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Hurricane Ida Aftermath; COVID Deaths Rising; Biden Administration Facing Multiple Crises. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 14:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this special holiday edition of NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Victor is off today.


Hope you're getting some downtime too.

But there's no break for the White House this Labor Day, the president still grappling with multiple challenges. Roughly 100 Americans are still in Afghanistan. COVID numbers are still climbing and the future of booster shots is still unclear. The economy is still suffering from the pandemic, as more than seven million people lose their enhanced unemployment benefits this weekend.

The president's trillion-dollar agenda to improve infrastructure and more is still on shaky ground, with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, for now, putting up resistance. And parts of the country are still without power, thousands of Americans searching for food, water, gas and housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

So let's begin with CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

So, Kaitlan, of everything that I have just laid out there, which is President Biden's top priority?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think coronavirus is probably the top of mind for the White House right now.

And we know President Biden is going to give a major speech on that this week. But also, Alisyn, as you noted, he has got several things on his plate when he comes back to Washington tonight following this holiday weekend.

And first, tomorrow, you will see the president go to New York and New Jersey, both states where he has declared states of emergency and disaster declarations under way there right now, in an effort to help with what we have been seeing on the ground. And a lot of this, he is going to tie to what he did when he was in Louisiana touring the damage there, which is, of course, climate change and his domestic agenda, something that we know is going to be at the forefront in this month of September when lawmakers are back here in Washington.

But, Alisyn, it's not just that. He also is still dealing with Afghanistan. Even though the U.S. military is long gone from there, there are still about 100 Americans who are in Afghanistan that they are working to get out, according to his chief of staff, Ron Klain. So that's one other aspect that he's dealing with.

But going back to the pandemic, that's another big one that is overshadowing a lot of this, because you are seeing record number of COVID cases. We're starting to see numbers for deaths, averages around the country back to where we were in March. That is something that the White House did not expect to go back to.

And so they're dealing with the pandemic in a state that they were not expecting it to be in by September. They thought they were going to be moving a lot further along and having these reopenings across the country that they were hoping would accompany mass vaccinations.

And, of course, that's just not what we're seeing. And you're actually seeing numbers that are much lower than expected in the jobs report that they got on Friday. So, Alisyn, it's a lot of different crises and challenges that are facing the president. Of course, typically, that is something that every president has to deal with, unforeseen challenges.

That is certainly going to be the case when President Biden gets there this week. And it's just several of these issues that are all lining up at once.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much for the update from the White House.

So, tomorrow, as you heard, President Biden will visit two towns devastated by the flooding after Hurricane Ida, Manville, New Jersey, and the New York borough of Queens.

It made landfall two Sundays ago as a Category 4 hurricane. More than 60 people have died from the -- the vast majority of those from the catastrophic rainfall and flooding in the Northeast. New York police just released this video of what they were facing when the flooding started.

I mean, I want you to just to take a look at this, because this is an officer who had to brave the possibility of live wires. They didn't know what the situation was with the electricity in this building. And he was trying to get through a completely submerged basement in Queens to find anyone who was trapped.

The police ultimately called in the fire department, and three bodies were found here. Today, a FEMA official and some members of Congress toured Queens.

And CNN's Polo Sandoval has more.

Polo, what do we know?


Elected officials visiting one of the Queens neighborhoods that was perhaps hit the hardest by this storm as it swept through to the region, now five days since that happened, and, still, residents have been combing through their belongings, especially in their basements, and basically throwing out their belongings out to the curb, too damaged to repair.

And these officials, as they were visiting this area, certainly being met by some very frustrated residents, one of those officials being Mayor Bill de Blasio that toured this devastation again, along with Representative Alexander Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Chuck Schumer, seeing firsthand again what folks are dealing with specifically here in Queens, New York.

And what I have heard over and over again is that they certainly hope that this will be more than just a photo-op, that this will actually lead to both short-term and long-term assistance. When we're talking short term, that is, of course, the individual assistance that they are hoping that the Biden administration will be able to help expedite with this latest approval of an emergency declaration.

And in terms of long term, there was one resident that nearby as these officials were visiting the site that were basically calling on repairs to the drainage. They have lived here for well over a decade. At least one of them in particular lives not far from where I'm standing, lived here for about 13 years.


