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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Russian Dissident In Exile Fights For Ukraine; Ukraine War: $100 Billion In Infrastructure Damage, And Counting; CDC: COVID Deaths Could Top 1 Mil By Early May; TSA Extending Travel Mask Mandate; CDC: Drug Overdose Deaths Reach Record High. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 13, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Meanwhile, in the northeast, new video that appears to show cluster munitions being used in civilian areas around the city of Kharkiv, rockets or bombs that hold dozens or hundreds of smaller bombs inside designed to discharge over a wide area inflicting as much damage as possible. The United Nation says such attacks may be a war crime.

This all comes on the heels of a new report out today from the organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which says Russia has committed war crimes and broken international law by deliberately targeting civilians in Mariupol, specifically, those who ordered attacks on a maternity hospital and attacks on a theater. Let's get right to CNN's Fred Pleitgen live in Kyiv, just about 320 miles east of here.

And, Fred, let's start there with the cluster munitions. What's happening in Kharkiv? And what do you make of these cluster bombs?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kharkiv, that video that you were just rolling, there certainly seems to very strongly indicate that those were cluster munitions that were used there, just from the way that those impacts were going and from the way those small explosions were happening. And, you know, one of the things that the Ukrainians are saying, they say that a lot of the times those cluster munitions are either air dropped from planes and bombs or they're shot by artillery. And there's specifically one artillery rocket system that's used for that, called the Oregon.

And of course, in the early stages of this war, I was on the Russian side in the city of Belgorod, which is right across from Kharkiv and the main artillery rocket system that the Russians were using there was the Oregon multiple rocket launching system. So the Ukrainians are saying that's one of the ways that these things are delivered. And certainly they're a big problem in the Kharkiv area because especially there, the outskirts of the city, civilian areas are being shelled.

But we've also been on the ground here around the Kyiv area and we spoke to some explosive ordnance disposal specialists and they told us also, they are finding a lot of cluster submunitions, as they're called, which haven't exploded yet. And the Ukrainians here also saying that in some of the cases they were airdropped, in some cases they were shot by rockets. But they also say these submunitions are a big problem for civilians, even after the Russian forces were driven out of some area because there's so dangerous for people on the ground who might touch them, set off an explosion and come to serious bodily harm and even death, Jake.

TAPPER: So Fred, in the south, Mariupol's mayor says there are nearly 200,000 people waiting to be evacuated, but the Russians wouldn't allow evacuation quarters to open today. How bad is the situation in Mariupol gotten?

PLEITGEN: Well, from what we're hearing from the authorities there, it's absolutely awful. People don't have enough to eat. They don't have any sort of medical attention.

You were showing that video, once again, we have to always point out we're not on the ground in Mariupol, we can't independently verify a lot of the things that are happening there. But of course, it is still a city that is very much besieged and where the people are living in very dire conditions. And you know, we've seen that drone footage of a lot of those apartment blocks, huge buildings that have been absolutely destroyed. Right now on our screens we see video of some of the fighting that's apparently still going on there.

From what we're hearing from the Ukrainian forces, their main two groups that are still in that city and trying to defend that city have now consolidated their forces. It was a Marine battalion from the Ukrainian military. And then also another battalion called the Azov battalion that are in a steel factory, gigantic steel factory that's there, they are apparently still holding out and have managed to link up. Some of the Marine forces, though, have since then surrendered. The Russian say and the Ukrainians map battalion now has pretty much confirmed that as well. But it's a dire situation there.

And, you know, one of the big issues is that 90 percent of that city has been destroyed or has been damaged of the buildings there and at least 40 percent beyond any sort of repair. So, Mariupol, even if the Russians managed to drive those Ukrainian forces out, the so called prize that they have is nothing but a bunch of rubble, Jake.

TAPPER: Fred Pleitgen live in Kyiv for us this evening. Thank you so much.

