RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As if Texas hasn't been hit hard enough by Tropical Storm Harvey, even more rain is expected over the next couple of days. And the storm and flooding is now spreading to neighboring states. So far, tens of thousands have been forced from their homes, and the death toll is expected to rise. David, as you noted, has been in Houston. You've been there since Sunday. What have you been seeing?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, Rachel, a lot of waiting to see how this could possibly get any worse as the rain just keeps coming. I mean...
GREENE: ...Somewhere near 40 inches in parts of Houston. I'm in north Houston along an interstate that heads in from the north and goes to downtown - that is closed, heading into downtown Houston. Roads are closed all around where we are. The street I'm looking out at that comes to the hotel - I mean, we're talking about waist-deep water. I've seen a few people who have just tried to wade through to get by. But it's quite a scene.
MARTIN: So it was a big deal for you to even get that far. But now that the flood waters keep rising, I mean, even if you wanted to get out of there, would you be able to?
GREENE: I mean, that's the question. We've seen, you know, some of those monster-truck-like vehicles that have been able to get through. But not - you know, most people can't really leave. I'm - we're sort of stationed in the parking lot here of the hotel. A lot of residents have been arriving. They were, you know, escaping their flooded homes - trying to make it out of the city, like to Dallas, but they couldn't get any further. They ended up here.
And people have just been milling around, playing cards, watching some dramatic moments together. We were all standing outside, and this guy came in his car. He's a relief worker, turns out, coming to help. His name's Bob Sencere (ph). And he pulled up in his car, got stuck in water up to the door handles. His car was filling with water. He pushed his door open, waded through the water just to get here to the hotel.
BOB SENCERE: It seems like we're on an island here in the hotel now.
GREENE: It really does. What - so have you done a lot of relief work after...
SENCERE: I have.
GREENE: ...Floods and storms?
SENCERE: I have.
GREENE: How does this compare?
SENCERE: Well, I've never been flooded before. (Laughter). I've been doing this for 15 years, and this is the first time that I've actually been caught in the flood itself, so.
GREENE: So Rachel, that tells you something. This is a guy who has been doing disaster relief for 15 years, and he gets stuck himself.
GREENE: So you see what we're dealing with here.
MARTIN: Wow. OK, we're going to bring in another voice, NPR's Nate Rott, who is on the line from downtown Houston. So Nate, you made it there, which is saying something. But I imagine that was a harrowing journey.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Yeah, yeah, well, we're not stuck. So we got that going for us, unlike David. But we were running into some of the similar issues - flooding roads, quickly changing situations. We drove through kind of a number of rural communities yesterday just trying to get into Houston. And I mean, we saw towns and people that were dealing somewhat with these same issues a hundred miles to the west of the city - you know, flooding in low-lying areas, rivers that had been - you know, just completely overriding their banks.
We saw a field that had cattle standing in knee-deep water. I mean, as you drive a full day seeing those sorts of impacts in these rural areas and now in this urban area, and you really start to get an understanding of just the scale of this thing. It's massive.
MARTIN: And you visited an evacuation center, I understand.
ROTT: Yeah, I went to the George R. Brown Convention Center, which is right in the middle of downtown Houston. And it's been converted into an evacuation center for people who have been displaced. And it was really kind of a sad but also heartening scene last night. I mean, you had individuals and families coming in out of the pouring rain, getting dropped off by buses or family members or even, in some cases, rescue vehicles. I talked to one lady in the entrance to the center who said she had waded through waist-deep water from her home with a bag of belongings on her back just to get picked up and brought there.
ROTT: But she was given dry clothes and bedding that had been donated inside and was really grateful. I know that the Red Cross, I think, was expecting 3,000 evacuees at this center last night. I don't know if there were that many people there, but there were definitely still people coming in as I left.
MARTIN: It's going to rain for days more. Recovery's going to take a really long time. What have people been telling you about their biggest concerns going forward?
ROTT: I mean, I think in the short term, obviously the biggest concern is just trying to get through this. You know, we're not out of the woods yet. This storm has kind of pinwheeled off of the Texas coast and is kind of now back on top of us. I think forecasters were calling for maybe an additional 2 feet of water in some of these places. And that's just going to make this flooding worse - the rivers worse. There's a long list of issues still to face.
MARTIN: Yeah, it's just about surviving the moment. NPR's Nate Rott from Houston. Thanks so much, Nate.
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MARTIN: Over the last few days, President Trump has tweeted praise about the relief effort that's happening in Texas. Today, President Trump gets to see it for himself.
