Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Newsom Governorship On The Line In Crucial Tuesday Vote; Emma Raducanu Defeats Leylah Fernandez In All-Teen U.S. Open Final; FBI Releases First Declassified Document After Biden Order; NYC Schools Returning To In-Person For First Time In 18 Months; Manchin: I Will Not Vote For $3.5 Trillion Bill. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired September 12, 2021 - 14:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with a newly-declassified document providing details about the FBI's investigation into the 9/11 terror attacks and the suspected support by the Saudi government for some of the terrorists who hijacked the planes.

The release came on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and just a week after President Biden issued an executive order to declassify the reports following pressure from family members of 9/11 victims.

For more, let's go to CNN's senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt and CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson.

Alex, you first. These documents are heavily redacted. But they do tell us something. What?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They do, Fredricka. We should note this was released late Saturday night after the events commemorating the anniversary of 9/11.

And as you mentioned, this is the first part of what we expect to be a series of documents to be declassified following the President Joe Biden's order.

This was a 16-page heavily redacted, as you said report from the FBI. And what it is, is a summary of an interview that the FBI did with a Saudi citizen back in 2015. This report coming out in 2016, and classified until now.

But what it does is it summarizes this interview with a Saudi who had worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. He is not named in this report. He was applying for U.S. citizenship, and he had contact, the FBI says, with people who they themselves had contact with two of the 9/11 hijackers.

You can see there on your screen the name, Omar al-Bayoumi. He was ostensibly a student in Los Angeles, who this unnamed Saudi had contact with but he was believed to have been a Saudi intelligence official who did have contact with two of these 9/11 hijackers. Two of the 19 hijackers. And according to the FBI, al-Bayoumi provided travel assistance, lodging and financing to these two hijackers.

Now, we have heard from the families of the victims of 9/11, Fredricka. They said in part in a statement that this puts to bed any doubts about Saudi complicity in the attacks. But we should say that this does not provide any more evidence of, say, senior level government support, royal family support for the activities of the hijackers.

What this does is provides a line from a consular official to people who had been in contact with two of the hijackers, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then, Nic, what kind of response is coming from the Saudi government?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. The Saudi foreign minister was actually holding a press conference in Saudi today and was asked precisely this question. What's your reaction to these -- this new FBI release.

And he said look, this is something that Saudi Arabia has been asking for, for over a decade. It's something that we want to come out. He said we want (AUDIO GAP) because we believe that there is no connection. He says there is no connection between the Saudi government and the hijackers. So they've been wanting this to come out.

From his point -- from the Saudi point of view, he said you know, we agree that we need to work together on counterterrorism issues going forward. That Saudi Arabia needs to partner with western intelligence agencies to help everyone, to help the Saudis, to help western intelligence agencies including the United States.

So they, from the Saudi side, even before the report was released, the embassy in Washington had said we want it to come out. We're happy for it to come out.

The foreign minister now after being able to know what's in it has said yes, we want this out. They seem to be happy that more details are getting out, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so I wonder, Nic, while the Saudis are welcoming the release of these documents, are they welcoming that more information should come out, too, that even perhaps the portions that have been redacted, perhaps that would be lifted.

ROBERTSON: You know, I think what the Saudis fundamentally believe, and you get an idea from the foreign minister saying we need to work on counterterrorism going forward together.

You know (AUDIO GAP), I'm in Kabul at the moment, Afghanistan and it was when the CIA was working with the Saudi intelligence services, working with Pakistani intelligence services to beef up the Mujahedeen, the Islamic warriors, if you will, here in Afghanistan, back in the 80s to fight the Soviets.

But groups like al-Qaeda got their roots. Got their basis from the whole idea of holy warriors and jihad grew out of that.

Now, for the Saudis, that was something that they could push and they had a religious background to push it.


ROBERTSON: We know still to this day there are religious zealots in Saudi Arabia who still adhere to al Qaeda's beliefs. You know, one of them attacked soldiers in Pensacola, Florida just in the past couple of years.

So that -- that is -- that threat is still active in Saudi Arabia, but it's actually a threat to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda hates the monarchy of Saudi Arabia. So it's in the monarchy's interest in Saudi Arabia to fight al Qaeda, to fight these terrorists.

