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THE SITUATION ROOM
Hurricane Relief Efforts Continue; Interview with Congressman Gene Green of Texas; New Hurricane Threat: Irma Strengthens to Category Three Storm; Hospital Evacuated; Beaumont, Texas, Without Running Water; New Mandatory Evacuations in Orange County, Texas. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 31, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: 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 and the state of Texas in its recovery.
As the vice president said, we have rescued more than 10,000 people from the state of Texas. And we are in the process of individual assistance to help people get back to their lives and homes.
To date, we have approved already over 100,000 requests totaling $50 million of individual assistance. Today, we saw some hope of the recovery. Some of the hope was in infrastructure, the Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport opening.
But more important, we saw the hope in the people. This is a real partnership to complete the work that needs to be done in Texas.
We, as the federal government, will be supporting the state and its people. The not-for-profits that are here hugely, important, Congress, everyone, it is important that we all come together. And I think what was most momentous to me led by the survivors we met with today was how much hope, joy and love is still in Texas.
And I just pray that that flows throughout the world and grows in the United States and beyond. We will continue with the infrastructure recovery. We expect search-and-rescue to continue for the next couple of days, the waters to peak, hopefully within two days and then as we recede we can get out of the search-and-rescue mode and more further into recovery for the survivors in the area.
And, again, I thank you. It's an honor to be here and be able to support this, and take the energy back to DHS, where we will continue to work with the people of Texas. Thank you.
I would like to turn it over now to Secretary Chao.
ELAINE CHAO, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Thank you. Thank you.
You know, today has been a very emotional and yet inspiring day, as you have heard from the governor, the vice president and also Secretary Duke. The Department of Transportation is doing everything possible to support Governor Abbott and the people of Texas. We are making available more than $100 million in financial support to meet the infrastructure needs of Texas.
There is approximately $353 million in pending Department of Transportation funds available to Texas between today and the end of the fiscal year, October 1, September 30. The department has over 40 staff from the (INAUDIBLE) administrations, ground, air, transit, railways, waterways, on the ground, coordinating, getting transit assets back up and running, finding drivers for buses and trucks, for example.
And a team from the Federal Highways Administration has been on the ground before the storm even made landfall providing technical assistance to the Texas Department of Transportation. We are working with the state of Texas to reopen the airports. So far, as you have heard, Corpus Christi, New Orleans, Houston IAH, Houston Hobby and Victoria are open in some capacity. Beaumont Airport remains closed except for military flights.
Roads in the impacted areas continue to be inundated with water with many closures. We are learning more by the hour and are working with our state partners to assess conditions as quickly as the water recedes.
We have also identified more than 200 engineers who can be on the scene within 48 hours to begin expedited inspections of roads and bridges so we can be on the way to recovery.
Our crisis center is manned 24/7 to monitor critical infrastructure. We also have a special hot line for first-responders and others who need to know how to get around blocked routes.
And just an hour ago, I signed an executive order at the request of Governor Abbott basically waiving the requirements to allow expedited fuel deliveries from 25 surrounding states to help the delivery of fuel to Texas, because one of the things that we are learning is the declining supplies of aviation, oil, gasoline, all sorts of fuel supplies.
So, Governor, we have waived that requirement and you got it.
CHAO: Oh, I'm so sorry. I was once secretary of labor. So, I cannot forget the current secretary of labor, Alex Acosta.
ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: Thank you.
Today was a difficult day. We saw a lot of destruction. But we also saw individuals, Texans that were here, as the governor said, helping each other. Texans helping Texans. And my takeaway today is that Texans are survivors.
They are helping each other. They are solving their problems. The president also wants to make sure, however, that all of us in the Cabinet are here to support the governor and to support his efforts. And so there are individuals who may be wondering, what will happen to my job? Will it be there? Will I have to retrain?
And so the Department of Labor is making available to the state of Texas $30 million to assess work force needs from the Dislocated Worker Fund. We have also approved disaster unemployment insurance so that those individuals that do not qualify otherwise for unemployment insurance can have access to a means to make it by until they find a job.
Today, we saw individuals that are going to survive and are going to rebound because they are resilient. They are determined to rebuild and they have incredible character. And that is a testament to the people of this state and that part of it was the best takeaway from today. Thank you, Governor.
And we have with us as well the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Shulkin.
DAVID SHULKIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Good afternoon. We have over 528,000 veterans in the affected area. And the Department of Veteran affairs is here to make sure that they are getting the care they need.
