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Evacuations, Urgent Rescues Ongoing in Disaster Zone. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 17:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news. Rescues and evacuations. Urgent rescues are still taking place in Harvey's wake. Rescuers pulling people from the water and from rooftops. In Beaumont, Texas, where floods knocked out the clean water supply, a hospital air-lifted its patients to safety, from the elderly to newborns. And concerns are growing that thousands could still be missing in the disaster zone.

[17:00:40] Risk of explosion after barrels of chemicals exploded a flooded chemical plant, shooting flames and black smoke into the sky. Authorities evacuate the surrounding area amid fears of more danger.

Door to door. Rescue workers going door to door, searching for survivors or victims. And some people are already starting to rebuild. We are with the emergency teams.

And contrasting tone. Vice President Pence goes to the disaster zone, hugging residents and cleaning up for the cameras. Something of a contrast to the president, who stayed further out of the way on his first visit, although he will return to the disaster zone this weekend. We are standing by for a news conference by the vice president.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: And the breaking news: as boats and helicopters operate nonstop rescues in the Texas disaster zone, pulling stranded residents from flooded homes and vehicles, residents are facing major new emergencies.

The entire city of Beaumont is without clean water after floods knocked out the pumps. That forced a hospital to shut down and evacuate its patients. Residents have been lining up now for bottled water.

After barrels of dangerous chemicals blew up, sending smoke some 40 feet into the air, the operators of a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, are warning of more explosions and fires. Authorities have ordered everyone within a mile and a half of the plant to evacuate.

And first on CNN, extraordinary new satellite images reveal the staggering breadth of this catastrophe. Taken before and after the storm hits, the images show the stunning amount of flooding that submerged whole communities, entire towns. And in some areas, the water is still rising.

The White House now predicts that the storm's death toll will rise and says that some 100,000 homes have been affected. The administration says it will soon put together a, quote, "responsible request for emergency funding," adding that President Trump himself has personally pledged $1 million to relief efforts.

That comes as Vice President Pence visits the disaster zone, meeting with residents in front of a damaged church. We're standing by for a news conference by the vice president shortly.

Our correspondents, analysts, and specialists have full coverage of the day's top stories. Let's go straight to the disaster zone now. CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Orange, Texas, where mandatory evacuations are under way.

Ryan, tell us what the conditions are on the ground now.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, in many parts of Orange, Texas, like where we are right now, there is concern that these flood waters are not prepared to recede quite yet. That's as why you mentioned parts of Orange County are now under a mandatory evacuation.

So as the flood waters could continue to rise here in Orange, Texas, other parts of Texas are preparing for the long and difficult recovery from Hurricane Harvey.


NOBLES (voice-over): Nearly a week after Hurricane Harvey first landed in Texas, victims still trapped in their homes. One after another, air-lifted by U.S. Coast Guard choppers. They've saved or assisted more than 6,000 victims.

On the ground, emergency workers and volunteers are combing Houston's hardest hit areas. Going door to door in areas that had been inaccessible. Those with nowhere to go continue to pour into shelters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The shelter mission is the biggest battle we have right now, as well.

NOBLES: With personnel and shelter facilities stretched to the limit, a call to the public for help.

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: We're going to be asking for volunteers to specifically look at the shelter mission. Particularly if you've -- if, you know, particularly volunteers that have shelter management experience.

NOBLES: More help is on the way: two U.S. Navy ships carrying purification systems and nearly 700 Marines. They'll join the Coast Guard, Army, Air Force, and National Guardsmen already in the impact zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're with your most vulnerable, it's nice to know that somebody is actually going to come out there and help you.

NOBLES: But problems from Harvey's aftermath are compounding. The entire city of Beaumont, with a population of 118,000, is without running water after the system's pumps failed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to be out here all day.

[17:05:00] NOBLES: Long lines are forming for limited supplies of bottled water. That lack of water is forcing this Beaumont hospital to evacuate its patients.

Arkema chemical executives say this fire was caused by overheating chemicals. The plant remains unstable, and more fires are expected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say the fumes are nontoxic or you're just not sure?

RICH RENNARD, ARKEMA EXECUTIVE: They're noxious, certainly. The smoke is noxious. Toxicity is -- it's a relative thing. I mean...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Answer the question.

RENNARD: If you breathe in the smoke, you're going to -- it's going to irritate your lungs. And it's like -- it's an irritant. It's going to cause irritation in your lungs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smoke inhalation is not going to kill you?

RENNARD: No, we don't believe that to be the case.

NOBLES: In addition to the potentially dangerous air, new fears about contamination. After the waters recede, Texas residents will face a host of potential health problems from the water and from what the water leaves behind.


NOBLES: And the rescues continue here in Orange County, Texas, in part because this community wasn't necessarily prepared for this level of flooding. Many of the folks I talked to here say they've never seen flooding like this in the more than 20 years that they have lived here.