While Russian forces continue to prepare for a major offensive in the Donbass region in the southeast Kharkiv, which is a city in the Northeast, continues to see increased shelling. CNN's Nima Elbagir was in the residential district of Saltivka when incoming rounds intensified and the team was told to move to a safer position.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Desolate, bear, lifeless, this is what it looks like after weeks of relentless Russian shelling. Saltivka, the most densely populated district in Kharkiv it's being bombed day after day, night after night. There are very few people left, the elderly mostly. One man stayed behind to keep his mother safe. (on camera): Igor (ph) says that he lives on the 16th floor of one of these buildings with his mother. He says his mother is deeply religious and deeply committed to staying here even though they're almost entirely surrounded. And she won't leave, so he won't leave.


(voice-over): But this is a front line under renewed pressure. The Russians are pushing hard.

(on camera): That is so close. Those are Russian positions, they're shelling towards us. We are just over a mile away from the Russian forces.

This is their route into Kharkiv and then on in to Ukraine. For now, this is the front line. That could change at any moment now. They are trying as hard as they can to push that frontline inwards.

(voice-over): The soldiers want to show us more evidence of the heavy bombardment.

(on camera): The soldiers want us to move very quickly because Russian snipers are operating in this area. You've got to move.

(voice-over): The rumble you hear is the constant shelling.

(on camera): The shelling is just been absolutely relentless. From the moment that we've arrived we've been hearing it. We have to be careful where we step because the Russians are also dispersing mines from the rockets that they're sending over into here.

(voice-over): The shelling has intensified over the last few days. Regional officials told CNN this is evidence of the renewed Russian military push.

(on camera): Yes, let's go. So, from where we are, we're pretty much surrounded by Russian troops on three sides. Tens of 1000s of Russian troops are believed to be amassing to come into Kharkiv, to come into Ukraine from this direction. We've got to move.

(voice-over): The soldiers wanted us out of there. It was becoming too intense.

Just 30 minutes later, we saw why. This warehouse is in the south of Saltivka. It took a direct hit. This is an area that after the initial aborted invasion has been beyond the reach of Russian ground troops. But now, once again, nowhere is safe.


ELBAGIR: The reason we're coming to you from indoors like this with limited lighting is because those strikes have continued to intensify. It's something like a minute and a bit between airstrikes we've been counting. And Ukrainian officials say that as far as they're concerned, this is de facto and offensive on this side of Ukraine. That has already begun a new, Jake. TAPPER: Nima Elbagir with some incredibly courageous reporting, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

In the United States, President Biden spoke to Ukraine's President Zelenskyy for nearly an hour, we were told, promising an additional $800 million worth of weapons and ammunition and other security assistance from the U.S. that would bring the total amount of military assistance the U.S. has provided to Ukraine to $3 billion. CNN's MJ Lee is at the White House.

MJ, what can you tell us about this new security package?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, $800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine. And you mentioned important context there that that brings the total assistance from the U.S. to Ukraine to three -- more than $3 billion. And all of that includes artillery systems, artillery rounds, armored personnel carriers, and also the transfer of new helicopters to Ukraine.

Now, there had been some questions about whether these MI17 helicopters would be included. And what we are told now is that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy had told President Biden that they were needed, that they were necessary when the two leaders spoke earlier today. And so that's why they ended up being included.

Now as for the transfer of these helicopters, those details are still being figured out. But what the Pentagon has made clear is that U.S. pilots would not be taking them physically into Ukraine, Jake.

TAPPER: MJ, for the first time, Biden yesterday called Russia's atrocities in Ukraine, quote, "genocide." He acknowledged that this isn't a legal declaration. But you asked the White House about Biden more than once making comments that aren't official U.S. policy. What did Press Secretary Jen Psaki have to say about that?

LEE: Yes, you're right. This was not the first time that President Biden made comments about the war that got ahead of U.S. policy, or were separate from sort of the legal determination, including when he said that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal when he said that Putin cannot remain in power. And then of course yesterday, saying that the situation in Ukraine amounts to genocide.

And the question I asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is, does this signal that there is an asterisk next to President Biden's comments whenever he speaks like this? Here's part of what she said.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When the President ran, he promised the American people he would shoot from the shoulder is his phrase that he often uses and tell to them straight. And his comments yesterday, not once but twice, and on war crimes are an exact reflection of that. What is unquestionable is what we're seeing is horrific, the targeting of civilians, of hospitals, of even kids and the President was calling it like he sees it. And that's what he does.



