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INSIDE POLITICS

Water Rescues in Houston; Over 30,000 People in Shelters; Houston Dealing with Epic Floods; First Disaster Test for Trump Administration. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A difficult day it is. The historic wrath of tropical storm Harvey pummeling Texas, now challenging Louisiana as well. The Houston area hardest hit by flooding and still the scene of urgent, frantic search and rescue efforts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: The evacuation issue is something that can't be second guessed at this time because we have to focus our priority on saving lives. And Texans taking a boat out and bringing people to safety. That's what Texas is all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The images continue to come in and they are stunning. Neighborhoods under water. Roads turned into rivers. Tens of thousands displaced. Many of them shocked by how fast things moved from a big challenge to a life or death crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM MCINTOSH, MOTHER OWNS NURSING HOME NEAR HOUSTON: The toilet started overflowing. And that was the first indication something was going wrong. And then water started coming in through the door and my mother said within 10 to 15 minutes it was waist deep. So they had 10 to 15 minutes between entry and waist-deep water.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Rain continues to fall. And rainfall in some areas could reach a record 50 inches. The response now and for years to come, a major test for the Trump administration and its new disaster response team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Helping Texas overcome this disaster is going to be far greater than FEMA coordinating the mission of the entire federal government. We need citizens to be involved. Texas, this is a landmark event. We have not seen an event like this. You could not draw this forecast up. You could not dream this forecast up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's the FEMA director, Brock Long, there. You can't draw this up. That, his ominous statement this morning, underling just how bad the situation is in the nation's fourth largest city and how much worse it may get as the week wears on. Sixty-two counties now across Texas under disaster declaration. The Texas governor just activated all 12,000 members of the state's National Guard.

And Houston, at this moment, under siege, drowning in some of the 11 trillion gallons of water dumped by Texas, by hurricane and now Tropical Storm Harvey. The storm shattered the scale literally for how forecasters measure catastrophe. The National Weather Service quite literally had to re-do how it maps flooding -- you see the different color scale there -- to show the devastation. Right now authorities say two are dead from the landmark floods triggered by the storm, but they sadly expect that number to rise in the hours and days ahead.

Mandatory evacuations across Houston and neighboring counties have turned the sprawling metropolis into a collection of eerie, watery ghost towns. Thousands have lost homes. More than 30,000, we are told, could spend the week in shelters. Too many to count, forced to flee.

The priority on the ground right now is finding those still stranded in the storm. Two thousand plus water rescues have already played out on submerged streets, including 90 frenzied efforts to pluck people from the water in just the last 12 hours.

Emergency responders and help by ordinary citizens using a hodgepodge of boats, rafts, seaplanes to save whomever they can. But there may be a whole lot more people who need help and need it soon. Forecasters warn 20 more inches could deluge the same already oversaturated streets in the days ahead. Those still out there, clear number one concern for the mayor of Houston.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON MAYOR: And the goal is rescue, and that's what -- that's the major focus for the day. That's my directive is that we want to focus on getting people where they are and getting them out of their homes or whatever their stressful situation may be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN has a great team of reporters covering the devastation in Texas. Let's start in Houston. The devastation there is enormous. Our Brian Todd is there.

Brian, you're in an air boat in a completely flooded neighborhood. You just helped rescue four people from the top of their cars. Tell us about that and what the conditions are like right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this is the Lakewood neighborhood of northeast Houston. The conditions are just horrific. I'll have our photojournalist Eddie Gross (ph), before I go to these people, he'll pan beyond me.

This is Way (ph) Road going down there. You can see the devastation of the flooding. It has not receded. It has only risen in the last 24 to 48 hours. And the rain is still pounding. And they're going to get more of it over the next few days.

We just pulled up or these four good people who were waiting on their cars. And the water was rising as we got to them. So it was fortunate timing. This is Marilyn Rice (ph).

We just got you out of your home. Marilyn, how are you feeling right now?

MARILYN RICE: I feel wonderful. And I thank God for you all coming to rescue us and you all was concerned enough to come up here to see about us. We've been crying and calling the news people and different ones to come and rescue us. So we thank God for you all having the mind and the heart to come and see about us.

TODD: Is wasn't us. It was the team of guys here who were driving this boat and everything.

This is -- your name, ma'am, again?

BEVERLY YOUNG: Beverly Young (ph).

TODD: Beverly. She and her son, Donell Johnson (ph), here were on their car. We just pulled them off their car.

[12:05:00] Beverly, what do you feel about what's happened to your home? It's almost completely under water.

YOUNG: It's all -- it's completely (INAUDIBLE). But I thank God that you all came buy and I think God for you all because we've been sitting there waiting on somebody to come by and help us.