I spoke today with the Orange County judge. He told me that some 2,700 people have been rescued from Orange County and taken to shelters across the Louisiana border. And Lake Charles, Louisiana, those evacuations continue even at this hour as the threat for flooding in this part of East Texas continues -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: The big question now, how many more thousands still in need of rescue? Ryan Nobles there. As water rescues continue in the Houston area, flooding is receding in some places. And emergency crews are now going door to door, trying to account for all of those neighborhoods' residents.

CNN's Brian Todd was out there with them today. He's been surveying the damage by both (ph).

Brian, I know you've been out with the crews for a number of days now. What does the situation look like today? Really five, six days after the storm struck?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really astounding, Jim. As you mentioned, five to six days after this, this is what you're looking at in this apartment complex in West Houston. The water is up midway past the window level on the first floor, and much of the cars -- many of the cars are just almost completely underwater.

Just moments ago, in this apartment building, and we'll have our photojournalist, Eddie Gross, pan to your right, my left. This apartment building over here just moments ago, Customs and Border Patrol agents picked a guy right out of that apartment, the second- floor apartment right there. He had been stuck there for five days. And they just pulled him out. So rescues still going on in these neighborhoods.

And Jim, you can see that the water level here is just -- it's incredible. So many days after the hurricane struck, this is part of that controlled release from the Addicks Reservoir. It hit this neighborhood late in the process. It didn't start really rising, the water here, until about 1 a.m. in the morning on Wednesday morning.

These people were taken completely by surprise. Many of them got out quickly, but some remained in their apartments. We just talked to a woman in a third-floor apartment. She was calling down. We asked her if she needed help. She said no, she's going to ride this out.

But look. I mean, look at this. This neighborhood is still completely submerged. There's no sign that the water is really going to recede. And we just -- we're still having airboats having to come in here and pull people out, Jim.

So it's really astounding that the water levels are still very, very dangerous. We talked to a fire commander earlier when we were going on dry land, knocking on doors. They still weren't getting responses in some of those houses. That means, of course, that some people may be staying with relatives, but they're just having a heck of a time trying to account for the people who are still missing and possibly injured. And look, for all we know, there could be missing and injured in any of these apartments here.

SCIUTTO: And those residents, many being told it may be weeks before they're able to go home. Brian Todd there. And you always remember when you look at those homes, each home has a story; each home has a family. The loss is just staggering.

The U.S. Coast Guard says that it has rescued -- has rescued and assisted now more than 6,000 people in the wake of storm. CNN's Kaylee Hartung has been up in one of those Coast Guard helicopters, and she joins us now.

Kaylee, I know that you've been up there on the air. You're on the ground now. What did you see in terms of how many people are still in need of rescue?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, just as Ryan was telling you, more rescues still happening in Orange, Texas. Jenny Honeycutt Goutrieu (ph) was one of them just moments ago. A 57-year- old woman there, who said water started coming into her house Tuesday at 1 a.m., is now safely in place. She also said today is her son's 26th birthday, and she wants him to know that his mother is now safe.

But this Coast Guard transport I was on, we flew around for more than an hour, looking for signs of people who needed help near Beaumont and Orange. And surprisingly enough, we didn't come across anyone until there was a call for service. These two rescue swimmers went down, trying to find two elderly that were reported in distress. But when they knocked on that door, they didn't find anyone there. The assumption being that they had been rescued by somebody on one of the many flat-bottomed boats you could see from the air in that area.

[17:10:13] But they came across Jenny. She was walking down the street in waist-deep water. She was having trouble breathing, and they recognized very quickly she was among those who need help at this time. The Coast Guard making those people with life-threatening situations their top priority. Those rescues continuing, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's one of the -- one of the keys here, that still this many days after the storm, there are still people facing danger. Kaylee Hartung there with some of the many rescuers that are coming up to help.

Joining me now by phone is Everett Beau Alfred. He's a commissioner for Jefferson County, Texas. To be clear, Jefferson County, one of the hardest hit. That includes those cities, Port Arthur and Beaumont, that you've been seeing those aerial pictures of, underwater for as far as the eye can see.

Commissioner Beau, thank you for taking the time. I'm curious today, do you have a sense of what percentage of your county is currently underwater?

EVERETT "BO" ALFRED, COMMISSIONER, JEFFERSON COUNTY, TEXAS (via phone): I would say about roughly, oh, 40 -- 40 percent of our county is underwater.

SCIUTTO: Forty percent. OK. So nearly a half.


SCIUTTO: Now, you've estimated that some 30,000 people, really just an incredible number, have already been rescued there. Do you know how many more might still be in some of those flooded homes we're looking at right now? ALFRED: That's a great question. We don't know because of the time

that the rain began and the calls we began to get them myself and the commissioner started getting calls at 1, 2, 3:30 in the morning asking for help. We started calling 911. So that was, you know -- it's a multitude of people. Some of those were picked up yesterday. But then there's, you know, still those flat-bottomed boats helped us tremendously. And that's what we call in southeast Texas and Texas as a whole. We help each other and make sure we put the rubber to the road.

