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At This Hour

Water System Fails in Jackson, Mississippi, Little to No Drinking Water Available; Ukraine Confirms Offensive Operations in Russian-Held South. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2022 - 11:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone.

AT THIS HOUR, a major crisis in Mississippi's capital. No water safe to drink, barely enough to fight fires.

Ukraine stepping up strikes in the south, in the effort to take a key region.

And tributes to an icon. Serena Williams advances at the U.S. Open.

Will this be her final run at a major?

This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


HILL: Thanks for joining us. I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan.

We begin with a developing and dire situation in Mississippi. The state's capital, Jackson, now without reliable drinking water after pumps at the main water treatment facility failed. Some 180,000 residents have little or no water pressure in their homes. Mississippi's governor declaring a water emergency.


GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): Until it is fixed, it means we do not have reliable running water at scale. It means the city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to reliably flush toilets and to meet other critical needs.


HILL: The city of Jackson has battled water issues for years. Let's begin with CNN's Isabel Rosales, live in Jackson, with our top story.

Good morning.

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Erica. This is certainly an emergency. The governor there telling the people of Jackson not to drink the water, saying that the water and sewer is on the brink of collapse for 250,000 people.

Now the governor was alerted last week that pumps at one of the city's two water treatment plants were damaged. Then came all of the record rainfall and the flooding of the Pearl River. That was the straw that broke the camel's back.

This means water is not safe to drink and little to no water pressure for many people in Jackson. They can't flush their toilets or take showers. The impacts are on and on. Businesses have had to shut down. They cannot operate like this.

The fire department has found fire hydrants that have dried up. Schools have switched to remote learning for the immediate future. This is so incredibly frustrating for the people of Jackson, that have faced water issues for many years.

Lately, they faced a boil water notice that's been in effect for about a month now. So as you can imagine, shoppers are running to grocery stores, to gas stations, to places like this Kroger, trying to get their hands on bottled water.

They don't know how long the situation will last. The manager here says they are limiting the cases to five per people, ensuring that enough customers will get water. Listen to what people of Jackson are facing here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After work, I get off late. And you come in the store and it's empty. It's really hard, especially when I work at a food restaurant and we're closing soon.


ROSALES: I want you to look at the timeline here of all the water issues for Jackson. The mayor is blaming staffing shortages and deferred maintenance on their aging water infrastructure.

There is no timeline for when the plant will be back at 100 percent. The mayor and the governor declaring state of emergencies (sic) over this water issue; 4,500 National Guard members have been activated to help distribute water. Erica.

HILL: Isabel Rosales live in Jackson for us this morning.

Also with us, the mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Antar Lumumba.

It's good to have you with us this morning. As Isabel just laid out for us there, it's not clear how long the state of emergency is going to last. There is no timeline.

Is there a concern, based on what we're hearing, that the city could run out of water, even water available for flushing toilets and fighting fires, as we heard?

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA (D-MS), JACKSON: Let me thank you first and foremost for having me, as we lift up this challenge, that we have been sustaining for some time now.

We've been lifting up our persistent water challenges for the better part of two years, crying out for any assistance that we can get. The good news is that we've seen persistent gains in our system overnight.

There's residents that did not have water yesterday, their pressure is being restored. But we won't be satisfied until every resident has water restored to them. There's a number of challenges.

What I have been lifting up for the better part of two years, it's not a matter of if the systems will fail but when these systems will fail.


LUMUMBA: So to have the declaration of emergency by the state and to have additional resources on the ground is welcome news for us. So this is what we need. This is how government should work. We should all join together in support of our residents. I believe my residents in Jackson are worthy of support.

HILL: Often, as declarations do, something that sounds simple but it's often not, could open up funding. You were not at the press conference when the governor was announcing the state of emergency. He was asked by a reporter and was told that you were not invited.

Are you and the governor on the same page here?

LUMUMBA: I was not aware of the press conference. However, I was part of the briefing with the Department of Health and MEMA. We welcomed the news of their support. So that was a good discussion. When we talk about a unified front, so that's what we're focused on right now.


HILL: I understand that a unified front is key. But it seems staggering to me that the governor would talk about the issues in Jackson, leading to a state of emergency, and yet the fact that you weren't aware, is that frustrating to you?

Are you two talking?

Are the state and the city talking in order to get things done?

LUMUMBA: Well, it's well-documented that I have attempted to communicate with the governor consistently for some time.

But for me, the primary focus is the solutions. I think there's a time to talk about that and how we improve communications and I will continue to reach out.

But today, I am glad I have the assistance of MEMA and the assistance of the Department of Health, working on the ground, in order to ensure reliability in our system. That's where my focus is right now and where the prioritization has to be.

HILL: As you mentioned, you've been working on this for some time. You have been working to bring it to the forefront, you said. The city's chief engineer told "The Washington Post" back in November, it would be $1 billion dollar product to fix the water system.