So you know, when we hear from the foreign minister and from the ambassador in Washington saying we support this full -- we support the full release of the report, we want to work together on counterterrorism, they have skin in the game. It's in their interest to keep al Qaeda and that threat down for them especially.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nic Robertson, Alex Marquardt, we're leaving it right there for now. Thank you so much.

Let's talk about how close this comes to some of the family members of the victims of 9/11. Joining us right now, Terry Strada. She is the national chair of 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice against Terrorism.

Her husband, Tom, was killed in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Terry, so glad you could be with us. And again, our hearts go out to you, and all of the loved ones of 9/11 victims. This has to be a very difficult weekend.

At the same time, does this offer some answers for you? Seeing this report if you have had a chance already to take a look?

TERRY STRADA, CO-CHAIR, 9/11 FAMILIES AND SURVIVORS UNITED: Yes, I have had an opportunity to look at it, and I'd like to correct what was just said earlier in the reporting, that the Saudi Arabia welcomes all of this.

No. Saudi Arabia has been fighting us tooth and nail to keep all of this evidence buried. It's what they put out in the press, but it's not true at all. They don't even release their own files. They don't produce documents in our court case. They do not cooperate.

But what this report that came out what I'm seeing so far is that there were at least eight Saudi nationals that were involved in helping these hijackers, when they arrived into the United States.

And there's now this documentation of this a flurry of phone calls that was happening between them and while the hijackers were coming into the United States and while they were getting settled in.

This group held extreme views. Extreme radical views. They were part of related with the al Qaeda, you know, terrorist operatives. They are extremists, and they are in the Saudi government. And they are on their payroll.

And the kingdom was sending these extremists out into the world and unleashing them on all of us, including the United States of America.

So the kingdom is not innocent here. They do not welcome this information. That is a lie.

WHITFIELD: So you -- but do you feel that this report helps support the idea that the Saudi government was complicit? Because the Saudi government is responding and saying while yes, there may be Saudi roots that are established in this report, nothing substantiates that the government was behind these hijackers.

STRADA: But these eight individuals at least eight in this report, are on the kingdom's payroll. They are, you know, working on behalf -- they're agents working on behalf of the kingdom.

So I don't know how they can say that they weren't connected when they actually are not only on their payroll but they are working within the government for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And that they are the ones that sent them out into the world and unleashed them on all of us.

These -- at least eight in this report. You know? And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is just a bird's eye view into the entire report. There's 14,000 pages at least of operation encore. This isn't the only reports that will be coming out in the next six months from the executive order from the president.

You know, he has ordered that all of these files be reviewed. Things that have state secrets stamped on them. The overly classified documents and documents that they have refused to produce.

So there's going to be a lot more information, but yes, there are direct ties to the kingdom through these individuals.

WHITFIELD: So you look forward to more. What does it say to you that the Biden administration gave the green light to releasing this information, albeit after pressure from many of you, family members of victims of 9/11, saying don't attend these services on 9/11 unless you are able to and would release this information? That the Biden administration did that. What does this signal to you?

STRADA: Well, there's more of the story than, you know, a group of 9/11 families saying you're not welcome at the memorial. Actually, it was Senator Menendez that introduced the September 11th Transparency Act on August 5th.


STRADA: And that language of that legislation is what turned into the executive order. So on that day, when we stood in front of the Capitol and made that announcement, I stood there with Senators Menendez and Blumenthal and Senator Schumer came out and we had Grassley and Senator Cornyn on board.

That we had this strong bipartisan support that we were going to pass legislation, mandating this declassification review process.

The White House said whoa, it's coming down the pipeline. We can do something about that and get ahead of it and help the families out before 9/11 by taking this legislation, turning it into the executive order, mandating the declassification review.

He's given it six months. They met the first deadline. We've learned a lot. There's a lot more to learn.

WHITFIELD: All right. You've been very dogged in this. At the same time, you have had to help your children endure the last 20 years and beyond. Your kids were so young when 9/11 happened. One of them, correct me if I'm wrong, was only four days old, and now they are young adults.

So what has this weekend, what has this past 20 years been like for you and your kids?