SCIUTTO: Well, yes, the -- just the civilian turnout has been remarkable.

Are you confident right now, because you have that great combination. You have a lot of volunteers, neighbors helping neighbors, or even people from neighboring Louisiana coming to help out, combined with, you know, the Navy, the Coast Guard, et cetera. Do you think you have enough resources there now, looking for anybody who might still be -- still be stranded in their homes?

ALFRED: Well, we think we have enough at this present time. Is this that -- the water was so -- so lasting that -- and the time that it hit with that fine element, to a great degree, we didn't know it was going to rain that much.

But, at the present time, we think we do have enough boots on ground. We just need -- we need the country to know that we're not separate of Houston, that we are in desperate need just like the large city of Houston. And that's what I think. We have people that have lost everything.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's the thing. We keep reminding our viewers, each home there, that belongs to a family, and it's their home. It's their car. It's their possessions. And that's, of course, if they're lucky enough to get out alive.

We know that another problem that the Cajun Navy, these people with boats coming from next door in Louisiana, that of course originated after Hurricane Katrina. They've been running into the gas problems. They just can't get enough gas to continue these searches. Is that still an issue there? And how can authorities help them out?

ALFRED: Well, I tell you what, we -- we have -- I know we've put in a request for a few today, a special request in. We know that the National Guard has just come in. So we feel, we hope that that will fill that void, but we don't know.

They -- they have been a blessing, the Cajuns, Cajun Navy as they call them. They are outstanding. We are doing everything we can with the paperwork that gets the fuel that's needed. So we just hope and pray that everything goes all right here. With an area like ours that provides as much fuel to the country as we do, I'm sure we'll be able to come about it. It's just that one of our major refineries had to close down. One of the largest refineries in the country had to close down because of the massive rain, and people couldn't get there. SCIUTTO: I suppose you could say we're all neighbors now through a

crisis like this, no matter where you come from. Everybody needs the help, and so many people turning out for help.

As we look at these really just staggering live pictures from the air, live pictures, in fact, of the area. This is -- what we're looking at is Houston, but we know that that's very much the situation on the ground in Beaumont and Port Arthur.

Do you have any idea when these waters will recede and people can start going back to their homes?

ALFRED: Well, to a great degree, we're not sure totally. We know that there's supposed to be a couple of crests, and it's supposed to take place Saturday. We still will have more flooding. I'm presently in my vehicle, but we are researching their location now with several of our engineers, Corps of Engineers to see where we're at as far as the water coming in. We know there will be more flooding. There will be more flooding, no question.

[17:15:12] SCIUTTO: One of the -- one of the ironies, of course, is that you've got all this flood water, but not enough safe drinking water. And there's a hospital in Beaumont had to evacuate its patients today. Is there any time line for getting clean water services back?

ALFRED: I'll tell you what. I was with the Corps of Engineers is working with -- they the desires and methods with the city of Beaumont to devise a method where we can possibly get that drinking water online.

We had a little setback with that because the major grids that lead outside of the city of Beaumont, which is Natchez River going east towards Louisiana, that had to be closed. So that's -- I-10 closed going to work, I-10 closed going east, and 90 closed because of a massive explosion in the Houston area. It's kind of put us at a disadvantage around here right now.

SCIUTTO: Well, to say the least. Another statement you might say. What's the old saying, water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

You mentioned the explosions. Your county has a lot of refineries, oil services, et cetera. There was one explosion earlier today. What's your level of concern about -- about that danger from the plants, the refineries, et cetera?

ALFRED: Well, I'll tell you what, the plants here, we feel pretty comfortable with. There's -- they have a pretty solid safety record in dealing with things. They know when to shut things down, when to roll it back. So at this present time, we don't feel any concerns with any potential explosions or explosions besides the Alkema one that occurred already.

SCIUTTO: One thing as we look at your town, you say 40 percent of it's underwater. All of those homes. Where are the evacuees going? Is there enough shelter space in other communities to give them a safe -- a safe and comfortable place to live or for possibly for some time?

ALFRED: At the present time, we do have -- we are constantly looking for additional space. We had a couple of new chances to open up -- the Red Cross opened up a couple of new ones. We had several churches in our area.

So we're looking at potentially, for this group of individuals that we may have to move out of their homes here in a little bit, and the schools that's in the high grounds, potentially, use that school as a shelter.

So we have -- that is one thing that I think all of the other things that go with that. You know, when you go through a flood. And all your possessions are just taken away, you leave with the shirt on your back, it puts you in dire constraints. And there is no shopping right now because there was a run off all the stores basically before the storm moved in our direction. So it's in a short -- from the standpoint of goods and services because of the transportation route in the city.

