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At This Hour

LA Governor: Do Not Return Until We're Ready To Receive You; CNN: U.S. Military negotiated Secret Deal With Taliban To Escort Escaping Americans To Kabul Airport Gates; Wildfire Forces Tens Of Thousands To Evacuate Lake Tahoe. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 31, 2021 - 12:30   ET



DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: They work so hard to make sure that they're keeping their community safe and many of them at the same time, struggling with their own losses to their own homes. And so I just wanted to give a big shout out to the first responders across Louisiana for all the hard work that they've done and all the work that they're going to continue to do over the next days and weeks.

And finally, just to repeat what the Governor said, checking on your neighbors, checking on your loved ones, so important right now. People are going to need help. And what I have found across this country is just how amazing it is that the communities come together and help each other out. It really goes a long way. Thank you, Governor.


JACLYN HOTARD, ST. JOHN PARISH PRESIDENT: Good morning. And thank you all for being here this morning. I also want to just offer all of my prayers to our entire community. What we are experiencing right now is one of the greatest disasters that our Governor and President, they both have said it, that they have seen.

Our community is devastated at this time. And I would like to ask our residents also, as everyone has said, if you can stay where you are right now, please do so. Currently the parish is without power and we're without water. So where you currently are now, if you're in a safe place with water and power, that's probably the best place for you to be.

I'd also like to also remind our residents as well, we know that communication is a challenge right now. For about 30 hours, no one was able to communicate with anyone. I want to thank FEMA and everyone who's here because they recognize the communication challenges that we're having because our residents may not be able to get on You may not be able to call anyone, if you're in your home right now without electricity.

And they are going to be having boots on the ground to intake and get with our residents to get them the assistance that they need. American Red Cross is here. I can't thank you enough. The resources are ramping up now that communication is getting a little bit better, but yesterday there was no communication. And that has really made it difficult for us to reach all of our residents.

I can't thank everyone enough for being here. If you have family that somewhere else, and you can communicate with them about what's going on, on the ground, please do so. We are doing all of our assessments right now for water or utility assessments, damage assessments. And once we have a good assessment on what our infrastructure is really looking like, we'll be able to give a better assessment on when we even think water can be restored.

We have activated all of our pre-position contracts just to remove debris out of roadway because that's posing a challenge for us to even do a good damage assessment that we can't get to all of the areas in the parish that do have a damage, but all of that's been mobilized and activated and we're working very quickly. This is going to be a marathon and not a sprint, but I've been in this community for Hurricane Isaac. And I know that we are a resilient group of people.

This is going to be very difficult, worst disaster that we've all seen in St. John Parish. And it's going to take a long time. We're here to support the residents. And I just want to thank everyone and thank the media for being here now, because for a while, we could not reach our residents. So I do appreciate you all coming and thank you.

Jaclyn Hotard, St. John the Baptist Parish President. Thank you.

SHERIFF MIKE TREGRE, ST. JOHN PARISH SHERIFF'S OFFICE: It's still morning. Good morning. Thank everyone for coming out today. Governor, thank you for your working relationship as always. You were here for us in the past and you'd not let us down again. We've been through Hurricane Isaac. We've seen this movie before, but here we are. Our residents are very resilient. They do a good job when it's on recovery.

Two things I want to mention, to the criminal element out there, curfew, dawn, dusk till dawn, when it gets dark, do not be on the streets of St. John Parish, there's nothing out here for you to do. For the criminal element, if you decide to come to St. John Parish, my jail is empty. And you're going to be in there by yourself. We're not having, and let me say this to you, 911 connections are very scarce and very hard to come by. Most of the residents can't call us which means they're probably going to take matters into their own hands, you may be the one needing 911 that's, what I'm trying to say in the most polite terms I can say.

