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AT THIS HOUR

Lines Form As Beaumont Loses Running Water; Pump Repairs Can't Start Until Flooding Recedes; Flooded Chemical Plant At Risk Of Fire, Explosion; Port Arthur Residents Take Shelter At Bowling Alley; Mandatory Evacuations Near Baker Reservoir; Congress To Face Vote On Emergency Funding. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 31, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:00:15]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Kate Bolduan.

At this hour, the flooding from Harvey is creating a number of problems in Texas. Right now, emergency workers and volunteers are starting to search Houston's hardest hit areas. They will go door-to- door to find victims in areas that had been inaccessible.

Houston's police chief says he is praying the death toll, now at 37, does not soar. A flooded chemical plant near Houston is creating a volatile situation. Authorities say there was a fire and 15 deputies went to the hospital after inhaling smoke.

Minutes ago, we learned all have been released. Instability at the plant from overheating chemicals means that authorities are expecting more fires to start there. In Beaumont, Texas, long lines are forming to seize on limited supplies of bottled water.

The city's entire population, 118,000 people are without running water after the system's water pumps failed and they can't be fixed until the floodwaters recede.

Now let's go to CNN's Drew Griffin in Fannett, Texas, about 20 miles south of Beaumont where much of the concern is focused right now. The city of Beaumont has no running water after both pumps have failed. So, Drew, what is the latest?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: One of the hospitals in Beaumont has now begun moving its patients just because they have no other choice, really, without water and not knowing when the water is going to be back on, Fred.

You know, very precautionary move, but they are moving patients out of a hospital right now in Beaumont as people line up trying to get water supplies. They thought they were through this emergency. They thought they were going to be in recovery mode.

This morning, everybody in the city of Beaumont woke up, turned on their tap and realized there was no water coming out. The pump, the main pump from the river is flooded or broken and incapacitated because of the rising waters which is still rising at this time.

We are expecting more from city officials in about an hour from now on whether or not this can be fixed quickly or if it's going to be a more long term and they have to lay out some kind a plan as to how the water gets back on and how the city residents deal with this at the time.

In the meantime, around Jefferson County, water in many spots is receding like here. There's still water inundating this neighborhood and this street. This is Highway 124. It's one of the routes into Houston. I'm going to let this truck go by and give us a splash here.

But, it's not going down quick enough for people to get back into their homes. That's what they are waiting for in shelters around here, just to get back in and start the clean-up process. Again, the city of Beaumont without water, Fred. That's adding to the misery factor.

PAUL: And so, Drew, you know, you've heard from General Honore. He said losing the water is a game changer because it could mean the city will come off the grid, which is a disaster into itself. Are people worried that things will get even worse?

GRIFFIN: Well, you know, this is Texas. People are trying to deal with work arounds. You can use basic floodwater with a five-gallon bucket to flush a toilet. You can, most of these people have water they were using, bottled water in their homes in case a storm hit.

Hopefully many of them heeded a long precautionary thing, which is to fill up your bathtub with water before the storm hits. There will be varying degrees of people prepared for this.

The big problem is, everybody thought it was over. So, they weren't perhaps taking those precautions. We won't know, Fred, just how bad and how long this will go until city officials come back and give us an estimate.

Also, I would ask Honore if there is a situation where there might be some kind of work around. Certainly, the Army Corps of Engineers must have some way to get water into that treatment plant, especially if they are just using river water from the river.

I tell you, there's a whole lot of water in that river right now. So, I guess we'll have to wait and see what the emergency management folks here say. I can't believe, with all the resources available in both city, state and federal that there's not some kind of a work around that's going to help get this city back into its water supply sooner rather than later.

WHITFIELD: All right. One would hope. In fact, I'm going to talk to Honore a little bit later and I will pose that question on your behalf. Thanks so much, Drew. Appreciate it.

All right. Now, back to that flooded chemical plant in Crosby, Texas where a fire sent first responders to the hospital after breathing in smoke. Authorities just held a press conference and said that they expect more fires to start in the coming days.

[11:05:13] Paul Vercammen is live for us in Crosby, Texas with more details on that -- Paul.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, let's give you a perspective from some neighbors of the plant. We talked to a man who did not want to give his last name. He said he was told by the plant that some of the chillers, the containers that had these chemicals were no longer working.