SCIUTTO: Commissioner Alfred, I know you don't just represent the town, but this is your home, too. So you're suffering just like the people you represent. I want you to know that we're thinking of you and we wish you the best.

ALFRED: Hey, we appreciate you and look, Godspeed. We are resilient people in Southeast Texas; Beaumont, Texas; Port Arthur, Texas. The Golden Triangle, as we call it. We will come back without a doubt, and we'll come back in a roaring way.

SCIUTTO: Well, we know it. Don't mess with Texas. Thanks very much. We'll talk again, I hope.


SCIUTTO: Coming up, more breaking news. Rescuers in boats and helicopters pulling people from the water and from


[17:23:14] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Breaking news. We are looking at live pictures here. This is a hospital being evacuated in Beaumont, Texas. Half of that town currently underwater and that hospital there has lost all clean water. They're getting those patients out. They've been doing it all day. It is slow work. It is dangerous and delicate work.

This storm continues to plague large areas of South Texas. And of course, rescue efforts continue across Southeast Texas and also in Louisiana. Many neighborhoods remain underwater, stranded residents being plucked to safety from rooftops by helicopters.

The scale of this disaster shockingly displayed in this "New York Times" animation showing more than 3,000 calls for help made from Sunday just through yesterday. Look at the multiply there. And stretching as the storm and the rain and the flooding moved from west to east, from Houston into Port Arthur and Beaumont. That's where we saw those live pictures of the evacuation just now. Each red dot -- keep this in mind -- each red dot is a cry for help coming from someone or a family trapped by the flooding, sick people, people without food or water. People in need of urgent rescue. Just imagine how big a task that was.

I also want to show you this, because we're getting our first sense of just the broad scale of this disaster. New satellite images that have just come in from Digital Globe taken both before and after the storm hit. These are communities in Texas.

This is Simonton, Texas, before the storm. Take a look at it afterwards. Almost entirely underwater. Simonton, Texas, as well here. All of those houses there, each one a family before and after the storm. That's what it still looks like today.

Here's Holiday Lakes. You can barely tell where the lakes start and end now as you come in here. That kind of image being repeated, really, across a giant section of Texas as big as the state of New Jersey.

[17:25:08] And as the breath of the disaster becomes clearer and the damage revealed, Harvey certain to become one of the costliest storms in U.S. history, if not the costliest storm. Right now, the list is topped by Hurricane Katrina. We're going to take a look at some of the statistics from past storms. Katrina 108 billion, Sandy, $71 billion. We heard the Texas governor today say that this storm might be more than those two storms combined. We're talking the possibility of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Still has to be counted, but look at these other figures here. Just in the Houston area, some 30 to 40,000 homes destroyed or damaged. We heard from the White House that, if you include other areas besides Houston, that number up to 100,000.

Another measure of this is just how few people have insurance, because keep in mind, when people lose their home, their car, their possessions, that's really all they own. But only one in six families in Houston has flood insurance, just 15 percent, though, about a third of them are in high-risk areas now. All those other people, it's going to be a life-changing event financially. No question.

And then you just get into another measure here. Half a million cars, it's estimated, destroyed from this storm. That estimate from Cox Automotive's based on how many cars were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as reports coming in already on the damage from Harvey.

We're joined now by Democratic Congressman Al Green, whose district includes some of the hardest areas of Houston as we were seeing in those images there.

And Congressman Green, if I could just start with the current situation there, how many rescues still being conducted in your district, still need to be conducted? REP. AL GREEN (D), TEXAS: A lot fewer. The Coast Guard has done an

outstanding job. The first responders have done an outstanding job. And we have a lot fewer calls that are coming in. So this means that we will probably get to a point where we'll have much more of a manageable circumstance to deal with.

But we still have to go house to house, door to door, to determine whether there are people inside that are still suffering, and hopefully, we'll find few people who are suffering and we'll hope that fewer lives will be lost.

If I may say this, you were giving some of the statistics with reference to the harm that's been done and the cars damaged, the property that's damaged. But I'd just like to mention the lives that have been lost. Because the recovery from a life lost is exceedingly more difficult than a car that's been damaged. And I want everyone to recover. But some of the persons who are suffering will have to mourn for some time.

Our city's in mourning. We lost one of our first responders. And we are going to go on. We will carry on, but I want those families to know that we care and that we keep them in our prayers.

SCIUTTO: Well, no question, homes, as devastating as a loss can be, those are replaceable. Lives, not replaceable.

GREEN: Yes, sir.

SCIUTTO: In your district...

GREEN: Yes, sir.

SCIUTTO: ... do you know today how many people lost their lives?

GREEN: We know that about 20 in and around the Houston area have lost their lives. It's hard to say where they were living at the time. That kind of information is not readily available. But if we happen to have had one, that's of course, one too many. And we to want make sure that we comfort those who have lost loved ones, family members, friends. And those who are still in harm's way. You have our prayers, as well.