And for the people who are suffering out here, do not become another victim to contract the fraud. If somebody comes to your house say they're going to fix you this and fix that, do not give any money up front. And whoever does come to the house, I want you to do law enforcement a favor not just St. John but the whole state, take a picture of them and take a picture of their vehicle and their license plate number. Do not let yourself become a victim of not only Ida but the people that the greedy people out here that's going to try to take advantage of you.

If you need 911, call 911. My St. John residence we've going to get St. John Parish back for you to come home. Just sit tight where you are a little longer, be careful, be safe. We're going to tell you we want to come in and get your stuff and leave. Pay attention to the news reports and the traffic presses. OK. But we're going to get you back home. Just sit still for us. And just like you did the last time, we're going to bounce back. Thank you.


EDWARDS: Tell them who you are.

TREGRE: Sheriff Mike Tregre, St. John Parish Sheriff. Thank you, Gov. for reminding me. Appreciate it.

EDWARDS: All right. We're going to take one or two questions, and then we're going to move out to terrible Parish.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, what the situation with the food and water availability for people here, maybe those kinds of supplies?

EDWARDS: Yes, well, we actually are coordinating now with the Parish for points of distribution. And I think you're going to see that stood up very quickly in terms of what the National Guard will do here with MREs and water, and so forth, trying to add ice to that list, bags of ice as soon as we're able to do that. Those are not operating today. But we're also working with the Red Cross. And that coordination started already, where we're going to have hot meals fed here. And we're going to be coordinating with the Parish to make sure that those are in the communities to where the people need them the most.

And obviously, we know that we don't yet have functioning supermarkets and fast food restaurants and that sort of stuff. And we're working as fast as we can to get this set up. I want to remind people, we're here on Tuesday morning. The hurricane came through Sunday, it didn't leave this area until after lunch, well after lunch on Sunday. But the presence, you're going to see here, it's going to grow and grow from here on forward until obviously, we're not needed anymore. Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, what is your assessment of the utilities --



EDWARDS: Well, I don't believe anybody. I know I'm not satisfied with 30 days, the energy people aren't satisfied with 30 days, nobody who's out there needing power is satisfied with that. But I am mindful that we just had the strongest hurricane, at least tied for the strongest that the state has ever experienced. And the infrastructure has been damaged.

The damage assessment continues that started yesterday, it actually continues. And then once they know exactly how heavily damaged the infrastructure is, then they're going to be able to respond put together a plan. But what I can tell you is we have well over 20,000 linemen, vegetation crews, and others in the state right now, I did a two-hour phone call with Entergy last evening to make sure that they knew that this is a very high order of priority.

And look, we all want air conditioning, because that's how we run our lights and our air conditioners. I'm worried about it, because that's how we run our hospitals too. And our hospitals are full. And we have so many other things that are just critically important. And we know that even if you have a generator, typically, after so many days, they start to fail, right?

And so we're doing everything we can to work with them to get them to restore electricity as soon as possible, but to prioritize the things that really are, the priorities for repowering. And we're bringing them redundant generator capacity and technicians in the meantime, but nobody is satisfied. And quite frankly, you know, I will be surprised, not pleasantly surprised, but unpleasantly surprised if it actually is 30 days before we start to see power being restored. But --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- one more question.

EDWARDS: Yes, but there are parts of the state. As you move from between here and the coast, you have much more damage than you saw, even in New Orleans. And so every area is not going to come back at the same time. And we do ask people to be patient. That's one of the reasons we need people to stay out. If you've already evacuated, or if you are deciding whether to evacuate take all of this into consideration because quite frankly, it's going to be a while before you have all of the conveniences and not just conveniences the things you need to actually live. OK, WGNO, and this will be it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, the FEMA administrator mentioned of having folks in the neighborhoods, if you will, being be able to, you know, sign folks up for benefits. Is that something happening here? Or is it happening throughout the entire region and in other parts of the state?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I asked that because of the cell phone stuff and the power lines are out everywhere?

