believe the floodwaters passed their high point, but today they issued new evacuation orders to stop residents from checking on their homes.


JEFF LINDNER, HARRIS COUNTY FLOOD CONTROL: The basic message is if you can't drive to your home, don't go.


TODD: That's because a lot of homes in this area are still flooded and even if you think your home is not flooded, there are still dangers.

There could be loose wires around, other dangers, hazards in the home that officials are warning about. Despite the temptation to try to get to your homes, many people, Brianna, still returning to neighborhoods like this.

KEILAR: Brian Todd, thank you in Houston.

And right now, Vice President Pence is in Texas. You're actually looking at some live pictures here in Victoria, Texas, which is where the vice president is there with the charity group called Convoy of Hope helping to distribute food and supplies.

This situation is dire for much of Southeast Texas. There are many homes that are still underwater and finding food and water to drink is easier said than done.

I want to go now to CNN's Ryan Nobles in Orange, Texas.

Ryan, you are in a neighborhood where crews are finding people still trapped.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna.

So this neighborhood behind me started flooding around 1:00 yesterday morning. The waters kept going throughout the day. That forced many of these people out of their homes. And what we have seen over the course of today is a trickling of residents both coming in and out of this neighborhood, some coming back to get their belongings, checking to see how much damage there is, but there are still many people who rode out the storm, who are staying in their homes, hoping that this will pass, that the waters will recede and they will be OK.

The problem for them, Brianna, is we don't know what the future holds here in Orange, Texas. There are two rivers, the Sabine and the Neches River, which are near Orange, Texas, which officials here are still concerned could swell and flood and bring more flooding to this area.

As a result, parts of Orange County, Texas, are under a mandatory evacuation. Officials here do not want to take any risks. There has been a significant presence of the Cajun navy, that volunteer group of folks who come out with their boats and rescue people. But we have been listening to their communications channels and they're concerned that the situation in this region is too dangerous and they have actually pulled out a part of Orange, Texas, to go to safer ground.

So, right now, the situation for many of the folks here in this part of Texas is uncertain, Brianna. They are not convinced yet that the worst is behind them.

KEILAR: All right, Ryan Nobles in Orange, Texas.

And since Harvey hit Texas, gas prices have spiked. The national average is up nearly 10 cents. It's even higher in the Southeast. And now there are concerns about gas shortages.

CNN's Alison Kosik is in Dallas.

Alison, what's happening where you are?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we are at a gas station in Dallas.

And I want to show you the line that has formed over the past few hours. It is dozens of cars deep. You see this happening all over the city. We have been to several gas stations that are just out of gas completely.

I talked to one owner who said he's seen in two hours 1,000 cars come through his gas station. Usually, in two hours, he would see 100 cars. Look up here. The gas stations up here, but the hope is at this point is that when these cars get to the pump, that this gas station won't run out of gas.

All of this happening at news broke that the Colonial pipeline, which is a main pipeline that brings gasoline and other products from Houston to the east, had to be shut down because the company doesn't feel like it's safe enough to get their people to refineries and to where they can be to bring that product to the pipelines.

So that pipeline is shut down, at least for today. And at this point, gas stations don't know when their next delivery is going to be, and that's why you're seeing one gas station owner says is panic from people.

Keep in mind, though, Brianna, this isn't a raw supply issue. There's plenty of supply. It's more of a logistics issue -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, what a line there, though, that you just showed us.

Alison Kosik in Dallas, thank you.

The president says sending federal aid to the Gulf Coast is a top priority -- how the White House says they will help Harvey victims next.



KEILAR: All right. We're looking at live pictures coming to us from Katy, Texas, and you are actually seeing a church, I believe, there below you.

You can see residences, the church, flooded parking lots, flooded areas completely through here. This coming to us from our affiliate KPRC. And we're going to keep an eye on these pictures of devastation.

Welcome back now.

We are going to start getting an idea here. Part of it you can see there in these live pictures of what is just widespread devastation from Hurricane Harvey.

The White House says the president's top priority is sending federal aid to the region to help the recovery.

CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones is joining me now to talk about the .

So, Athena, do we know what kind of aid package is under consideration there at the White House?


You're right. Making sure that the Hurricane Harvey victims get the help they need is something the president and the vice president have been stressing.

