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At This Hour

Rescues Underway after Historic Floods in Northeast; Deadly Floods Paralyze New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania; Biden Condemns Supreme Court Ruling on Texas Abortion Ban. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 02, 2021 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): That's crazy considering -- I mean, (INAUDIBLE) is a small place. And I'm looking now -- these areas, I'm told from WPVI, Tom, this is between Philadelphia and Wilmington. And we've all been watching this unbelievable video coming in and just how these crews are having to navigate through city streets and the water is so high you could -- they could almost miss that their hitting a car. I mean, they were almost -- they almost pulled back into a car because the water is so high. What is it like to conduct these types of water rescues, Tom?

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER FDNY COMMISSIONER (voice over): Well, it is dangerous. It is t doesn't look dangerous but it is. They don't know what they're going over. They don't know if there is a power line that is down. They don't know if there's car in that particular spot, so many things that they just don't know. And that is -- the unknown is the dangerous part.

And in the cities, it's even worse than out in the country because while out in the country, you can get some really fast-moving water and that becomes dangerous. You see cars stranded, they're going through a road that looks okay and all of a sudden water come really fast, and that is a dangerous thing for being in a vehicle. I'm shocked at how many vehicles are totally under water.

And you could see the guys going around trying to get in the vehicles to see if there is anybody trapped in there, you hope they got out. But you know how fast the water was coming and they may have been afraid.

So, it is constant stress over trying to, you know, not make things worse. In other words, they don't want to become victims themselves. They want to try to help every possible person that they can as fast as they can.

BOLDUAN (voice over): Yes. And, Governor Rendell, we're standing by. I was just alerted that we'll be hearing, we believe, from Pennsylvania's governor, Wolf, at 12:00. We are also standing by any minute, President Biden will be speaking. Governor Rendell, I'm sitting here thinking about what we're looking at. I mean, on the micro level, I'm looking at a community paralyzed and really devastated, the money that is going to need to go into recovering this, the lives that are impacted, the people getting out of boats. On the macro level, Governor, as we were talking about climate change, we're looking at active rescues, active water rescues, in three major American states, in Pennsylvania, in New Jersey, in New York, three northeastern states in large part also just paralyzed. It is really unbelievable.

FMR. GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA) (voice over): It is extraordinary. And you would think that this would motivate us to do something. You would think that people would say, okay, that's enough, we'll raise the money and get this done. If we have to roll back a little bit of the tax cut that people like me got, let's roll it back and use that money to fix our infrastructure once and for all.

Of course, if we don't, two years from now, we're going to have the same broadcast. Maybe, Kate, you'll be on doing different things and maybe we'll be doing different things. But there will be people talking about peak performance and we should say no more. Let's get this fixed. Let's spend the money and get it done because it prevents the rise (ph).

And, by the way, if we fix this infrastructure that you're talking about, we create millions of good-paying jobs and bring back American manufacturing. So, let's get to it, a much bigger scope and even the infrastructure bill. But they look like they're going to pass in Washington. That is not enough money to really fix problems like this. And we have to do something about climate change in a bipartisan way.

BOLDUAN (voice over): Tom, how long, when you see the destruction that we're looking at in New York, in Pennsylvania, in New Jersey, how long are these -- how long are fire and police -- how long are they going to be at this. How long -- there are active rescues going on still. The (INAUDIBLE) mayor said he doesn't even know how many more people need to be rescued but he knows it's a lot. He said scores. How long do you think this goes on, because in a lot of places, the water hasn't crested even yet?

VON ESSEN (voice over): Yes. I don't know the answer to that. If we keep saying it is really unprecedented. To be watching all of the video that you guys have for rural areas, country areas and city areas, I think that is what is unusual. We'll have a problem and it will affect New York City and then another day you'll problem that will affect Philadelphia. But you don't have a problem like this that's affected everybody from next to Philadelphia and further up north.


So that is the unusual part of this. It really will test our resources.

New York City has enormous resources, Philadelphia has it also. A lot of these towns in between don't. So you want -- they have a great volunteer of fire department, so they're out there and everybody is doing their thing. You mentioned the National Guard. They will be in.

But in New York City, and I'm sure it is the same way in Philadelphia, the same old subway systems, you have the same issues that you have to get people to work and this stuff doesn't just dry out immediately. It's all electrical conduits down there. You need electricians to come in. You need experts to come in. Everybody is going to want them at the same time. So it's just -- it's an enormous undertaking and it is not going to be something where everything is wonderful in 48 hours. You can tell that.

And we've had neighbors in New York City, you heard there Congress people before talking about, they always flood. They are lie-lowing areas and they haven't been taking care of it over the last 40 years, so they always flood. They recently spent $2 billion to fix it and it is still not perfect.