SCIUTTO: Do you have any estimate of the number of people who are still missing? You and I have talked a number of times in the last several days.


SCIUTTO: And you've been getting a better handle on this as time has passed, but today do you know? Does anyone really know?

GREEN: I don't think so. We're still trying to get a handle on it. There may be some who have looked at this closely, but I haven't seen empirical evidence that can indicate with some degree of certainty how many people are missing. And I say this because the people who might report a missing person

may be missing, as well. We want neighbors to check on neighbors, but it's difficult to check on your neighbor if you can't get out in the water that separates you from your neighbor.

So it's just difficult to know, but we're drying out. The water's receding. And we'll find out soon. My hope is that we'll find that the people are able to be found and replaced and reunited with their loved ones.

SCIUTTO: After floods like this, one of the dangers is that witches' brew that develops in flood waters: sewage, chemicals, other issues. What are the health concerns now for people who are going to be, at some point, returning to their homes?

GREEN: The health concerns are going to be great. And we want people to be aware of this. And one of the things that you should do is make sure that you get those clothing, whatever you have on, off of you as quickly as possible.

But there may be people who are diabetic...

1730 / 45

[17:30:00] REP. AL GREEN (D), TEXAS: And we want people to be aware of this and one of the things that you should do is make sure that you get those clothing, whatever you have on, off of you as quickly as possible. But there may be people who are diabetic and they haven't had their proper treatment because they've been separated from their medication. There may be people who have had some sort of respiratory diseases that they will need some attention given to.

But the good thing about being in Houston is that you in a city that has the best medical facility in the world. And we have doctors that are volunteering their time. I spoke this morning to M.J. Khan, who is with the Pakistani community, but more specifically with the Muslim community. And Muslim doctors are volunteering their time, they've opened up their places of worship to anybody who desires to come. People who are blessed are being a blessing to others. They understand that if you have something to offer, this is a good time to make that offer. I think that we'll have enough medical attention provided, my hope is that we could get to people timely.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That has been one of the most striking things about the response to this storm is just, it's the human response. Neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers, and reflection of the very diverse community that Houston is. Have you and your time ever seen anything like it?

GREEN: Not like this, no, not at all. This adversity has provided a great opportunity for a level of unity that quite frankly I've not seen before. I was out at the shelter in Missouri City where Mayor Allan Owen presides. And in that shelter, I saw a cross section of the world. There were people who were obviously from places other than Houston, Texas, other than the United States of America, meaning their place of origin for their families. And they were all living together in harmony. They were all communicating.

They were all wanting to be of assistance to others, notwithstanding the fact that they were at a shelter themselves. I did not talk to a single person who didn't want to help someone else. We have volunteerism that is above and beyond the call of duty. When I came over here, I left the NRG Center and at the NRG Center, there were volunteers waiting for 30 buses to come in. They were prepared to go out and assist so they were sitting patiently, waiting for their opportunity to serve.

SCIUTTO: Let's hope, Congressman, that's a model for all of us. It's been -- it's been heartening to watch, no question.

GREEN: I agree. And if I may share this thought with you. Ruth Smeltser gives us some words that we should take to heart. She reminds us that some measure of their lives by days and years, others by heartthrobs, passions, and tears, but the surest measure under god's sun is what for others in your lifetime have you done. This is an opportunity to do for others, to make a difference -- it's a seminole moment in time, a moment in time that can impact the rest of our time. So let's do what we can to be of service to our fellow man and woman.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Al Green, wise words. Thanks very much.

GREEN: Thank you, sir. Thank you. God bless you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, a live update as rescue crews use boats to go from house to house in flooded neighborhoods making sure that everyone has gotten out alive. Also, the vice presidential touch. Mike pence visits the disaster zone helping to haul away debris and doing things the President Trump did not do during his own visit earlier this week.


[17:38:32] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. You're watching live pictures there from Corpus Christi, Texas, in just moments, Vice President Mike Pence will speak to reporters there at a base. You can see some Marine Ospreys back there. The U.S. Marines have been called in, one of -- as part of the large rescue effort now under way in the wake of hurricane Harvey as we await, the vice president. We want to show you some new images -- satellite images of before and after this incredible storm, the before there, then the after. Just showing the extent of the flooding across these communities.

Again before and after Harvey. Devastation, each of those homes, another one here, before from space and after. The locations that's Simonton, Texas. This is Brookshire, Texas, there before and after the flooding. Just incredible. And we're seeing images like this across the state. This is Arlington, DigitalGlobe supplying these to Angleton rather, DigitalGlobe supplying these images to CNN, giving us just now that the clouds have cleared somewhat, this is difficult in recent days, the true extent of the flooding from Harvey.

I want to go to Sara Murray now, she's been traveling with the vice president as he goes down -- oh, she's at the White House actually. The vice president traveling to the disaster zone but our Sara Murray covers the White House, she's at the White House. What do we expect from the vice president today after his visit to the -- to the hardest -- well, not the hardest hit areas of the storm, but some of the areas hit by the storm?