And I just want to play for you something that we heard from the president (sic) earlier on his visit to the hard-hit town of Rockport, his pledge of continued support. Take a listen to that.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As Franklin Graham just said, it's a long way to go. It's not months, but it's years. The challenges will be great. But we know that the generosity and the prayers and the faith of the people of Texas and the American people will be greater still.


JONES: And Pence also delivered the message from the president that we are with you. We will be with you today, tomorrow, until this city and this state and this region rebuild.

But when it comes to the exact aid, one of the big questions is how much aid will be needed.

[16:15:01] The assessments are still being done.

On a conference call with House GOP members last night, there was talk of an immediate package as well as a longer term bill. And that's what we heard from White House homeland security advisor Tom Bossert. He said that the White House will be putting together what he called a responsible emergency aid funding package, with the information they have right now when it comes to what's going to be needed. And that later on, they will ask for an additional supplemental funding to help these victims when more is known about the total cost of the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

We heard Bossert say an estimated 100,000 homes are affected. We've also heard from Texas Governor Greg Abbott that he thinks that there could be well in excess of $100 billion needed to help victims there and to help the state rebuild.

One thing that I want to note, though, is that reporters have been asking the White House for several days whether the president himself would be making any sort of donation to Harvey victims and we just learned from Press Secretary Sarah Sanders a short while ago that President Trump has pledged $1 million as she put it of his personal money to go to victims in Texas and Louisiana. So, we don't know when that's going to be donated, but that is what the president is promising. As for that aid package, Sanders would not put a timeline on when that supplemental bill will first go to Congress, but we know it's a top priority -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yes, so much to work out on that.

All right. Athena Jones at the White House, thank you.

Why is agreeing to help disaster victims such a hard sell in Congress? We're going to talk to a Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd about it, next.


[16:20:49] KEILAR: You are looking at live pictures coming to us from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter which is not far from Beaumont, Texas, right at this moment.

And CNN's Kaylee Hartung is there on that chopper.

Kaylee, set the scene for us it seems that this may be a rescue just began or is under way?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just began, Brianna. We've been in the air for more than an hour with five members of the U.S. Coast Guard onboard this Jayhawk H60 helicopter. We've seen home after home with water up to the rooftop and the area of Beaumont.

The rescue swimmers, I can hear my headset comms, are now on the ground, meeting up with a couple of people on the ground. There was a call that came in for two elderly people in the area. Right now, I can't see much more than you could see out the door of this chopper. But this is the first time while we've been on board to go down.

On these rescue missions, they're trying so hard to ensure that they're getting to the people who are in the most dire need to help people in uncomfortable situations. But these rescuers are in life threatening conditions. We passed over homes, we've seen a couple of guys sitting on their front porch but with no more than a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down for communication, those guys wave us off. It's so interesting to see the people who are choosing to stay in some areas, where I would find it unimaginable to wait out these conditions.

Speaking with one of the rescue swimmers who's now on the ground assessing this situation, said he rescued four people yesterday, and then he pulled out pictures on his phone of those people surviving this storm on this helicopter with him. But to see that sort of human emotion out of him, taking photos with those people, moments after he changed what you can only imagine was the worst day of those people's life into a wonderful moment.

KEILAR: Can you, so --

HARTUNG: Such a big part of the story, Brianna.

KEILAR: This crew, I imagine, Kaylee, correct me if I've wrong, has been doing this for days. And if you can also -- if you can have your cameraman point back out the window so we can just get a look there so we can get a look at what's going on outside as this, right now, Kaylee, you've described this Coast Guard swim team that just had gone down had deployed from the chopper. How did they get -- were you already in the air when they got this call about two elderly who need assistance?

HARTUNG: We were. We were in the area for about an hour, maybe a little more, surveying the area. There were reports coming into the command center that a dam had broken in this area and that waters were rising.

We spent most of our time north of Beaumont -- there is so much air traffic in the air. At one point, we saw -- I saw five other choppers outside of our window. You would hear often over comm company traffic, company traffic, that means there's traffic from their company, if you will, other military aircraft in the area.

But we were the closest when this call came in and we headed straight towards it. It's hard for me to identify specifically on a map where we are. But one of the challenges that these helicopter rescue missions face is that sometimes their given addresses, sometimes latitude and longitude from the air.

