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U.S. Set to Mark Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks; Retired FDNY Chief Opens Up About Watching Towers Fall On 9/11; Nurse Details Horror Inside Warehouse Holding Evacuated Nursing Home Residents; Senate Democrats Push to Include Path to Legalization for Millions of Immigrants in Economic Agenda Bill. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 15:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: It'll be 20 years tomorrow since the attacks on September 11th. Thousands of American lives lost. And along with honoring all the people in the planes and in the buildings who were killed, we remember the thousands of first responders who bravely risked and sacrificed their lives that day.

This is video of Joseph Pfeifer. He was on the scene on at the World Trade Center on September 11th. This is footage of him putting on his gear and entering the tower. It's from the documentary "9/11". And Pfeifer was the first New York City Fire Chief on the scene and one of the first responders he ordered into the towers to rescue people was his younger brother Kevin. He too was a firefighter and he died that day.

And Joseph recently wrote a book about his experience titled "Ordinary Heroes: A Memoir of 9/11." And chief Pfeifer joins me now. First, thank you for your service over the years, thank you for being here with me.

I imagine that when you are that close to it and you are so intimately involved that the memories and feelings are never far. Does it feel like it's been 20 years?

CHIEF JOSEPH PFEIFER, FIRST FDNY CHIEF ON THE SCENE OF 9/11: Victor, thank you for having me. And yes, sometimes it feels like it's 20 years ago but other times when I go back to the site, the reflective pools, it feels just like yesterday. It's certainly working a book and writing it. Everything was like yesterday.

BLACKWELL: You wound up at the center of one of the worst days in history. What will you be thinking about tomorrow?

PFEIFER: Tomorrow I'll be thinking about my firefighters. And while many of those have pictures of the towers collapsing, what I remember is our firefighters coming into the World Trade Center and coming up to me and asking, Chief, what do you need me to do? And then they went upstairs. And I asked them to evacuate the building and then to rescue those that couldn't get out.

BLACKWELL: Let me read a bit from your book here.

You write here: I gazed into the distance physically and mentally exhausted. I needed to think, how could skyscrapers just vanish into piles of twisted debris. Where's Kevin and other firefighters I ordered to evacuate. What do I do as a battalion chief, do now in this unthinkable disaster?

Aside from the memories, how have you coped over these last 20 years?

PFEIFER: I think any time we experience violence not only is it the physical violence, it's losing control and I was lucky because I was in a chief's position. Almost immediately after the collapse, helped build a command structure and then for years later rebuilding the fire department and having the city and the different agencies work together so it wasn't just looking back for me. It was also envisioning a better future.

BLACKWELL: Hundreds of firefighters, first responders lost their lives that day and have lost their lives in the years since from illnesses related to the work, they did there at ground zero. What should we be doing for those families? How should we honor them?

PFEIFER: We should honor them the way we honor our fallen firefighters and first responders that day. They are also our heroes who are suffering post-9/11. So, we lost 343 firefighters on 9/11 but since that day, we've lost more than 250 of our members from post-9/11 cancers.

And one of those people was my aide. Who has the same last name as me -- Ray Pfeifer. What he had to fight by sitting in the halls of Congress to talk to our Congress members and Senators on getting the Zadroga bill passed and renewed.


So, I think we just can't forget those that are still suffering from that day.

BLACKWELL: And certainly -- certainly Chief, we won't. Chief Joseph Pfeifer. The book is "Ordinary Heroes: A Memoir of 9/11." Thank you for your time. Thank you for your service.

PFEIFER: And thank you.

BLACKWELL: And CNN will have special coverage of the 20th anniversary of The September 11th attacks. It begins tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.

Horrific and inhumane conditions, that's how a class action lawsuit filed by the families of nursing home residents describes the state that they were living in during hurricane Ida.



BLACKWELL: Families of nursing home patients who were evacuated to a warehouse during hurricane Ida are filing a class action lawsuit. Now in it, they claim their loved ones endured horrific and inhumane conditions.