So, there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of time and patience and people don't have the patience that they should have because a lot of these things are not somebody's fault. A lot of them are just things that have been difficult to solve or for over a long period of time. You can't just come in and do it the right way, like a private sector does it.

The public sector is different. You have got to come in, you have to get people onboard. You have to start hiring people and money gets wasted. I mean, if this stuff was all private sector, it would be a whole lot different. It would be faster and it would be done more efficiently, cost less. But once the government is involved, it becomes bigger, more complicated and much more waste.

BOLDUAN (voice over): Tom, thank you so much. Governor, I really appreciate you getting on. I hope you're able to get out of your house soon, Governor, and I really appreciate you sticking around and sticking with me.

We're standing by to hear from President Biden very soon about really all of this. In the meantime, the breaking news continues. Rescue crews going door-to-door right now. Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City, in some places, has been under water, entire areas shut down, neighborhoods completely flooded as we have been watching.

I want to show you, hopefully we have some images or video actually inside of a home in Wallington, New Jersey. This is a city just outside of New York City. And you can see as the lights are off, but you can see it is completely -- the floor completely flooded, catastrophic flash flooding in that area from the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

Joining me now is the woman who shot that video, Sinah Ghannam. Sinah, thank you so much. How are you?

SINAH GHANNAM, NEW JERSEY RESIDENT (voice over): We're okay for the most part. Just (INAUDIBLE). It happened so fast. We had no time to react or try to salvage what we can. We lost a total of three cars. One was parked in our garage and two outside, sentimental items in bins that were in our garages totally gone. And I'll show you images in our garage right now. And I don't know if

you can see, these are bins that were up against the wall at one point, all toppled over. One of our classic cars that we had in here, the water damage is just -- it's unbelievable. Water was literally over one foot high at some point last night. Things are just everywhere, walls, sheetrock, everything is just totally destroyed.

I'll take you outside. I sent images of this car last night. It was completely covered. This is completely gone. We have our other vehicle outside, completely gone, destroyed. All of our neighbors have just been outside pumping everything. And it is just truly devastating, everything that we had to go through last night.

BOLDUAN: Sinah, what was it like last night when you saw the water coming in? I think, I hope we could load up some of the pictures, but please giving us a tour. But we have some of the pictures that you sent of what you're describing, the water up to the wheel base of the car. What was it like watching this all happen last night?

GHANNAM (voice over): To be honest with you, it was truly heartbreaking, devastating, that there was nothing that we could do. The town sent out alerts issuing everybody to stay inside, that, at this, point they were rescuing bodies from vehicles from how much the cars were submerged under water in parts of the town. And it was just devastating. It was heartbreaking just to know that people were trapped in their vehicles under water and there was nothing they can do about it.


BOLDUAN (voice over): Absolutely. So, Sinah, what -- I mean, there is a lot -- I mean, there are still rescues going on in New Jersey as well as in New York and Pennsylvania. But for you and your family, what are you going to do now?

GHANNAM: You now that we've accepted the aftermath, it is now just clean up and just moving forward from this and just trying to move past this in the best way we can. We're grateful that we're alive and that we're safe. Certain sentimental items that can never be replaced were lost and that is what truly hurts the most but grateful that we're safe.

BOLDUAN: Grateful that you're safe too. Sinah, thank you so much for sharing this with us. Best to you and your family. Thank you so much.

We have much more on our breaking news coverage, these historic floods, the storms, the remnants of Hurricane Ida just slamming into the northeast overnight. Stay with us.



BOLDUAN: Welcome back, everyone. We continue to follow the breaking news on the historic flooding in the northeast overnight. Active rescues are underway in three states right now. Crews in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and parts of New York going door-to-door to rescue people stranded due to the high water. Hundreds have been rescued, many more remain trapped. We expect to get an update from the Pennsylvania governor at the very top of the hour.

The monumental storm has killed at least 11 people in the northeast, nine of them in New York City. Unfortunately, that number is expected to rise. New Jersey's governor, Phil Murphy, he just said that his state suffered more than a few fatalities but he did not offer up specifics. That will come. And we will report that when it does.

Power outages are also an issue, as you can see, but take a look at some of this video. I mean, there are more than 200,000 customers not northeast without power but this video from Montclair, New Jersey, is terrifying and the water coming into people's basements.

CNN's Christine Romans has been up live all morning, from the wee hours of the morning, Christine in Clifton, New Jersey. What have you been seeing since you got out there this morning? I mean, you really got the first pictures, the first look at what happened.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, where we are, this is a water event. This was flash flooding and this was flash flooding like we haven't seen before. This is historic record-setting kind of water here. You have got rivers that used to be streets, quite frankly, washing cars away like rubber duckies in a bathtub.