Oh, Brianna, I'm listening on my comms, the rescue swimmers right now describing what they see. They have knocked on the door of a home, haven't found anybody inside. But they're experiencing the difficulty I was just telling you about in which they're given an address and from the air, of course, it's so hard to identify specifically which home that may be.

I heard one of the guys typing in an address on Google Maps earlier as we tried to identify a house. One call came earlier we tried to respond to, there was a report of 20 people on a rooftop. When we got there, we saw boats surrounding the house and those people from the roofs safely getting on boats and being taken away.

[16:25:01] KEILAR: All right. Kaylee Hartung, you were there monitoring this potential rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard near Beaumont, Texas.

We are going to monitor Kaylee's feed there coming into us and we're going to check back in with her throughout the hour.

These rescue efforts, you can see, they're still ongoing. There are tens of thousands of Harvey survivors who are stuck in shelters and officials are beginning to look at rebuilding from what may be the most expensive storm in history.

I want to bring in now Republican Congressman Will Hurd from Texas. He spent today with the civil air patrol supporting FEMA and volunteering with the Red Cross and also the San Antonio food bank.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us as we think about your state here.

REP. WILL HURD (R). TEXAS: I appreciate it. I appreciate you focusing on this.

And what you're watching just now with coast guard, they've done over 4,000 of those kinds of rescues over the last six days. That's pretty significant. There's been folks that have come from all over the country with boats and have just been going neighborhood to neighborhood to help people. And so, it really is an example of people helping people in this really, in this time of need.

KEILAR: So, San Antonio avoided the brunt of this, but that actually meant that a lot of folks there are able to stage and help folks who are really in the damaged areas. I know that you were in a call yesterday with Republican House members about Harvey, about the aid bill. What is the plan at this point in time? We're talking about recovery that could be in the ball park of $100 billion.

HURD: Yes, I think the first step is to make sure that FEMA and all the various agencies -- you know, you have 12,000 federal employees down here helping with Harvey from, you know, a dozen different agencies. And so, the goal is, make sure they have enough money to continue the immediate operations. The flood, the flood waters haven't rescinded yet in all of these locations. So, it's still kind of an active weather event.

So, we're not going to be able to assess the true damage probably until -- probably be able to begin until next week. So, the first -- the first need is, make sure that FEMA and all the folks have the money they need to continue these operations. And that's what we'll be discussing next week when we're back in session to ensure that there is no stop in this activity.

This is my first time being involved in one of these types of disasters on this side. And I will say the coordination between federal, state, and local law enforcement -- local officials has been pretty fantastic.


HURD: The private sector getting involved, you know, helping with generators, helping provide security of different locations. That level of coordination -- we've seen some significant changes since the problems that were experienced at Katrina.

KEILAR: We had a report just a moment ago, congressman, from the White House and a reporter was telling us, there's the short term issue as you were describing and then this longer term issue that you'll start to assess next week. But we do know that leadership, Republican leadership is talking about wrapping all of this into a larger package that would also deal with raising the debt ceiling and also funding the government to avert a government shutdown.

Do you think Republicans, do you think your fellow GOP members would go along with that?

HURD: I think it is. I think they will. And look, because of these expenditures right now towards the end of running out of money, this is, this is the worst time to have additional expenses. And so, these two issues are tied hand in hand.

You also got to make sure that these agencies are able to cooperate. Like I said, 12,000 federal employees that are down here helping with the coordination, and I think people recognize the impact. There's been 32,000 people in shelters in about 280 different shelters across Texas, and again, the flood hasn't receded, and so we still don't know the extent of the damage.

So, the first thing is make sure operations can continue. And I think it's hard to put a number to what this, you know, what the actual cost to rebuild is going to be, but the numbers going to be big. And we'll have to deal with that once we have an accurate number. When you look at how long it took to fully recover from Katrina, it was almost three years.


HURD: I think folks recognize it's going to be larger.

And one thing, Brianna --


HURD: -- for folks, a lot of folks that are going to the shelters understand they can go to to possibly be able to get additional or federal support. But people that were going to visit with friends or get away from those flood zones don't know that. But if you're a business or individual impacted by this disaster, you should go and register on that Website.

KEILAR: All right. Good point there. Congressman Will Hurd, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

HURD: Thank you.

KEILAR: While Congress has been struggling to pass anything, two governors from opposite sides of the aisle are saying, we'll show you how it's done. I'm going to talk with Governors John Kasich and John Hickenlooper, next.