As the plant explained, these containers, these chillers, these chemicals when they are not refrigerated, they basically decompose and then, at one point, they will ignite or catch fire. That's what happened in the early morning hours.

There are many containers that have not ignited and they are saying that this all leads to run its course. Now back to the neighbors, this neighbor said he was out helping rescue people. He's out rescuing people in his boat. He had done so all week long.

He actually helped a man who was trapped in his car. Next thing, he's heard that the Coast Guard has come by and they are telling people who live near or behind the plant to get out. He's able to get out two of his horses. He had to leave two behind.

He's fearful that they are going to be in a lot of trouble obviously without water and food. That's the kind of misery index these people are going through here. Now, they are concerned how long this whole process is going to take while the plant seems to go through a series of ignitions of these chemicals that are used in pharmaceuticals and used in building materials -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Paul, we heard that executive trying to make that extinction while there may be explosions or these kind of, you know, combustions that take place, the smoke he insists has come from that fire was not a chemical fire.

Of course, those are the questions that continue to worry a lot of people there. Paul Vercammen, thank you so much.

All right. Joining me right now is Rachel Moreno, the public information officer for the Harris County Fire Marshals Office. So, Rachel, we did hear more about these fires and that more are expected at the plant because of certain chemicals and how they are combustible when they heat up because those chillers are down. So, what are you bracing for in terms of size or even scope of more possible fires?

RACHEL MORENO, SPOKESWOMAN, HARRIS COUNTY FIRE MARSHAL'S OFFICE (via telephone): Thank you, guys, for having us. So, what we are expecting is more of the same that we saw this morning. So, we've had one tractor trailer that has been compromised. There are eight other ones.

So, I was talking to the company, we do expect eight of them to go. But you'll see the same result that we saw this morning. Just like you said, there will be a combustion, some smoke, and a fire.

And once the product has fully burned then it will be done with at that point. It will be up to the company, if the waters recede, if they can go in and possibly mitigate the damage before more of these go up.

WHITFIELD: And so, the executive that we saw in that live presser earlier said that, you know, what you have been seeing is not chemical fire smoke. Do you anticipate that this smoke is a danger to the community?

MORENO: So, what we are looking at is a carbon-based smoke. So, it can be irritating to your eyes, nose, mouth. That's what we are seeing. So, it can cause irritation, but we are not anticipating a widespread fear for the community that this is going to hurt them long term. So, all of the police officers that were taken to the hospital earlier, they have all been released. So, we don't expect long-term effects from it.

WHITFIELD: They all went to the hospital for that smoke irritation. So, you established an evacuation zone of 1.5 miles. Are you still confident that that is enough?

MORENO: Yes, ma'am. We are very confident that that is enough. We have had multiple models run. We are very confident that 1.5-mile evacuation zone is good.

WHITFIELD: All right. Rachel Moreno, thank you so much. Appreciate that.

MORENO: Thank you, ma'am.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk more about the devastation and how so many are impacted. I want to bring in now Amber Robinson. She and her parents were rescued from their home in nearby Port Arthur, and then they ended up at a bowling alley that has been turned into a shelter.

Amber is an actress, you might know her from the AMC series, "Hell On Wheels." She's on the line with us right now. So, Amber, I understand now you are at your aunt's home in Beaumont, Texas. How are you and family members doing?

AMBER CHARDAE ROBINSON, ROBINSON, ACTRESS, RESCUED FROM PORT ARTHUR HOME (via telephone): We are doing OK. Beaumont just turned off all their water. We are trying to find water as we speak. The other half of my family is still in Port Arthur staying with friends. We are trying to get them to us so we can be together. It's all been a whirlwind and one long day yesterday.

WHITFIELD: Indeed. There's no running water in Beaumont. You all have bottled water and that your family members are in a nearby community.

[11:10:00] How long will you have electricity to charge those cell phones, et cetera? MORENO: Right. We are not sure how long we are going to have electricity. We are not sure if the electricity is just going to go out here in Beaumont? My family is in Port Arthur. They have electricity. Even in our house, we still have electricity at our home, we didn't lose power, but our home is under water. We are trying to figure it out at this point.

