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Houston Mayor Provides Update On Relief Efforts Amid Harvey Flooding


We're joined now by the mayor of Houston. Sylvester Turner is on the line with us. Thank you for making the time, and welcome to the program.

SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, thank you.

SHAPIRO: What is the most pressing need that your city faces right now?

TURNER: Well, you know, we've set up several shelters in the area. And what - you know, what we're needing are cots and supplies. At this point there are probably about 12,000-plus, 13,000 in shelters, opening up an additional one for tomorrow. And these - and the shelters are not just for people in the Houston - in the Houston community. But we have become like a regional sort of center for people who are coming from counties outside of the city of Houston that are still evacuating. And they're in a moment of need, and we're not going to turn anyone away whether they're a Houstonian or not a Houstonian.

So we're needing cots. And, you know, we're working directly with Red Cross and FEMA. But, you know, it's just taken, you know, some time to get them here, the number that we need. We need towels. We need socks and things for the kids. Many of these are kids, and we need toys and coloring books, things of that nature.

SHAPIRO: And people may be in these shelters for weeks. Are you prepared to house people for as long as they may be out of their homes?

TURNER: Well, we're going to work as quickly as we can to transition them from the shelters and place them in temporary or some sort of permanent housing. The first thing was to get them out of the weather. The second was to stabilize them. The third will be to work to transition them from the shelters and back to - into their normal routine as much as possible.

SHAPIRO: As the floodwaters continue to rise, do you think the need for search and rescue operations is going to increase? Or do you think that the worst of that has passed?

TURNER: Well, we're still continuing with the search and rescue. Now, depending on water that's being released from our dams that will flow down into the city, some of the homes may be subject to additional flooding. We don't know. We'll have to wait and see the impact of releasing the water from a couple of the dams that will flow into the bayous and downstream.

SHAPIRO: Are you getting the help that you need from the state and federal government?

TURNER: They have stepped in and we are very appreciative of that. I think the problem is just the magnitude of the situation. So for example, when we set up some of the shelters we didn't anticipate, for example, that the number would quickly jump to 10,000. And then the number has gone beyond that.

SHAPIRO: What's the highest number that you're anticipating now? You said you didn't anticipate 10,000. Now the number's above 10,000. What's the ceiling that you're looking at?

TURNER: Well, the problem is that when you have people who are outside the city of Houston. For example, the storm has shifted over into the Galveston area coming along the east and coming in the northeastern sector. And so like last night, for example, I got a - received call that we had 3,000 people who were coming in from outside of Houston and they needed shelters. And what I said to them - you know, bring them to the George R. Brown. We will take them. We won't turn anybody away.

SHAPIRO: Mayor Turner, I know that this has been a traumatic experience for many people. And people are saying that Houston is going to have to get used to a new normal. Do you have any sense of what that new normal will look like?

TURNER: Well, I can't speak to that. All I can tell you is that I'm a native Houstonian. I'm a proud native Houstonian. We've always dealt with challenges, and we've always risen to the occasion. This is simply another challenge that the city has faced. This is another challenge. But this is Houston. People are already going over and above to meet the needs that exist not only in our city but in the surrounding areas as well. I believe, strongly believe, that once we get past this moment, the city of Houston's greatest days are pretty much in front of us and not behind us.

SHAPIRO: Sylvester Turner, Houston's mayor. Thank you very much for your time.

TURNER: Thank you for having me. Appreciate you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.