LEE: No question that world leaders have certainly taken note, including French president, Emmanuel Macron, who said he saw this language as an escalation and rhetoric, but he doesn't think is helpful in trying to stop the war. Just a reminder that the words of the U.S. president, of course, carry immense weight especially when the stakes are so high, Jake.

TAPPER: CNN's MJ Lee live at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Coming up next, switching sides, he used to be a Russian insider but now he's fighting with Ukrainian soldiers. Plus, as Russia continues to bombard this country, the staggering cost to rebuild. Where do you even begin? Stay with us.



TAPPER: Among the 1000s of fighters in Ukraine are Russian dissidents living in exile watching as more civilians die from this senseless, unprovoked war of President Putin's. Our next guest is such a dissident. He was a member of the Russian parliament or Duma from 2007 to 2016 and the only member to vote against annexing Crimea in 2014.

Ilya Ponomarev joins us now live from Kyiv. He's been fighting alongside Ukrainian forces.

Ilya, you've been living in Ukraine since 2016. How did you end up fighting with Ukrainian troops?

ILYA PONOMAREV, FORMER MEMBER OF RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT: What else could they do under those circumstances? You know, when Buchan forces were advancing, we needed to defend the country, we needed to defend the capital. We needed to defend the, you know sorry for saying this, but the humanity of Europe.

TAPPER: Yes. Do you worry about Russian forces retaliating against you? Do you worry about being targeted or what might happen if they capture you?

PONOMAREV: I was on their hit lists. I was informed about this well beforehand. And many people, for example, in the United States, they were given me a word of caution that I should have equate myself and my family and everybody. But that's not in my head.

That was not my purpose of being in Ukraine in the very first place. I didn't want to have a quiet life. I wanted to have an efficient life. And I wanted to fight against opportunism. And I'm sure that we will prevail.

TAPPER: You said that this war is a battle against Putin and you believe his days in power are numbered. Why? PONOMAREV: Because no dictator can survive after losing the war. And he has no way how he can win the war. He is losing it right now. He will try to claim a certain victory.

Imagine a career victory on the May 9, I'm absolutely certain about this, but the reality is that he is losing the war. And I think that the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people would not stop before Ukraine territory will be free. And it will.

TAPPER: I'm sure you've heard these intercepts that German intelligence got ahold of, these radio transmissions of Russian troops discussing killing and raping Ukrainian civilians. Ukrainian officials say nearly 200 children have been killed since the war began. What do you make of the way Russian forces have behaved in this war?

PONOMAREV: They want to spread terror. They hoping that the Ukrainian population, the ordinary Ukrainians, would actually rebel against their own leadership to stop the war. But I think that we are way beyond that. And the Ukrainian nation is united like never before.

I think that those guys in Russia, and especially in Kremlin, they do not understand the state of the current Ukrainian nation. Their analytics is lousy. And their generals are overwhelmed. And they are experiencing all those defeats in in Ukraine, because they do not understand what's actually happening inside the country.

TAPPER: When you look at the behavior of Russian troops and these atrocities, war crimes, crimes against humanity, et cetera, do you think that they've been ordered to commit atrocities like this to terrorize the Ukrainian people? Do you think it's the result of years and years of just hideous propaganda about the Ukrainian people spewed by the Kremlin? How do you explain it?

PONOMAREV: I think that none of the above. Firstly, if we remember not so distant past Chechen War, it was exactly the same. And they think that the root of the problem is very simple. When you are fighting against the nation, you're not fighting against the foreign army, the certain military force, you're fighting against the nation.

And then the soldiers of the invading army they understand that the death is coming to them from everywhere. And their state starting to revenge on everyone, including the civilians, including women, and including, unfortunately, even children.


TAPPER: What do Ukrainian forces need right now?

