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Biden: FEMA Ready To Provide All Assistance Needed; Severe Flooding Cripples Philadelphia, Major Highways Closed; Aurora Police, Medics Indicted In Death Of Elijah McClain. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 02, 2021 - 12:30   ET



PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've seen issues in Bridgeport to the northwest through the King of Prussia Mall in Phoenixville also in that area, water rescue is playing out there. So this is not quite done here, even though it is a spectacularly beautiful day here in Philadelphia and this greater area, this flooding still persists. It is so ironic, and really so sad and depressing.

You know, I've covered this, covering transportation here for the network, this whole notion of climate resilience. And you keep hearing this idea come up. Governor Tom Wolf said he has seen local storms become more frequent, just in his time as governor. He was sworn in 2015 but this was a massive system and it really overwhelmed the area here. And he's saying no doubt that this is because of climate change, areas -- services, agencies trying to deal with transportation and infrastructure, are really familiar with this term of called Climate Resilience. They're trying to make it so that when things like this happen, it doesn't have as big of an impact onto day to day lives of you and I but that requires a lot of investment.

There was something to the tune of $40 billion in President Biden's plan for infrastructure to deal with that. But this is something that is being taken up by transit agencies all across this region to try and make sure that this doesn't happen with such a big impact and it's going to cost a lot of money, a lot of investment on our part too.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Absolutely. All right, Pete, we're going to check back in with you, thank you so much for that. There's a lot going on in Philadelphia all throughout the Northeast on this front.

So as we heard just a few minutes ago, probably seconds ago, President Biden addressing the historic floods and the hurricane recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast as well. The President will be traveling to Louisiana tomorrow to survey the damage, meet with a Governor, meet with local officials, I'm sure as well as first responders.

Joining me now for more on this is Senior Advisor to President Biden, Cedric Richmond, thank you for being here, I really appreciate it. I want to talk about the Gulf of course where I know a lot of focus must be. But first, just your reaction to the devastating images coming out of the Northeast overnight now. CEDRIC RICHMOND, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I can tell you from firsthand experience that I understand the devastation. I understand the long road to recovery that they're going to have. I understand the trauma that's associated with. And I also understand that this country, we wrap our arms around those who need help and we roll up our sleeves and we help them. We're going to do that in the Gulf Coast and we're going to do that on the East Coast.

And so -- but the thing that we really should talk about and you did just a second ago, is that these once in a lifetime storms are becoming more frequent and more powerful. And we should do everything that we can to make sure we protect our citizens from it which means addressing climate change and also addressing our outdated infrastructure in this country. Both of which we're trying to deal with our Build Back Better plan.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean, the climate crisis is no longer a future problem and it's very evident if you didn't think so already, it is present, it is real, and it is affecting places that never would think that these natural disaster events would happen in their backyards. And they're now seeing water in their basements.

The President mentioned again, in his remarks that he's tasked you to lead the recovery efforts following Hurricane Ida for the White House. I know that obviously that was mostly focused on the Gulf Coast is you were born and raised in Louisiana, represented Louisiana. But did your job just get bigger to cover now the damage in the northeast?

RICHMOND: Well, I certainly hope not and here's FEMA will always be the point agency on response to disasters and our FEMA is very capable and they are efficient and effective. What role I'm serving in is to make sure that our elected officials, the people that are on the ground, the people that are there trying to get ice, trying to get water, trying to make sure gasoline and power and cell phones get turned back on, make sure that debris is removed, that when they need something, they have direct access to the White House.

And the President has said very clearly that he wants to make sure that he is getting the most up to date and accurate information of the struggles that families are going through to rebuild. And so I'm there to make sure that not only congressional members, but all of the elected officials have an avenue to make sure that the White House is on top of what's going on. But FEMA is the response agency, and we have confidence in them. But just in case they need a direct line, the President has added that to my portfolio.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about Louisiana. Let's talk -- and let's talk kind of on the granular ground level perspective here because I think that's important. Not only is power a major problem, but you mentioned gas and fuel that is running out or already out in places. Do you agree Cedric that people should not have to wait in line for eight hours to get fuel at a gas station?


RICHMOND: We absolutely agree with that. That's why you heard the President talk about the --

BOLDUAN: But that is what's happening right now. That's what's been happening for a couple days now. What are people doing -- you -- he -- I heard the President mentioned the strategic petroleum reserve but what are people doing to get people the gas they need not tomorrow or in eight hours, but they need it now?

RICHMOND: OK, let me go through that. And you're aware, and I'm aware, and I've been through a storm before. That the storm caused damage that was anticipated but it was severe and it was real. So we have to get generators to those gas stations that still may have gas in their tanks because we do know, so many people evacuated that depleted so many gas stations.

