Return to Transcripts main page


Southeast Texas Slammed By Harvey; Deadly Flooding Hits Texas Gulf Coast; President To Visit Texas Tuesday; Trump's First Natural Disaster Test; Tillerson And Mattis Distance Themselves From Trump; North Korea Protests To United Nations. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- tax reform this week. We're expecting he will be at an event on Wednesday. The promise of tax cuts fueling the markets' rally since the election. Also, a speech from Fed Chief Janet Yellen boosted stocks. She says the U.S. financial system is safer now than it was during the financial crisis.

Uber finally has a new CEO, the Expedia head, Dara Khosrowshahi. That's according to a source close to the company. Uber has not had a CEO since June. The founder, Travis Kalanick (ph), resigning after a series of scandals at the company.

But Khosrowshahi was not rumored to be on the list. The list included, you know, HP head, Meg Whitman, former GE CEO Jeff Imelt. Imelt reportedly pulled out Sunday because of problems with Uber's board.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A tall task after Uber's public relations disasters.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BRIGGS: All right, EARLY START continues right now with the latest on now-Tropical Storm Harvey.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This likely is going to be an historic rainfall, if not an all-time record.


BRIGGS: Unprecedented. Catastrophic. Unfortunately, not over yet. Houston and other parts of Texas devastated after rain and storms are not finished. We have a lot of coverage of the damage and the forecast and rescues, what lies in store.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. We're awaiting a fresh update from the National Hurricane Center on exactly what Tropical Storm Harvey is doing. It's churning over the Houston area. Three miles per hour and now heading back towards the gulf. A devastating situation for the folks there in Southeastern Texas.

It is Monday, August 28th, 5:00 a.m. in the east. It is 4:00 a.m. on the nose in Houston this morning. This morning, America's fourth- largest city is mostly under water, and it's going to get worse.

The National Weather Service calls the flooding unprecedented and beyond anything experienced before. This catastrophic flooding from now-Tropical Storm Harvey stretching government resources in some cases past the breaking point.

BRIGGS: Authorities in and around Houston scrambling to save those trapped by the high waters after 24 inches of rain fell there in just 24 hours. Officials say at least two people were killed by the storm, and the death toll is likely to rise. Houston's mayor warning that some 911 calls are going unanswered as operators give priority to those calls where lives are at stake.

ROMANS: Officials say that so far there have been about 2,000 water rescues. The Houston Independent School District has canceled classes for the week. Dallas has announced plans to open a mega shelter to accommodate 5,000 evacuees. Officials, charities, hospitals are all working to get it open at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. They want this mega center open by tomorrow morning.

BRIGGS: Now, this morning, Corpus Christi International Airport is back open, six others remain closed. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, calling in 1,000 additional members of the National Guard to help flood victims. And across the country, several states and the U.S. military sending emergency workers and equipment to Texas where the work is only beginning.


BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: FEMA is going to be there for years. This disaster recovery, this disaster's going to be a landmark event. We're already in the stages. While we're focused on response and helping Texas, you know, respond, we're already pushing forward recovery housing teams.

We're already pushing forward forces to be on the ground to implement national flood insurance program. We're setting up and gearing up for the next couple years.


BRIGGS: Now FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security will have a briefing updating what's happening there, 6:15 Texas time, 7:15 Eastern.

Let's get to CNN's Rosa Flores, who joins us now live from the flood zone in Houston. Is the rain still -- has it stopped? Does it remain quiet there? Awfully dark where you are in Houston.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, we're still getting some rain this morning. That's really bad news for the entire Houston metro area. As you look around me, Dave we are inundated with water. This is downtown Houston. It's the historic district.

I'm not sure if you're able to see because it's dark, but the intersection that's behind me, Commerce and Travis Streets. For people familiar, this is where spaghetti warehouse is, and you see that the sign that takes you north on I-45 towards Dallas is under water.

And you can't see the ramp to I-45, but the ramp is under water. Now 24 hours ago, we were doing live shots from where that intersection is. Right now, it is too dangerous. It is way too deep for us to get any closer to that location.

[05:05:09] Now, Houston has been pounded with water. We've seen these bands of rain in the last 24 to 36 hours and it continues to come down. And the latest guidance from local authorities is that they're expecting six to ten more inches of rain.