And she fears that this can happen again. So, that really gives you a sense of the frustration right now that is certainly happening on the ground.

I have also seen it in neighboring New Jersey, specifically in Manville, New Jersey, where President Biden expected to see firsthand the devastation. And the concern across the board is certainly the same. When will that level of assistance come where they will be able to rebuild what they lost, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK, Polo Sandoval, thank you very much.

So, as we just mentioned, President Biden will visit Queens tomorrow.

And a longtime resident there spoke to CNN just as water overtook her home and took the lives of her neighbors, a mother and son.


AMRITA BHAGWANDIN, FLOOD VICTIM: I can't think anymore about how I feel at this point because of the chaos outside my neighbors. There's a loss of life.

I have lost everything in here, and, mostly, the lives out there.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now is that woman from Queens that you just saw who was in shock, Amrita Bhagwandin. Amrita, my condolences for the loss of your neighbors and for everything that you have been through over these past days. I know that you're still feeling emotionally about all this, as you were, understandably, Thursday night, feeling overwhelmed.

And I'm just wondering what's changed since then and if you have gotten any help.

BHAGWANDIN: Good afternoon, Alisyn. Thank you for having me. Really appreciate getting the word out as we're seeking help constantly here and not really seeing any much of it.

Not much has changed, except for we have gone out ourselves and got our friends and our neighbors and the community. The New York NYPD, community board, and the councilmen have been working with us, along with our close friends and families.

We have hired engineers, plumbers, electricians, cleaners, laborers. And what we need is funds to pay these bills that are upon us. We have not had any kind of health, apart from the Sanitation Department has been here taking our garbage, which seems to be endless.

That is all. The food has been coming in from the religious organizations, the good samaritans who does not want to be named. The food has been coming in. The toilet paper has been coming in, the paper towels, the toiletries. Everything has been coming in from good samaritans around the neighborhood.

The black community has stood up for us here big time.

CAMEROTA: And, Amrita, we mentioned that you lost two of your neighbors, a mother and son.

And just explain to us. Did the flooding come in so quickly that people couldn't evacuate?

BHAGWANDIN: That is how quickly it happens, Alisyn.

I have experienced this multiple times. And that's why I plan accordingly when I see the weather pattern changing. So it takes over so quickly that there is no time to save anything or -- all you can do is save yourself.

And, unfortunately, it came so quickly that it swept them away so very fast, so, so very fast. I always thought it was me, because, as I said before, I was trapped with that situation here before, where the water was going to my second floor. And so I always leave the house, because I feel that I would drown in here.

I never thought it would go so far.


BHAGWANDIN: I'm time the first property it hits.

CAMEROTA: And so, in the past, you have had the experience where you have had to, what, take shelter on your second floor because it comes in so quickly?

BHAGWANDIN: No, I take shelter down the block. I have to leave the premises and go to another house, my in-laws are my neighbor that is on higher ground. And I stand and I watch it as it comes up, because it's -- I have been suffering health-wise from it, having these panic attacks and all kinds of different issues that I will not mention here because of it, like nightmares, because I feel trapped.

Can you imagine being in your living room and it's filling up with water and there is like an ocean outside? We are not living on the Jersey Shore that you think, that you expect water that would come in, in a place like beautiful Hollis into your living room or going to your second floor.

So my basement filled up to the ceiling, where everything was floating. And then it came into the first floor about. So I had like 14 feet. It's a very unstable condition right now. It's not livable, but I'm trying to hang in here, having all these contractors come in and evaluate what's going on.


And that's why we would really like to see some assistance here immediately.

CAMEROTA: What do you want President Biden to see when he comes there tomorrow?

BHAGWANDIN: I want President Biden to actually see the problem itself.

It's actually visible. We're in a basin. The water comes down from both sides. And this is not laying blame. But I don't think there is enough understanding of the problem. I know that the engineers have worked tirelessly. I know the mayor has worked tirelessly on this.

And it's not a blame game. It is a solution we're looking for, for everyone's safety. We do not want this again. I want to know what the alternative is for the second rain, if it comes next week, as I feel that my -- that water is going to seep in right now as it is, even if it's not a storm.