We have to make sure the refineries that don't have power, we can get power to them. So we're working to get generators to those refineries. We're working to make sure the trucks that pick up gas from the truck racks and deliver them to the stations that they can get that done.

We are -- we've waived the requirement of the sleep hours in terms of truck drivers, we're tapping the strategic petroleum reserves so that when we come Monday and Tuesday that we're not running out of the crude necessary to make gas. This is a all hands on deck mission to make sure that we have gas at the pumps. And it's not an easy fix when gas stations don't have power.

So that's why the President personally called the CEO of the utility companies to make sure that they're doing everything they can to get power back on. But we also offered the entire resource of the federal government to help them get power back on because we know how critical that is for gas, for ice, for all of those things in the area. And I think that that's the expertise that I bring is that we were there, we know what the problem is, it doesn't mean that it's an easy overnight answer. But it means we're going to work like heck to get it solved.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And totally understand, you know, it's so hard for those you -- as you I know appreciate for people to have patience when they're -- when they don't have anything to eat, they don't have drinking water, and they're stuck. And I know that you -- I know you totally and a, yes, that's exactly right. And it is dangerous, what they're experiencing.

You know, Louisiana, you know, the effects of these major storms. If one of the lessons from Katrina was that the levee system needed a major upgrade, and thank God that it held this time after Ida, what is the lesson from Ida?

RICHMOND: Well, there are a couple lessons. One, if you look at St. John Parish and those river parishes, we just started building the West Shore project to protect them with federal levee protection. But the other part is making sure that we harden our infrastructure so that transmission lines don't wind up in the Mississippi River after a storm so that people don't lose electricity unnecessarily.

Make sure that we harden and create better communication technology so people don't lose cell phone coverage. The nightmare scenario is to be in a home with no cell phone coverage, water in it, no cell phone access, no water in it, water in it and no power. That is the trifecta of a disaster and we ought not let that happen.

And so that's why we're so focused on investing in our infrastructure whether that is the transmission lines in the infrastructure bill are hardening transition towers in the infrastructure bill, are doing those necessary things to make sure that we can withstand these bigger and more frequent storms.

So we didn't create or the President didn't come up with an idea for infrastructure bill because he wanted to. He knew the country needed it. And so we just hope when Congress comes back, that they will look at the Build Back Better agenda and start to move on it. But we're not going to wait on that. We're going to meet the needs that the people have right now whether that's in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Mississippi, or Louisiana. We're going to continue to work to meet those needs.

BOLDUAN: And it's a huge job. I mean, even as you put it, and you're right. There's a long term discussion that needs to happen well, now. But there is an immediate emergency before our hands. I don't know if you've a monitor at the live shot location that you're out, Cedric, but we're showing pictures of the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx right now.

This is a expressway that honestly I'm on almost every weekend, going out to Connecticut, and it is a swamp. This is unbelievable the level of flooding we're seeing. And that is a major thoroughfare for all sorts of commerce and travel around the New York area. It's just another unbelievable image that we're seeing, but I just wanted to point that out. Thank you so much for your time. I know you've got a lot of work on your hands. I look forward to hearing from you and the President when you visit Louisiana tomorrow. Thank you so much Cedric.


RICHMOND: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it. Let's stick on these images though because this is unbelievable. This is from WCBS in New York. This is think of a major highway and whatever city that you live in. This is a major expressway. It's called the Major Deegan Expressway in Bronx. It is normally packed, it is normally very busy. It is now a parking lot in the middle of a pond with cars and semis having to be abandoned, obviously stuck as the water came rushing in.

We've got much more on this breaking news from all aspects, if you can believe it, major climate emergencies happening in the Northeast, in the Gulf Coast, out west in California. We're covering it for you, we'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Welcome back everyone. We continue to follow breaking news on a historic flooding in the Northeast overnight. I want you to take a look at this video. We're going to show you the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx, New York. This is not it but we will get to it. Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx, New York, this is it, a major highway always busy, often stop and go traffic, now a parking lot and a lake. Floodwaters trapping cars, trapping semis, as you can see, that's an Amazon delivery truck right there, people clearly having to abandon them, their vehicles, to get to safety.

And even though the rain is gone and the sun is out, there are active rescues underway right now in four states, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. Sadly, the death toll is climbing this morning. We just learned that the storms death toll is now at least 15 people killed in the northeast, nine of them in New York City. And that number unfortunately is still expected to rise as we've said because active water rescues are still on going.

Moments ago President Biden just spoke for the first time on all of this promising FEMA is ready to provide its full support to affected states. He said we are here for you. The President is traveling to Louisiana to survey the damage in the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Ida as well. He's traveling there tomorrow. Joining me right now is Michael Nutter, the former mayor of Philadelphia.

Mayor, just -- you heard the President, what the President just said. What is your reaction to everything we're seeing? I mean Philadelphia is one of the places that is underwater right now.