Our medical centers have remained open throughout Texas and Louisiana. And although some of our outpatient centers have been damaged, every day, we are getting more and more of those opened up. I am very proud of the men and women that serve in the Department of Veteran Affairs to make sure we fulfill that mission.
As many people said, today was an amazing day and I was honored to be with the vice president and Mrs. Pence and the governor and my fellow Cabinet members. Wherever we went today, we saw amazing volunteers and no surprise many of them were veterans.
And, again, those people who have stood up to serve their country, put their life on the country continue to serve even after they come back. Veterans are amazing people who are giving to their community and I was so proud to be with them today and to be able to see this firsthand.
I'm now going to turn this back to the vice president, who will take some questions.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Questions for me or for the governor from any of the press.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
Darlene Superville, Associated Press.
How soon will the administration send its initial disaster aid request to Congress? How large will it be? And do you think this funding should be offset by budget cuts?
PENCE: Well, thank you, Darlene.
And let me say that the administration has already been in contact with members of Congress about a supplemental appropriations bill to deal with the immediate needs of federal assistance for individuals, as well as assistance to businesses that are recovering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
And we expect Congress to move quickly on the initial legislation and we will be working very diligently in the opening weeks of Congress to accomplish that.
But let me say we are very confident that members of Congress in both political parties appreciate the historic nature of this storm and understand the enormous burden that it has placed on families and communities here in Texas.
And we anticipate strong and bipartisan support for that measure. I will tell you that decisions with regard to overall budgeting will be based on decisions that are made by members of Congress and by the president. But as I have done in the past, I look forward to strongly supporting the president's leadership as we make sure that Texas in real time, as we are still in the midst of a rescue operation and in recovery operation that is unfolding before us, that in real time has the resources and that no Texan should doubt as they apply for available federal assistance, no small business or business that is affected should doubt that this administration, this Congress will come together and make sure those resources are there.
QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, Matthew Seedorff, NBC, FOX San Antonio.
We have spoken to numerous people that have lost everything from this hurricane. I'm sure you have as well. And they are terrified because they say that FEMA is not getting back to them. What advice do you have for them specifically?
PENCE: Well, I am going to ask Elaine to come forward, but at this point, I can tell you, as of this morning, we have actually had more than 311,000 citizens who have gone online or telephoned in to register for disaster assistance.
And I am pleased and I think Texans should be encouraged to know that we have already distributed more than $530 million in assistance. But as we focus on the rescue operation and as of this morning, there were still 900 calls per hour coming in. And saving lives has been the number one priority of the governor, of the president, of all of us and continues to be.
We just urge people to take every opportunity that they have, whether it's by telephone or online, to apply for that federal assistance and know that help is on the way. And we will make sure that every Texan and every Texas business that is entitled to federal support receives that support.
Elaine, did you want to add to that?
I support everything the vice president said. If you can get online, the best way to apply is online because you can enter a lot of data that way, your insurance, how to get back to you. That is the best way if possible. If not, use the phone banks.
We are -- I will call it triaging. So there's people that have mortgage payments due that are currently not in situations where they need immediate assistance. We are prioritizing based on that. Additionally, one of the challenges of individual assistance for this disaster is going to be the broad scope of where the floods were and how long the floodwaters are lasting.
So we can't even get in there to start looking at damage to homes yet. But I would say if you have immediate needs, call back. We are setting up a joint office here with all the federal resources. If you haven't heard back in a day or two and would like to check on your application online or call and follow up, but if you are not a priority, it could take a couple of days. Thank you.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: I want to add one important piece of information, and that is to go online, go to disasterassistance.gov, disasterassistance.gov.
If you are in one of the counties that has been declared a federal disaster, you can get assistance. And we urge you to go online and register as quickly as possible at disasterassistance.gov.
PENCE: Thank you, Governor.
QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, Jennifer Jacobs from Bloomberg News.
Going back to offsets, sir, do you still stand by your position from 2005 that disaster relief funding should be offset by cuts elsewhere? And can you tell us what the Trump administration's position will be on offsets, please?
PENCE: I know President Trump's top priority right now is focusing on rescue and recovery efforts. We are going to be working diligently and have already begun to work with the Congress to make sure the full resources to backstop those efforts to provide for recovery and ultimately to provide for rebuilding communities that have been devastated by Hurricane Harvey is there.
I was very pleased -- before I was a vice president, before I was a governor, I was a member of Congress. And I was very pleased to support federal disaster funding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But in the months that followed that, I was also part of an effort in Congress to find savings in the budget to pay for that.
