Transcript: Sylvester Turner on "Face the Nation," Sept. 3, 2017

Houston Mayor Turner

Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey forced tens of thousands of residents out of their homes and left hundreds of thousands without power. 

Now, many in Texas are facing a long road to recovery.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined "Face the Nation" Sunday from the city's convention center, which has been serving a shelter. He discussed the latest on Harvey recovery efforts and what Houston needs.

What follows is a transcript of the interview with Turner, which airs Sunday Sept. 3, 2017, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner who joins us from the city's convention center. Good morning to you, Mayor. I want to know, what does Houston need right now? And what did you ask President Trump for when you met with him yesterday? 

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, two things, in terms of immediate needs. Housing, housing, housing assistance. We need rapid repair housing. Because many, many people have elected to stay in their homes -- they are now dry. But they need to be repaired. In some cases, they may need to be rebuilt. And this is especially important for our seniors, low income communities, but really people all over the city. So housing, housing, housing, rapid repair housing. And I asked him to expand the rapid repair housing program for 15,000 up to 35,000. The second thing -- debris removal. Most of city is now dry, and people are already putting out their heavy debris. Now the City of Houston started on Thursday picking up this heavy debris, but we have to get it done like now. It can't be sitting around 30, 45, you know, two months from now. And so, advanced funding for debris removal -- he understood it, it was a very productive meeting. But those are the two things that I'm highlighting up at the very front. Housing, housing, housing. Recovery centers so that people can register. Go through the FEMA process. And then the third thing, I don't want to leave this out, we-- we have had first responders that have been out here assisting everybody else. But many of my first responders, over 300, have had serious flooding problems themselves. And so I ask for an expedited FEMA registration processing system, specifically for first responders, and he really gave a thumbs-up on that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sir, Houston is the center of the petrochemical industry in this country. You've got so much--

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- stagnant water there. What kind of contamination have you seen and what kind of help is the EPA giving you right now? 

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, that is still being assessed. Most of those --superfund sites are immediately outside of the city of Houston. Certainly, we would hope that the EPA would be on the ground now to take a look at those superfund sites to make sure that contamination is contained and-- and limited. But I can't specifically speak to that. Many of those areas are outside the city of Houston. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you say that Houston is safe now or that the drinking water is safe now--

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Absolutely--

MARGARET BRENNAN: ---and no potential contamination? 

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: The drinking water was never a question. Our plants continue to function. So the water-- no one had to boil any water in the city of Houston. The water system is safe. The electric grid is pretty much sound. There are only about 12,000 people in the city of Houston without power. The airport system is up and running. The transit system is up and running. We've started picking up heavy debris. Let me be very, very clear: the City of Houston is open for business.

Anyone who was planning on a conference or convention or a sporting event or a concert coming to this city, you can still come. We want you to still come. We can do multiple things at the same time. Now we are checking on our seniors, the low-income communities, houses across the City of Houston, to make sure we are repairing those homes. But we can do that at the same time. There are only two areas that are underwater in the City of Houston. That's in the northeast in Kingwood -- that's getting getting better, and then in West Houston, those homes didn't flood because of the rainfall, they are flooding from the release of water from the reservoirs. And right now we are only talking about 26 homes in West Houston. And what I've said to them -- if you have water in your home, we are asking you to-- requiring you to evacuate. But if you don't have any water in your home, you are fine. So I want to be very clear -- yes, it was a very, very serious storm. Historic. Unprecedented. But the City of Houston is open for business. And so if you have a conference, a convention, a concert, any of those things that were planned, that you were planning to come to this city, we are still ready to welcome you. On Tuesday we are getting back on our feet, and I'm expecting employees -- employers to open, employees to go to work. And all city employees, you are due back at work on Tuesday.
MARGARET BRENNAN: An important message, given that Houston is America's 5th largest economy. I know you want to drive that home. But can you give me a sense-- yesterday you were try to send that message clearly with this baseball game you had in your city. You threw out the first opening pitch. What did it-- what did that feel like? Does it feel like recovery is where you are now?

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: It-- look, it felt good. People were cheering, there were smiles. And by the way, I want to appreciate the NY Mets because they came down and they were at one of the first responders sites with police officers, serving them lunch. Appreciate the Houston Mets, you know Houston Astros won both of those games. Let me just say that. We won both. (LAUGHS)

And so people-- look, people are feeling good. Even at this shelter where we are right now. At this peak, there were 10,000 people at this shelter, the number is down to significantly less than 2,000 in just a matter of five days. So there's, the City of Houston, just like the surrounding region, were seriously hurt and it is going to be expensive proposition. And we are going to take it day by day, week by week. But at the same time, this is a "can do" city. This is a "can do" city. We're not going to engage in a pity party. We are going to take care of each other. Neighbors are taking care of each other. Good samaritans, businesses are responding, community, neighborhood people are responding. But we are getting back on our feet and we are open for business. And we do want people to continue to come to this city. The port, let me just say, the port of Houston, the port of Houston is now open.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mayor, so many Americans thinking of your city this weekend. I want to thank you for joining us today. And we will be back in one minute.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER: Continue to pray for us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will. The head of FEMA, Brock Long, will join us.