[17:40:06] SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Jim, I think Jim that the administration really wants to send the message that they understand how catastrophic this event has been and that the Federal Government is really in it with Texas and with other areas that may be affected for the long haul. I mean, if you look at the images of Mike Pence's visit so far today, he's helping to clear debris in some storm-ravaged neighborhoods. He was talking to volunteers.

He was talking to local officials. He and his wife, the second lady, Karen Pence, they prayed over a number of people there. And sent their prayers out to the storm victims. And we also know that they did an aerial tour today to get a better expense as you were showing the aerial pictures there of just how enormous the scope of this damage is. How high the waters are in some of these areas. And look what Mike Pence is seeing there on the ground today really is matching with the rhetoric we're hearing from officials in Washington.

We heard from Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert earlier today who said their early statement is 100,000 homes have been either damaged or destroyed so far as a result of this storm. They said they expect that there will be further deaths, the death toll will rise as the clean-up efforts ensue. And that they're urging people to be careful in these clean-up efforts and saying, you know, there are other instances that can occur as you're clearing debris. They want people to be safe as they're doing that.

But they also pointed out that they know that there is going to need to be a Federal component in this. While local officials are taking the lead on the ground, while officials in Texas are taking the lead, the Federal Government is preparing supplemental aid package. Sean Bossert said that will come soon and that's just going to be the first bite of the apple for them. They want to do short term aid. That's certainly what members of Congress from Texas and Louisiana are asking for and then they're saying they're willing to come back in it a second time later down the road.

That's if they get a fuller extent of the damage of how much it's going to cost to try to hit some of these clean-up efforts. So that's what we're hearing from White House officials. I imagine we're going to hear more of that from Mike Pence today. As well as maybe some sort of personal revelations from what he's seen on the ground there, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray at the White House there, we've just been watching pictures of Vice President Pence along with the Texas Governor Abbott on his visit there. Kaitlan Collins, you cover the White House as well. I wonder if we could see that the White House might have heard some of the mild criticism of the president's trip that he did not meet face to face with storm victims there in Vice President Pence who clearing some brush, hugging people who've been through the storm.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think the White House is definitely sensitive to the criticism that the president wasn't empathetic enough when he went to visit Texas the other day. And I think they'll be looking to strike that tone when he and the first lady travel there this weekend because it wasn't just that he didn't visit a shelter or didn't or didn't acknowledge or didn't, you know, hug a victim. He didn't really acknowledge the hardship that these people have gone through when he was there in Texas.

Instead he talked more about his agencies and the relief efforts and how he wants them to be a textbook example going forward. So, I think that's something that the White House is sensitive to and they're going to looking for him to strike that tone when he goes back. And as you know today, Sarah Huckabee sanders, the press secretary announced he's going to donate one million of his -- $1 million from his personal money to the relief efforts.

SCIUTTO: And go back this weekend as well. And we should note in fairness, the reason the vice president and the president did not go straight to Beaumont or to Port Arthur and to Houston is because that is the hardest scenario, and he didn't want to bring --

COLLINS: Exactly. He could have faced criticism for going there too soon.


COLLINS: Disrupting recovery efforts. Exactly.

SCIUTTO: All that comes the president could be disrupted. Manu Raju, we just -- we've been talking a lot about seeing the images of how extensive this damage is, White House talking about 100,000 homes in the aftermath of this. I mean, this is a devastating losses for the families here. We heard from White House Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert today that the White House will come soon with an emergency funding request, but it will be separate from the debt ceiling. Doable?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: I don't know yet. And I think that he may have been speaking a little bit out of school because he had his, the members of congress, the leadership that it's going to actually draft this legislation. This is all coming at a key time, a very difficult time on the Hill. Fiscal season, they have to get the government funded passed September 30th to avoid a shutdown and they're reaching that debt limit if they don't raise the debt ceiling. There will be a debt default.

The one thing that the Republican leaders believe is that if you add the Hurricane Harvey package to debt ceiling increase, debt ceiling is never anything that most members don't want to vote for. You have that there, it'll almost impossible to vote against Harvey funding package when you have the debt ceiling increase attached to it. So that is one thing they're looking at, but if it delays things further, that is the real risk, but also we don't know the price tag for this yet. It could be very costly and we don't know if conservatives will demand offsets to cut spending to pay for it.

SCIUTTO: Well, we heard Governor Abbott today again say it's early, you know for sure, he said, it could be as costly as Katrina and Sandy combined. Katrina about 100 billion, Sandy 70 million, we are getting into -- what do they say? You know, billion here, billion there, talking about real money.