Fixing the sewer system would be an additional $1 billion.

Is any of that money available?

LUMUMBA: We certainly don't have it in our coffers. But we have been using every available dollar we have to improve our system. We have, you know, created additional -- or larger distribution lines to South Jackson, which has inequitably been affected; a 48 inch pipeline that cost $8 million by itself.

We have weatherized our plant. Not only do we have an aged system, deferred maintenance over three decades or more, we're now facing hotter summers and colder winters and more precipitation annually.

And all of that is taking a toll on our water distribution system. So we have to undertake these measures to improve and create sustainability in our system.

HILL: It sounds like some of these, in many ways, are stopgap measures to avoid further crises in the moment.

What is your biggest concern this morning?

LUMUMBA: My biggest concern is understanding and having the partnership of not only the state but the federal level. I believe we're closer to that now than we have been before so we can all pitch in, in an effort to make it more sustainable. It will be a significant undertaking in order to create reliability in the system.

And that is beyond the city's capability. We don't have the funds to deal with 30 years of neglect.

HILL: Thirty years of neglect. And yet you look at this, clean water, one of the basic services that a local government provides, 30 years in.

What do you think will happen first?

You talk about the fight you've had, the neglect specifically in certain areas of the city.

Why did it take this, do you think, to perhaps start that communication?

It sounds like you say you think you're getting close to a place where you and the state will be on the same page. But you're not there yet.

LUMUMBA: Yes. I don't want to hypothesize on why it's taken this long. I am just grateful that the relief has arrived. That's where my focus has to be at this moment. I will continue to work with them and I will continue to lift up this challenge.

So we're working with a number of partners, partners that are aiding us in the effort to support this system, beyond the state and even beyond the federal dollars that we're receiving. I thank the Kellogg Foundation and the U.S. Water Alliance for teaming up with us in the effort to correct this system. So that's what our primary focus is.


LUMUMBA: Going after every state dollar, every federal dollar, in order to make these long overdue improvements to our system. We have been working with the EPA that have made recommendations on our staffing challenges, which, you know, to the lay person, seems like an easy thing to do.

But when we need Class A operators and it takes two years for a person with a college degree to become a Class A operator and six years for a person without a degree to become a Class A operator, and there is a national shortage of these professionals, it becomes a significant undertaking.

So to have this support, not only for the capital improvements but the human capital improvements is welcome.

HILL: Mr. Mayor, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

LUMUMBA: Thank you.

HILL: Coming up here, Ukraine's military says it's retaken several villages after launching a counteroffensive against Russian forces. A live report from Ukraine, next.





HILL: Ukraine's military beginning a counteroffensive in the south. An adviser to President Zelenskyy says Ukraine's troops have broken through Russian defenses near the city of Kherson, retaking four villages.

While the Kremlin acknowledges the offense, they say Ukraine's troops failed miserably and suffered heavy losses. CNN's Melissa Bell is live in Kyiv with the latest.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have been hearing from the Ukrainian military sources this afternoon here in Kyiv, talking about the progress on this day two of that counteroffensive that was so widely expected and so many hopes pinned on it here in Ukraine.

What we're hearing from the military sources, that they say all of the bridges that allowed Russian forces to resupply themselves in Kherson have been damaged. So no more heavy weaponry. No more troops are able to cross the river and reinforce Russian positions. Ukrainians then claiming to have gained an advantage beyond what they

already announced, as you mentioned, the villages that had been taken in the early successes.

But officials in Kyiv playing down any hopes, saying this is going to be a long slog and a long grind and people need to remain patient. Here's what President Zelenskyy said in his address last night.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If they want to survive, it's time for the Russian military to run away.

Go home. If you are afraid of going back home to Russia, well, then let such occupiers surrender. And we will guarantee them that all the norms of the Geneva Conventions will be fulfilled.

If they do not hear me, they will have to deal with our defenders, who will not stop until they free everything that belongs to Ukraine.


BELL: A great deal of determination there in the voice of the Ukrainian president.

Now in the last hour or so, Erica, he's been meeting with the head of the IAEA inspectors team, the nuclear watchdog here in Kyiv, and hoping to get to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, that has been the subject of such speculation of the damage caused by days of shelling.

Rafael Grossi was due to hold a press conference earlier today. But that has not been possible. We hear President Zelenskyy is calling for it to be demilitarized, the Ukrainians saying it's Russian shelling that is preventing the IAEA from heading to Zaporizhzhya as planned.

HILL: Melissa Bell, appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining me to discuss, CNN military analyst, retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling; also with us, Steve Hall, a former CIA chief of Russia operations.

General, there's been some talk that this is a major offensive. You look at it a little bit differently. As we just heard, the stress there is that this is going to be a bit of a long slog. People need to be patient.

How would you characterize what we're seeing?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, that's why I don't call it a counteroffensive, like so many others are doing. By precise definition, a counteroffensive is a large-scale, strategic military operations conducted by forces that have completely halted the enemy's ability to conduct an attack.