And I would leave those decisions to members of Congress and to the president of the United States as we move forward. But I can tell you right now that the focus of President Trump, myself, the focus of this governor, our entire administration and I believe the focus of every member of Congress, the local congressman whom is with us today, Congressman Blake Farenthold, will be to work together on a bipartisan basis and make sure that none of the families that are feeling that anxiety we just heard about in the last question have any reason to be concerned, that the resources will be there, the assistance that the American people have approved will be available.
And as communities prepare to recover and to rebuild, I'm very confident that members of both political parties will work with our administration to move the legislation forward to rebuild Texas bigger and better than ever before.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Vice President. Elizabeth Landers representing the network pool today.
PENCE: Hi, Liz.
QUESTION: Just wondering, after seeing the damage here today with your members of the Cabinet, what do you think is going to be the hardest part of rebuilding Texas? Anything specific?
PENCE: Well, I will tell you that -- and I know I speak for everyone gathered here -- that the sights and sounds and conversations we had today were just overwhelming.
The resilience of the people of Texas has been inspiring. To see people who have gone through the horror of one of the largest natural disasters in American history, to be standing shoulder to shoulder, passing out food to their neighbors, helping their neighbors clear out their homes with a smile on their faces, it is humbling to me and it is deeply inspiring.
But I would tell you the long-term challenge will be is getting people back into their communities and into their homes. When we were in Rockport today, as I shared with the governor, we heard from families and some high school students that were just very anxious to get back in their school.
They wanted to have their senior year in their school in Rockport. And we talked to families that were anxious to get back in their homes. I know as of this morning, FEMA had prepositioned some 2,000 manufactured homes.
We have ordered another 4,000. We are looking to secure additional housing. The priority will be once we work our way through the rescue efforts, which are ongoing, and we move through recovery and then rebuilding, the priority of our administration working very closely with Governor Abbott and his administration, is to get people back in their communities and get people back on their streets as quickly as possible. And so housing and finding available housing will be a long-term
challenge, but again the sheer magnitude of this storm, its impacts that we saw on the ground and from the air are not lost on anyone here.
The president was deeply moved by the suffering and struggle of the people of Texas when he was here on Tuesday. And he and the first lady will be returning this Saturday. And we are just going to stay with the people of Texas all the way through in not just the weeks and months, but very likely the years that it will take for us to rebuild southeast Texas.
And we know we will with these good and strong people, bigger and better than ever before. OK. Thank you all very much.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jim Sciutto in THE SITUATION ROOM. Wolf Blitzer is off today.
We just heard there from Vice President Mike Pence, members of the Cabinet as well, after touring parts of the flood disaster area in Texas. The president's team setting the stage for his return to the flood zone on Saturday.
We are following all the breaking news on this disaster. Right now, the swamped city of Beaumont, Texas with more than 100,000 people, has no running water after the pumps there failed. That forced the evacuation of nearly 200 patients at a hospital and has added to a sense of panic among many victims desperate for food and clean water.
With large parts of East Texas facing dire conditions, one county warned its residents to "get out or die." Outside of Houston, new explosions and fires could erupt at any time at a flooded chemical plant. There are many of them. Black smoke billowing up some 40 feet in the air after two initial blasts caused by chemicals that overheated when the cooling system lost power.
Tonight, the president's homeland security adviser is warning people to stay out of a mile-and-a-half evacuation zone around the plant where he says that even smoke could be dangerous.
Authorities in Houston have started going door to door to search for flood victims who could still be trapped. Emergency workers and private citizens have saved thousands in dramatic rescue operations still under way right now. Others could not make it out alive. At least 39 people have died from Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath and the death toll, warns the White House, is still climbing.
Today, the White House says some 100,000 homes have been affected by this disaster.
Right now, let's go to Brian Todd. He's in Houston.
Brian, what kind of damage are you seeing there tonight? I know you are going out with rescue crews that are still hard at work.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. [18:20:00]
This is still a first-responder situation. Look at this apartment complex in West Houston. Flood levels still just halfway up the doors and windows of this complex.
Just moments ago, we witnessed a rescue of a man from this complex right around here who had been holed up for almost six days since the hurricane. All this going on here in West Houston, as communities in East Texas are also in need of harrowing rescues.
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?
TONY RORAI, HURRICANE VICTIM: No, not now.
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 so many areas are like this, still heavily flooded days after the storm.
And even in those areas where there is dry ground, Jim, officials are saying there are still hazards. There could be wires loose and other hazards in the homes. So, they just don't want people to go home just yet, even though many are tempted to -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Brian Todd, a lot of the officials we have spoken to in Texas have said they are not sure that everybody is safe. They are still searching for people trapped.