CRISWELL: Yes, that's a great question. We are going to start bringing those teams in, they're coming in today. They'll be starting to go out into neighborhoods around Louisiana. I will work -- hoods are in the most need for those. And they have iPads, they can register people offline, go back and get cell connection, and then uploads that information and their information. And they'll get a case number and they'll get --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your name please.


CRISWELL: My name is Deanne Criswell and I'm the FEMA Administrator.

EDWARDS: OK, thank you all very much. God bless.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: All right, we've been listening into an update from the Governor of Louisiana John Bel Edwards, as well as a FEMA Administrator, and a Parish Sheriff who was not mincing words. The big message you hear from the Governor, he said is that if you are out and you are somewhere comfortable with the bare necessities like water and electricity and a roof over your head, stay out he said, because to quote the Governor, now is really the most dangerous time. We'll be bringing you updates on the aftermath of Ida in Louisiana and Mississippi throughout the day.

Ahead for us still, he served his country but his country failed him. He had a treatable condition but died because there was no ICU bed available because they are all packed with COVID patients. The doctor who desperately tried to save this veterans life joins me next.



BOLDUAN: We do have breaking news into CNN out of the Pentagon. The U.S. military negotiated a secret arrangement with the Taliban that led to Taliban escorts of Americans to Kabul's airport. These details are just coming in from CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Let me bring up Barbara right now. Are you with me? There you are, Barbara, tell us what you know, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we had all known for many days, because the Pentagon talked about it, that they were developing a communications channel with the Taliban described as a very pragmatic relationship. But this morning, we are learning many more details about just how deep and how close hold how secret that relationship with the Taliban actually was.

Two defense officials are telling CNN there was a secret arrangement negotiated with the Taliban to help Americans get out. They would -- the Taliban would have these muster points agreed to with the U.S. Americans would gather at these muster points having been notified by the U.S. government about where to go.

At those points, the Taliban would pick them up and basically walk them into the airport area to the gates where American forces were waiting, often able to observe the Americans approach and try to ensure their safety, getting to that last gate where they could cross into the airport.

Now, we do want to acknowledge, of course, that there are many reports that Americans could not get past the regular Taliban checkpoints. But there's about 100, 200 Americans, perhaps left in Kabul, left in Afghanistan that want to get out. But we are told that this secret arrangement was so successful, that hundreds of Americans were able to get out through this arrangement.

And of course, the administration reporting, they believe they have taken 6,000 Americans out of Afghanistan. So that's the arrangement with the Taliban. But we're also learning additional details about how U.S. Special Operations Forces also had their own secret arrangements to try and help Americans get out. Yesterday, General McKenzie, who gave the first press conference announcing that U.S. troops had left made an interesting reference saying that special forces had helped get 1,000, more than 1,000 Americans out of the airport, out of Kabul and out of the airport. Now we know more. What we know is that Special Operations Forces basically set up their own secret gate at the airport. It was not acknowledged. It was an area that they were using to try and help Americans get out.

They were on the phone, they were in call centers, as Special Operations Forces, they were vectoring Americans in basically in communication with them on phone saying, walk here, walk there, turn here, turn there, anything they could do in a very fraught situation full of people of desperation, trying to get out, trying to help Americans guide them through all of this.

We had assumed a lot of this, I have to tell you, but now with the operation over, officials are acknowledging what has happened here. And they really do believe that all of these arrangements were very helpful in getting so many Americans, not everybody, but getting so many Americans out. And they also are making the point they are well aware, there was a sacrifice of final sacrifice of so many American troops in that ISIS attack. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Barbara, it is important hearing all of these details that you are gathering from these arrangements. Is it clear if you've been able to find out how often this happened, these secret escorts from the Taliban occurred?

STARR: Yes, that's a really good point. There were times during the last days. We are told where this would happen several times a day. We haven't been able to learn, you know, the size of the groups, I think a pretty safe assumption is the size varied because they wanted to keep obviously a very low profile.

