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At This Hour

At Least 48 Killed in Catastrophic Flooding Across Northeast; At Least Four Killed, Thousands Rescued in Pennsylvania; Four Louisiana Nursing Home Residents Die After Being Evacuated; Biden Heads to Louisiana to Survey Damage from Hurricane IDA; CNN: White House May Have to Scale Back Ambitious Vaccine Booster Plan. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired September 03, 2021 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Dr. Offit thank you so much.


BOLDUAN: At the top of the hour, thank you so much for being here everyone. The United States is grappling with the wrath of several climate crises across the country flooding tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, communities from coast to coast facing historic disasters driven by climate change.

Right now President Biden is on his way to Louisiana to survey the damage caused by Hurricane IDA. He's going to be meeting with first responders and local officials this afternoon. In the Northeast, this week's unprecedented flooding has killed at least 48 people the death toll now stands out in six states.

More than half of those killed are in New Jersey. And at least 4.5 million people are still under flood water - flood warnings at this hour as swollen rivers continue to present a danger to so many residents. We've already seen thousands of people in multiple states being rescued from the high waters millions of others are now beginning to clean up the debris clearing out their flooded basements trying to move down trees, many of them off of their cars.

Let's get the very latest what it looks like today with CNN Polo Sandoval. He's live in one hardhead community in New Jersey. Hey there, Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate, some of the hardest work is just getting started right now for so many residents here in Banjul, New Jersey. We've driven and walk the streets and you already see those scenes that we've seen in the past with other similar incidents where you have people now basically putting out their belongings that are destroyed out on the curb.

And then there are some who lost their homes altogether. You see the house behind me or at least what was left of the house behind me I just spoke to the local Fire Superintendent here tells me that was basically it was just a recipe for disaster when you had all of this neighborhood just completely flooded yesterday, causing electrical stored in the building and combining with the gas that had potentially leaked inside the home.

And then the result was a massive explosion. Fortunately, though, the house is empty and nobody was hurt. There are at least three other structures in this city alone, that also were destroyed in a similar way here. So it really does speak to what has happened in the days after the storm just dumped a tremendous amount of rain.

And here's the other thing actually accessing some of these communities yesterday. It was extremely challenging. The Fire Superintendent also telling me that geography of communities like this, it basically makes it an island when their nearby river and their surrounding waterways are so swollen that they have to shut down bridges.

So getting help in and perhaps injured out was proving to be quite a challenge. But when it comes here to Manville, New Jersey, no injuries to report just complete and widespread devastation when it comes to several homes even some of the local government buildings weren't spared. This is just a snapshot of what many other families having to deal with it throughout the - throughout parts of the Northeast and of course some lost people who never see again.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, and gosh, just looking at what's behind your Polo is pretty unbelievable. Every image is harder to watch them the next. Thank you so much Polo Sandoval in New Jersey for us. We'll keep checking back in with Polo in New Jersey.

Let's go to Pennsylvania right now. I mean Pennsylvania has been under water. Just look at some of these images. The Governor has been giving updates will continue to be giving updates on the situation there.

In Philadelphia including a major Expressway, so much of it remains underwater due to the catastrophic flooding. Just look at that. CNN's Pete Muntean he's live in Fort Washington Pennsylvania, which is just north of Philly with the very latest. Pete what are you seeing in there now?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Kate, we know that flooding hit the Philly area hard but Governor Tom Wolf is about - toward the damage. Here we are in Fort Washington, upper Dublin Township in Montgomery County. And of those four statewide deaths three happened here in Montgomery County, one here in Fort Washington when a tree fell on a home and killed a woman on the second floor.

It's all from an EF2 tornado that came barreling through here on Wednesday night. The Fire Chief tells me it started to the south and a neighborhood came through the township building and police department here. This is the roof which was peeled off the top like a tunic can. The tornado continued for the high school were appealed the roof off of the pool there.

In fact, there was a dumpster there, but they still can't find it. It disappeared. Just to give you an idea of how powerful the winds are here. About four minutes of warning for all of this and the Fire Chief tells me it changed the town forever.