Now we're also hearing about the incredible stories, the rescues that are going on all around the metro area. I just got off the phone with the Red Cross coordinator here in downtown Houston.

They have 2,500 people right now at the convention center in downtown Houston. I talked to some of them yesterday. Their stories are incredible because imagine these bayous that now have overflown also meander through neighborhoods.

Imagine being in your home with your children, the water starts rising, and then what do you do? Some of the women that I talked to said that they carried their babies above water to try to get out of that area, to try to get to safer grounds.

Just imagine just any mother having to do that, Dave and Christine, to try to save their children, to get to higher ground. So those are the amazing stories that we're hearing from the convention center here in downtown Houston as people, as we learn about the harrowing stories for them to get to safety and for them to get to higher ground and to resources that could get them to safety, to boats, to high-water vehicles.

We're hearing a lot of those stories now. There's been two deaths related to the storm and unfortunately, you know, this city and state preparing for the worst.

ROMANS: Rosa, we know we talked to emergency management earlier, an hour ago, and they were saying in the early hours of the storm a lot of calls -- 911 calls were people trapped in their vehicles. The water rescues were helping people out of their vehicles.

Now those calls are coming from inside the homes as people are getting nervous about how quickly the water is rising. You're seeing sort of a shift in the water rescues the past day or two, 2,000 rescues overall, 1,000 since last night. Rosa, thank you so much.

Let's bring in meteorologist, Karen Maginnis, in the CNN Weather Center. If you're talking water rescues, Karen, we could have days of this ahead here. KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We're going to show you the forecast. A lot of information. We just got an update from the National Hurricane Center. Essentially this is quasi-stationary, moving southeast at three miles per hour.

There's still plenty of tropical moisture trying to feed into Tropical Storm Harvey. Moisture-laden air is shifting north and east. If you're in Beaumont, Port Arthur, you're looking at pretty astounding rainfall totals here over the next several days, as well.

Here there's a lull around Houston now. Not completely, but you're not seeing significant downpours like you've been looking at over the last 24 and 48 hours. There's Beaumont, Port Arthur, reporting heavy rainfall and fog.

I watched what you're about to see realtime. It is nonetheless astounding. This is black and white video near Katy Texas, Interstate 10 in Katy. This is a half-hour drive to the west of Houston. You see an SUV. The water's rising up. You still see the roof.

There's a man on the back side of that automobile. You see on either side of the vehicle. That water is rushing. If he were to step on either side of the vehicle, he would be caught up in the floodwaters.

And we might be telling a different story besides that rubber dinghy coming to pick him up and take him to higher ground. As you have said, it's not dry land, it's just higher ground out of the floodwaters. Back to you.

ROMANS: Thank you very much for that. The update from the National Hurricane Center, we have to reiterate, especially in light of the pictures you showed, Karen, do not attempt to travel in the affected area.

If are you in a safe place, do not drive into flooded roadways. It's easy to think there's maybe only a couple of inches. You have no idea what's going on underneath the water.

BRIGGS: All right. One very hard-hit area is the city of Dickinson, southeast of Houston where Galveston County emergency officials say 20 to 25 people were rescued from the La Vita Bella Nursing Home.

The nursing home's owner's daughter said officials told her mother to shelter the residents in place. After the water rose, she tweeted this incredible photo as a plea for help which did finally come.

[05:10:05] ROMANS: I mean, look at that. Those people are up to their waists in water in that room. Look at that, unbelievable.

Also in Dickinson, CNN's Ed Lavandera who drove up from Galvenston Sunday night with Producer Jason Morris and Joel dela Rosa, photojournalist. The crew was accompanying a search and rescue mission.

As rescuers were about to leave a flooded neighborhood, they heard a family crying out. Our team helped out with the rescue. Ed spoke to them once everyone was out safely.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How long have you guys been trapped in there?


LAVANDERA: All night? You've been with your parents? How are they holding up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Pretty good. Pretty good. I think pretty good for the circumstances. It's bad. Everything's floating. It's bad.


ROMANS: All right, 11 minutes past the hour. Rain and flooding inundating heart of America's oil industry. Oil rigs have been evacuated, and ten key refineries shut down. One of them, ExxonMobil's Baytown refinery, the second largest in the country.