STRADA: This weekend really signifies the tremendous loss, because now we look back at two decades. And like you said, they were small, young children -- 7, 4, four days old. Now they're young adults.

I mean he's missed out on everything. He's missed out on my daughter's wedding. He's missed out on my son graduating from Fort Benning. He's now in the U.S. Army. My oldest son is working and he went to college and had his graduations and his proms and all of that.

It's been a very long, sad, you know, difficult 20 years without Tom loving us, showing his support, and raising my children with a father. But we've had to endure it. And we want to keep fighting for the truth, because that's what we feel is the most important thing we can do to honor him is to expose the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the role that they played in not only financing al Qaeda and the terrorist organization, but the logistic support, that support network that was put in place in the United States that we are now seeing in this 2016 summary come to fruition.

WHITFIELD: Terry Strata, I thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your story. And clearly, Tom in heaven is very grateful of your continued fight on his behalf and that of so many others. Appreciate you.

STRADA: Thank you so much. WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, new fallout over coronavirus vaccine

requirements. Why a hospital in upstate New York is temporarily shutting down its maternity ward.

Plus Senator Joe Manchin said he won't support President Biden's $3.5 trillion economic bill. We'll have a reaction from the bill's author Senator Bernie Sanders.



WHITFIELD: Right now the U.S. is averaging 1,655 coronavirus deaths every single day. The seven-day rolling average for daily COVID deaths has nearly tripled over the past month and has not been this high since March 7th.

President Biden recently laid out a series of steps to combat COVID including updated vaccine mandates and a renewed focus on keeping schools open.

This as students in New York City, the nation's largest school district, return to the classroom tomorrow for the first time in 18 months.

Joining me right now to discuss is Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an epidemiologist and former Detroit health commissioner. He is also a CNN political commentator. Dr. El-Sayed, So good to see you.

So schools across the nation have struggled to return safely to classrooms. So how should New York City parents feel about their kids being in the classroom?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: That's right, Fred. Well, I know that there's a lot of anxiety among parents. My kid started school a couple weeks back.

The key thing is if your kids are 12 and older and eligible for a vaccine, make sure that they're vaccinated. It's the single most important thing that they can do -- and you can do protect them.

The second though is to make sure that they're wearing masks. And especially for our younger kids who can't be vaccinated and may find it a little bit more uncomfortable to wear a mask. It's really important to actually model that behavior. Show them how to wear it.

What good mask wearing is that even if the other kids have it under their nose, that you have to have it over your nose.

Those things are really, really important. Masks work. We know they do. And we know that they're critical to going back to school safely.

The other part of this though is that we've also seen the learning lost for kids having had to stay home over the past year plus. And so it's really critical that kids go to school. And all of us are -- all of us are kind of in this together. We want obviously to keep our kids safe, but that's also part and parcel to keeping them learning.

And so these things, masking and vaccinating, are really absolutely critical to parents in New York City and across our country.

WHITFIELD: Sure. And I'm wondering, your point of view on this, you know, in the next hour I'm going to actually speak to Jackie Goldberg, a member of the Los Angeles school board which just voted unanimously to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students who are 12 and over by the end of the calendar year.

Would you like to see something like this in place everywhere?

DR. EL-SAYED: Well, I'll tell you this. We already mandate vaccines to go to schools all over the country. Right? This is a new vaccine, but it's been FDA approved, and we've got reams and reams of evidence, hundreds of millions of people who have had this vaccine. We know it's safe. We know it's effective.

And so this is in keeping with our policies around keeping our kids safe in school from infectious diseases that are vaccine preventable. And I do think that this is smart policy.

Now, I know that a lot of parents are going to bristle at this and say well, this is my decision to make.

But here's the thing. We know that the choices we make affect other people. Think about it like having a couple drinks. If you have a couple drinks, that may just affect you, but if you decide to get behind the wheel of a car, that can affect a lot of other people because you're sharing the road and making that road less safe.

We know every unvaccinated body is a person who potentially could spread this virus, have a higher likelihood of doing so. And so it is critical to protect ourselves, protect others from us to get vaccinated.


DR. AL-SAYED: And so public policy here has to take that into account just like it does when it comes to keeping our roads safe.