And now people are trying to get out there, find their cars, figure out what to do next, even as their emptying out basements and trying to survey the water damage. I mean, that is the least of it. You have water rescues underway still and you have people still trapped in rising waters in other parts of New Jersey, Southern New Jersey, for example.

Also this is a tornado event also. There was a tornado that touched down in South Jersey and also some real high winds that could end up being called numerous tornados. So, you have tornados in the south, you have record epic flash flooding in the north, there really aren't superlatives for what happened here, the history that was made in New Jersey. Here is the governor.


GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): An extraordinary, sadly tragic, historic 24 hours in New Jersey. There is no other way to put it. Needless to say, look, on either side of us right now and the impact of this, these tornados that touched down in this county, this is going to take us some time to dig out of. There is no question about it. And I want to just say on behalf of all of us, we're going to stay here and be by the side of the residents and the small businesses that have been impacted so severely.


ROMANS: Now, you've got a unique storm here, Hurricane Ida, some 1,400 miles, some seven states. This is supposed to be the dregs of that hurricane. But the damage is wrought here in New Jersey, in New York, in Pennsylvania, I mean, it is going to take some days, if not, weeks to see just how deep that damage goes, Kate.

BOLDUAN: That is a great point, Christine. Thank you so much, Christine. I really appreciate it.

The amount of rain that fell across the northeast last night and into this morning is truly historic. CNN's Meteorologist Allison Chinchar, she is joining me now.

Allison, the numbers are jaw-dropping. The amount of rain that fell in Newark and in New York City in one hour is terrifying.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's not just those communities. If it was just one or two communities, it would still be tragic that it would be isolated. The thing about this particular event was that it was such a widespread event in terms of such atrocious areas of rainfall. Look at all of these areas that set daily rainfall records for September 1st. The red area you see behind it, you're talking six to ten inches of widespread rainfall totals. Staten Island picking up just under nine inches of rain. You have so many other areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York also picking up seven, eight inches of rain.


Keeping in mind too that for a lot of these communities, they got that rain in just three to six hours. So those may be 24 hour totals, but it didn't take 24 hours to dump that rain.

Newark, New Jersey, having their wettest single day on record, over eight inches of rain, crushing the previous record, which was 6.73 set back all the way back in 1977.

Central Park also making it into their top five wettest days on record with over seven inches, but also having their wettest single hour on record, from 8:51 to 9:51 last night, Kate, they picked up over three inches of rain, which is why you had those roads under water and why the subways looked like they did as well.

BOLDUAN: Unbelievable, 3.15 inches. And I believe a New York official said, anything over two inches an hour is going to create real problems. You got way over that in what you're obviously seeing now.

Allison, thank you so much. She's going to be watch all of this because this is still unfolding. It is not over. We're going to get back to that breaking news in just a second.

But the other breaking news that we are following this hour, President Biden, he's condemning the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to intervene on the new Texas law banning most abortions. In a 5-4 decision, the high court, overnight, denied an emergency appeal for abortion providers.

Let me read part of the new statement that the president just put out. It says, quote, for the majority to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts.

CNN Supreme Court Reporter Ariane de Vogue back with me now. That new statement is yet again pretty brutal and blunt coming from the president. Lay out for folks what happened overnight from the court, Ariane.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. Well, we really learned about the fragility of Roe v. Wade, right? This 5-4 order, it was issued just about midnight and basically the court is green lighting this Texas law that bars most abortion after six weeks.

And the reason this law is so strict is because most women don't know they're pregnant at six weeks. And as you said, now the president has launched what he called this government-wide effort to see what the government can do to respond to the Supreme Court ruling in that statement, part of which you read, he called the ruling an unprecedented assault on a woman's constitutional rights under Roe.

And what's also interesting here is in that order last night, Chief Justice John Roberts, who is no big supporter of abortion rights, he actually sided with the liberals here, and the liberals were furious. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, she wrote a dissent. She said, the law is a breathtaking act of defiance of the Constitution of this court's precedence and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.

And keep in mind what this order highlighted is something you and I have talked about, is the fact that this very law was written to make it really hard to challenge before it went into effect. And the majority last night basically said, we're not saying whether or not this is unconstitutional right now but clinics bringing this challenge, they haven't met the burden to show that they will be harmed, so we'll allow it to go into effect now and that's what makes the liberals so mad. The liberals called out not only the majority but the Texas legislature itself, saying this is a gambit, trying to get around Roe v. Wade.

BOLDUAN: And just to read another part of the dissent because it was scathing from Sotomayor, but it also -- there's a little bit of legal jargon in here, but just go with me. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. That is some very strong language from the Supreme Court justice about the other justices.