A third of America's oil refineries are on the Texas coast. These closures take 2.2 million barrels of oil per day offline. That disruption means higher gas prices. U.S. gas futures hitting a two- year high overnight, up 7 percent.

Gas prices could rise 5 to 15 cents over the next week especially in the south, southeast, mid-Atlantic U.S. Higher gas prices just one of the potential costs of Harvey. The storm also threatened the economy in Texas.

The state's unemployment rate just started to fall after spiking last year. Remember there was a crash in oil prices that really hurt the Texas economy and the unemployment rate there. Extended oil closures could hurt the state's progress.

So, cost of rebuilding property damage forecasted at $40 billion, $20 billion worth in Houston alone. These are early days. These forecasts may well rise and be revised. It's one of the most densely populated areas in the U.S. It is literally under water.

BRIGGS: All right. The storm poses a major test, as you know, for President Trump, set to fly to Texas tomorrow. What does everyone make to the response to the storm? And what about the Friday night pardon of Joe Arpaio? The tweeting out of a book by a particular controversial sheriff? We'll discuss it next.



BRIGGS: Welcome back. It's 4:16 in Houston, Texas. President Trump will travel to Texas tomorrow to review the state's efforts to recover from Hurricane Harvey and deal with its aftermath. The president expected to travel away from the storm zone itself, avoiding the most hard-hit areas, potentially stopping in San Antonio or even Austin. This the first big hurricane/natural disaster test for President Trump. A test by which presidents have been measured, especially since Katrina.

ROMANS: Joining us now to discuss the White House response to Harvey, "Washington Examiner" contributors editor, Jason Russell, bright and early for us from Washington. Good morning. Nice to see you.

So, you know, this is the first real test for this president, a natural disaster, how he is showing leadership, gravitas. How he is showing compassion for Texas. How's he doing?

JASON RUSSELL, CONTRIBUTORS EDITOR, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, he's doing OK. If you just judge him based on his Twitter feed, you could argue that he could be more focused on empathizing with the victims and trying to rally the American people to donate and give and support Houston and the rest of Texas in any way that they can.

But you know, there's been some distractions there. He's tweeting about, you know, Sheriff David Clark's book and lots of other issues and plenty of Texas tweets. But still not probably as focused as you would expect a president to be.

Now naturally three are other things that he's doing besides tweeting to solve the situation. But at least publicly that's the most public way that he's helping.

BRIGGS: Yes. Certainly, was eyebrow raising 21 hours ago. A great book by a great guy, highly recommended, talking about David Clark, a very controversial figure, mind you. This is no ordinary book or topic. That certainly was off focus a little bit, but as far as the federal reaction to the disaster in Texas, it seems to be going on thus far without a hitch.

RUSSELL: Yes, that's true. We haven't heard complaints from the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. He's a Republican. He is on Donald Trump's team, if you will. From anyone else, we haven't heard complaints yet.

Now, I think when it came to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the big complaints were in the aftermath of that hurricane. I think that's where the big test is, is in the rebuilding phase. You know, rain is still falling on Houston and is projected to keep falling for several days.

I looked up the ten-day forecast. Still a 40 percent chance or higher chance of rain through September 7th. So, this is not stopping any time soon unfortunately.

ROMANS: We will get in just a couple of hours, there will be a press conference that we'll take live at CNN with the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA in Washington. So, there will be that visual of the federal response. I wanted to ask you, Jason, about something that happened this weekend. The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and really the defense secretary, James Mattis, both distancing themselves I would say from the president's reaction to Charlottesville. I want you to listen to this and get your thoughts on the other side.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't believe anyone doubts the American people's values or the commitment of the American government or the government's agencies to advancing those values and defending those values.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the president's values?

TILLERSON: The president speaks for himself, Chris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold the line, my young soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines. Hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, being friendly to one another.


[05:20:12] ROMANS: Wow. Each of those on their own is remarkable, it's stunning. What do you make of that?

RUSSELL: Yes. I mean, Tillerson's comments were very reminiscent of what Sean Spicer used to say in press briefings whenever he was asked about a presidential tweet, he would just say, well, the tweet speaks for itself, and let it go from there. I think that's the distancing tactic that Rex Tillerson was trying to take.