They knew there was an ISIS-K threat at the airport area. They didn't want to have some highly visible group that was clearly Americans with their bags and whatever luggage they had, you know, that could be clearly identified. All of this, of course was happening also as other people were on buses trying to get through the airport. So it paints a picture I think of the last days of this effort, everybody working, every thread, every stream, every possible channel of communications and help that they could to just get as many people out as they could.


But what we know is this pragmatic relationship that the U.S. military has described with the Taliban had this other layer to it. Secret arrangements in one case, one muster point was an interior -- Department of the Interior Ministry building quite close to the airport. People were told to go there, the Taliban pick them up. Kate?

BOLDUAN: These are important details, Barbara. Thank you so much for bringing it to us, Barbara, really appreciate it.

We also are following some more breaking news. A fast moving wildfire is forcing more than 50,000 people in California to flee the Lake Tahoe area. They're now under a mandatory evacuation order in some of the residents of this popular tourist destination got stuck for hours in just the traffic, the lines of cars trying to get out because of this evacuation order.

Joining me now is the Mayor for more on this, the Mayor of South Lake Tahoe Tamara Wallace. She was one of the residents actually forced to evacuate along with everybody else. Thank you so much for being here. I saw Mayor that you told a local station that a week ago if someone would have asked you, you thought there wasn't even the slightest chance that this fire was going to get to your city. And then yesterday, the entire city is told to evacuate. How did it change so fast?

MAYOR TAMARA WALLACE, SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIFORNIA: Honestly, I don't know. There was a huge amount of granite between the fire and us. And I woke up on Sunday, and it had, it had jumped that granite. And now it's in the Lake Tahoe Basin. And homes are threatened and our community is threatened. And I never thought that that was possible.

BOLDUAN: Does -- I think the population of the city is just over 20,000. And obviously we're looking at a holiday weekend ahead. I mean, do you know if everyone got out and really what this all means, which is an important week for Lake Tahoe would be Labor Day weekend.

WALLACE: Yes, I do know everyone was able to evacuate. The evacuation was actually very orderly. There was a lot of traffic. But we were able to evacuate our city in just five hours, which is good. We do have an important holiday weekend. But we have good summers. And so Labor Day is sort of the last hurrah. And honestly people's lives are much more important than worrying about sort of tourism right now. So we're trying to take it in stride.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. What is the latest that you have heard? I mean, we have Dan Simon, one of my colleagues, he was kind of near the front lines talking about you could see the smoke, kind of enveloping him as he was reporting about this fire. Have you heard the status of things right now, when you could possibly head back in?

WALLACE: Well, you know, we're not even thinking of that. Right now, fire is raging through the Lake Tahoe Basin. And we're not even considering talking about that. We will have a city council meeting later today via Zoom, because we're all in different locations. Our EOC or Emergency Operation Center has been moved into Nevada. And our city staff is working very closely with the incident command for the fire. We're just right now trying to see what happens with the structures and businesses in our community and our homes.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Well, Mayor, thank you very much for your time. Good luck.

WALLACE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Now this next story is something that should not happen in America. It is a truly tragic example of what healthcare professionals have been warning of since the start of the pandemic. If the system is overrun by COVID patients the system will fail. And it did. This is U.S. Army veteran Daniel Wilkinson. He served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was awarded a Purple Heart. Last week he felt sick and ended up going to the local hospital outside Houston and he ended up having gallstone pancreatitis, a painful disease but one that is entirely fixable and treatable if treated in time.

The E.R. doctor who first saw Wilkinson tried for seven hours to find a hospital with an available ICU bed for him. But all of the beds were full because of coronavirus, all full because millions of eligible people still aren't vaccinated and so the virus just keeps going. And so 24 hours after this veteran walked into his local E.R. he was dead at the age of 46. This should not happen in America.