PONOMAREV: So obviously, we need one simple thing, we need clear skies. Because Ukrainian army can defend itself, can defend the country very efficiently as everybody saw, but it cannot defend civilians because Bucha is giving orders to shell the cities as your own correspondents just experienced in Kharkiv. They are really demolishing the residential quarters of just normal peaceful cities of Ukraine. And so also Ukrainian military cannot advance because as soon as they're getting a group of tanks, for example, an artillery group and whatever, they will be immediately attack from the above. And so that doesn't make any military sense to do it. So they can continue the partisan war, the guerrilla war, but they cannot militarily advanced.

I think that as soon as the skies would be clear, as soon as there will be a no fly zone over Ukraine, and I think that you guys would mature to understanding that it's needed, you NATO, you the West, you will not be able to hide from this war, it will knock on your own doors, inevitably because Putin would not stop. So at the end of the day, we will introduce the no fly zone, and then Ukraine will be liberated. And then which will soon will be removed from his post in Kremlin.

TAPPER: Ilya Ponomarev, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next, a man who witnessed that horrific train station attack in eastern Ukraine in Kramatorsk, he tells us what he saw and shares his suspicions about what he thinks may have led up to that strike. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead. Nearly 200 Ukrainian children's lives had been ruthlessly cut short by Putin's war here according to Ukrainian prosecutor's latest count, though that number is almost certainly much, much higher. At least five of those kids died the day a Russian missile strike hit a railway station in Kramatorsk where hundreds of civilians were waiting to be evacuated.

We caught up with an emergency medical coordinator in that town who ran to the station after hearing the explosion to find unspeakable horror. We want to warn our viewers some of these are disturbing images.


TAPPER (voice-over): The call came Friday morning from the mayor of Kramatorsk. Something had happened at the train station, come immediately.

Vyacheslav Zaporozhets had heard the explosion. He ran right there.

VYACHESLAV ZAPOROZHETS, WITNESS OF KRAMATORSK TRAIN ATTACK AFTERMATH (through translator): There are bodies that were torn into pieces.

TAPPER (voice-over): Fifty-seven killed, more than 100 wounded.

ZAPOROZHETS (through translator): There was a lot of blood, puddles of blood. It was easy to track how many people moved by the traces of blood on the ground. I saw a lot of elderly people, mostly women, children, and very young people that are very simple people that do not have their own vehicles. It was basically the last wave of evacuation.

TAPPER (voice-over): Before the war, Zaporozhets was a construction engineer and Kyiv. Now he spends his days driving around Ukraine, arranging medical transport for people in towns being besieged.

ZAPOROZHETS (through translator): Everyone was worried about Kyiv and the possible attacks on Kyiv. But I think everyone understands that the small cities like Kramatorsk, they are in danger even more. The evacuation is ongoing. And they can be targeted.

TAPPER (voice-over): We caught up with him as he rode from one town to another. The train was supposed to leave the Kramatorsk station at 9:00 that morning, but it was delayed. On a beautiful spring day, people started coming to the station around 10:00. He suspects and informant told the Russians when to strike for maximum civilian casualties.

ZAPOROZHETS (through translator): I believe there was somebody, a saboteur or a person who exactly chose the right time when most of the people were outside. And there was a crowd already gathering who might have given the command to fire the missile.

TAPPER (voice-over): Seeing all these wounded people for the last month and a half has been devastating.

(on camera): You've been witnessing this now for a month and a half, what has been your emotional response?

ZAPOROZHETS (through translator): I had a 15 minute chat with the psychologist. And it was the first time I felt some ease. But it's not over.

TAPPER (voice-over): A front row seat to what the Russians are doing.

ZAPOROZHETS (through translator): From what I've witnessed and seen, I can say I realize it's not war, it's pure terrorism.


TAPPER: Pure terrorism. The Kramatorsk mayor said as many as 4000 people are at that train station when the Russian missile struck.

Among all the scenes of death and destruction, what recovery and rebuilding might look like for Ukraine and how long that might take, we'll discuss, next.


TAPPER: Welcome back. We're live in Lviv. Parts of Ukraine have been ravaged if not completely decimated by weeks of Russian occupation and more. Just look at these before and after pictures from what only weeks ago were beautiful thriving places. This country has suffered more than $100 billion in estimated damage to its infrastructure, roads, bridges, water electric systems. That's according to the United Nations Development Agency report that's nearly a month old.