Well, you know flooding continues to be an issue in the Philadelphia area about 30 major roads closed in the five county regions according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, most notably, as you mentioned on the way in Kate, the Vine Street Expressway, a major artery straight through Center City Philadelphia is still covered with water.

Penn Dodd says late last night it brought in a fifth water pump to try and get all of that water out and back into the Schuylkill River. But after all of the water is out a big process ahead, they're going to have to clear out all of the debris and then assess the road bed to make sure that people can drive on it again soon.


MUNTEAN: You know the worst part is we've already lost two rush hours to that here in Philadelphia. And it's made the driving in the region, especially bad. We are only just now getting a picture of how bad this cleaned up would really be Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I can only imagine what people trying to get to work it's like in Philly right now because of all of that. Thank you, Pete so much, really appreciate it. Let's go now to Wilmington, Delaware, where we've saw some incredible water rescues in that city amid the historic flooding from IDA.

Joining me right now for an update is Michael Purzycki. He's the Mayor of Wilmington, Mayor, thanks for coming on. We've - we saw so much video during our - during my hours during our show yesterday, of the widespread flooding in Wilmington, and so many water rescues. What is the update today?

MAYOR MICHAEL PURZYCKI (D-WILMINGTON, DE): Kate, the update today is that we've not had loss of life we've not had serious injury. We had about 100 people ferried out of districts that were heavily impacted by the flooding. But we're generally grateful about the condition of Wilmington, given what has happened in Philadelphia, very close neighbors and over in South Jersey, we're of course they had those horrible tornadoes.

We didn't experience that and we've been able to recover it and I think we're going to be in good condition in fairly short order. Obviously, I was - morning walking around in our neighborhoods trying to assess the damage. But I think we're going to be in pretty good shape.

BOLDUAN: That's great to hear. And I have to say what's happened struck by how many people have been describing really the same thing. How fast the water came in? How little time that they had to get to safety? But as you mentioned in your city, you don't believe that you even have a single death to report so far.

I mean, what do you attribute that to because as you know, so many other cities were not so lucky? PURZYCKI: That's true. I think it's just luck. Its luck where the flooding hit the most I was with a one of our commercial residents who've been here since 1972. They said the water has never come near the building and today they had four feet of water. So it's just where - it's where the impact of the storm hit us.

We have two rivers Christina and the Brandywine. The Brandywine is generally the more benign to this time; the Brandywine is where all the damage took place in places that had never flooded before. So, you know, we had - we had some luck, but we have remarkable responses by our first responders.

The community all came together, as I think happens so often you see communities pull together and do a great job helping one another.

BOLDUAN: Yet watching their expertise, even on live TV, watching their expertise of those high water rescues is really something to behold.

PURZYCKI: And inspiring.

BOLDUAN: President Biden is visiting Louisiana today to have a look of the aftermath of Ida there. Wilmington is his hometown. Have you heard from the White House? Do you expect him to tour the damage in your city?

PURZYCKI: No, I don't. We try not to take it to take advantage of the relationship with the president. He is overly solicitous of us when need be. And there's no reason for us to call him this time. But he gives us his personal number of things if things get bad enough. We're free to call him.

BOLDUAN: Mayor it's good to meet you. Thank you for coming in.

PURZYCKI: Right Kate.

BOLDUAN: At this hour, President Biden is on his way to Louisiana, as I mentioned to get a first-hand look at the destruction from Hurricane IDA. The storm is blamed for at least 13 deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Food distribution sites there are opening up around the New Orleans area as more and more people are running out of food and so more and more people need to line up to get food to get water and other necessities. Gas is also in short supply and it seems it's getting harder and harder.

Nearly two thirds of the stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans have no fuel. White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz joins me live now with more on this. Arlette I'm listing out all of the things that the president is going to be seeing.

And you'll know that people in Louisiana are going to want him to see those fuel lines, the food shortage the fact that the power is still not on. What is the goal for the White House in heading down there? You know, you don't want it to just be a photo op. ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. And President Biden is heading down to the New Orleans area with a message of support both on the federal resources level and on that basic personal level as well as so many people in the region appears that they will be impacted by the storm for quite some time.