[17:45:08] But that's a devastating amount of money. John Kirby, as you look again, some of the -- and some of these are live images we are seeing as the evacuation continue. This on the left is of a hospital in Beaumont, Texas that lost its clean water supply. You're seeing the military out in force, coast guard as well, they're going to be there for some time.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think so, Jim. I mean, clearly the message the Defense Department is saying is that they're going to be there as long as needed. And obviously the civil authorities get decide that. It's really up to Governor Abbott to determine how much he wants and for how long he wants the military presence. But they are certainly going to come prepared to stay as long as it takes. They can sustain themselves, they cannot have to live off the local communities.

One of the great things about military forces and they bring a lot of capability to the fight to the effort and I know that they're very -- making it clear that they're going to stay as long as needed. And I think, you know, it could be months.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No question and the need will be there for months. We have CNN producer on the ground there with that live picture is of those evacuations continuing at a hospital in Beaumont, Texas. One of the hardest hit communities there, he's Brian Rokus. Brian, tell us, this has been going on for hours. It's a big hospital. How many more patients do they need to get to safety?

BRIAN ROKUS, CNN PRODUCER (via telephone): Jim, quite a few actually. Probably 193 people inside the hospital (INAUDIBLE) numbers that are actually evacuated so far. They're taking the most critical patients though by helicopter and then the less critical ends up (INAUDIBLE) we have on the ground now right here, we have at least eight medevac choppers waiting for patients to evacuate. This is the third wave of search numbers we've had so far this afternoon. And then earlier about noontime, we had two black hawk medical evacuation choppers from the National Guard which took approximately 10 dialysis patients off the -- off the ground here.

SCIUTTO: Understood. So how much longer do they say it's going to take to get everybody out of there?

ROKUS: They're not really sure. The helicopters are coming as they are available. Obviously there's other missions because helicopters are running, you know, around the area with the other evacuations going on. But they are going to try to get as many out as possible. And to be clear, the hospital here isn't actually absolutely flooding. The issue is the lack of water sort of ironically. With no water here in the city, they just can't probably care for every patients.

SCIUTTO: That's always the irony of flooding, right? There's flood waters everywhere, but not necessarily clean drinking water. Reminder, this is just one hospital in one community. And scenes like this have been playing out for days across just a broad swath of Southern and Southeastern Texas there. Our Brian Rokus on the ground. Jeffrey Toobin, you've been watching the president's response to this. And if the criticism of George Bush after Katrina was a lack of attention, lack of resources, you can't say the same about this, can you?

President Trump has been very involved from the very beginning. Very public about that involvement, Vice President Pence, the military sending resources, neighboring communities, good marks for the president early on?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the only fair thing to say is incomplete. I mean, we don't even know the extent of the damage. Certainly there has been a lot of attention and he has gone once, he's going to go back again this weekend. But, I mean the real test is how long it takes to get Houston and the related areas back on it' feet. And whether the city and the whole region can begin to function again. And that's going to involve persuasiveness with congress.

And you know, I think we can only judge the success or failure of the Trump administration's efforts here when we see what they are in their full extent. So certainly as a political matter in terms of focus and attention, it's a good start, but the merits matter more than the optics. And that's not resolved yet.

SCIUTTO: Sure. Some of the biggest challenge is always after the storm there. Just a reminder, these are live pictures in the lower -- in the -- in the left-hand side there of an evacuation still under way in Beaumont, Texas, this is one of the hardest hit communities there. We were speaking to the Representative, the Congressman from there saying that some 40 percent of the area is still underwater. That's a lot of homes. Many thousands of homes, many residents, and here some of the most vulnerable hospital patients, the most vulnerable of them being taken out Medevac by helicopter.

In the lower right-hand corner, these are live pictures from Corpus Christi, Texas, where in moments we expect Vice President Mike Pence who's been visiting Corpus Christi area today, meeting with some storm victims, he's going to make comments along with Governor Abbott, Texas Governor Abbott who he's been touring the area with. They're going to speak shortly and take questions shortly. The moment that comes on, we're going to go right to it. Manu Raju, as we wait for the vice president to come out, you talk about the president's marks and reaction to the storm, legislatively if you here you could see the vice president here, so maybe just a quick thought, getting through the money that's needed for the storm, you can call that a test on the Hill for the president. [17:50:14] RAJU: It will be. And you've expect that will probably be

approved members on both sides are going to get behind something even if the price tag is very high. I think that's why they're going to do this in installments, Jim. They realize that it's going to be incredibly, incredibly costly, cut it --maybe do it one, two, three packages, maybe they can get quick approval that way.

SCIUTTO: All right. And here you have, this is Governor Abbottt about to speak. We'll have a listen.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Thank the vice president of the United States for coming to Texas today. What a remarkable and informative but also heartbreaking trip as we saw devastation from Rockport to Aransas County all the way over to Victoria. We saw broken homes and we talked to so many people with broken hearts. But we also saw something that is so incredible that has arisen because of this crisis and that is the resiliency of our fellow Texans and fellow Americans.