At any moment in various parts of the flood zone, rescue crews are ready to head out in helicopters and planes, on boats, and foot, any way they can manage.
CNN's Anderson Cooper was on board for aerial rescue missions today.
He joins us now from Houston.
Anderson, as you have been up in the air there, do you get the sense that they are getting a better handle on how many people still need to be rescued?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is a very fluid situation.
They do get 911 calls, but a lot of what these pilots -- and we were with an amazing crew of Coast Guard pilots and rescue workers today flying around Beaumont, around Vidor. We were supposed to head towards Port Arthur, but ended up just staying really around the Beaumont-Vidor area as they went about rescuing a number of people, about 15 people in all, over the course of several hours.
But a lot of the rescues that they undertook today, it ended up being just people they saw on rooftops who were in distress, who were literally waving the helicopters down, signaling that they needed evacuation.
And these pilots, they are so professional and so good. They spend so much time flying low over the water and trying to analyze the situation. There is not a lot of communication here between the helicopter pilots and the boats, the volunteers who are out there. There are even some law enforcement boats.
They don't have direct communication, so these pilots try to focus on areas off the beaten track, off main roads, where they are not seeing a lot of boats in the area, where they're not seeing a lot of vehicles that might be able to rescue people on the ground.
And I can tell you the pilot started off this morning with the crew that I was with, the Coast Guard chopper I was with. They thought today was going to be a pretty slow day. The weather was good. They thought in a lot of places water has started to go down.
But when they got out to Beaumont, when they got out to Vidor, they saw just how bad the flooding was. And, as I said, they -- first they found two people in a home who had been trying to ride out the storm, ended up needing evacuation with their two dogs.
Then they ended up taking four more people with some more pets. Then they ended up -- they got word that a dam had broken near the Vidor- Beaumont area and was threatening a shelter that had already a lot of people, so they landed outside the shelter.
They got about six people -- actually nine people on board, six adults, three children on board, as well as a number of pets. They ended up taking them to the airport -- to a local airport, where they dropped them off, where they could shelter.
It's a very fluid situation. They thought today was going to be a slow day. It ended up being anything but.
SCIUTTO: Yes. As we watch these operations there, we are seeing some of the tape you got earlier, Anderson.
They looked like they are automatic. Right? They're hovering there. But they are difficult, difficult for the pilots and difficult for the crews and for those people put in those baskets as they come up.
Do you have a sense that tomorrow those helicopter crews will be out there again still looking for people trapped?
COOPER: I think they're absolutely going to be out there.
I can tell you there are a lot of air assets in place. The Coast Guard is out there. A lot of different military choppers are out. The Customs and Border Protection, they have choppers as well. There is almost so many choppers in the air that that is another danger frankly for these pilots.
There is not weather issues for the pilots anymore. As you can see, the sun is out. It has been a nice day. There is some slight winds which actually can help the helicopter pilots.
But there are so just many choppers in the air, they have to constantly be turning around and looking and trying to monitor all the helicopters that are in the area in addition to electrical poles, antennas, anything that might cause them problems and impede their ability to rescue.
But they are definitely going to be out there tomorrow. The Coast Guard says they have aided or rescued as many as 9,000 people so far, about 1,000 pets. That work continues for them and for so many others.
SCIUTTO: It is always difficult -- and I am reluctant to question the efforts early on because they don't know how big the storm will be, they don't know where the worst of the storm is going to be.
But as you have been out there now looking at people still in need, there was some delay in requesting military helicopters to come in and do rescues like the ones you have been witnessing there. As you have been out there, did you get a sense that they should have been out there a few days earlier?
COOPER: You know, I'm not really sure. I don't know how long that -- this crew had been out there for -- they arrived yesterday. The pilots I talked to got started flying yesterday.
There is certainly a lot of assets on the ground. There is certainly a lot of assets in the air right now. Whether they should have been there sooner, I don't know how many assets were in that area operating three days ago or four days ago.
I think that remains to be seen. But I can tell you they certainly have a lot of assets out there right now. But it's -- there is a lack of communication and it's just frankly difficult for all these different agencies, all these different volunteers to communicate with the different agencies.
At this point, as much as they are getting information from 911, a lot of it is just going out there, seeing what they see, and improvising and taking the initiative, which these pilots do better than anybody.
SCIUTTO: Yes, it's incredible to imagine, but also a real risk to them.
Anderson, I know you are going to be back with much more from the flood zone on his program tonight, "ANDERSON COOPER 360." That's at 8:00 Eastern time right here on CNN.
