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Houston Police Chief Outlines Ongoing Harvey Relief Efforts

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As we've been hearing, floodwaters continue to rise in Houston. Flood control reservoirs are at capacity. And the rain is still falling, so things could get worse before they get better. At a press conference earlier today, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said his department is working around the clock to rescue stranded Houstonians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ART ACEVEDO: Our goal today with our partners at the fire department, our - and our other partners that are coming in from around the state and country is to complete the rescues of all critical missions today.

SHAPIRO: And Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo is on the line with us now. Thank you for making the time, and welcome to the program.

ACEVEDO: Hey. Thank you very much. And thanks for covering this tragic situation we have going on here.

SHAPIRO: I wonder if you could begin by defining that phrase, critical missions, for us. When you have hundreds of requests for help, how do you prioritize?

ACEVEDO: We are prioritizing based on the circumstances the - our community members are facing, whether they're on the rooftop, on the second floor of a home, on the first floor of their home, how many feet of water is in there. And I got to tell you guys that the circumstances here and what we're facing is just something that will go down in history as the worst - I believe the worst flooding of all time. And it's just - it's unbelievable what we're facing here.

SHAPIRO: And are you getting a new call for rescue for each person that you pick up, or are you able to decrease the backlog of requests?

ACEVEDO: We've decreased the backlog of requests. We were down, last time I checked, to, like, 185. But that's just the critical requests. You know, that's the requests where we need to get there as soon as possible. And when you're looking at our high-water rescue vehicles that are flooding - you know, the Army trucks, the military surplus trucks and even some of the National Guard trucks that - they've now gone underwater because of this. This is an unprecedented event.

SHAPIRO: Just to underscore what you're saying - 185 critical requests where people are in immediate danger and need help yesterday.

ACEVEDO: Correct. And the flying conditions have been very challenging. I am so proud of the United States Coast Guard and how much they have placed their lives at the - on the line flying in some really, really, really challenging conditions.

And so I - this emergency, this response is ongoing. It is unprecedented number of days that we are - we're not even in the recovery phase. We won't even enter that phase for days. And it seems like every time we thought we're going to get a break, it's just getting worse.

SHAPIRO: And as the waters keep rising - and you say the land vehicles are not functioning - do you have enough boats to do the work you need to do?

ACEVEDO: No, we do not have enough boats. I know that we have a lot of boats that are trying to get in. But the problem that we're having is that our city has become a series of islands. And our friends from the National Guard and the Public - Department of Public Safety here in Texas and other convoys that are coming to respond to our aid can't get in, have - are having troubles getting in. And so you know, it's just a matter of - the water has been so much that it's just - it's unfathomable what we're facing here in terms of this flooding.

SHAPIRO: And so what advice do you have for people who may need help and might find that they are waiting on hold for hours on 911?

ACEVEDO: The - well, you know, we've been able to really do a great job this morning. That was down to at one point just 10 calls on - in the queue.

SHAPIRO: OK.

ACEVEDO: But the challenge is that even though - you know, people are using Twitter. They're using social media. And we're actually monitoring those locations. But the problem is we just don't have the number of boats. And the boats that are here, trying to get here, can't get to the area of - operational area.

SHAPIRO: Are you worried about exhaustion? First responders have been going all weekend, 24 hours a day, and you say it may be days yet before you're out of rescue mode.

ACEVEDO: You know, you worry about that. But (laughter) I can tell you that the collective heart of the American peace officer and of these Houston police officers and all of our partners in the region is second to none. I was outside. Pouring down rain - I see a pickup truck from the Houston Police Department filled, uncovered, with my homicide detectives all getting soaked. And I yell at them. Where you crazies going? They said, Chief, we need to go rescue people. And we actually tweeted about it.

And that's just - these men and women are amazing. Their families are flooding. They have family members that are flooding. And yet they're not abandoning their post. They're here being the dedicated professionals that they are. And I can't tell you just how proud I am.

SHAPIRO: Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, thank you for speaking with us.

ACEVEDO: Thanks, guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF MNSR FRITES' "COPPERFIELD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.