TODD: How long were you waiting on the car?

YOUNG: About two days, I think.

TODD: Two days?

YOUNG: Uh-huh. Yes.

TODD: Donell, how do you feel about being out here?

DONELL JOHNSON: Oh, we're just grateful. That's all it is too. Grateful to God and to you guys for just coming out to see about us because we have been calling these numbers that were given to us and no one ever came. We kept getting excuses or should I say pass-ones. And finally we got some rescue through you all. And we thank you all so much.

TODD: Thanks for talking to us, guys, and good luck.

They're thanking us, but it really is Thomas Newmyer (ph) over there. He's the driver of the boat. Another couple of guys who were working on this rescue team, John.

This is the real story of a lot of these rescues These are private citizens. This guy came from three hours away, in Tyler, Texas, to lend his air boat to the effort. And some of these guys came from a couple of hours away, dropped their jobs, dropped everything, and are just pulling people out of houses. They've been doing this since yesterday, since we've been with them, and we're going to go back into this neighborhood in a few minutes and pull some more people out of their houses.

KING: Brian, how deep is the water right where you are?

TODD: This -- this is not deep. This is only about to my shins. But it gets a lot deeper back there. And where these people's house were, it was about waist-high, at least.

KING: Brian Todd for us on the scene. Brian, keep up the good work. And as you just did, please extend our thanks to the folks operating that air boat assisting the people. And keep in touch throughout the day and keep safe.

Those people are in our thoughts and prayers as well.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Houston by the Buffalo Bayou, which is now a shelter for flood victims.

And, Rosa, you see those victims there saved by those good Samaritans on the air boat. What's the conditions -- what are the numbers where you are?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, there's about 2,500 people taking shelter in downtown Houston at the convention center. I'm just on the other side of town by Buffalo Bayou, John.

Now, you heard first responders and city leaders talking about how water from that reservoir just west of us is getting released. Well, that water is going to be coming down Buffalo Bayou, which is what you see behind me.

Now, here is the incredible, amazing thing about how water flows and how water rises and recedes and how quickly here in the city of Houston just yesterday I would have been completely submerged underwater if I were standing at this exact location, because this entire area, all the way to the street, was completely submerged in water. And right now you can see, this Buffalo Bayou is a raging river. It's way over its banks. But it is flowing in the right direction, John, in the way that it's supposed to flow, towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, the flow of this bayou, hope for people. The rain that's falling, not so much. Because like you mentioned, we're expecting another 15 to 20 inches of rain. The ground is completely saturated. And, of course, bayous like these, even though I'm in downtown Houston, they meander through the entire town. So people, families, are seeing this, this same water flow close to their homes, and that's what has become extremely dangerous and extremely scary for a lot of the fellow families who are here in the metro area.

And like you mentioned, you know, there's a lot of them in shelters already. The mayor saying about 5,500 across the city of Houston. Twenty-five hundred of those are here in the downtown area.

John.

KING: Rosa Flores, appreciate the update. Stay safe. We'll stay in touch throughout the hour.

Joining us on the phone now is the League City Texas Police Officer Matt Maggiolino, who's been in the thick of life saving rescues efforts in League City and Dickinson.

Matt, just tell us where you are right now, what you're seeing and what activities you're up to.

OFFICER MATT MAGGIOLINO, LEAGUE CITY, TEXAS, POLICE (via telephone): Well, currently, John, we're in League City and Dickinson area at the neighborhood that we share with the city next to us, and we're coordinating efforts with some shallow water boats. And taking a priority list of folks who are either elderly or without power that are high risk and we're getting to them, getting them in our MRAP, which is our SWAT armed vehicle. It's a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, is what that MRAP is, and we're relocating them to a fire station, a collection point, and then they're being taken to shelters from there.

KING: And, Matt, you're out doing this work. As we started the conversation, I believe we can reshow it again. We have a picture of you hugging and embracing your son. You were rescued from your own hope yesterday, is that right, and now you're out helping conduct these rescues.

So, tell us about that, and your decision. It's a pretty emotional picture there. I've got two sons. Have you -- you just (INAUDIBLE) give your son a hug and a kiss there and go about this critical work you're doing.

[12:10:12] MAGGIOLINO: Yes, sir. And I -- it's tough to leave your family behind but it's what I do. That's what we all do. And I was -- I did have the rest of my team come rescue me from my house and then we went straight to work.

KING: And give us your sense -- we just heard from one of our correspondents, Brian Todd, who was in a different part near -- he's in Houston itself picking people up who say they've been calling and calling and they can't get a response. Obviously it's an overwhelming time and all the local police departments and the 911 services are being overwhelmed. What's your sense of -- do you have a good sense of how many people are still out there in your area who need help?

