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Texas rescuers work around the clock in unrelenting rain and flooding

August 28, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
Inundated by Hurricane Harvey, huge swaths of Texas are underwater and Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., has been virtually paralyzed. About 30 inches of rain has fall already, with 20 more inches possible. Special correspondent Christopher Booker joins Miles O’Brien from Houston to report on the latest developments.

Find all of our coverage on Hurricane Harvey

MILES O’BRIEN: Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, is virtually paralyzed tonight. Huge swathes are underwater in the wake of Hurricane, now Tropical Storm Harvey.

At least eight people are dead, thousands rescued, untold numbers stranded. About 30 inches of rain has fallen already, with 20 more inches possible.

Special correspondent Christopher Booker reports from Houston.

READ MORE: The latest on Hurricane Harvey and how you can help

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Hour by hour, the water keeps rising and rescuers keep going with whatever is at hand.

CARLOS MAZZEI, Rescue Volunteer: It’s just going to get worse. And if they don’t get out today, they’re going to have to get out tomorrow or the day after anyway. Power is not going to come back, so might as well get out and try to ride it out outside at a shelter.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Whole communities have already been inundated, and officials opened two reservoirs today to ease pressure on dams and protect the city’s business core. It could also mean flooding thousands more homes may flood. That’s lent new urgency to the round-the-clock rescue efforts.

All over the city, impromptu rescue operations are under way. In this apartment complex, neighbors are going door-to-door encouraging people to leave.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner:

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, Houston: The rescues, because that’s our number one priority is getting to people in the city of Houston who may remain their homes in stressful situations. And we want to get to them today. That’s our goal, is to try to reach everyone today.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi late Friday night, then stalled, all the while dumping rain measured in feet. Now the storm is expected to dip back into the Gulf of Mexico, then hit Houston for a second time by Wednesday.

Today, Governor Greg Abbott activated all 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard for search-and-rescue missions. But it’s still not enough, and civilians, from Texas and beyond, have volunteered boats and trucks to help overwhelmed first-responders.

CLINT WINGAR, Rescue Volunteer: You have just got to look out for everybody. It’s overwhelming, the amount of rain. It’s too much for the first-responders. They need help.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Over the weekend, some people were airlifted from roofs by Coast Guard helicopters, others ferried off on boats.

MARIE SILVA, Rescued from flood: Thigh-deep water. Current was strong. And they helped us up to the military truck that evacuated us over here to the library. So we’re just happy to be OK.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: For rescuers and rescued alike, it’s risky business.

As you’re walking through the water, the water is actually moving pretty rapidly past you, and the other danger is you take each step, you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to step on, or how deep it is or how shallow it is. You’re constantly getting jostled back and forth.

Many of Houston’s main roadways are still impassable today. This map shows where high water has made travel all but impossible, except by boat. For those forced from their homes, the scope of what’s been lost is sinking in.

COLLEEN HOUSTON, Rescued from flood: I have three feet of water in my house. Three feet in my bed, in my hospital bed in my house, because I’m bed-ridden. There’s water in all of the beds in the house. We have lost every strip of furniture, every couch, everything.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center housed thousands of New Orleans victims during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Now the city’s own residents are taking shelter there. City officials are defending their decision not to order evacuations.

Francisco Sanchez, a spokesperson for the Harris County Office of Homeland Security, says it would have been worse if they evacuated everyone at once

FRANCISCO SANCHEZ, Harris County Office of Homeland Security: Some of those questions and criticisms, where you’re actually looking at where those are coming from, aren’t people from Texas and they aren’t people from Harris County. Our community here understands hurricanes.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Some coastal Texas counties did evacuate Friday night, but the sheer destruction will take months, if not years, to clean up.

LAVENA WILLIAMS, Resident: We don’t have any electricity. There’s no water. So, basically, we’re just — we’re still breathing, but it humbled us. It really did. If nobody’s humbled by this, something’s wrong.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Volunteers arrived in Rockport, Texas, to hand out water bottles.

President Trump monitored the situation from the White House, promising full federal support for the victims.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think that you’re going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president and you’re going to get your funding.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: The president and Mrs. Trump plan travel to Corpus Christi themselves tomorrow, then to San Antonio. Mr. Trump has also declared a separate emergency in Louisiana.

MILES O’BRIEN: That report from special correspondent Christopher Booker, who joins me with more now.

Christopher, where are you and what are you seeing right now there in Houston?

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: We’re just west of downtown Houston and we’re really seeing what is being seen all over city.

Scenes like this are playing out everywhere. We drove a little bit around today. Everywhere we went, the streets just like this. And of the many, many amazing things is that all the people that are coming out and forming these impromptu rescue units, just as we have been standing here, just a moment ago, a family walked past with a young child, and the woman was very, very pregnant.

It’s just unbelievable.

MILES O’BRIEN: Chris, you get the sense that people are banding together and relying on each other as much they can, not necessarily waiting for the authorities to come rescue them. Is that what you’re seeing?

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: We spent some time earlier this afternoon with a group of neighbors who had formed an impromptu rescue chain, where people were going into this apartment complex with boats, getting — encouraging people to leave their homes.

And once the people got out of their homes, they then went to the next node of this chain where the people were directing them to shelters or to hotels. And this was all organized on the scene in the moment.

MILES O’BRIEN: What does surprise me as I see this scene there with the driving rain and a lot of water behind you is there is still quite a bit of put activity. What is going on there right now? What are people doing?

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: This scene is just like many of the other scenes throughout the city. People are coming up. We have seen number of people launch their boats. And they have been taking the boats down through the flooded waters.

That truck that just passed me is actually from the Ohio task force, so people are dispatching clearly from all over to go to different places. Just down the way, I’m not sure if you can actually see it here, but there’s an 18-wheeler that has been stuck in the water, and there’s a group of people walking toward it.

Also, people seem to be coming out from the right here as they’re basically making their way towards higher ground. And just beyond my view, there’s a higher spot where people who have walked out of the water are kind of walking up to what seems to be rides that have been arranged to pick them up.

MILES O’BRIEN: Special correspondent Christopher Booker in Houston.

Christopher, you and your team, please be safe.