And we have new video from inside that warehouse where hundreds of seniors were held. Seven of them at least died. And today one of the nurses who was there described to CNN what she saw.


NATALIE HENDERSON, NURSE AT WAREHOUSE FOR EVACUATED NURSING HOME PATIENTS: We had to literally cram everybody in that big warehouse and we had to move patients closer and closer together. They had no privacy. They all were being changed in front of each other. The kitchen was right next to the port-a-potties. And it was full of feces, urine, you know, it was just terrible. And they piled all of the dirty linen and diapers in the same corner and the whole place just wreaked of feces and urine. It just was horrible.


BLACKWELL: All right, joining me now is Louisiana State Representative Nicholas Muscarello Jr. Sir, thanks for being with me. So, listen this lawsuit alleges that the owner of this company that managed these seven nursing homes mislead these families saying that there was plan. There was a facility that could accommodate everyone that had all of the necessary elements for medical care, for hygiene and that was not true. You were there. What did you see?

NICHOLAS MUSCARELLO JR. (R) LOUISIANA STATE HOUSE: So, I got called there right after the storm and what I walked into was pretty horrific conditions. They end up housing over 843 patients in that facility. I think the plan called for about 350.

And she was correct, your previous interviewer. The beds were just piled upon each other and what kind of struck me, is when we went to the facility, it was me, the mayor of the town, a councilman and the chief of police. We just walked right in with no credential check, no anything. And so that concerned me for the safety of the citizens that were living there. So, it was really horrific and she is correct. There were piles of dirty linens and trash next to where they were cooking. It was really a very shocking situation.

BLACKWELL: So, after you saw that, what did you do?

MUSCARELLO: So immediately, I mean it didn't take me long to realize we had a bad situation on our hands. I immediately left that facility and called the Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder, the so called the Speaker Pro Temp Tanner Magee. I advised them that we had a problem in Tangipahoa Parish and that we needed to get it corrected.

And what was also shocking is that to our knowledge we didn't even know this facility existed. We had no idea that this was going to be an evacuation site for over (INAUDIBLE). At the end of the day there were probably 1,000 people in this warehouse because you figure workers and support staff.

BLACKWELL: You know, I know that days after the storm hit and this information about this facility was exposed that there were still many families who did not know where their grandmothers, grandfathers were. Do we know if everyone has been accounted for yet?

MUSCARELLO: To my knowledge they have been and it's kind of to segue into that position. I received a call that night from one of the fellow state reps who said, look, I have a constituent that we think is housed in the facility. Their family doesn't even know if they are living or alive or if they're one of the deceased.

So, I actually called our coroner to see if I could figure out what the names were of the people that were deceased. Ultimately, they had misspelled this gentleman's name and he was located in another facility.

But that just kind of shows you the kind of disarray, disorder that was going on after the situation. Now I will commend the State of Louisiana for doing a magnificent job, literally, the next day there was probably 150 charter buses and over 100 ambulances that were called to take these people away from that scene.

BLACKWELL: I hear that. Mr. Representative, but the next day doesn't save these seniors from the torment and pain they went through in that facility. The sad irony is, is that this storm hit 16 years to the day from Katrina when we know there were 16 seniors who drowned in that storm and there were supposed to be these legislative changes to prevent something like this from happening.

So, while there are applause for the day after, let me look forward here. What needs to happen so in next few years when the next storm happens, this doesn't happen to another group of seniors?

MUSCARELLO: Well, I can tell you as a State Representative, the nursing homes are compensated very well and so unfortunately for them they are putting their profits over the people. That's been my position since day one since I've been in the legislature.


I plan on bringing legislation to correct some of the faults that we have seen in this process. But ultimately, I'm just very disappointed in the way the nursing homes have responded to treating these people. And so, we plan on taking swift action. I can't speak for the executive branch but from the legislative branch, I've spoken to my colleagues and we plan on taking some swift action.