I want to go now to Beaumont, Texas. That's one of the hardest-hit communities in the storm. The entire city without running water. One of the great ironies of storms like this, water everywhere, but water is dangerous. You certainly can't drink it.
And for a hospital there, it's been under evacuation, because they cannot get clean water to their patients.
CNN national correspondent Miguel Marquez is right there.
What is the status of the evacuation now, Miguel?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is a city in the grips of an enormous emergency.
This is Beaumont Baptist Hospital. They have been evacuating people for much of the last 24 hours or so. They had 193 patients at midnight. They were able to discharge some that did not need immediate help. And then over the course of the day, this has been happening.
Chopper after chopper after chopper taking out patients in incredible need. They have been concentrating on those in ICU first, those in the natal ICU, and then those who are on dialysis before they can get out others.
The problem here is not damage from flooding. It's the water system that has gone out for the entire city. All 120,000 people here on very, very short notice discovered they would have no water coming up. One pump station in the city of Beaumont went down because of flooding on the Neches River.
Another pump station north of the city went down because of that flooding, as well. City officials can't even tell residents right now when they will have water back. They're saying that it could be into next week before the Natchez River starts to recede. It's not meant to crest, it appears, until tomorrow or Sunday.
[18:30:27] That, once it gets down far enough, then they can get into the water system and figure out what needs to be fixed. And only then can they begin to actually fix the system. It could be days, if not weeks, before Beaumont, Texas, has water again -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: And that's the thing. The suffering to these communities, that's going to continue for some time. And many people, sadly, may never be able to return to their homes.
Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.
Tonight new evacuations have been ordered in parts of Orange County, Texas. This is near rivers swollen by the flooding. That's another thing: you don't have to be close to the coast to be in danger here. Those rivers are take a lot of water from other flooded areas and many of them continuing to rise.
CNN's Ryan Nobles has been in one such community.
Ryan, what are you seeing there, and are most people out of that neighborhood now?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, for the most part, Jim, this neighborhood is deserted. We've seen some folks come in to get some supplies and then leave. And for the most part, the water in this neighborhood is actually starting to recede a little bit. But many of the residents that we talked to have said that they're not quite comfortable that the worst is over yet.
That's because the two main rivers, the Sabina and the Natchez River, which are near this community, have yet to crest; and there's a very good chance that once they do, another round of flooding could come into this community.
That's why the emergency management officials here in Orange County, Texas, have ordered a mandatory evacuation for some of those communities, especially those that are closest to the river. And even in neighborhoods like this, which is not under a mandatory evacuation, most people have gotten to higher ground and to drier land, just to be safe.
Now, there's another kind of complicating factor involved in this, and that's because there is a major dam just over the Louisiana border where they are periodically letting off water to allow for some relief for some of these swelling bodies of water in the area. That could then lead to more flooding in this community.
So the hard part for people in this town is that they really cannot begin the recovery process yet, because they don't know if the worst is behind them. And even though you can see some pavement in the distance there and even this particular community could lose all the water that's on these city streets, there's a good chance that the flooding could crop back up again, and they'd have to go through this all over again.
And this is a neighborhood that never sees flooding like this. We talked to a number of residents who have lived here for more than 20 years and have never seen this amount of water.
So Jim, it is going to be a very dicey 24 to 48 hours for folks here in Orange County, Texas, as they ride out the remnants of Hurricane Harvey -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Ryan Nobles there, and he makes a good point. Unpredictable before the storm. Unpredictable after the storm. Water going down some places, still rising in other places. Difficult for the residents and certainly for emergency services, as well.
I want to check on the situation back in Port Arthur, Texas. This is one of the east Texas cities that has been pommeled by the rainfall but just covered in flooding. Biblical proportions.
Jefferson County Commissioner Mike Sinegal, he's on the phone with us now.
Commissioner Sinegal, thank you for taking the time. I know you've got a lot of work on your hands. In terms of the most urgent needs, do you know how many residents are still in need of rescue?
MIKE SINEGAL, JEFFERSON COUNTY COMMISSIONER (via phone): Well, I think the rescue effort is going very well. We evacuated and rescued several thousand.
My concern now is where my people are going to be placed. I'm hearing that some are being sent to Dallas. Dallas, Texas. Some -- I'm hearing rumbles of even California.
But there is rescue still going on. There are still -- two-thirds of this city is still under water. And that's another issue that we need to find out what's going on. But we've been in rescue mode, and I'm still in rescue mode as I speak. I just took a break to come on and check on my family. I am under water in my own home. And I still have four feet of water in front of my home and a foot inside.