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), FORMER PHILADELPHIA MAYOR: Well, thanks Kate. First and foremost, I think President Biden's talk today was the most comprehensive, detailed, heartfelt, and empathetic briefing that we've heard in a long time with regard to a severe weather event or just about anything else. I mean, the President really laid it out certainly facts and figures but also it's his way, it's his delivery that gives you that much more confidence that the federal government and all of its resources are here for the American people.

Second, with Senior Advisor Cedric Richmond, you and I both know him well. His leadership will be critical in this particular area and whether it's the Gulf Coast, whether it's the Northeast, whether it's fires out west, Senior Advisor Richmond knows his business and knows how to get things done.

With regard to Philadelphia and certainly New York, devastating, you know. I lived through Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, and certainly a few others. I know Governor Rendell was on earlier talked about the big storm in '96. This is way beyond that and, you know, to see the Vine Street Expressway filled with water, I have never seen anything like that in my life.

We know certain areas of the city, historically, whether it's Manayunk, Main Street Manayunk or above, probably some areas of Southwest Philadelphia and certainly again, the Schuylkill, that mighty Schuylkill through Center City, it's going to take a while to clean up and to start recovery.

Your earlier report talked about the cresting. You know, I think a lot of times, maybe folks have not had these kinds of experiences just because the rain has stopped, it doesn't mean the water stopped flowing. And that build up especially where we're situated with regard to the Schuylkill in particular, that water is going to continue to flow down toward us for a number of hours probably into the evening.

As the water recedes from wherever it has gone, it continues to go into that river, into the tributaries and other areas, you know, water finds its level. And so it's going to keep coming for a while. And so first you need the receding then you start the recovery.

BOLDUAN: You know, I think it was the Philly Fire Commissioner who said that over 100, they've already been over 100 rescues in the city. They expect that to continue for the next 10 to 12 hours. And as I am hearing that, were people -- I know this is historic and I know that this is rain levels that we've never seen before. Were people ill prepared though or is this just too much too fast nothing you can do about it?


NUTTER: Well, I mean, certainly, I mean, like everybody else, I mean, I was getting alerts on my phone. There are certainly a variety of ways for folks to communicate. You know, I won't comment on the preparation plans but also, you know, there was a fair amount of notice, I mean, you know, you had to know that something significant, I won't necessarily say historic, but something significant was about to happen. And I think that, you know, all of us, you know, you just have to take these things much more seriously.

I mean, again, you don't have to be a climate scientist to see that the events are more frequent, they're more severe and they continue to grow. And so, you know, when you know, there's going to be a significant storm, there are things you need to do. Get off the road, get your vehicle secured, take your stuff in, depending on where you are and just be prepared for it. And that's, you know, that's all in the preparation which, you know, each of us individually have to take into consideration. And then, of course, the various governments putting out good, timely, regular, consistent information is also critical.

I mean, you just, you literally have to tell people, you know, it's time to go. I know, in New Orleans, they reached a point where they didn't want people to evacuate. And I'm sure that was probably the right decision at that time. It is often impossible to know, even with great weather forecasting, just how severe storms are going to be. We've had situations where, you know, the prediction was one thing and fortunately, you know, the end result was much less, but it is always better to be over prepared than otherwise. And so you have to take these storms seriously.

The other point I guess I've tried to make, and we're not -- these storms are not political, but, you know, our politics are. And the amount of money that will either be lost from an industry standpoint, certainly lives loss unreplaceable, damaged property, et cetera, et cetera, and the amount of money that will have to be spent on recovery. You know, if we would make the investments now, it would help us certainly in the future. We need to stop having these mindless debates in the United States of America and certainly other parts of the world but let's stay focused on the states.

We need to stop having these mindless debates about whether or not we need to invest in our infrastructure, deal with climate resistance, deal with climate change. There are -- in many places today, there will be no climate deniers. This is real. It is serious. And we keep funding to make things happen.

BOLDUAN: And it's in it's affecting everybody now, there's no place that's not getting hit by this now. Mayor, it's always good to see you. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

NUTTER: Than you Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. We're continuing to keep our eye on all of what is unfolding with this historic, historic flooding in the north east. We're continuing to look at these pictures.

We were also -- there's another story that I want to make sure we focus on this hour, three police officers and two paramedics charged by grand jury in a 32 count indictment for the death of Elijah McClain. The unarmed 23-year-old young black man died after being stopped by Aurora, Colorado police. All five face charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Here's what Colorado's Attorney General said when announcing the charges.


PHIL WEISER, COLORADO ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're here today because Elijah McClain is not here and he should be.