I really feel that I'm susceptible to having water coming right now. And I want to know, what is the futuristic plan for this neighborhood that pays their property taxes? Is there one? Are we going to get our Army Corps of Engineers and assess this properly?

That's what I want President Biden to see.


CAMEROTA: And, by the way, I mean, it's not that some of your elected leaders haven't been trying.

As I understand it, back in 2015, Mayor de Blasio of New York had approved something like $1.9 billion in projects to alleviate flooding in the Queens area in terms of infrastructure. And I don't know if those projects are not happening fast enough or if climate change is happening too fast.

But, clearly, whatever that money has been spent hasn't solved the problem.

BHAGWANDIN: It has not.

And Mayor de Blasio has, has given money to this, especially this block or neighborhood. It's not working. As I said, I don't think this problem is evaluated correctly. We're living here. We want them to come and speak with us, so we can give them a good understanding of what -- the contractor, I believe, is not even aware of what he was dealing with when he started to do this work.

I'm not an engineer. My husband is actually a structural engineer that has some background in this. But I will tell you that, while they were driving the piles and banging the streets, that I could -- that the house was shaking.

I have videos of the house shaking for the entire year since last May they have been here. And I can tell you that the foundation has been shaking a lot for all these properties. And so they are very susceptible to something happening major. And there is major more that's going to happen if we do not act right now.

They need to come and look at these properties seriously, and know that there can be another death if the next storm approaches.

CAMEROTA: Have you considered moving? Is it possible for your family to move? Or is that out of the question?

BHAGWANDIN: When you say move, I have talked about everything.

Believe me, the first time I came in here, when I bought this property -- I'm stuck with a huge mortgage here. Properties are not cheap in Queens. So I have very a huge mortgage on my head at this point.

When you say move, do I sell it? Who is going to buy my property, knowing that there is a problem here? The city has to take the responsibility from us and relieve us of these properties. That's my suggestion.

The study cannot be done with people living in these properties. They need to come. And it's not my property alone. There are quite a few properties that needs to be evaluated if it's livable or not and safe enough for human beings, because I don't think any one of us, you, myself, the officials, the mayor, anyone would want to be living sitting in their living room with their children and grandchildren, and there's water filling up in their houses, and you don't have anywhere to go.

It's not the best feeling in the world.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Amrita Bhagwandin, thank you for explaining all of that to us and sharing your personal anxiety and ordeal that you have been through. We really appreciate it.

And we will check in tomorrow as President Biden visits as well.

BHAGWANDIN: Thank you very much. And we do expect President Biden here.

I know he's a very -- he's a man that listens, and he will understand what we're dealing with and do the right thing for us. Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, Amrita. Take care of yourself.

So, where Ida first made landfall more than a week ago, people are still stranded without basic necessities. Some Louisiana grocery stores have empty shelves. Some gas stations still have not been able to get more fuel. Power is still out for more than 500,000 customers in Louisiana. And some do not expect it restored until the end of this month.

So, obviously, it's a dire circumstance because forecasters are predicting again heat of over 100 degrees in some areas.


So, CNN's Nadia Romero in LaPlace, Louisiana.

Nadia, tell us how people are coping.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, they just can't catch a break.

You mentioned the heat advisory. It is so hot out here. People don't have power. I'm in LaPlace, Louisiana, where they won't likely half power into the end of the month, which means no air conditioning. And we just had another round of showers coming through.

And take a look. A lot of the homes in this area look just like this with blue tarps on them with the roofs and shingles and just everything missing from their homes that was ripped off in the storm.

I want to introduce you to the homeowner here, Donielle East-Mitter. And she was lucky -- gracious enough to let us come inside of her home and talk about the damage.

What have you been dealing with for the past eight days since Hurricane Ida made her way through?

DONIELLE EAST-MITTER, RESIDENT OF LAPLACE: We have been dealing with a lot of heat, no power, spotty network.

We have a lot of gas with our generators. It's super hot. We have a lot of trash. The smell is, like, ridiculous. And the hardest part about is that we can't communicate. And we can't get with our adjusters. They are trying to call us. We have to travel sometime a mile up or to four miles to get some type of service.