SCIUTTO: This is -- so you know exactly -- exactly what the suffering is. Two-thirds of the community under water. Just -- it's just incredible to hear. As you describe all these -- these neighborhoods that have been hit, do you believe there are still people missing in the community?
SINEGAL: I spoke to our sheriff, Janice Stevens (ph), and she helped me save several people. She sent her boats in, her marine division boats in, and saved several lives. Her and her crew, her ship did.
But there are homes that are still under water, where the water is roof high. And we don't know if we got all the people out of those homes. She's -- her crew and some of the volunteers went into that neighborhood. I just passed that neighborhood, and there are still people that refuse to leave, because they never thought the water would get that high. And I'm hoping, once the water, you know, drops, that it doesn't -- we don't find, you know, people expired from flooding.
SCIUTTO: That's the risk, right? They could come back, and if the water comes back, they would be in danger once again. Of course, there are other health dangers, because the water, it's not clean. You've got sewage problems. You've got chemical problems. What are the other health dangers, not just today but in the coming days and weeks in the community?
SINEGAL: Well, there are several health problems. I had a hepatitis and a TB shot just today. My entire room briefs (ph) crew had to have those shots. A lot of the volunteers, our nursing staff, which is the county, that's going around giving those shots. And that's just something that rescuers, as well as some of the people that we are rescuing need to be worried about. I did have both of my shots today, and all my workers did, also.
SCIUTTO: You know, when you talk about a community that's still two- thirds under water, each home is a family with tremendous loss that they're facing now, and that is if they're lucky enough not to have lost loved ones, not to have lost -- lost lives. Do you see the community able to come back from a blow as hard as this one?
SINEGAL: Well, we've had several blows. I mean, we did Rita. We did Ike. And we -- I'll be 60 years old next year -- next week, I apologize -- and I've seen a lot of devastation. We are one of the biggest industrial cities in the world. And we've had -- we live under danger every day with those refineries here. But this is one of the hardest blows that we've ever had, we've ever received. I've never seen water this high in this city. Never. SCIUTTO: Maybe for the country, as well, one of the -- one of the
hardest blows. Well, Commissioner Sinegal, as you said, you're not just a commissioner. You're also a resident. You're also a victim of the storm. We wish you the best.
SINEGAL: Yes. And I'm a victim, but I'm more concerned about the people that I serve, and I'll continue to do that.
SCIUTTO: We'll -- and we'll do our best to help you. Thanks very much.
SINEGAL: Thank you, too.
SCIUTTO: And just ahead, we are following emergency crews all across Southeast Texas. Communities just like Beaumont there. We're going to bring you live rescues as they happen, because they're still happening. And we're getting new assessments of the devastation across the flood zone. Much more of our breaking news coverage of this storm. Please stay with us.
[18:42:12] SCIUTTO: We are back with breaking news coverage of the flood catastrophe in Texas. We're getting new perspective on just the enormity of this disaster. CNN bringing you the first satellite images of the region from Digital Globe, before and after photos graphically showing you just how these communities have been inundated, turned into wet wastelands. We're going to go through before and after.
This is first Holiday Lakes, Texas, before and after. How it is right now today. This is Simonton, Texas, before and after those flood waters came. Brookshire, Texas, before and now after the flood waters came. Only able to see these now because the cloud cover has cleared. And you're seeing just how extensive the flooding is.
And that is why those rescues continue to go on, because in the midst of all that flooding, there are thousands of homes, thousands of families possibly still stranded. Digital Globes supplying these photos to CNN.
The White House -- tonight the White House says that about 100,000 homes in total have been affected by Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath.
Right now let's go back to Houston, Texas. CNN's Brian Todd, he's been out there for days with rescue crews, still going door to door. Brian, what's the latest from where you are?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you showed those aerial images. But when you actually are on the water, on the ground, you really get the full scope of the devastation here.
Check out this house here. This is a neighborhood west of Houston where the water really has just not receded. And look, it looks like a flowing river going through here. The water is about halfway up the windows and doors there of this house.
And again look at the current. It looks like we're basically in the middle of a full-fledged river here. But this is a street in a fairly wealthy suburb of Houston. And these -- a lot of these houses may not recover any time soon. This car here pretty much useless after today. You've got some cars submerged down that street. If my photojournalist, Eddie Gross, can pan down that street. Just take a look at that. And you've got street after street of devastation like this in West Houston. This is the Lakeside Forest area.
And you know, we were just in this apartment complex. A lot of these people, the only way they're going to to get out of here, Jim, is with an air boat like this or another rescue vehicle that is aquatic in nature, or a chopper that comes by here.