MAGGIOLINO: That's a good question, John. I don't have -- I don't know the answer to that. We rescued at least 100 off -- with the MRAP alone yesterday. Somewhere in the vicinity of 300-plus with just our boat. When I say, us, ours, meaning League City Police Department. There's multiple agencies out here conducting these rescue efforts. We're all working together.

It seems that right now we're actually doing a little better than we were yesterday. The water has receded quite a bit. The question, I guess, is, how much water will we take on and what does the weather look like for us tonight and tomorrow? That's more of a concern. So we're really trying to prioritize the elderly and any of the sick or injured and get them out prior to any further damage or rising waters.

But to answer your question, I don't know that. That's a good question.

KING: I assume the power is out in most of the area you're covering. How much does that raise the challenge? If people are trying to tell people where they are, and they can't recharge cell phones, for example, has that become a problem as the hours tick on here?

MAGGIOLINO: Absolutely. And so we -- there's several boats. There's lots of citizens out here with shallow water boats that are driving around. And we are also out here as we're doing these rescues stopping and talking to people and taking names and getting those names and addresses sent to our communications center.

So it is an issue. But I think that -- I couldn't give you a number of how many. But we're certainly being productive. And the folks that we're getting out of these high-water areas.

KING: Matt, we appreciate you taking the time to do this, as you do the most important work that can be done in the situation. We appreciate the time and God bless you as you continue throughout there. And good luck. Let us know if there's anything we can do to help you out from a communication standpoint.

Various parts of southeast Texas, as you can see from the pictures, a, having a crisis, b, still facing an immediate threat.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in the Houston suburb, where a fast-rising river putting nearby homes and businesses even in more danger.

Polo, tell us, you're in Richmond, Texas, give us the latest.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is where the next major flooding event is predicted to happen and that's why we're here in Obaho (ph) Park in Richmond, Texas.

The (INAUDIBLE) River, it's just behind these homes at the base of those trees. Today, it reached flood stage. And according to the forecast, it is expected to reach a record level today.

It will shatter a record that was -- that was actually -- that took place in last May, when the river reached close to 54 feet. The owner of this home told me that the river made it all the way to the top of this barbecue pit. Today, according to the forecast, it is expected to reach almost 60 feet. So, as a result, this is one of many neighborhoods that's under a mandatory evacuation.

I spoke to the homeowner a little while ago who tells me that he has been through this before. He has also struggled economically. And many of his neighbors have already packed up and left. And that's something that he's planning to do, John.

And having covered many of these events in the past, I can tell you that oftentimes it is those who perhaps have very little who stand to lose the most.

John.

BERMAN: And when you say he's planning on packing up and leaving, you running into any people -- you find them all the time -- who, for whatever reason, they're afraid to lose their home, they don't know where to go, they don't have resources, who say they're going to stick it out?

SANDOVAL: Yes. He has been through this before. Again, this river flooded just a few months ago. And so, as a result, these are the kinds of folks that you do not have to tell twice to pack up and leave. They are taking this as a serious threat. They've seen what happened to their neighbors in the city of Houston, so they're taking no chances.

This mobile home park, John, it's a ghost town right now.

KING: Polo Sandoval on the ground in Richmond. Stay safe yourselves, Polo. We appreciate all of our correspondents out there in these conditions trying to give us the latest.

The sheer volume of rain this region's seen is just beyond staggering. The words don't do it any justice. More than 30 inches in many places and it's not expected to stop for days. By the time it's all said and done, it might be 50 inches of rain that might fall.

Let's give you some idea of what that looks like. Take a look at this. Fifty inches equals neck-high water on a five-foot-tall woman, or enough water to almost completely flood a Volkswagen Beetle.

Meteorologist Chad Myers is in the CNN Weather Center for this.

Chad, you hear all the adjectives being thrown around, unprecedented, historic, one in 100 years. You've been through a lot of these. Tell us, how would you describe it?

[12:15:09] CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: In fact, I stood at that exact spot that Polo was standing back in June of last year when Richmond flooded before. The water will be six feet higher than I even saw it last year and it was a devastating flood. Six feet bigger than devastating, I don't even know where you put that in context.

It is still raining. You talked to League City just a little bit ago. League City leads the map, if you want to call it that, at 34 inches of rain that has already fallen since the storm made landfall.

Now you can begin to see the center of circulation. Not that far from Galveston. It's going to emerge. The center of circulation will emerge right into the Gulf of Mexico. And the storm has the potential to get stronger tonight and tomorrow as the center is now back over water.