WHITFIELD: So, before getting to your aunt's house, I understand that you were at that bowling alley. There were a lot of other people there. Hundreds, in fact, I understand and many had pets from monkey, at least one monkey there, an iguana and dozens of dogs. Describe for me. We are looking at the some of the images there. Describe for me what taking refuge at the bowling alley has been like?

MORENO: It was -- we were just trying to get somewhere where we were dry because at this point, the water was waist deep and we wanted to get out of there, for survival. When we got to the bowling alley, it was relief, but it wasn't a shelter, it was more like a holding place for people.

So, we were all just sitting around, trying to find a charger. It was freezing in there. People were wet. People were steady coming in. They were steady like moving furniture around to get more people in there. It was like organized chaos. Trying to get people shelter and out of the waters and safe.

WHITFIELD: But thank goodness for that holding area, right? I mean, it was an area where you could be safe and dry for a while. At what point and how did other family members learn about where you were and then how were they able to come get you?

MORENO: Well, what happened was my father has a cousin with a Ram- 1500, so he came and picked us up. Luckily, the roads weren't flooded when we decided to come to Beaumont. He picked us up and we rode to Beaumont, dropped us at my aunt's house.

But most of the like I-10 trying to get out of here is flooded. Most of Port Arthur is flooded. Without a truck, you can't make it out of the city, if you don't have a car that sits high, there's no way out of the city.

So, people are literally stuck in Port Arthur because there are no passes to get out. Every avenue we use to get out of the city is flooded. To get to Houston is flooded. To get to Louisiana is flooded. People are trying to figure out ways to get their families out of there at this point.

WHITFIELD: I'm so happy you are with family at your aunt's house in Beaumont even though you are without running water. You have a supply of bottled water. We are praying and hoping for you in Beaumont and beyond there in South Texas and parts of Louisiana. Amber, thanks so much and best of luck to you and your family.

MORENO: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, the floodwaters are leveling off in some areas, but the danger remains from harmful bacteria to chemicals and even fire ants. Officials are warning folks to stay out of the water. Details on all of those threats, straight ahead.

Plus, amateur hour? The man who commanded the response to Hurricane Katrina, slamming the federal response to Harvey. Why he says officials need to stop patting themselves on the back.

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[11:17:55]

WHITFIELD: Welcome back. This morning, water levels at two Houston reservoirs pushed to the brink by Harvey. Now it appears to be leveling off and officials say they are expected to fall in the coming hours.

Still, they warn people in nearby communities thinking of coming home, quoting now, "if you can't drive to your home, don't go."

Let's head now to Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center. Still very volatile and dangerous.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. And dangerous to be in the water. Dangerous for your pets to be in the water because when they get home, they lick their paws and all that stuff and all of that stuff that's in the water is in their system.

Even for you, if you must get in the water, a fresh water wash-down if you have fresh water is always a good idea. There are contaminants, infectious diseases in the water. If there aren't, with the sunshine, there will be soon, all of the stuff just kind of cooking there, from E. Coli to things I can't even pronounce, aggressive insects.

Here's a picture I want to show you in a second of a floating mound of fire ants. It's scary to me. Then, obviously, the wildlife from alligators to water snakes. There it is. That doesn't look like much.

WHITFIELD: Until you put your hand in it.

MYERS: Until you put your foot in there or whatever. Fire ants will collect in colonies. They will create air pockets between their bodies and make themselves float into those things. Just looking for dry land and/or a dry leg, if you will.

Please, don't get in that. One of our -- one of the guy that is works at the weather channel, he used to work here, Reynolds Wolf, got into one of those things in a flood and it wasn't pretty. He will tell you, from firsthand experience, that it burns when fire ants bit you.

Obviously, petrochemicals, everything with ENE in it is in the water, gasoline, kerosene, benzene, all of those things that don't evaporate yet are still in the water. If you see the sheen, you will be able to see it there. There are plenty of areas with the sheen because the cars are parked there. Gasoline is leaking out of the car. Oil is leaking out of the car. Transmission fluid is leaking out of the car and not even just from the petrochemical plants that are there.

[11:20:03] There are a dozen superfund sites that are in this area that are likely flooded or at least half-flooded taking some of this and putting it into these waterways. Is it dangerous? Yes.