But I mean, if you just look at this, it's as far as the eye can see. There's another rescue boat over there.
You know, officials warning not to go back to your homes even if your flooding is minimal right now or even if you're on fairly dry ground, because there are other hazards in the home. You've got wiring issues. You've got just a lot of possible electrical faults that could really hurt you in these places. These areas just really you can see, probably not inhabitable any time soon, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Brian, is there any sense of when these waters are going to go down?
[18:45:01] TODD: You know, we -- you know, a lot of areas that are not too far from here, the water has already receded. But this is near that Addicks Reservoir and the Buffalo Bayou, which is a critical area. But that place just got overwhelmed when the Addicks Reservoir had that controlled release. So there really isn't a sense of when this is going to recede.
We were told by people who've been here for years that, you know, you wouldn't believe how quickly the waters do recede. But in this neighborhood, it has not let up at all, and we've been here since very, very early yesterday, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Brian, I know you had the chance to go into some of those homes where the water has receded and be clear it's rising in other areas. But when people go back into those homes, what do they find?
TODD: They find it almost, you know, unlivable. I talked to one gentleman who got his three kids out of there. And he was actually doing a pretty good job cleaning up and stripping off the dry wall in his house and all of that. I said, look, do you want to come back here and live and he goes no, not right now. I mean, people are having to make excruciating decisions.
Look, this is a beautiful neighborhood. A lot of areas are really nice. When you see this you really have to make a tough decision. Some people tell me they are hedging their bets because they think this is a once in a lifetime event. Well, they thought that a couple of years ago when there were flash
floods here. And, you know, you just don't know. So, a lot of people are having tough decisions ahead of them in the days ahead.
SCIUTTO: No question. Brian Todd, thank you. Just a reminder there, if you are lucky enough not to have lost a loved one, you face other losses -- loss of homes, dreams and so many thousands of families in the area facing that life right now and will be for weeks and months to come.
I want to talk to a lawmaker who's right in the middle of that, knows it well because he represents a large area of Houston. Congressman Gene Green joins us on the phone.
Congressman Green, what are the conditions on the ground right now in your district?
REP. GENE GREEN (D), TEXAS (via telephone): Well, I have the eastern part of Harris County north of eastern, the two airports. I have one in my district, it borders. We literally -- the water has gone down. Our district office first time to be open today because the waters have come down.
The site you saw just now were in the western part of Harris county. We are experiencing the same thing on the eastern side.
But we have been through these before. I have watched my constituents literally as soon as water goes down, they will go in there like that gentleman was, ripping out their carpet, taking out dry wall because we are self-help kind of folks. I just appreciate all the first responders who have helped.
You know, we have lost over 30 people, but when you consider this devastation compared to what happened in Katrina, we still find more people who passed away. In fact, we lost probably five or six in my district that I know of. So, it's a challenge.
And now, Congress next week has to go back and make sure we can fund the relief that we need to have for people to get back, fix their homes, get back to their jobs. And because as you know, this is the heart beat of the refining community and the country. And that's where a lot of people work and they need to get there.
SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. We heard Governor Abbott say before he found broken homes and broken hearts as he toured the damage there with Vice President Pence.
You mentioned there that families are going to face very high costs here. So, some of them might be able to repair homes and some might lose their homes. Never be able to go back. Are you confident they're going to get the help that they need?
GREEN: Well, Congress right now we are all working on the same page. The president talked about it. He will be back in Houston on Saturday. And we want to make sure that we work together. I'm a Democrat and my district voted for Hillary. But my Republican
colleagues also get flooded just like we do. We have 10 members from southeast Texas and we're all working together to make sure our constituents have the assistance.
In Harris County alone, we have a million and a half flood insurance policies. So, that helps. But sometimes those policies don't help as much as you need to. So that we will look at what we can do to supplement that.
So -- but a lot of people didn't have it, so we need to make sure that HUD and FEMA has the funding to put their lives back together.
SCIUTTO: Congressman, this is a big picture question. But in the wake of this, so many homes built in flood planes where the danger of floods like this is great. Are there going to be areas where hard decisions have to be made about not rebuilding there?
GREEN: Oh, we have had to do that over the last 15 to 20 years because there's -- we have a lot of vacant lots in our district from earlier floods that the federal government bought. And they didn't build another facility there. So, we just need more flood work on our bayous, because we are a coastal plain. We don't have much slant.