The damage has been growing seemingly every day. Somehow, someway, someone is going to have to face the task of rebuilding Ukraine. Let's discuss that with Volodymyr Omelyan. He was Ukraine's Minister of Infrastructure from 2016 to 2019. He's now joined Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces.

First of all, thanks so much for joining us. What is the condition of things were you are?


VOLODYMYR OMELYAN, FORMER UKRAINE MINISTER OF INFRASTRUCTURE: Good evening, Jake. We are in Kyiv. So we are much safer right now that we used to be two weeks ago but still under danger because today Ministry of Defense of Russia announced another missile strike hitting Kyiv.

TAPPER: Aside from needing Russian forces to go away, that's obviously problem number one. What is needed most right now when Ukrainian cities?

OMELYAN: You know, when Russia realized that Ukraine will never surrender, they try and grab right now to turn Ukraine into the country of debt. So they simply destroy everything, starting with civilian and ending with infrastructure. Most industries are badly hit and destroyed. And definitely we do realize, right now it's not a question of rebuilding Ukraine but building from the ground zero unfortunate.

But it's also a great chance to build it right if we plan it right. And we will have a vision, what should be done with Ukraine in 21st century?

TAPPER: What do you think when the Russians have gone and there is peace? What do you think will come first, when it is time to rebuild streets, buildings, water and electricity grids everything at once?

OMELYAN: I would split it in two phases. First of all, we should somehow accommodate those million replaced persons. And it's a huge problem right now. Because cities they used to live up fully destroyed. And we should provide them with some temporary housing and work places.

And second issue, we should have a good or even great team of visioners (ph) to develop a plan how to build new Ukraine, because I'm as a Foreign Minister, I perfectly know that if you have good planning and good governance, you will have great results. But if you start with some ideas without planning them, it's a great failure.

So right now, for us, it's very important to identify the source of financing, in my opinion, it should be reparation coming from Russia, main source, and secondly, to have a good team on board in Ukraine to plan everything right and to establish right, rightly functioning international fund for rebuilding Ukraine.

TAPPER: I met an internally displaced kid a few days ago, 18 years old, and he was from the Donbas region and his town, the parent in the town where his parents live had been taken over by Russians. And he said not only is he not able to get back to see them, because he doesn't have the proper paperwork. But he's not able to call them because the Russians have shut down the cell phone tower. So there's no communication going on. Is that a common tactic of the Russians?

OMELYAN: Yes, and we do understand they do more, because just recently, we got news that many Ukrainians are simply taken away from Mariupol and other places which are under Russian occupation. And those people due to a tradition of Stalin and Soviet Union are taken to Siberia to Far East without any communication and without any even request. Do you want to travel to Siberia in minus 20?

So it's a typical problem right now is that many families are isolated. Kids do not know even our parents alive. And parents do not know the destinies of those kids. I personally know a lot of stories from Mariupol when kids were taking in the streets just to rescue their lives. Some of them are in western Ukraine right now. Some of them left for European Union.

But problem remains because those families which was plated (ph) should reunite if they're alive. And definitely many families, mainly women and kids will come back from European Union to Ukraine.

TAPPER: How worried are you, Volodymyr, that there are more than 4 million Ukrainians who have fled the country. I think it's about 11 million have been internally displaced within Ukraine. How worried are you about Ukrainians not coming back just because so many parts of the country whether it's Kharkiv or parts of Donbas, on Mariupol, that it's just so destroyed. It's just going to be -- it's going to take so long to go back to any semblance of normal.

OMELYAN: We do understand that to rebuild any city it will take between five and 10 years if we talk about normal city to live and to work and to enjoy the environment.


But if we talk about this particular situation, first of all work should stop. And then secondly, definitely, we will be able to return our families from the west. And I believe that 90 percent of them will come back because men are still here fighting for Ukraine. And mainly we talk about kids and women with them.

Definitely, it's a huge, huge risk for them to come back right, right now, and we also urge them not to do so even that Kyiv is liberated from Russian troops, but danger is still present.