DE VOGUE: Yes, absolutely. And keep in mind, what they -- we talked to some clinics today. They said Roe v. Wade may be on the books still, but right now today in Texas, they said, it's a dead letter. That's why this has gotten so much attention, and now, of course, from the president.

BOLDUAN: Yes. No one should be kidding their selves in Texas about what this means for abortion rights in Texas right now. Ariane, thank you very much. So, getting to the point of what Ariane was just talking about, the new reality in Texas is already setting in for both patients and abortion providers. One doctor has told the Texas Tribune that he only saw six patients at his Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston yesterday. He had to deny abortions to half of them. He told the outlet that, previously, he would perform 20 to 30 abortions a day. Half of these women, the right they had 24 hours ago, they no longer have in Texas.


CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live in Austin with more on this. What are you hearing about the real impact beyond that already in Texas, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, I think when talking to providers, talking to people here in Texas and abortion advocates, it's a mix of anger, fear and really confusion, because there is so much that they don't still know at this time. In talking to some advocates and organizations, they say their plan is to try and divert funds so they can send potential patients out of state to get an abortion.

There are other organizations though who say they're not advising any of their providers to do that because they're not sure if that's technically legal under this new law. And then there were others who say that it's simply not fair to have to make women in Texas or anyone in Texas have to make that choice.


NANCY NORTHUP, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: It's only been one day since the law has been in effect and already clinics have been overwhelmed with people wondering what can I do and where can I go.

To suggest that people can leave the state of Texas, people don't have the means to do so. We are in the middle of a pandemic. And it is just really cruel, as I said, in one long paragraph what the Supreme Court did last night.


GALLAGHER: I want to read to you something from the CEO of Whole Women's Health, one of the larger providers in the state of Texas. She said, our patients are scared and confused and desperately trying to figure out what to do to get an abortion. We don't know what will happen next. Our staff and providers are so afraid. We are complying with the ban and our four Texas clinics are still open. But let me ask you, is this how you want someone you know and love to experience abortion?

Kate, I need to mention that there are some providers who have been advising people to use medication for abortion. The Texas House yesterday sent the governor a bill that would further limit the use of medication for abortions if he signs that into law. BOLDUAN: It's not over yet. Dianne, thank you so much. I really appreciate that reporting. We're going to stick with that.

We're going to get back to our other breaking news coverage to give you an update now on the deadly flooding, the deadly weather event that has been playing out in the northeast overnight.

Joining me right now is William Turner. He's a Deputy Director for Emergency Management in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Again, this is one of the collar counties outside of Philadelphia that we talk so much about. Thank you for being here, Mr. Turner.

I'm looking at some new pictures you probably can't see from KYW in Pennsylvania that have gotten more live water rescues happening all throughout the -- all throughout the area in Philadelphia, outside Philadelphia. What is happening where you are right now?

WILLIAM TURNER, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: Yes. So, thanks for having me. And mostly at this point, a lot of our rivers and streams have crested. However, there's still a lot of damage for us to go out and to assess. Our first responders stayed extremely busy last evening into the early morning hours conducting hundreds of rescues from both houses and vehicles. So a very stressful, a very busy night just completely inundated with flood waters that really taxed our system, but our first responders did an amazing job getting out there and making those rescues.

BOLDUAN: Yes. These live pictures we're look looking at here is near Wilmington, Delaware, is where these active water rescues are happening, not outside Philly, as I might have just said.

I have seen reports that the county has been urging people to evacuate, fearing that a nearby dam was not going to hold. What's the latest on that?

TURNER: Sure. So, overnight, one of our dams in Schuylkill Township reached a threshold that requires us to implement an evacuation for anybody downstream in the inundation area. Fortunately, the level of the dam has since leveled out and dropped below that warning threshold. So, those residents are able to return. But due to the volume of the water, there's still a lot of flooding in that area that may limit them from getting back to their residence. But the good news is that dam emergency has subsided.

BOLDUAN (voice over): That is some good news. It seems there's very little that we are seeing as this continues to play out. You told one of my producers that you all were looking into the possibility that a tornado had touched down?

TURNER (voice over): Yes. Early last evening, we had a tornado warning issued for our county, and then reports of some pretty significant damage in East Nottingham Township. And we're waiting for the National Weather Service to confirm. But we're pretty certain based on the damage that it looks like we probably had tornados touched down in the southern part of our county. BOLDUAN (voice over): Is it -- were -- when you talk about the damage, what kind of damage are you looking at? Homes?

TURNER (voice over): Yes. Both homes with basically the roofs more or less ripped off as well as some damage through the trees, you know, a straight line taking in downing the trees.


And that's where we're basically looking at the National Weather Service to confirm if it was a straight line wind or a tornado.