[18:50:00] So, with rains like this, it's going to gather like we do. So, we need to dig them out, we need more places where we contain the water coming down stream. But we do need to look at properties that are repeatedly flooded and our taxes shouldn't go to someone because they're living in a floodplain and we never had a mandatory buy out.
But a lot of people volunteer because we know you have flooded two or three times in a house, even though you love it, that's not someplace you may want to live. So, you will get assistance in selling that property and moving somewhere else to higher ground we hope.
SCIUTTO: Congressman, I know those are questions you will face at the right time. I know now your most urgent focus is on the people who are urgently in need and we wish you luck in that.
GREEN: Well, we have a huge number of shelters. Thirty plus thousand people in shelters and they're opening them all the time. Those people will be able to get back to their homes and then we'll start the rebuilding process.
SCIUTTO: Congressman Gene Green, thanks very much.
GREEN: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: For ways you can help those affected by Harvey, please go to CNN.com/impact. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter @CNNimpact. There are lots of ways you can help.
I want to go again because, as we get a sense of the need there, one of the best ways to see that, Admiral Kirby, you know this well, are the satellite views we're getting. First time we're seeing this today because it's been the first time. It's been clear enough to see through the clouds from Harvey to get a sense of the devastation. These are before and after pictures.
Simonton, Texas, that's it afterwards. Hard to see what it was like before. This is Simonton as well. Now, it's hard to distinguish the rivers from the dry land or what was dry land.
This is Brookshire, Texas. Another one hard struck. The water extending virtually as far as you can see there. And as we're looking at these, Admiral Kirby, it just gives you a real measure of the long term damage to these communities.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. It is truly stunning to look at the scope of the water and the flooding and how vast an area it continues to cover. And it does speak, I think very, very clearly to the months long, if not years long process of recovery that it's going to take.
These people are going to need a lot of help for a long, long time and it's going to be costly and it's going to take a toll on them and their families. But, I mean, this is -- you know, this is very much, you know, to pardon the Navy term, but this is very much a maritime domain right now. I mean, it is all water.
SCIUTTO: Yes, and that's why those Navy ships that we talked about yesterday that are coming down from Norfolk, Virginia, two of them, amphibious ships with a lot of capabilities, not just to help with rescue but after the fact.
KIRBY: That's exactly right. The military and all the services will have a great rebuilding. They are good at reconstruction. I suspect if they're wanted, they'll stay to stay as long as it takes to help these people get back to normalcy.
SCIUTTO: John Kirby, thanks very much.
Just ahead, another powerful storm is on the horizon. It's called Irma. It's now a category three hurricane. Will it also hit the U.S.? That forecast right after this.
[18:57:51] SCIUTTO: Breaking tonight, Vice President Mike Pence says that more than 311,000 people have already registered for disaster aid, even as the flooding crisis in Texas is still unfolding. And there is a new concern right now about another hurricane threat. Irma strengthening as it moves through the eastern Atlantic.
CNN meteorologist Tom Sater is in the severe weather center.
Tom, I almost don't want to ask you about another hurricane, but it's forming as we speak.
TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, Jim, we're getting closer to the peak of the Atlanta hurricane season. It's on the 10th of September. And we watch these tropical waves develop off the coast of Africa all the time. We're not talking about this one because of the devastation of Harvey,
but because it caught our eye on the rapid development and its own characteristics. Three thousand miles from Miami, off the coast is Irma. Twenty-four hours ago, it was just named a tropical storm. But it rapidly developed to a category one early in the morning and then a category two, just a few hours ago a category three. It's a little unusual that far off from the U.S. and Caribbean to be this strong.
Sustained winds at 115. You can see where the Cape Verde islands are. We've got some time. This is not going to be this weekend but next weekend.
We're going to need about four, five days. But the computer models are already grabbing this model pretty well and strengthening it. Sunday, stays at a category three. Monday, we get to category four status, headed toward the Leeward Islands. It's got its eyes on the Caribbean and the southeastern U.S. possible.
Look at the computer models. These are the spaghetti plots. Remember, with Harvey, they were all in agreement. Let's take it further now and take a look at two big models that really handled Harvey well, the European and, of course, the U.S.
Let's start with the European model. You'll see it come off the coast of Africa, back behind it, there is another wave we'll watch. But this system continues to hold its strength. It is a little unusual. Now, again, there is always some uncertainty being this far away.
This is Miami. You can see in between Cuba and Florida. One more for you, that's a category four, one more map --
SCIUTTO: We're going to have to leave that one there, Tom. But I know you will leave a close watch on it.
SCIUTTO: Daunting to watch another storm on the way. I'm Jim Sciutto. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.