BLACKWELL: All right. We'll of course keep watch. Louisiana State Representative, Nicholas Muscarello Jr., thank you.

MUSCARELLO: Thank you, Victor. BLACKWELL: All right, President Biden is fighting back against a Texas court that found the DACA, the program that protects thousands of immigrants who came here as children, unlawful. We're going to give you the details, next.



BLACKWELL: All right, so this story's just developing. The Biden administration has just appealed a Texas court ruling that found the Obama-era DACA program unlawful. The ruling has brought significant uncertainty to thousands of recipients of the program. We're talking about the people who were brought into the United States as children by undocumented immigrants. And the president has long advocated for these so-called Dreamers and he said that he is not letting this go.

And it's just not the White House pushing for more immigrants' rights, today on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats just made their case to include a path to legalization for millions of immigrants as part of their budget reconciliation.

CNN Congressional correspondent Lauren Fox has details. So, tell us more about this.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Victor, this is all part of that push to get that $3.5 trillion economic bill through the U.S. Senate. As part of that proposal, Democrats have been working behind the scenes for many months to try to craft some kind of legislation that would provide some green card legalization to immigrants who are in this country.

Now, it's a much more narrow subset of immigrants who would be able to apply for this. And it includes people like DACA recipients, farm workers as well as other kinds of essential workers in the U.S. that Democrats are arguing helped get this country through the pandemic.

Now, the reason that they had to meet with the Senate parliamentarian is there are very strict rules that govern what you can include in a budget resolution reconciliation bill. And I think that that is why Democrats met with the Senate parliamentarian because they are trying to make the case that this fits within the constraints of what they are allowed to do with just 51 votes.

And that's the key thing here. Democrats know that they don't have the votes with Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform like they did in 2013. So, this is their last hope to try to do something while Biden is president in the next two years.

So, they met with the parliamentarian today. We are told that this discussion will likely continue, and we don't know when the Senate parliamentarian will issue her final ruling. But it could have broad significance for whether or not Democrats are able to go ahead and proceed with some kind of immigration reform as part that bigger economic bill they are trying to pass through the U.S. Senate -- Victor. BLACKWELL: Yes, and we'll have to see if they have the 50 votes to do it before they get it passed to the president's desk. Lauren Fox for us there on Capitol Hill, thank you.

President Biden is pushing back at critics of his new COVID mandates and taking a harder line with the unvaccinated as they continue to fuel this outbreak.



BLACKWELL: Today's CNN Hero left her Beverly Hill's practice to start her mission to eradicate cervical cancer globally. Meet Dr. Patricia Gordon.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Free cervical cancer screening. Screen and treat for free of charge.

DR. PATRICIA GORDON, ON MISSION TO ERADICATE CERVICAL CANCER GLOBALLY: There are 350,000 women dying a painful, undignified death globally. And it's almost 100 percent preventable.

GORDON: So, this is everything you need to screen and treat a patient.

GORDON: We bring in these big suitcases. We teach local healthcare professionals the see and treat technique. At the end of the week of training we pack up that suitcase and give it to the nurses that are going back to their clinics.

Within a day we can literally save 20, 30 lives depending on the number of women we screen. But there are 8,000 women who are alive and well and able to provide for their families is honestly the most rewarding thing that I could have ever imagined in my life. I think I'm the luckiest doctor that ever lived.


BLACKWELL: Go to right now to learn Dr. Gordon's full story and to see her in action.

Well, tomorrow's U.S. Open Women's Final will be a battle of the teens when Britain's Emma Raducanu takes on Canada's Leylah Fernandez. Emma is 18-years-old. She's from the U.K. She's playing for her first major title and her first title of any kind on the Women's Tennis Association Tour. 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez beat out the world- ranked number two player and defending champion Naomi Osaka on her way to the finals. This is the first time that two teams are playing for the championships since 1999 when Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis.

And be sure to join me tomorrow evening as we revisit the Florida classroom where President Bush was getting word of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. I speak exclusively with the students now in their late 20s.

"THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.