Now the president is set to spend about six hours on the ground in the New Orleans area. He'll be meeting with local officials including the state's Governor Bel Edwards, and the president is also planning on getting a first-hand look at that storm damage.


SAENZ: He will be on the ground, touring one of the parishes that were impacted by this hurricane. And he will also be taking an aerial tour to survey that damage. So we'll see what kind of images we see as the president is getting a grasp of how deeply impacted this area was affected?

Now, one concern whenever a president heads into a disaster area is not taking away resources for the recovery. He said he was assured by the state's governor that his trip would not do that as he's trying to get that firsthand look and offer support to so many people in that region Kate.

BOLDUAN: Arlette thank you so much. Coming up for us, four Louisiana nursing home residents are dead today after more than 800 were evacuated from their nursing homes to a remote warehouse to ride out Hurricane IDA. Now, an investigation is underway. How did this happen? That is next.



BOLDUAN: At this our families in Louisiana are demanding answers about how four nursing home residents died, and more than 800 more were kept in reportedly horrible conditions to ride out the storm? The residents were moved from seven different nursing homes to a remote facility considered a warehouse, ostensibly to keep them safe as Hurricane IDA hit the state, but they were kept in what health officials are now calling "Deteriorating conditions".

"The Times Picayune" describe the conditions truly is inhumane. And now there's an investigation. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus joining me now for more on this Adrienne, what are you learning about this?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Kate, we can tell you this happened in Independence, Louisiana, it's about 75 miles north of where we are right now. We are in New Orleans. And as you mentioned, the Governor has promised a full investigation.

The Chief of Police told our CNN Affiliate, he initially thought about 350 people would be in that backup facility that has been described as a warehouse, not 800. And the Governor said, on Friday, when officials with the Louisiana Department of Health inspected the facility, it appeared OK.

He also said the obligation falls on the nursing home and their owners. For example, he said nursing homes and their owners have two obligations one if they noticed conditions start to decline, move the residents or move the nursing home members themselves or ask for help. And today, one person who said her aunt was in that facility is demanding answers.


SABRINA COX, AUNT WAS IN NURSING HOME: Why didn't you contact anybody for help let somebody know what was going on. Contact one person, that people shouldn't be treated like that. You should be held accountable.


BROADDUS: And we're talking about some of the most vulnerable people in the community. All of the folks that were there had been evacuated. We know 12 were moved to a hospital and the others were sent to shelters that care for people with special needs. Meanwhile, here in New Orleans, folks are lining up for gas, and it is hot back to you.

BOLDUAN: Adrienne, thank you so much. Joining me now on the phone is Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser for an update Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much for coming back on. What do you know about what is being described as these appalling conditions for hundreds of vulnerable people during the storm with these nursing home residents?

LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA): It's just a horrible situation - with local elected officials. It just breaks your heart that this went on, and these people died. And in those conditions, it's just unacceptable. And it's, you know, that can't happen again, and we've got to get to the bottom of it.

BOLDUAN: A spokesperson for the Health Department told "The Times Picayune" said this. We will be looking - we will be taking action against these nursing facilities, and we'll be making appropriate referrals to law enforcement. Do you believe what happened here is could be criminal is criminal?

NUNGESSER: Well, I think it could be. I think - I applaud the Governor for calling for a full investigation. And absolutely, if people were negligent for these -- responsible they should be held accountable. And we've got to do something that this could never happen again, where there's some kind of oversight in these emergency situations. But this is just unthinkable that this could happen.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that there wasn't a better evacuation plan for so many nursing home residents is seems really unthinkable.

NUNGESSER: Absolutely. They each have their own plan and they're supposed to execute that when they're called to evacuate. And they're supposed to have a free place to bring them and obviously they denied.

BOLDUAN: Yes, much more to come on that you at the very same time. You're waiting in standby to for President Biden to arrive very soon. What do you want to show him Lieutenant Governor while he was there?

