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With Much Of Houston Still Underwater, Rescue Efforts Continue


The president and first lady are heading here to Texas this morning to see some of the damage firsthand caused by Tropical Storm Harvey. This is even as the remnants of this storm continue to cause more rain to fall across Texas. And now it appears to be heading towards southwestern Louisiana. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says they expect 30,000 people are in need of shelter.


And David, so much rain has fallen that the National Weather Service had to update its rainfall map with new colors. They literally ran out of colors.

GREENE: It's amazing.

CHANG: ...Because they wanted to show just how much rain was coming down. And so, with much of Houston still underwater, the rescue efforts continue. The entire Texas National Guard - about 12,000 troops - have been mobilized to help. Retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore is no stranger to the devastation hurricanes can cause. He commanded the military's disaster response operation during Hurricane Katrina. And he joins me now to talk about Harvey.


RUSSEL HONORE: Good morning.

CHANG: So what, specifically, can the military do to help out here?

HONORE: Well, we - particularly, the National Guard - they are part of the state response force. That's why we - one of the reasons - when they were established, the part started as a state militia - now have a National Guard - under the patrol, and command and control of the governor. So he does not need any authority from the president to mobilize them.

And that's why we have them in every state in the United States. And they're in every zip code, as we say - you know, the National Guard units. So they are ideally suited. They're the hometown force. And they know the state, and they know the people. So they do not have to exchange business cards when they arrive because they are always there.

CHANG: Right.

HONORE: ...So ideal force for this mission - and we also mobilize them to send them overseas.

CHANG: Well, with a storm like this, a lot of people may be thinking back to Hurricane Katrina. But what is different? What is different about Harvey? What are the unique challenges here?

HONORE: The scale, size - the size of the city. New Orleans was the center - epicenter of Katrina was New Orleans and Gulfport. New Orleans had a population of less than a half million, and Gulfport, somewhere in that Mississippi Gulf Coast - maybe a couple hundred thousand.

In this case, we're talking about several million people inside the - this big circumference or area that we call Harvey. And it'll get larger than that today when we look at the expansion of that storm coming into Louisiana and going points north, where it will continue to dump rain - so just the size and scale of it, No. 1. And No. 2, the longevity of it - when you look at the hurricanes that we - and the events we've dealt with in the past - Katrina landed 12 years ago today, as we speak. And by nightfall, it was gone. And all the effects of it...

GREENE: It's much faster.

HONORE: ...Came by late afternoon. Late afternoon, the United - the Coast Guard were using their helicopters to pick people up. So this is not a normal storm. This one will - this name will be retired.

GREENE: It's - yeah, General, it's David Greene. I'm reporting from here in Houston, and you're right. I mean, the rain just keeps going on. It seems to never end. Can I just ask you - this decision not to evacuate the city of Houston - everyone's talking about it here. You've been critical of that decision. The mayor here said he just wanted to avoid what happened with Hurricane Rita when 100 people died stuck in traffic, trying to get out. Can you understand why he might've made this decision not to evacuate?

HONORE: Well, that evacuation of Rita was a bad evacuation. They didn't have a contraflow working. A lot of things - it was controlling the traffic going on the interstate, what direction people went. So they took one bad decision and used it to make another bad decision. And I do believe this mayor is a good man. But their decision points and their rationale - yes, sir - was all based on faulty premises.

Our doctrine in America - if you see the storm coming, you move away from it. And we start with priority. We move the elderly, the disabled and those without rides. We move those areas. They're the most vulnerable because they've flooded before. They're frequently flooded, in the case of storms and flooding. And then we allow people to voluntarily move. Then we get to that most severe thing - we tell people the - they have to mandatory move. And they didn't use any of those instruments that supported the doctrine.

GREENE: All right, speaking to - Lieutenant General, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate your time.

HONORE: Well, thank you, and have a good day.

GREENE: That was Lieutenant General Russel Honore.


As Tropical Storm Harvey hovers over Houston, thousands of people are out of their homes, and they need places to sleep.

GREENE: Yeah, they sure do. Jim McIngvale is a business owner here in Houston. His inventory, I think you could say, is exactly what those evacuees are looking for.

JIM MCINGVALE: Yeah, we sell home theater furniture that you watch TV in. They're sleeping on that. They're sleeping on recliners, sleeping on sofas and love seats. We have sleeper sofas. They pulled them out, slept on that. They're sleeping on hundreds of mattresses throughout the store. They're sleeping on the couches. They're sleeping wherever they could find a place that's comfortable, and God bless them.

GREENE: And we should say, Jim goes by the name Mattress Mack. He runs two giant furniture stores in the Houston area. As the city was starting to flood, he posted a video message online - come on over. He gave out his personal phone number, and hundreds of people started streaming in.

MCINGVALE: A lot of them walk in with what they could get out in a trash bag. It's very sad.

MARTIN: Some of the storm's victims couldn't even make it across flooded streets. Mattress Mack says he's got trucks that could handle those conditions.

GREENE: So instead of delivering furniture, he dispatched his drivers to collect people and bring them to safety.

MCINGVALE: We put out a Facebook feed about we're going to rescue people because there's so much need. The city and the local authorities did a great job. But they couldn't get to all the 911 calls.

GREENE: Yeah, city services have just been totally overwhelmed. Mattress Mack says he is at capacity, but he's ready to keep hosting people until these waters subside. He's done this before, we should say, during floods last year and also when Hurricane Katrina hit 12 years ago. He built his stores on elevated concrete to make them flood-proof.

MARTIN: Mattress Mack even says he's got food for the evacuees. And he invited them to bring along their pets too.

MCINGVALE: Think - a slumber party on steroids.

MARTIN: A slumber party, maybe, or just a safe, dry place to wait out the storm.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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