ROMERO: And you have been trying to contact FEMA, your insurance companies, because you had flood insurance and home insurance. What does that been like for you just trying to get some service out here?

EAST-MITTER: It's been really hard because we have tried to reach them. And they have been trying to reach us.

So we finally had to go out, like I said before, about four miles to try to catch them. We tried to do a virtual, because they couldn't come here because of COVID or whatever. And we did a virtual. But it will not work in our home. So it's been very difficult for us to get the help that we need. But we have been trying, so we -- hopefully, we will have something Friday.

ROMERO: Donielle, you have the best, most optimistic, hopeful attitude, especially considering everything that's going on.

This tree behind us could have landed on your house and your neighbor's house. But it's split between the two houses and didn't do the damage it could have done. And you feel lucky, grateful that that happened.

EAST-MITTER: It was very scary. It was swaying from side to side. And all we could do is pray and say, God, please don't let this tree fall on our house and neither our neighbor. And just like that, it fell between.

And then a couple days later, we was like, how we going to get this tree out of here with no service? But the Fellowship of Christian Athletes came in a cut it down for us. It took about two days and about 12 -- a staff of 12 to get it out of here.

ROMERO: Community helping each other out, neighbors helping neighbors.

How long do you think it will be until you can get back in your home? Because, right now, it's not livable. The mold is growing in there. Everything was saturated. What's next?

EAST-MITTER: Well, we are converting one of our trailers that we were going to use for a food truck to stay in temporarily. It's going to be about three to six months before we can really get back in here, because there's limited supplies.

We have to wait for adjusters and things like that. So we look. And, hopefully, we are going to say three months, but it may be up to six months.

ROMERO: How do you keep the positive attitude?

You could be balled up crying on the floor right now with everything that you have been through. And you have been through other hurricanes as well. How do you keep that attitude?

EAST-MITTER: Well, I count my blessings. God has been good to me. He has sent people my way. And when I get weary, because it will happen, what I tend to do is, I will take my time and help somebody else feed people, or go clean up my neighbor's yard to help out to get my mind off of it because it can be really difficult.

ROMERO: Donielle, that's the kind of attitude that everyone needs to have, especially right now after this storm. Likely won't have power until the end of the month.

But people in LaPlace are doing the best that they can -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Nadia Romero, thank you very much for that.

So, a summer that began with high hopes and available vaccines ends with a surge in COVID deaths, hospital officials facing tough choices about who gets an ICU bed.

Plus, the U.S. gets four Americans out of Afghanistan -- what we have just learned about the rescue mission.



CAMEROTA: In the race to vaccinate more Americans, the plan for booster shots may be changing.

The White House had hoped to start the shots on September 20. But the chief of staff, Ron Klain, cannot say if that goal will be met. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the plan will likely only start with the Pfizer vaccine.

Cases, meanwhile, continue to surge. The seven-day average is now 300 percent higher than it was last Labor Day.

CNN's Nick Watt has more.



NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Summer is over. This week in the Northeast, many schools start back, but ominous signs from the South. Kentucky schools opened already, and already one in five districts have closed at some point due to case counts, quarantines or just lack of staff.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): We have a record number of Kentuckians in the hospital battling COVID, in the ICU battling for their lives.

WATT: And they're overwhelmingly unvaccinated. South Carolina has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country and the highest infection rate.

DR. HELMUT ALBRECHT, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA: We will have another uptick with the universities opening up. We will have a further uptake with the schools not having masks on. And we will have Labor Day travel on top of this. So, yes, there will be a further uptick.

WATT: Meantime, more data that vaccine booster shots are now necessary due to the Delta variant.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: The data from the Israeli studies are that there's a rather substantial diminution in protection against infection and an unquestionable diminution in the protection against hospitalization.

WATT: With a booster, that protection bounced back, and then some. The plan was to start third shots here in two weeks, but might only be Pfizer that rolls out then. Moderna's delayed by a data review.


More evidence boosters are needed? A beginning and end-of-summer a comparison, four times the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 now, average new daily cases up over 800 percent. Back then, we were losing an average of 594 lives a day, now 1, 561.

The difference? Fewer mitigation measures and Delta.