We went up to some homes of people who had their homes completely destroyed. They were sitting out front and they were just proud to be a Texan and proud that we were there to help them out. We went to help remove debris from a lawn that was completely littered. And I had the chance to hold a two-week old baby, a baby that was born just days before Hurricane Harvey hit our coast. And his mom was a prideful mom, beaming with that big motherly smile that you would expect as if the storm had never hit.

But I want you to know, it has hit. It has hit the lives of the people all the way from Nueces County to Jefferson County and horrific flooding in between. And I'm so proud of the way that the president and the vice president and their entire cabinet have stood up, stood strong and supported the people of Texas. Since more than a week before the hurricane even came ashore the president and his cabinet were in constant contact with the office asking, governor, what can we do for the people of Texas?

Ever since then there has been close daily collaboration between my office with local officials, with the White House and with their cabinet. I've never seen a president, a vice president or a cabinet who have responded as swiftly and as effectively to people in need like the people of Texas overcoming the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey. Mr. Vice President I thank you. I thank the president. I thank the cabinet members with us here today. But candidly I got to tell you, the people I thank the most are fellow Texans.

The way that we see Texans helping Texans, rescue each other, pull each other out of flooding waters and save their lives is the average every day Texan who are the true heroes. But we know Mr. Vice President that this is going to take more than a few days for us to overcome. It is going to take months as we go into the transition period and then years for us to fully recover. I could not be prouder to have as partners in this process President Trump, our tremendous vice president and the men and women who serve on the president's cabinet.

I'm honored to have with me here today a man who is more than the vice president of the United States, a man who is a friend. A man who knows how to govern. A man who knows how to face challenges and overcome those challenges. A man who will help Texas lead to build an even better Texas. I'm proud to introduce Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Governor Abbott and Cecilia, thank you for the extraordinary leadership that you're providing for the people of Texas. The president said just yesterday that you were doing an incredible job. In traveling as we did today, here through Corpus Christi and Rockport and Victoria. Seeing the response on the ground and seeing the results. I echo that with a grateful heart. Thank you for your leadership.

[17:55:09] I'm also grateful to be joined by members of our cabinet, secretary of transportation Elaine Chao, secretary of Veterans Affairs, Shulkin, and who else is back there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary of labor.

PENCE: Secretary of labor, Alex Acosta, and we'll hear just momentarily from each one of them as well as our secretary of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke. The president sent Karen and I here today to survey the damage and ensure that the full resources of the Federal Government are being brought in support of the effort of state and local officials to rescue those that are in harm's way, to help communities begin to recover and to lay a foundation to rebuild Texas in the wake of this horrific storm.

The president will be returning to Texas this Saturday with the first lady and will be traveling to Houston and other destinations within the state. Again to reinforce our administration's commitment to bring the resources and the compassion of the American people to this dire moment in the life of Texas. The president also sent me here with a very simple message. First, a message of gratitude to this governor and the state and local officials who have stepped forward with such professionalism and such consistency in this historic storm.

Secondly, a word of gratitude to all of your first responders here in Texas. Those who at this very hour are continuing to put themselves in harm's way to rescue people and deliver them from danger. They and you have inspired the nation and we commend them on behalf of our president. I'm also -- I'm also here to express our appreciation and admiration for the federal team, some 21,000 Federal officials that are here on the ground in Texas, Department of Defense personnel, FEMA personnel, our president, our entire administration are proud of the long hours and the efforts that each of you have put into this effort to date and the commitment you have to see this through.

And lastly, as the governor eluded, I think Karen and I today were most inspired by the volunteers. To see the outpouring of compassion and concern was deeply inspiring to us. And every American should know that even in this difficult time, this disastrous storm at the very best are the people of Texas and the people of America are shining forth. We stood in a yard. We watched total strangers helping to remove debris, helping people put their families and their lives back together. And on behalf of the president I want to urge every American to do what Texans who themselves are often times dealing with hardship in their own household, their own family are doing that is find a way to help. You can go online. You can donate resources or you can do like thousands of Americans are already doing and will be doing in the weeks and months ahead and that is find a way to get here. And be the hands and feet and compassion of the American people to help these families, help these communities rebuild.

President Trump often reminds us that we are one American family that when one hurts we all hurt. We stand together in difficult times. And to the people of Texas on behalf of President Trump, I say you are in our prayers and in our hearts. And we are with you. As the president said in his visit here earlier this week and said again yesterday I say it today. On behalf of the American people with the leadership of President Donald Trump to the people of Texas we are with you today.

We will be with you tomorrow and we will be with you every day until this great state and these great communities recover and rebuild to be even better and stronger than ever before. With that, allow me to recognize the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke.

[18:03:00] ELAINE DUKE, ACTING UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Good afternoon. As the acting secretary of Homeland Security my job is to tell you about the work that the Federal Government is doing in supporting the governor in the State of Texas in its recovery.