TAPPER: So I know that you talked about the need for Russians to pay reparations for all the destruction that they have wreaked on your country. But assuming that they don't, where do you think the money should come from?

OMELYAN: They should, there is no work done for them. Because it's not only about Ukraine and Russia, it's about the world to teach a lesson that you cannot occupy any other country. In case of Russia, West has already frozen more than 700 billion Russian dollars -- U.S. dollars, Russia owned in the banks and assets in the West. So I think it's a good source for this fund to rebuild Ukraine.

Definitely we should find quasi political and legal decision how those frozen money should be converted into confiscated ones and then directed to the font. But it's possible to do. And I believe that and as the issue for us to discuss and to achieve, what will come next, because one thing is to rebuild and then to preserve and to make it secure. And the only key to that is Ukraine becoming member of United -- of European Union and NATO.

TAPPER: Yes, former infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it.

OMELYAN: Thank you, sir.

TAPPERL From the U.S. today beyond the recommendations, the first real data that shows why certain groups should definitively get a second booster shot, stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead, the number of COVID deaths per day in the United States dropped sharply in recent months. Right now it's about 527 per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Now sadly, that does not change the enormous loss of life in the U.S. for the first time the CDC forecast predicts 1 million Americans will have died because of COVID by early May, 1 million.

But we do know that the vaccine dramatically reduces the risk of death and a brand new study out of Israel shows the short term impact of getting another shot for older adults. Joining us now to discuss he and his Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, good to see.

So you dove into this new data on this additional the second booster shot, what is the data tell us? What do you say for older adults? Should they get that fourth shot?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think what this data shows us is that you're over the age of 60. And it's been at least four months since you had your third shot. Getting another shot could offer some benefit. But I want to, you know, dive in I -- dove into this data. And I want to explain this and make clear that if you've had three shots, you're still really well protected.

If you looked at the entire population of people in the study, who did have severe outcomes requiring hospitalization, less than 1 percent of them were in people who had at least three shots. So the question is, if you add the fourth shot, how much of an incremental benefit do you get. If you can take a look at the numbers here, what you find is that compare, again, fourth shot compared to three shots, you get to infection, a benefit of about 45 percent infection, there was a 55 percent benefit, hospitalization, 68 percent. And death 74 percent effective if you got that four shot as compared to the third shot.

But I think the real headline here, Jake, is twofold. One is that three shots are really -- still very protective against getting very sick from this. And when you looked at the data out of Israel, the people who are getting four shots were the people who were the most at risk, right? So it was actually a segmented part of the population.

So when you put it all together, if you're someone who's at high risk, because of age in particular, getting that four shot would give you at least temporary benefit. You know, this study only went out about a month. So it's not clear how much longer would last than that.

TAPPER: The Transportation Safety Administration, the TSA is going to extend the federal mask mandate on planes, trains and buses and official telling CNN, it they're doing this so they can gather more data about the BA.2 variant. Was this the right move? I know a lot of people are very annoyed by it.

GUPTA: Well, Jake, I mean, you know, the numbers have come down as you showed, but you know, you're still having 500 some people who are dying every day and the number of infections has started to maybe tick back up a bit.

So, I think that that's the concerning thing as we've learned over the last couple of years, hospitalizations and deaths are still lagging indicators. So, so far, if you look at what's happened in United States and you look at other countries around the world, you, hospitalizations have not come up as much as they have in the past.


But it's a question of are they still going to come up over time? I mean, this is -- we're not in an endemic phase yet of things. I think people keep thinking about that. If people say, hey, look, flu is endemic. 60,000 people could die a year of flu, we call that endemic. 500 people dying a day means close to 200,000 people would die of this.

So my point is, Jake, we're probably not at that phase where we can necessarily pull back those measures, especially if we don't know just how much of an impact this BA.2 is going to have overall on hospitalizations. We show you the overall numbers.

I mean, you mentioned that they've come down cases have ticked up a little bit. 38,000 hospitalizations, 14,000 still, and again, deaths 527. If that was the first number you saw, you know, with this pandemic, in terms of deaths per day, that would be astounding, compared to what it was. It's a lot lower, and we got to see what happens over the next several weeks.