WHITFIELD: So I imagine you feel the same as President Biden who just recently said look, all federal employees, contract workers, you've got to get vaccinated as well as health care workers in settings with Medicaid or Medicare reimbursements and then American businesses with 100 or more workers must also ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week.

But then listen to what Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said about that this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): The problem is that I'm trying to overcome resistance, but the president's actions in a mandate hardens the resistance.

And we talked about the fact that we've historically had vaccination requirements in schools, but those have always come at the state level, never at the national level.


WHITFIELD: So hardens the resistance? Is that the consequence here?

DR. EL-SAYED: Well, there are two points here. Number one, unfortunately, Governor Hutchinson the governor in one of the states that had the worst course over the delta surge in terms of cases, hospitalizations and unfortunately deaths. And so what he's doing is not quite working.

The second point here is if you look at polling. Most of the polling suggests that if people, even those who are resistant to the vaccine had a requirement put on them by their employer, they would choose to do so. And so in some respects this is just in keeping with what public opinion is telling us and most importantly, in keeping with what it takes to finally bring this pandemic to heel.

I mean, how many more months do we have to suffer with this while we watch as people choose not to do the basic thing that can protect us all.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And then how about this? I mean this is truly shocking, I think. I mean a hospital in upstate New York is set to stop delivering babies after September 24th due to maternity ward workers choosing to resign rather than to get vaccinated by the September 27th deadline imposed by the state.

And so now officials say they're working to ensure that, you know, this is a pause, not a permanent closure. But then can you share with us? I mean, what medical colleagues have expressed to you, why they would not in a hospital setting, doctor's office, nursing home perhaps even, why they don't want to get vaccinated?

DR. EL-SAYED: Well, the overwhelming number of health care workers have chosen to get this vaccine. That's in keeping with the science which is what we practice every single day in hospitals and clinics around this country.

But it's also in keeping with the responsibility to keep ourselves and to keep our patients and our loved ones safe. This is a frank dereliction of duty and it tells you the kind of person who's choosing to put themselves over the well being of those that they swore an oath to serve.

You know, when I went to med school, just like every other doctor, just like every heath care professional, we swear an oath that says first do no harm. Walking out on the job, leaving pregnant mothers without the health care that they need. By putting yourself first and foremost and frankly, walking away from the science that you use to practice every day, that to me is a dereliction of duty. It is so sad to see.

And we need a moment right now to actually step back and ask what is in the best interest of our country? And unfortunately, walking out on the job, walking out on pregnant women who are carrying and almost going to deliver, that's not it.

And at the same point, walking away from the science, the same science you used to practice every single day, the science that tells us that vaccines are safe and effective against COVID-19, which has taken 650,000 lives that (INAUDIBLE).

So what we need to do is get back to the science and get back to a policy that reminds us what our goals are here to do which is to serve others and keep each other safe and healthy and hopefully get this pandemic behind us and get back to the business of living our lives.

WHITFIELD: Yes. At a minimum, it is perplexing. All right. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, always good to see you. Thank you so much. Be well.

DR. EL-SAYED: Fred, thank you. Be well.

WHITFIELD: All right. Congressman Joe Morelle is now the latest lawmaker to test positive for coronavirus. The New York Democrat is fully vaccinated and is only experiencing mild symptoms.

The congressman urging unvaccinated Americans to go get shots, tweeting this. "Had I not been vaccinated, my experience could have been much different."

The CDC released data last week showing that breakthrough cases remain very rare. Out of more than 176 million Americans that are fully vaccinated at the time, just over 14,000 have experienced breakthrough cases resulting in hospitalization or death.

All right. Straight ahead, California Governor Gavin Newsom is just two days away from learning his political fate. One of the Republicans looking to replace him in Tuesday's recall vote joining me live.



WHITFIELD: A key Democratic senator says he will not support the price tag for his party's massive economic bill aimed at expanding the nation's social net.

Today on CNN, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin once again called for a pause on the Democrats' massive $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. He also wants the price tag dramatically reduced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): He will not have my vote on $3.5 trillion and Chuck knows that and we've talked about this. We've already put out $5.4 trillion. And we tried to help Americans in every way we possibly can. And a lot of the help that we put out there is still there and is going to run clear into the next year, 2022.