GREENE: Yeah, Rachel, he's expected to visit Corpus Christi and some other areas devastated by Harvey. And, I mean, we should say, Harvey's really the first major natural disaster of the Trump presidency. And it's really a major test for an administration that has struggled in recent weeks over its response to the events in Charlottesville.
MARTIN: Right, so now here's another opportunity - things at stake for the president. Scott Horsley's with us. He covers the White House for NPR. Scott, the president's been criticized, as David noted, a lot for hitting the wrong tone at press conferences or rallies lately. How have people rated his response to Harvey thus far?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Rachel, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has praised the president and the federal response more generally. He called it an A-plus effort. Now, Abbott, of course, is a Republican and a Trump ally, so take that with a grain of salt. But, you know, in his White House news conference yesterday, the president did, I think, strike sort of the appropriate unifying somber tone. He talked about how tragedy brings out the best in America and said we struggle together; we endure together.
MARTIN: He read them. They were, like, written remarks, so he wasn't riffing.
HORSLEY: That's right. And the question is, can he maintain that unifying tone? I mean, over the weekend, the president took time out from supervising Cabinet meetings on the storm to take a tweet potshot at a Democratic senator to make another demand for his controversial border wall. So message discipline is not always this president's strong suit.
MARTIN: Yeah, so you think back to the presidents past and how they navigate these moments. How important is this visit for the president at this particular point in his presidency?
HORSLEY: You know, if there is a political silver lining to these thick storm clouds, this is an opportunity for a bullhorn moment. You know, the...
MARTIN: George W. Bush?
HORSLEY: Sure, I mean, this is - the striking thing about this, it's an external threat. It's not a problem that was spawned in the White House itself. And Harvey is raining on Republican and Democratic neighborhoods alike. So there is an opportunity here for the president to be this sort of unifier in chief. That said, we're in the very early days of what is going to be a long-running challenge. And how the president navigates that will be telling.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: North Korea is back at it with yet another missile test.
GREENE: Yeah, Rachel, and I have to say, being in Houston, watching families just worried about getting their - you know, their kids to safety, it's hard to remember there's so much other news out there. But the story is important. I mean, it's escalated tensions in a very direct way - North Korea flying a missile over Japan.
This is the first time North Korea has launched anything into Japanese airspace since 2009. It's a slap in the face to the international community, which, as we know, recently passed a series of sanctions on the North Korean regime. The U.N. Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting later today to talk about this launch.
MARTIN: OK, NPR correspondent Elise Hu joins us from Seoul, South Korea. Elise, where exactly did this missile fly?
ELISE HU, BYLINE: What we know from South Korea, U.S. and Japanese militaries is that this missile was launched from the - near the North Korean capital, actually, of Pyongyang. And it flew some 1,700 miles, crossing over Japan's northern island of Hokkaido before crash landing into the Pacific. Japan's military actually tracked this missile as it took flight.
So the Japanese government early this morning sent out an alert to people living in Hokkaido and 11 other prefectures. Those residents were awakened with a rather unsettling message that read, quote, "Missile alert. Missile alert. You are advised to seek shelter in a sturdy building or go underground."
HU: So not a great wake-up call, Rachel.
MARTIN: So this comes after this weekend, when North Korea tested three short-range ballistic missiles. So this threat just keeps - seems to keep escalating week after week. And when we talk about this, and I ask you, how's South Korea reacting, you say it's just kind of par for the course. They just like deal with this threat. But Japan's different, right? This puts them on edge in a different way.
HU: Yeah, it flew over Japan. So Japan calls this outrageous and the most serious and grave threat to the security of its country. South Korean analysts say that this test, because it flew at a flatter trajectory, was intended to show how North Korean missiles could reach Guam if they wanted - so if it was flown south rather than in a north-easterly direction, as this latest test did.
In response, South Korea's military conducted its own show of force, dropping bombs from fighter jets at a military base. And that's going to be - you know, it's bound to irritate North Korea because the latest North Korean launches are coming as these joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea continue, which North Korea always sees as practice for invasion.
MARTIN: So we know the U.N. already passed this tough set of sanctions on North Korea. They're meeting again today, though - an emergency meeting because of this missile launch. But what is their next move if they've already passed all these tough sanctions?
HU: Yeah, there are already several rounds of sanctions, and enforcement is spotty. Besides that, where to go from here is super complicated. But analysts do generally agree you have to work on this problem from a position of reality, which is that North Korea has effectively become a nuclear state now.
MARTIN: NPR's Asia correspondent Elise Hu, talking to us from Seoul, South Korea. Hey, Elise, thanks as always.
HU: You bet.
(SOUNDBITE OF TOSCA'S "CHINA BAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.