ROMANS: But a lot of people thought that he was trying to say that the president doesn't speak for American values. The president speaks for his values and those values may not be American values at least -- and in his reaction to Charlottesville.

RUSSELL: Yes. That's one interpretation. I'm sure Rex Tillerson wouldn't, you know, directly say that on the record. It's definitely possible that's what he was trying to get across without saying it directly.

You know, he was -- Rex, I think, was trying to make clear that, yes, Americans respect each other. When it comes to the violence in Charlottesville, between Antifa and Nazi groups, that that was not representative of American values. That's clearly the American fringe.

BRIGGS: It seemed like Rex Tillerson made a clear line of distinction between the departments and the State Department. They have set their message, and the president seems to have another one. He'll be asked to follow up on that. Jason Russell from the "Washington Examiner," thank you. We'll check back in about 30 minutes.

All right. A new escalation from North Korea, missiles fired in the midst of annual drills between the U.S. and South Korea. CNN the only western news organization on the ground in Pyongyang. Will Ripley live there next.



ROMANS: Welcome back. It's 25 minutes past the hour. North Korea has sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council protesting this week's joint U.S.-South Korean military drills. This comes a couple of days after the Kim Jong-un regime launched three missiles and days before a U.S. ban on travel to North Korea takes effect.

Let's go to CNN's Will Ripley in Pyongyang. He is the only western television correspondent in North Korea since the latest escalation in tension. Bring us up to speed -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine. We met with North Korean officials here in Pyongyang who said that this country continues to be infuriated over those joint military exercises that have now entered the second week.

We saw North Korea attempt to launch those three ballistic missiles over the weekend. We also saw Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, presiding over a special forces operation with commandos simulating an attack on South Korean islands.

But now just within the last hour, new information about a possible, potentially important development here in North Korea yet to be confirmed by officials here in Pyongyang.

South Korean intelligence officers believe that North Korea may be making preparations right now for another nuclear test at the test site after spotting activity at some of the underground tunnels that North Korea uses to conduct those tests.

We need to point out that South Korea often observes activity at the nuclear site. You'll remember back in April it seemed as if a nuclear test was imminent which would have been the country's sixth.

However, the test never happened. It could have been North Korea staging this for spy satellites given that the fact that the military exercises are ongoing. However, we can't take this possible development lightly given that it was last year around this time that North Korea conducted their fifth nuclear test just one week after joint drills between the U.S. and South Korea ended.

Of course, President Trump, China, and many other countries have said that another North Korean nuclear test would be a provocation they simply would not accept. Of course, that latest seventh round of U.N. Security Council sanctions was just passed, aimed at trying to stop North Korea from taking steps such as this.

The sense that we get from talking with officials on the ground here is that they are determined to show the United States that they will not tolerate what they view as a dress rehearsal for an invasion happening at their doorstep with military exercises ongoing miles from where I'm standing in Pyongyang.

And in the middle of it, there's a group of American tourists who are inside North Korea right now. The last group of Americans who will be allowed to visit the country as tourists before the U.S. travel ban for North Korea takes effect on Thursday -- Christine.

ROMANS: And that travel ban, of course, after the death of Otto Warmbier, a college student, who was horribly injured and then later died after being in custody in Pyongyang. Thank you so much for being there. Will Ripley, I know no one has a better perspective and view of what's really happening than you do. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: All right. Back to our storm coverage next. They've already had 15 to 25 inches. Could be in for double that rain amount in the Houston, Texas, area. EARLY START continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This likely is going to be an historic rainfall if not an all-time record.


ROMANS: Fifty inches of rain. Some parts of Texas already under water faces devastating few days of more rainfall. Months if not years of cleanup ahead. We have live coverage of the damage, rescues, and what lies in store.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Devastation there for more than two million people in Houston. Almost seven million in the Houston area under water at 4:30 Texas time.

This morning the fourth largest city in the United States mostly under water, and it's only going to get worse. The National Weather Service calls the flooding unprecedented and, quote, "beyond anything experienced before."

The catastrophic flooding from now Tropical Storm Harvey stretching government resources well past their breaking point.

ROMANS: Authorities in and around Houston now scrambling to save those trapped by the high waters after 24 inches of rain fell there and --