NUNGESSER: Governor has a long list of things. You know, one thing is to this extent, debris is only covered 100 percent for 30 days. I'm down in Plaquemines Parish right now. We still have six foot of water, completely submerged in the highway for many miles.


NUNGESSER: You can even get to those homes, my home being one of them, show you can't - we stand in that emergency declaration to cover 100 percent of the initial query is important. And there's a long list of things.

Are they getting the gasoline and getting those assets needed on the ground quickly will be important because in this heat, people living in homes without air condition, many seniors and special needs people still.

BOLDUAN: I hope we're still connected. Lieutenant Governor, can you hear me?

NUNGESSER: Yes, I can.

BOLDUAN: Oh, great. I just - one final question is you mentioned the gas problem. The Governor said that's a major problem as well. I keep hearing a lot of politicians from Washington and even in Louisiana, saying that help is on the way and they're working. And understandably, everyone is working hard to get more gas and fuel and cut through red tape to make it happen.

But people need help in this moment, not tomorrow, not in a couple days. And you know this, is there anything more that can be done to get things moving, so people aren't waiting for hours at a gas station?

NUNGESSER: Well, you know, after Katrina and I was Parish President then we brought in tanks a gas - for gas stations that may have fuel. All these things are being worked. It's just getting those generations to locations. Getting those fuel tanks in takes time.

And the problem is this hurricane devastated so much of a widespread area. It wasn't isolated to the coast, because it was such a strong - area to cover. And that's the problem.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Lieutenant Governor, thank you for calling in I appreciate it.

NUNGESSER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Right, much more work to be done there. And we'll continue to follow it. Coming up, we have breaking news on President Biden's push for vaccine booster shots. Top health officials as we reported last hour, they are now pushing to slow down those plans. We're going to bring you the breaking details on this the more we are learning about this coming up.



BOLDUAN: Breaking news, CNN has learned that some top federal health officials now want the White House to slow down and scale back its plan to offer Coronavirus boosters, which is starting in just two weeks. Last night, Dr. Anthony Fauci made really the strongest case yet for getting booster shots. Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: But I must say from my own experience as an immunologist, I would not at all be surprised that the adequate sole regimen for vaccination will likely be three doses.


BOLDUAN: So what does this mean now? Joining me now is Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama Birmingham, Doctor; it's good to see you again. Do you understand what the disconnect is here?

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA- BRIMINGHAM: I wish I understood all of the details. But my take is this. We heard now two and a half weeks ago from the White House in a much staged announcement, right?

It was almost very theatrical, that booster shots were going to be rolled out starting September 20th. And many people were rather surprised by that, including myself, first of all, because we really haven't seen all the data either from the Pfizer vaccine, or from Israel, which is what the administration is apparently relying on a lot.

Second of all, that timeline would impose an incredible burden on both the FDA and the ACIP, the CEC's arm for discussing immunizations to make it happen by them. And we know from the ACIP meeting that happened a few days ago, that people are really cautious.

You know, they want to see all that data and the FDA prides itself right on a very thorough review, for better or worse, they are concerned with safety. So I agree with Dr. Fauci theoretically from an immunologic standpoint, but the reality is that we do need to make sure this is really safe. We need to make sure it's effective. And we still have 25 percent of Americans unvaccinated period, let alone not boosted.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean, it's an excellent point. Similar to what Dr. Paul Offit said to me a little while ago. And you know, he sits on the Vaccine Advisory Committee and he said that he sees no compelling reason right now for a third vaccine dose. Of course, there is a September 17th meeting scheduled where he says more information come out come out then.

But as you're saying, there hasn't been that level of transparency or data presented yet to draw that conclusion to say that there's a need for booster shots yet. Do you - so you agree with Paul Offit?

DR. MARRAZZO: It's always safe to agree with Dr. Offit given his experience in Vaccinology. But yes, I do. And I'll say a couple of things. One is that in the advisory group meeting that happened the other day, the emphasis was on the fact that the current two dose regimen has done a really good job in preventing the worst outcomes of COVID, right?