TAPPER: Quickly, I want to ask you about the latest data on drug overdoses in the U.S. because new CDC data shows the rise in overdose deaths reached another record high jumping 16 percent over the 12 month period, ending November 2021. What's driving this?

GUPTA: This is really interesting. I mean, we were starting to make some strides, Jake, you know, going into the pandemic, the numbers obviously have increased. When you really dissect these numbers, you find something I think that's important. And that is it's not necessarily that drug use has gone up leading to these overdoses. It's a type of drugs.

I mean, fentanyl and tainted fentanyl. That seems to be the biggest problem and you're seeing those numbers go up even more so in adolescence and in among the black American community.

TAPPER: Yes, we've covered this before people taking pills that they think are just herb pills, and they've been laced with fentanyl and they die. 20 years old. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Next from the U.S. from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, the severe storms firing up right now prompting a chance for tornadoes. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Turning into our national lead, 100 million Americans from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes are under threat for severe storms today with a menacing combination of damaging winds, strong tornadoes and giant hail.

Tornadoes left an eight mile long trail of destruction in Central Texas last night. 23 people are hurt. A county official saying it is amazing no one was killed.

Let's bring in meteorologist Tom Sater. Tom, there are several areas of concern at this hour tell us.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Jake, this is the fourth week in a row that we've had a multi-day severe weather outbreak. Last month, the month of March, 219 tornadoes an all-time record and here we are in April, but this week, it's a little different. We have more extremes, severe weather, blizzard conditions and a fire risk.

And I want to start back behind the front because yesterday, wildfires kicking up in this tinder dry drought conditions here. We had 150 homes in New Mexico scorched that evacuate an elementary school, large fire into Plano, Texas and when you look at the tornado activity from eastern Texas where they're getting the rain out west, and went all the way up to areas of around Iowa. And now it's making its way eastward.

Today's threat level four out of five right along the Mississippi River from northeastern areas of Louisiana up to the Bootheel of Missouri, Southern Illinois but it extends more than that. Numerous lightning strikes. This is bad alone. We've got straight line winds that could do damage and they're blowing up to hurricane force winds.

Now I want to take you back behind the front because it's a clash of the cold air and the warm air. Look at this, blizzard conditions they had two to three feet of snow Montana into North Dakota. It is snowing in Iowa where they had tornadoes yesterday. Lincoln, Nebraska was at 91. At 5:00 p.m. yesterday they were down to 31 this morning, tornado watches and read extend into the evening. These will also be extended to the east.

Now we break down a few tornadoes for you areas of around Louisiana moving into a northern and Mississippi north central area. There's Pine Bluff. Another one we had a funnel cloud. We've got video of that near the Memphis area, straight line winds there. More tornado warnings now south of Paducah.

Again, these are not going to be the strongest tornadoes. But at any point we could get them.

Now tomorrow it moves to the east coast, but it's only a level two out of five, but it's a larger populated region. It's Philadelphia. It's Newark. It's New York City. So again, for the fourth day in a row, it makes its way eastward it's going to be a violent evening. And as these happened overnight, the best thing I can tell everyone, make sure on your phones that you have the emergency alerts turned on, call your loved ones and have a plan. Flooding will be a problem as well. It'd be nice to get this one over with, Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Sater, thank you so much for that important update. And our sports lead, she is in a league of her own. No woman had coached on the field and a regular season, Major League Baseball game until last night, Alyssa Nakken, assistant coach for the San Francisco Giants made history.

After first base coach Antoine Richardson was ejected from the game now opportunity strikes in strange ways and Nakken was certainly ready for it. Pulling on a number of 92 jersey and a helmet, she swooped in as first base coach.

The Giants were sure to recognize the moment. That's first baseman Darin Ruf giving back in a fist bump and even a player from the opposing team stuck out his hand to congratulate her.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at Jake Tapper. You can tweet the show at The Lead CNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to The Lead wherever you get your podcasts, all two hours sitting right there for you.

I'm going to be back tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for CNN tonight with more from Lviv and our team of courageous reporters on the front line of this bloody invasion.