Morning News Brief: Harvey Dumps On Texas, Uber Gets A New CEO
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The National Weather Service says Hurricane Harvey has brought unprecedented levels of flooding to the state of Texas.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah, Harvey hit the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane and ripped through several cities over the weekend. But now the focus has turned here to the city of Houston. Harvey is now a tropical storm, but it is dumping a whole lot of rain - 20 inches of rain in some areas so far. Roads were just deserted as we came in last night. The sheets of rain, the bands of rain - just absolutely relentless - with people wondering when this is going to stop. Here's one resident - 20-year-old Justin Patterson (ph).
JUSTIN PATTERSON: It is devastating to see my aunty house flooded like that. I just hope and pray that the rain stop.
GREENE: Now the only thing that seems certain, at this point, for residents here is that relief efforts are not going to be measured in weeks or even months. This is the director of FEMA, Brock Long.
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BROCK LONG: This disaster's going to be a landmark event. We're already pushing forward recovery housing teams. We're already pushing forward forces to be on the ground to implement the National Flood Insurance Program policies as well, and doing the inspections that we need. So we're setting up and gearing up for the next couple years.
MARTIN: All right, with us now on the line from Texas is NPR's national correspondent Debbie Elliott, also national correspondent Jeff Brady.
Good morning to both of you.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT AND JEFF BRADY: Good morning.
MARTIN: Jeff, I'm going to start with you. You are in downtown Houston, I understand. What's...
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Yep, just about southeast of downtown.
MARTIN: Southeast of downtown - what's going on? What's the city like this morning? I mean, it's early, so I don't know what you've been able to see.
BRADY: Well, I saw what's most important, which is that we still have heavy rain here. You know, when this storm originally came through, they were saying we could expect 40 inches of rain in some places. That is extraordinary.
And now they're saying 50 inches of rain. And just think about that for a minute - 50 inches of rain. That is 4 feet, 2 inches. That's a huge amount of water. And, you know, only part of it has fallen now. The ground is completely soaked. And so any more is just going to increase the flooding and make it even worse. And it's going to continue through Tuesday.
MARTIN: What are people doing? I mean, there are those, presumably, who left before, got out of their homes, or have now, perhaps, hopefully, been rescued from their homes that are submerged underwater. Where've they found shelter?
BRADY: Yeah, a lot of people, you know, did leave before the storm and looked for higher ground, other places. They're feeling pretty good right now. But some of those dramatic rescues that we've seen over the last day - they're just extraordinary.
The Coast Guard has had 19 helicopters out rescuing people, plucking some people from their rooftops. And there's a backlog of people who need to be rescued. They've been prioritizing folks who're sick or who're - whose lives are in danger because of the water coming in, and there's no estimate when those rescues are going to be finished. And for the people who are evacuated, then they're taken to some shelters around the city.
And, you know, just to give you an idea of how quickly this storm came in, on Saturday night, the city opened up two shelters. And this was when the rain started - not when the storm came in, but when the rain started about a half a day later. And just a few hours after they opened those shelters, they had to close one of them at the Chinese Community Center because water was coming up around there.
MARTIN: Ugh, it was flooding.
BRADY: And they weren't able to get people there.
MARTIN: Oh, man.
GREENE: Let's just get a - let's get a sense of how big this region is that's being affected here, because Debbie Elliott, you're - we're in Houston. You're, like, 80 miles east of here, moving towards the Louisiana border, is that right? What's happening in Beaumont?
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Right, right, I'm in Beaumont. It's - you know, it's raining, it's thunderstorming (ph). There're a lot of tornado warnings, and have been. And all along this region, you've got flooding - of course, not in the widespread way that you have in Houston - but localized flooding where roads are underwater. There's cars abandoned on the side of the road. Some of - people have had to been rescued from their cars when they drive into water. There's a little bit of damage, like trees down and that kind of thing.
And everywhere you look, you know, people are preparing. They've got sandbags up to protect their houses. Yards are filling up with water. You also notice all of the creeks, and bayous and lakes, and they're all sort of overtopping their boundaries, crossing roads in some places, making travel difficult.
GREENE: I mean, can you even be prepared for a storm like this that just parks itself over a part of the country and just keeps dumping rain?
ELLIOTT: You know, that's a question that everybody loves to ask in a disaster - is, well, are officials prepared? And of course, officials say they're prepared. But just the scope of this thing - if you think about it, you've got a hurricane that came along the coast and devastated communities in the way that hurricanes do - structural damage, storm surge damage. And then right behind it, in this area that stretches from San Antonio all the way to the Louisiana border, you've got flooding where you can't move people in and out. And it's a crisis.