I just -- it's hard to imagine. It's only about 70 miles from where it made landfall right now.

Still raining in Houston. Flash flood warning for you there. Back out toward Beaumont. Flash flood warnings for you there. And then some of the parishes, the southern parishes of Louisiana, are also going to get very, very heavy rainfall today. It could be 10 inches. Many of those parishes can handle that.

But there is the track. And by Thursday -- by Wednesday morning, we're only here, about another 100 miles from where we are right now. So in 48 hours, John, this thing moves 100 miles. That's two miles an hour. I can do that math pretty easy is my head.

KING: And, Chad, before League City, we were talking to Rosa Flores, who talked about the decision to let some water out of those reservoirs, which some people might say, why would they do that, but it makes sense when the emergency management people explain why they do it. They let some water out so more water can come in.

As the storm regains strength, she says right now the water's flowing the way it's supposed to, towards the gulf. Might that change as the storm comes back in or can we answer that question?

MYERS: Likely not. I don't believe that there's going to be enough surge to push the water back in the other direction.

Here are all the rivers across parts of Texas. I'm going to do this as quickly as I can. We'll get you down into Houston. The Buffalo Bayou right here.

Now I'm going to zoom into those reservoirs that they have to let water out. They're not even wet on this picture. This is the dry land where the reservoir is just grass when it's not raining. It is now filling up rather quickly. They don't want to breach the levees here and here. They're going to let the water out because they feel they have to.

It's going to get down into the Buffalo Bayou. And, yes, run right through Houston. That is downtown Houston. But hopefully if the rain stops, the water will begin to recede in the bayou. Then they're going to add some more water. And it will just kind of stay steady. It won't go down or it won't go up. They'll just try to release it because they need to take the pressure out of these two reservoirs. That's what they're for.

But, obviously, people don't want the water to go up even more, but it's, you know, one thing on one side and one thing on the other side. You have to let it out, because that's what those reservoirs were made for, flood control.

KING: We'll keep in touch with Chad throughout the hour. And, of course, throughout the day. And we'll keep an eye on the water.

Chad, thanks so much. MYERS: You're welcome.

KING: Up next, yes, this flooding is unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected. As we go to break, take a look at these live pictures from Houston. Stunning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:22:16] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REY GUATZIN, HARVEY VICTIM: It's just something. It's a lot of chaos, actually. And it is something that I cannot explain, you know. It's -- it's huge, man. It's actually something that I have never seen in my life. And -- I cannot really find you the words to tell you how actually this is affecting everyone because right now the whole city's paralyzed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The pictures and the accounts from the witnesses, the victims, are stunning. Harvey, the first big natural disaster of the Trump presidency. And because of that, a big test of the young administration's emergency response team. So far the Texas governor says he's getting what he needs from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: We're having a White House that is being very responsive, very concerned about the people of Texas, and a tremendous help to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Trump is being briefed constantly, we are told, and he plans a trip to Texas tomorrow with the first lady. He's also used Twitter some two dozen times now to offer updates and encouragement and to make the case his White House is on top of things.

The president's point man is Brock Long, who runs the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA not only helps coordinates the immediate response, its job is to be on the scene for the long haul to help with federal disaster relief efforts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: We're not at recovery yet. We're thinking and planning for recovery. We have recovery teams down, you know, down in Texas. But right now this mission is, it's very important. This is a life safety, life sustaining mission.

This is a landmark event. We have not seen an event like this. You could not draw this forecast up. You could not dream this forecast up.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker," and CNN's Sara Murray.

In the early hours you don't hear the complaints and we're having a political conversation in the middle of a tragedy. Some people might find that a bit crass, but it is a big test for the young administration. And every president has to deal with this at some point.

You hard the Texas governor. He's a Republican. He's an ally of the Trump administration. But a lot of -- both Democratic and Republican Congress people in that area affected, especially the counties right around Houston, I would say so far so good seems to be the political reaction, if you will, to the federal government's response?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly. And, look, it's not just political. This is a basic function of the United States government and of state government, of local government, is protecting citizens in any way, shape or form. And, obviously, a natural disaster is a big thing.

So, in the short-term, yes, they are all of the same party. But you better be sure that it would be hard to imagine that if Governor Abbott was not getting what he needed from the federal government, he would be the first person to say it. And we know from past disasters, even when there are people of the same party, and leaders of the same party, when they're not getting what they want, you hear about it. And I think that is certainly true here.

[12:25:04] But I think it is important to note that this is the first non-man-made crisis of the Trump White House. And by man-made I mean the man is President Trump and/or people around him. Because they've had a lot of crises, but they have been mostly political and, you know, generating from the inside out. This is real. And, you know, as people who have lived through covering George W. Bush and Katrina, it does appear to be very different, at least in the short term.