BOLDUAN: McClain died in the hospital days after being violently detained by Aurora police in August of 2019. Police stopped him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious person walking along the road one night. McClain was just walking home from a convenience store. Here's body camera video that you're looking at from that encounter. Police eventually use what is called a carotid hold on McClain, a potentially dangerous neck restraint and paramedics that also came on the scene, they then injected him with a powerful sedative ketamine. McClain arrived at the hospital unconscious and never recovered. He was pronounced dead days later. Those officers, those paramedics, they are now charged.

Joining me now is Elijah's father, LaWayne Mosley and the McClain family attorney Mari Newman. Thank you both for being here. Mr. Mosely, how are you feeling today about these charges against the officers and the paramedics?

LAWAYNE MOSLEY, FATHER OF ELIJAH MCCLAIN: I'm hopeful, happy and hopeful.

BOLDUAN: So long time coming?

MOSLEY: Yes, better late than never.

BOLDUAN: Can you tell us about your son? What was Elijah like? So much has been said about him but often by people who don't know him. What were his hopes? What were his dreams?

MOSLEY: He's a sweet person, caring. He cared more about others feelings than his own, but just the caring person. That's all I can say. I miss him.


BOLDUAN: Well, that is understandable. I wanted to ask you that because the Aurora Police Association, Mr. Mosely, they put out a statement after these charges and they talked about your son in the statement. They called the indictments hysterical overreaction. And they also said this, sadly, Mr. McClain died due to a combination of exertion due to his decision to violently resist arrest and a preexisting heart condition, the statement said. And it also said there is no evidence that the APD officers caused his death. What do you say to that Mr. Mosely?

MOSLEY: That's another one of their tactics. We didn't do anything wrong. But we know and we're coming.

BOLDUAN: Ms. Newman, did you think this day -- do you think this day, I have to say, do you think this would have come without the national attention that was brought by the death of George Floyd, the subsequent murder conviction of the officer involved there, the national attention that was refocus on officer involved. People dying at the hands of officers, do you think this would have come for Elijah if George Floyd had not happened?

MARI NEWMAN, COUNSEL FOR ELIJAH MCCLAIN'S FATHER: You know, it's horrible that it took the tragic death of another man across the country to bring attention to Aurora, Colorado. But we all know those of us who have been doing this kind of work for decades as I have. And of course, black men like LaWayne who have lived in this world, that racist police brutality has been a scourge in Colorado and across the United States for decades, or even centuries.

And it's, you know, only with how -- people having watched the video of George Floyd being murdered, that it's forced white people across the country to finally acknowledge what other people have known for a long time that this is a problem. And so I wish it weren't so but it has taken the death of George Floyd for people to finally wake up and acknowledge what is really happening. And you know, these indictments here in Colorado serve not just as a reminder to the law enforcement officers here but across the entire country that they are not above the law.

BOLDUAN: Were you surprised, Ms. Newman, that charges did come?

NEWMAN: Well, you know, as a long term civil rights lawyer, I'm sorry to say that we know the police don't police themselves and members of law enforcement rarely get charged. So in that context, I was surprised. In this case, though, in particular, it's gained so much national attention since the death of George Floyd because Elijah was such a peaceful person. I mean, if Elijah McClain was not safe walking on the streets in this world, then no black man is safe. And so, this -- if there's any case where there should be charges brought, this is the one.

BOLDUAN: The initial police investigation, Ms. Newman, found that the officers and paramedics this is getting to kind of what you were just saying. That the officers and paramedics didn't violate policy, the D.A. did not decided to not file charges. Then the governor asked the Attorney General to come in as a special prosecutor to look at that. Another investigation into that police investigation said that it had been flawed, I should say. But I lay that all out to ask you. Are you concerned that these initial steps complicate anything that would make it in trial?

NEWMAN: Well, it is definitely unfortunate that these very politicized decisions by an elected County District Attorney is, you know, it's on the books. And so it is certainly something that prosecutors will have to deal with. But it doesn't change the evidence. And what we know here is that the Colorado State Attorney General impaneled, the grand jury, they spent months and months and months looking under every stone, they've done a very thorough review of all of the facts and determined that in fact, there was probable cause to bring these charges and they believe that they can get conviction or they wouldn't have brought them. So I have confidence in our Attorney General's ability to bring the convictions that are so necessary in this case.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Mosely, before you go, what would you like to see happen to these officers and paramedics? What is justice to you?

MOSLEY: Jail. Yes, jail, go to jail.

BOLDUAN: There was a long road ahead --

MOSLEY: I can't bring my son back, so go to jail.

BOLDUAN: There is a long road ahead now, but thank you both for being here. And thank you for speaking up for Elijah. Mr. Mosley, thank you very much.

NEWMAN: Thank you for having us.

MOSLEY: Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. We will continue to follow this. But we're also, as you can see on the other side of your screen, we continue to follow the breaking news coverage of the historic floods overnight in the north east. Water like you've never seen before, so many people continue to say.


Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.