And, you know, no matter how well you prepare, every storm is different. And you have lessons learned, but you can't predict exactly where the biggest impacts are going to be. Now, that said, forecasters were saying Houston was going to be hit by massive, catastrophic flooding. There have been some questions of whether the city should have evacuated. The mayor, Sylvester Turner, is sticking with his decision, saying he has no regrets, that putting, you know, millions of people out into the roads during a hurricane is not a good idea - the lesson learned from Hurricane Rita when people were stranded in roads and dozens died.
MARTIN: So you mentioned Hurricane Rita that devastated Texas years ago. Also, I mean, there are these inevitable comparisons - and we should be careful with them - but there are still comparisons being drawn to Hurricane Katrina for a lot of reasons, right? It was a devastating storm on the Gulf. So many people displaced - so many lost their lives. We don't have that situation yet in Texas. But there were so many people who fled to Houston from the Gulf, from New Orleans, from Katrina. I mean, are you hearing people draw those comparisons where you're at, Debbie and Jeff?
ELLIOTT: Yes, you...
BRADY: Well, I - go ahead, I'm sorry. Go ahead, Debbie.
MARTIN: I'll let you go. Go ahead, Jeff. Go ahead, Jeff.
BRADY: So I - I'm not hearing that where I am, here in Houston, because people are just too focused on this. But what I - I covered Katrina too, and what - the comparison that I draw is just this feeling of the physical environment being completely overwhelmed by this storm. I mean, it defines everything in this city. And this is the fourth-largest city in the country. This is a big deal.
MARTIN: And Debbie, I'll give you the last word here.
ELLIOTT: You know, I just feel like, there are people who fled Katrina who are now feeling like they're going through this again. And there - going to be some needs for mental health counseling at some point for those folks.
MARTIN: Yeah. Debbie Elliott reporting from Beaumont, NPR's Jeff Brady in Houston - thanks to both of you.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome.
BRADY: Thank you.
MARTIN: And we're going to end this morning with some news out of the tech world. Uber, the ride-sharing giant, is trying to set a new course with a new CEO.
GREENE: Yeah, the last couple months have been pretty awful for Uber. The former CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, stepped down in June after a series of scandals, including reports of widespread sexual harassment at the company. Now, after a search that included a number of well-known candidates, the board of Uber has picked Dara Khosrowshahi as their new CEO. He currently heads the online travel company Expedia.
MARTIN: All right, NPR's Aarti Shahani is here. Aarti, who is this guy? Is he a good choice?
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Well, he's got a lot of relevant experience, that's for sure - more than a decade at Expedia, where he had to battle Priceline and a bunch of other travel sites in a very fragmented market. He's working on - he's worked on bringing algorithms into the business to do dynamic pricing - right? - moving pricing in real time according to supply and demand. That kind of technology is core to Uber too. And, of course, Expedia and Uber are both travel companies.
But there is a big but here. Expedia helps people book flights. It's not in charge of making sure that the planes run on time. Uber is responsible for drivers showing up. Now, just one more thing I'd note on a personal front is, Khosrowshahi has a fascinating story. He came to the U.S. as a refugee from Iran when he was just 9 years old. And for six years, his father was detained by the government there.
MARTIN: So remind us. I mean, we say Uber has been besought by - beset by scandal after scandal. What is - what are his priorities on Day 1?
SHAHANI: (Laughter) Well, he's got a lot to do. First of all, Uber's corporate culture at headquarters needs to be turned around. The company got slammed for sexual harassment. A bunch of leaders left, so he needs to hire a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer, to name a couple of key positions.
He needs to build up the driver workforce. You know, it's interesting - in the last few months, Uber has been doing a lot of public apologizing to drivers, basically saying, we're sorry we've ignored your concerns like being able to get tips. Lots of drivers have left the platform. And, you know, there's no business without them, so he'll have to convince them Uber is a good job.
Khosrowshahi also has to deal with lawsuits - right? - like the Google one - the one Google has filed, claiming Uber stole self-driving car technology. And he also needs to make very tough choices about how Uber handles competition. So does Uber keep going into new cities, or does it focus on ones where they might be able to turn a profit and beat back Lyft?
MARTIN: So, I mean, I imagine that he is going to command a relatively handsome salary to tackle all those issues. But even so, is this a good job or is this a really hideous job?
SHAHANI: (Laughter) Listen, on the outside, Uber is the leading ride-hailing company, right? Despite all the controversy, ridership does continue to grow. People clearly do want the service. And, you know, a couple of weeks ago, Khosrowshahi said about President Trump in a tweet - he said, I keep waiting for the moment when our Prez will rise to the expectations of his office, and he fails repeatedly. That was his tweet. And, you know, at Uber, this new CEO will have many opportunities to try to rise and meet many expectations.
MARTIN: NPR's Aarti Shahani - thanks, Aarti.
SHAHANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.