Ukraine has not done that yet. What has also been reported by President Zelenskyy and members of our Defense Department, to our colleague Jim Sciutto, is this is a shaping operation. And I would use that definition to clarify.

A shaping operation does a couple things. It penetrates the enemy lines and neutralizes the enemy's long-range fires, the Russian missiles. And it contests the Russians' ability to maneuver.

They're having difficulty maneuvering especially around Kherson because Ukrainians have knocked out and destroyed all the bridges that could resupply the Russians or allow them to escape.

So the Russians are at a disadvantage. Secondly, the Ukrainians are starting to neutralize the midrange artillery fire, not the missiles but the artillery. And they're now conducting an independent operational maneuver to attack the enemy.

It's a great thing they're doing this in Kherson province but there's a whole lot of Russians in the southern approach. So this is not a strategic maneuver just yet. They continue to be shaping operations. I hate to do that to your listeners but it is a little difference.

HILL: That's why we call on you. We need to help us better understand what is really happening there on the ground.

Steve, when you look at this, we have this shaping operation. We see the physical, right?


HILL: We can see and we're being told what's happening on the ground. Russia acknowledging it and saying it's a miserable failure at the same time. There's a real psychological impact in some of these maneuvers for both sides here.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. I think the Ukrainians are doing a good job on the psychological warfare outside of things. I think they are collecting very good battlefield intelligence, with regard to morale or the waning morale on the Russian side.

So you have Zelenskyy and others getting on the airwaves, trying to get to the Russian soldiers and saying, just go home. There's lots of reports of desertions, of Russian-on-Russian violence and Russian officers having a heck of a time controlling their own troops.

So that's what I think we're going to see. It's not at all surprising, that the Russian press machine, the propaganda and disinformation machine is saying, oh, this is all small stuff and it's failed miserably. That's for internal Russian consumption and we know it's not reflective of the truth.

So yes, I think the Russians are -- excuse me -- the Ukrainians are looking for every leverage they can, in addition to the battlefield work that they are doing to manipulate not only the soldiers but also the Russian opposition inside of Russia.

HILL: The E.U. will be debating a travel ban for Russian tourists. Germany and France oppose this.

What would a ban on civilian Russian tourists actually achieve?

HILL: Yes, it's a really interesting conversation. And it's actually happening in the United States as well. Some say it's not fair to the Russian citizenry to be banned from having tourist visas.

But I've seen Russians make claims before, like we have the human rights to travel wherever we want. The bottom line is when the Russian government is acting the way it is, in Ukraine and other places, sometimes the only thing that is left is to cancel the ability of normal Russians and senior Russians, to travel, as tourists.

There's some critics of the government trying to get out. I don't believe that's a good counterargument. Any government has the ability to issue visas on a one by one basis, if there's somebody that really needs to get out for humanitarian reasons.

So I'm in favor of trying to put as much pressure on Putin by having his citizenry be upset with him because of his actions, which they have to pay the consequence for. It makes sense to me.

HILL: We'll see what happens --


HERTLING: Erica, if I could --

HILL: -- have to leave it there.

HERTLING: -- if I can add to that.

HILL: Quickly, General.

HERTLING: If I can add to that, if you don't mind, I agree with Steve. You add to that, the fact that the Russian -- Mr. Putin and the Russian ministers have all said the West is evil. The West is corrupt. The West is horrible. The citizens of the West are bad.

If that's all true, why do they continue to want to visit the West?

HILL: Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, Steve Hall, thank you for being with us.

Turning to the unrest in Iraq. Nearly 2 dozen people are dead. Hundreds more hurt in clashes in Baghdad's green zone. That violence after a powerful cleric announced his resignation from politics. It is fueling concerns that Iraq could descend into a civil war. CNN's Ben Wedeman joining me now.

Ben, what is happening right now in Baghdad?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, now Baghdad is almost back to it normal self, a busy, bustling, chaotic city.

At 1:00 pm local time in Baghdad, Muqtada al-Sadr, yesterday on Twitter announced he was withdrawing from politics, that set off a stampede into the green zone and led to the clashes that left over 20 people dead, over 250 people wounded.

At 1:00 pm, he came out and said he apologizes for the bloodshed. And he told supporters to leave the green zone immediately; otherwise, he would disown his own supporters and his own movement.

And within minutes, I'm talking one or two minutes, his supporters started to leave the green zone. The guns went quiet. In a few more minutes, the army canceled its capital-wide curfew. We don't know what backroom deals were made between Muqtada al-Sadr and his rivals. But Baghdad is quiet again.

HILL: Ben Wedeman, appreciate the update.


HILL: The Justice Department facing a deadline as a legal battle over records seized from Donald Trump's home heats up. Those details next.




HILL: A top Secret Service official at the center of the Capitol insurrection investigation is retiring from the agency.