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": And that's why this is so important, really. I mean it's going to be -- any disaster, any first disaster is a major test for a new administration. But we've sat around this table now for eight months talking about this president's credibility problems and what that was going to mean when it came -- when an actual national or international emergency happened. Here's his first test. So far, so good. As you say, all of the signs are positive here.

It is going to be a long time coming. They sent out Mike Pence, maybe the administration's best messenger, on a series of interview -- radio interviews this morning in Texas. He was on point and speaking in specifics, right? For a president who likes to talk in superlatives, you know, this is when specifics matter. How many meals do they on the ground? How many -- you know, how many volunteers do they have there? You know, how many first responders? And all signs are so far so good.

KING: All signs are so far so good. But you remember, right after you mentioned the past, if you go through this, in the Bush administration, you know, heck of a job, Browny. Mike Brown was the FEMA director in those days. And in the early days, there was some initial complaints, but it took days, and even -- you got into the weeks before -- you know, then there was the criticism. And we're not here to revisit Katrina, whether it was the mayor at the time, the governor at the time, and the federal response at the time. Every level of government fell flat on its face and disappointed the people there.

But in the case of, this is a president who we've seen all the turmoil inside the White House, people leaving, constant chaos, constant in- fighting. In the case of Brock Long, big test for him, the FEMA director, who was a regional -- we can put up a little bit about who Brock Long is. You will learn his name, as you do in these natural disasters. The FEMA director becomes a household name as the point man for the administration.

Brock Long was a FEMA hurricane manager. So he has experience. Former head of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. Like President Obama, who picked Craig Fugate, the Florida Emergency Management Director, who was widely regarded as an A-plus guy at FEMA, it looks like the president here made a smart call.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It does look like a good pick certainly early on in this. As you pointed out, this is going to require keeping it together for an extended amount of time. That means in terms of the response on the ground, but that also means in terms of the president's leadership being here in Washington and making sure that Congress -- making sure that Congress does what it needs to do to ensure that FEMA has the funds that it need. That these areas are getting the funds that they need.

And we haven't sort of seen whether that fight is going to brew the same way it did, for instance, after Hurricane Sandy, when we saw a number of Republicans were the ones who stood up and tried to block money for that or at least say it needed to be offset. So that will be an area where we have to see where the president decides to take leadership or not.

And later on this afternoon, we are expecting the president to be speaking publicly. So it will be very interesting to see what his tone is like not on Twitter, when he is standing there in front of the cameras and has to address the nation about this tragedy. Presumably he would say something about this before they get into their other remarks today. So I think that will be something to watch as well.

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": Yes, look, I think, you know, as you pointed out at the beginning of this, it's probably -- it's too early for the sort of partisan politics to present itself in the situation. As things go on, though, I think there's three big policy debates that will happen, that always happen in the wake of an emergency like that. And they were going to happen anyway, right, because we're getting into that season where the budget and the government -- government shutdown season in Washington.

And so you're going to have a big debate about funding for some of the response efforts. And as Sara pointed out in -- during Sandy there was a big partisan fight over that. We've got to see where Trump's priorities are on that. His budget that he presented to Congress cut a lot of programs, or wanted to cut a lot of programs, that would be helpful in a natural disaster like that. He's also threatened to shut down the government if the border wall is not built. Well, in the wake of a natural disaster like this, where the federal government is leading the effort, is Trump really going to stick to a promise to shut down the government?

And then finally I think it's worth pointing out, you know, everyone is saying this is the storm of the century, the storm -- 500 year storm. Twelve years ago was Katrina. We've had now three storms in 12 years that were as bad as this. And a lot of Democrats will be saying, you know, climate change is actually -- this is the kind of flooding you would predict based on the climate change model. So that's another debate --

KING: The climate change debate.

LIZZA: For the -- for the weeks ahead that the two parties will certainly engage in.

KING: Absolutely. If you look at Houston in the last 15 years, it's one of the conversations that will happen, why do we keep having the storm of the century?

LIZZA: Yes.

KING: If you will, Sara made a point, and, Michael, you said the vice president, I was reading some of those radio interview transcripts. Smart, get into the community. You know, tell -- give people, call your local -- trust your local people. The president's hands-on on this.

[12:30:00] But the president's doing his communicating on Twitter. Every president's different. We know how much he loves the social media. Is it a surprise or is it what to expect from this president that we haven't seen more of him front and center just trying to reassure people? Just trying to reassure people, we're on top of it here in Washington, the governor's on top of it.