Joining me right now is the doctor who heroically treated Daniel Wilkinson desperately tried to find a hospital bed to get him the treatment and the surgery that he likely needed. Dr. Hasan Kakli, an E.R. doctor and E.R. physician at Bellville Medical Center. Doctor, thank you for coming on.

I first learned of Daniel's tragic story from the fantastic reporting of David Begnaud of CBS News. And when I saw the report, I just -- I could not stop thinking about your conversations. I mean, you knew Daniel needed a more advanced level of care than your hospital offered. Tell me about how you tried, all you tried to do to find him a bed to get him the treatment he needed.

DR. HASAN KAKLI, REGIONAL MEDICAL DIRECTOR, CONCORD MEDICAL GROUP: Thanks for having me on Kate. Yes. Firstly, I'd love to thank David and his CBS News team for doing everything they could, indeed to make the story get out there. And also Michelle, Daniel's mother who gave us consent and permission to tell the story because as she puts it, this is what Daniel would have wanted. He doesn't -- he wouldn't have wanted this to happen to anybody else.

So when Daniel came in, he was complaining of vague abdominal pain, we see a lot of patients with that. And we do labs to kind of figure out our thought process of where to go from there. And when his labs came back, it was very consistent with gallstone pancreatitis. We still have to do an imaging test to confirm the diagnosis, which we're able to do and we got a CT scan, which confirmed that and that was around 1:30, 1:15, 1:30ish that the diagnosis came back.

And immediately right after that, myself and the nurses and everyone there, working in the E.R., we get on the phone to call for a hospital that has the specialist and has the ICU capability because Daniel was quickly deteriorating in front of us. And we kept getting the response. Sorry, we're full. We have no ICU capacity. We have no ICU capacity.

And it's about two hours into that ordeal not being able to get a bed that I said, why don't I try posting this on the physician community in Facebook, it's one of the largest, if not the largest physician community on Facebook. And I posted the situation, the dire straits that Daniel was in and got a bunch of responses from doctors, some in Missouri, one from Austin. And unfortunately, all of that fell through, I called the numbers they told me to call and there were no beds.

Finally I got acceptance in Denver, in Colorado. But by that time, we kept making phone calls. And finally about five hours after the diagnosis was made we got acceptance to the Houston V.A. But it proved that too much time had passed, and they were unable to fix the problem. Despite the V.A.'s heroic efforts, I have to let everyone know, I'm seeing comments online about people trashing the V.A. that's not the situation here. The DeBakey VA, the Houston V.A. did absolutely everything they could.

BOLDUAN: Look, I mean, did you ever think that you would be up against something like this? I mean, I'm sure this is -- this has to be a doctor's worst nightmare.

KAKLI: Absolutely. And it was something that myself and all my physician colleagues, we knew this was an inevitability. Don't get us wrong. We are in the worst crisis of the pandemic. We wish for 2020 again. I don't know how else to put it, Kate. Right now, we are struggling, our -- my physician group that I work for Concord Medical Group, we staff hospitals all over Texas, especially rural hospitals, and we're seeing the same exact thing.

Right now at the main hospital I work at over in El Campo, Texas. We have 24 patients, 20 on the floor, 40 in the ICU, one of them does not have COVID. I just call this morning to get that update. And we pride ourselves on giving the best evidence based care to give the best care in the world wherever we practice, our Concord physicians, our partner hospitals that we work with. Right now, Kate, the bar is set to safe care. That was always a given. Now that's the goal.

We had to downgrade to patients out of the ICU who are still ICU sick, because they were to other patients who were sicker and needed those beds more. We're making decisions that we've never had to make before. And what I'm asking -- go ahead.

BOLDUAN: No, just -- I just -- we're out of time, but I just -- thank you for your message. I mean, the message is loud and clear, folks, this is preventable. It can be stopped. Dr. Hasan should never have to be in this position. And Daniel Wilkinson should be alive today. God bless him. Thank you so much doctor for speaking up and for what you do.


And thank you so much for joining us. Ana Cabrera picks up right now.