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: We need to rev up our game around getting unvaccinated persons vaccinated.

WATT: Worldwide, officials now watching the new variant, not a threat, not yet, but could partially evade the current vaccines.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The virus will continue to mutate until we have a level of immunity in our communities around this country and around the world.


WATT: Now, Israel's health chief has been asked to brief FDA advisers next week and will present more data on the boosters.

A lot of talk about boosters today, but let's not forget, Alisyn, that more than a quarter of eligible Americans still haven't gotten their first job -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Nick Watt, thank you for that reminder.

Joining us now is Dr. Carlos del Rio. He's the executive associate dean of Emory University's School of Medicine at Grady Health System.

Dr. del Rio, thanks so much for being here.

I think there's this strange narrative taking hold, which is that somehow by needing boosters it's a failure of the vaccine or something like that. But, I mean, as you point out -- and maybe we need to be reminded of this -- very few vaccines are a one and done shot. Most are multiple shots.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH, EMORY UNIVERSITY: That's exactly right, Alisyn. And I think we need to remember that the vaccines up to now have been

incredibly effective. And the reality, as you heard throughout the reporting right before I came up, is everybody in the hospital is unvaccinated. Everybody who's dying, who's critically ill is unvaccinated.

We need to remind ourselves that the problem right now is not boosters. It's actually that almost 50 percent of Americans are not fully vaccinated. And until we get people vaccinated, we are really not getting to where we need to be in order to protect ourselves from this virus.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But, to be clear, Dr. del Rio, just so that we're completely factual, there are some breakthrough cases. There are some people -- obviously, it's a fraction -- who have you been vaccinated and are in the hospital and are even dying.

But I think your larger point is the unvaccinated are threatening everyone else's lives.

DEL RIO: Correct.

There are some -- there are vaccine failures, there are vaccine breakthroughs. But the reality is, those are the minority of the cases. The great majority of cases are unvaccinated individuals. And I worry that, as we focus so much on boosters, we're almost sending the narrative that vaccines don't work. And I want to emphasize that vaccines are actually doing a really good job protecting us.

And if we had more people vaccinated, we would be today in a very different place than where we are right now.

CAMEROTA: Yes, such a good point. And, by the way, again, your point, lots of vaccines need multiple shots, polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella. These are not one-and-done shots.

Do you think that we would get to -- or does the research suggests that this would be an annual shot, much like the flu vaccine?

DEL RIO: You know, I don't think so because the virus is very different than the flu.

But I do think that this is probably going to be a vaccine that requires three shots. In other words, most vaccines like this one required a does a date time zero, a dose at one month and a dose at six months.

So I do think this is going to be a vaccine that requires three shots for full protection. I don't think it's going to be a vaccine that requires annual shots.

CAMEROTA: I got the Moderna vaccine. Can I get a Pfizer booster?

DEL RIO: Well, first of all, let me just say that there's some recent data suggesting that people that got the Moderna vaccine actually have much higher level of antibodies of those that got the Pfizer vaccine. So, I got Pfizer, and I'm just perfectly happy having had Pfizer.

Having said that, I think the reality is, no matter what you get boosted with is going to work. So, yes, if you got Moderna, you can probably get Pfizer. I got Pfizer. I can probably get Moderna. It really doesn't matter.

CAMEROTA: OK. But in terms of the timing, of course, I'm comforted to hear that Moderna provides more antibodies.

But is it still eight months? Are we still using that timeline? When should Americans who are listening start to think that their immunity is wearing off?

DEL RIO: Well, I would start by saying that I would tell people not to worry.

The great majority of people, your immunity waning off is probably not going to mean anything, because the reality is, you have other levels of immunity. You have T-cell immunity. You have other levels of protection.

So, in the great majority of people, except for maybe older individuals, immunosuppressed persons, those living in nursing homes, the great majority of Americans can wait a very long period of time before they get the next vaccine. And, in fact, probably the longer you wait, the better it is.

So I would say, certainly, don't get a booster before six months. Probably, eight months may be better, maybe even longer than that.

CAMEROTA: And for the people who are immunocompromised or older people, do you think that September 20, that they will be able to see a Pfizer booster shot?