Will it get even more dangerous as the days go on? Yes. As the roads dry out, they will turn dirty. People will drive on that dirt. That dirt will eventually get in the air as dust and you will breathe it in.

Right now, there are 30 gauges that are still at major flood stage going up and staying up. Here is the river here, 55 feet now. I visited it 16 months ago with the flood there, the old record. We are going another foot higher than that.

When that drains off, the roads are going to be dirty. This dust is going to be in the air. Dust masks for sure, not even the water. It's the dust that's in the air that has the contaminants in it too.

So that N-95 mask that you might have bought for the anthrax scare or whatever it was years ago? You were supposed to buy tape and masks, use those masks, use those masks, they are still good. They don't expire.

And something else I want to talk about just because I need to because it is already a Category 2. This is Hurricane Erma and those are the islands, the (inaudible) islands like Antigo and Aruba, and all that.

There's Puerto Rico right there. This storm is forecast to be a Category 4 hurricane by Tuesday of next week. Where does it go? Please, not the U.S.

WHITFIELD: Please. Oh, my gosh, yes, fingers crossed. Let's hope it makes a little U-turn and swirls around in the Atlantic and dissipates. That's our wish. All right. Chad Myers, thanks so much.

Right now, the U.S. Coast Guard is conducting aerial search and rescue operations for victims of Harvey. It's been going on for six days, almost.

Kaylee Hartung is live from a Coast Guard airfield in Sulfur, Louisiana. What's happening there?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, from this airfield, we have five U.S. Coast Guard helicopters taking off and heading to Port Arthur. They are all in the air now. I believe one about to be on approach back here to refuel any minute.

Just a couple minutes ago, got a report from inside in their command center that a family of six had just been rescued by one of their helicopters and taken to safety. Another rescue swimmer down to investigate a case of a family of five who needed help. But it was interesting to hear, the first helicopter that came back from the first mission of the day, when they needed to refuel, they told me, they didn't rescue anyone this morning. When they went out for calls of service, when they knocked on doors, people were no longer in distress or they've already been rescued.

With better weather and visibility, more boats in the water in Port Arthur. Those boats being able to get to people quicker than these helicopters could. In talking with one of those rescue swimmers, it was interesting to hear them tell me so much of the challenge for this mission is that you have so many calls for help coming in and so many assets in the air and in the water, trying to help.

So, the cooperation and the coordination of everybody here from a logistical standpoint is so important, but also the emotional challenges as you can imagine -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Just looking at images of seeing children, families, people clinging to their pets, elderly, all of that, in these baskets. It is heart wrenching. They are doing superb heroic amazing work. Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much.

All right. So, for ways you can help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, go to cnn.com/impact.

All right. Coming up, the man who commanded the response to Hurricane Katrina, you know his face. He is blasting the federal response to Harvey calling it, quote, "amateur hour" and he is crying out for more government resources. We'll talk to him, next.

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[11:28:07]

WHITFIELD: Hi, everybody. All right. Well, a door-to-door search will be conducted throughout the Houston area today. You heard last night, some assessment coming from General Honore, who has been known for his overseeing rescue and recovery missions during Hurricane Katrina.

He is calling this effort amateur hour. He's been critical saying that some of the federal preparedness was incremental. It should have been big.

Let's bring in Representative Ted Poe. His congressional district stretches from downtown Houston to the northern suburbs. He estimates that half of his constituents have suffered flooding. Congressman, so glad you could be with me. First of off, how are you and your family?

REPRESENTATIVE TED POE (R), TEXAS (via telephone): We are fine. We didn't get any of the flooding. We are very blessed that we didn't. Many of my neighbors did get floods and some have evacuated.

WHITFIELD: Perhaps you heard General Honore and his criticism that the federal preparedness, ahead of the storm, wasn't big enough. It was incremental and there's been too much padding on the back of the federal level. What is your response to what he has to say?

POE: Well, I have seen, of course, what's taken place in our community and my congressional district stretches from downtown to Crosby, where the plant is, has been shut down and has problems. But, I think the response has been adequate throughout the community.

This is a massive destruction from Corpus Christi to Louisiana border. That's a long way, but I think the federal responses and preparedness has been adequate thus far. Immediately, the local and state officials take control of the disaster and the immediate response.

The federal government really is a backup. So, so far, I think that the federal response has been --