What's the urgency? What's the urgency that we have? It's not the same urgency we have with the American Rescue Plan.



WHITFIELD: Senator Bernie Sanders, the author of the bill, disagrees.


SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): No, it is absolutely not acceptable to me. I don't think it's acceptable to the president, to the American people or to the overwhelming majority of the people in the Democratic caucus.

Look, we work with Senator Manchin to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. I believe we can all sit down and work together and come up work with a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.


WHITFIELD: The stalemate cast serious doubts on the timeline for the bill. House Speaker Pelosi hoped to have the bill written this week and passed before the end of the month.

And now, we're just two days out from a major recall vote in California when voters will be faced with two questions. Should they recall Governor Gavin Newsom? And if so, who should replace him?

A recent public policy institute poll reveals 58 percent of likely voters say they will vote no on the recall, 39 percent plan to vote yes. President Biden is heading to Colorado tomorrow to help Newsom keep his job. Vice President Harris helped stump earlier in the week. All underscoring the national implications of this race.

Our next guest is banking on an upset. Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego is a moderate Republican who wants to win the chance to govern California, and he's joining us right now.

Good to see you, Mayor.

So, Kevin, Mayor, I should say, Newsom is getting a lot of attention from heavy hitters. How are you feeling about your chances come Tuesday?


Feeling really good. And I think particularly as we hit the home stretch out here in California, a lot of undecideds, and a lot of folks that want a change in the stop because they're not satisfied with the direction of our state, the fact that our state is so expensive.

People are voting with their feet in California. They're leaving. Families can't afford to stay here. The fact that we've seen so many issues at our quality of life, exploding homelessness, unfortunately crime rising to its highest level in over 13 years.

And so there is an eagerness out here among -- by the way, people from all walks of life, all parts of the state, Democrat, Republican, and independent who want a change at the top.

And look, I've been known as somebody who is very pragmatic, as mayor of San Diego who won in a deep blue city, in a deep blue state. I know that it takes all of us coming together, Republicans and Democrats, and that's really my closing message here in the final days of this campaign.

WHITFIELD: And you mentioned some of those things common interest and concerns. California is the nation's largest state, and your state is the world's fifth largest economy ahead of the U.K. and India, according to "The L.A. Times". So, of course, a lot is riding on this race.

What is it about its economy, homelessness, COVID-19 wildfires, other environmental matters that you believe is being mismanaged, or that you perhaps can improve on?

FAULCONER: Well, there's so many. I've been straightforward on the solutions that we need. And that's really how we've approached this campaign from the beginning. And in terms of my strong position, we need to build more water storage in California as we're in another year of drought. Taking dramatic action, putting our state on a war footing when it come to the changes we need to make for brush and forest management.

Another important one that really reflects what's happened in virtually every city of any size in California, the explosion of homelessness. We took very dramatic, firm, yet compassionate action in San Diego while I was mayor. I did not allow encampments on the sidewalk.

We're the only big city in California where we actually reduced homelessness by double digits because we care about people. We care about people enough not to let them die in a tent on our freeways and underpasses. When you add up the issues Californians, what they want is action. They don't want a bunch of rhetoric, and what I offer is a proven ability, as someone who cannot only win but somebody who can govern effectively with Republicans and Democrats.

WHITFIELD: And you mentioned that you've been campaigning on these issues. So now just paint a picture for us. How do you campaign during a pandemic? It's going to be very different from when you were running for mayor. I mean, you can't get out there and press the flesh the same. How do you compete against the incumbent and the headlines- grabbing attention of fellow Republican Larry Elder?

FAULCONER: Yeah. It has been a different type of race. There's no doubt about it in COVID.

I'll tell you what? We just finished a state-wide bus tour the last two weeks. It was fantastic to talk to Californians. Again, from all parts of our great state. And so many families. And obviously do it in interviews like this to get the word out that folks have a clear choice on that second question. And again, somebody who has been proud that understands that we need to bring solutions to California.


I've been really focusing a lot particularly in the last several weeks. We proposed the largest middle class tax cut in California history. That's what we were talking about earlier.

Our state is so incredibly expensive. We do not allow California families to keep more of their hard earned money in their own pocket, we're going to continue to see folks leave and continue to see folks struggle. So I've been direct messaged that says it is time to bring the state together. Get on the issues that Californians care about the most, and again, I think that's a message that understands that how do you win in California?

You win by addition. You win by wringing people together. That's been my approach since I was mayor. That's the exact same approach that I'll take as governor.

WHITFIELD: All right. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, hoping to be California governor pending the recall vote on Tuesday. Thank you so much for being with us.

FAULCONER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, almost everything about a sequoia tree is giant. Yet the iconic tree's footprint is shrinking. How climate change is threatening this ancient's tree's survival.

And tonight on CNN, join Jake Tapper as he ask the tough questions about America's longest war, what went wrong in Afghanistan. This new CNN special report begins tonight at 9:00 p.m.


ANNOUNCER: Two trillion dollars. Thousands of lives lost.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Was the war worth it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before I go to my grave, I will have that question answered.

ANNOUNCER: What went wrong in Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we had a good definition of winning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Corruption was one of the reasons of how things turned out.

TAPPER: Was Pakistan our enemy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but Pakistan was not our friend.

ANNOUNCER: The tough questions that still need answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If everybody gets an A, but the overall effort is still an F, who do we hold accountable?




WHITFIELD: All right. The summer of 2021 which produced numerous extreme weather and climate disasters was also the hottest on record in the U.S. According to NOAA, this summer tied the year of 1936 for the hottest ever in the U.S. And several western states reported their warmest summer on record, 16 other states recorded their top five warmest summers.

And as Stephanie Elam reports, the climate crisis is also impacting one of California's most unique natural landscapes.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From their size.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: General Sherman is 275 feet tall. Holy cow.

ELAM: To their longevity.

CLAY JORDAN, SUPERINTENDENT, SEQUIOA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS: Before ancient Rome, before Christ, I mean, these trees were mature.

ELAM: Much about giant sequoia trees is on a grand scale. With that distinctive red/brown bark covering their thick trunks, sequoia trees can only be found in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains.

SAM HODDER, PRESIDENT & CEO, SAVE THE REDWOODS LEAGUE: This is a resilient tree. They are tough. Almost nothing can kill them.

ELAM: But climate change is changing that, shrinking the giant sequoia's footprint.

HODDER: A giant sequoia that was first weakened by drought was then subject to impacts by the bark beetle, which then further weakened the tree and potentially made it more susceptible to mortality from fire.

ELAM: The stag tree is said to be the fifth largest tree in the entire world. It's lived more than 3,000 years. And yet we're seeing that wildfire is threatening these giant sequoias more than ever before.

JORDAN: The castle fire was a wake-up call, an estimated 7,500 to 10,600 trees were destroyed in that one fire alone.

ELAM: Started by lightning in August 2020, the Castle Fire was part of the sequoia complex that burned more than 174,000 acres, scorching several sequoia groves.

CHRISTY BRIGHAM, CHIEF OF RESOURCE MANAGEMENT & SCIENCE, SEQUIOA & KINGS CANON NATIONAL PARKS: It was devastating, heartbreaking. Everything had been incinerated. It was a field of the world's largest burned up toothpicks.

ELAM: After decades of suppressing forest fire, other trees and brush have grown rampantly around the sequoias.

HODDER: The fires that used to burn every five to ten years in the sierra would just keep down the competition and reduce the fuel naturally.

ELAM: On land owned by the Save the Redwoods League, we hiked out to see just how deadly Castle Fire was here.

TIM BORDEN, SEQUOIA RESTORATION & STEWARDSHIP MANAGER, SAVE THE REDWOODS LEAGUE: For you us to see 10 to 14 percent of the total of giant sequoias alive killed in one year in one fire is -- there's nothing to compare that to.

ELAM: Yet fire in and of itself is not the enemy of the giant sequoia.

HODDER: Their cones open up, their seeds start to germinate after a fire.

ELAM: So near those lost giants where the fire wasn't too intense, small shoots of hope take root.

BORDEN: What I see is a lot of these little baby giant sequoias that have sprouted up since the fire happened.

ELAM: Without an urgent response to the climate crisis and increased forest maintenance, experts worry more of the once seemingly impervious sequoias will be lost.


BRIGHAM: The biggest worry for me is we have two fires burning right now that are threatening groves that we have not been able to treat. The risk is still there.

ELAM: Stephanie Elam, CNN, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


WHITFIELD: And then there's the battle on the tennis court. The battle of the teens, in fact, in the U.S. Open Women's Final and the story of an 18-year-old qualifier who made tennis history, dropping exactly zero sets along the way.



WHITFIELD: All right. The men's U.S. Open Final will get underway this afternoon and the guys will have a tough act to follow after Saturday's historic final in the women's match. Eighteen-year-old Emma Raducanu came in ranked number 150 in the world and completed her fairy tale visit to New York by sweeping a 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez.

CNN sports correspondent Carolyn Manno joins us now.

So, Carolyn, this match has the tennis world very excited about the future of the game.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You can say that again, Fred. Hi.

You know, what an improbable remarkable journey for these two young women who played with such grace and poise even though like you mentioned they are so young. For Emma Raducanu, you really witness a star being born overnight when you hear last night, a relatively unknown player who played financial tennis.

And then after the match, just to see the transformation, fans waiting for hours to get a glimpse of her, camera bulbs going off all around her. And, of course, her life forever changed because of the fact that she's a sponsors' dream and will likely make tens of millions of dollars as a result of this win.

And for 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez, a different story. She won the hearts of everybody here at the U.S. open. The crowd was firmly for her on Saturday night. And she endeared herself even more so after defeat when she touched on the poignancy of 9/11 and spoke to the New York crowd.


LEYLAH FERNANDEZ, 2021 U.S. OPEN RUNNER-UP: I know this -- on this day, it was especially hard for New York, and everyone around the United States. I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.


MANNO: Such an insightful thought from a teenager who wasn't even born on September 11th, 2001. She said she really identifies with the strength and resiliency of New Yorkers and she felt them fueling her along this magical journey and she's going to continue to take that with her.

There's also history with the potential to be made on the men's side later this afternoon with Djokovic going for the calendar grand slam. That something that hasn't happened in more than 50 years. He's won every major so far this year and he's looking to punctuate it with the U.S. So, that will be even better for fans who are here who've seen truly remarkable tennis.

WHITFIELD: That is going to be fun to watch. He is unstoppable, and man, she -- little 18-year-old, oh, my gosh. I mean, talk about -- she talked about the inspiration of the strength and resilience of New Yorkers, she exhibited the same thing. Pretty amazing.

All right. Carolyn Manno, appreciate it.

All right. Still to come, the Gulf Coast once again in the path of severe weather. We'll tell you what Texas and Louisiana can expect from newly formed tropical storm Nicholas.



WHITFIELD: Tropical Storm Nicholas has formed over the Gulf of Mexico with Texas in its path. Tropical storm warning is posted from the mouth of the Rio Grande to Port Aransas. The National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will intensify to 65 miles per hour by Tuesday morning. Central Texas could get hit with 15 to 10 inches of rain.

A California startup wants to sail into the eye of the next hurricane.

CNN's Rachel Crane has the story in today's "Mission Ahead".


RACHEL CRANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The climate crisis is driving hurricanes to grow faster and stronger than ever before.

MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL, NEW ORLEANS: This storm in no way will be weakening. Time is not on our side.

CRANE: Hurricane Ida grew from a category 1 to a category 4 hurricane in less than a day. This effect known as rapid intensification leaves energy planners little time to react.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS, LOUISIANA: Your window of time is closing.

CRANE: To help make better forecasts, the company Saildrone believes the autonomous research vessels are up to the challenge of finding out what conditions cause storms to intensify so quickly.

RICHARD JENKINS, CEO, SAILDRONE: We're going to sail to the eye of a hurricane where in no one has ever managed to get before.

CRANE: Traditionally, scientists capture hurricane data by flying planes directly through them, dropping probes into the sky along the way. But in order to completely understand a storm, scientists say more data needs to be collected from the service of the ocean.

JENKINS: What drives a hurricane's strength is a transfer of heat and moisture from the ocean to the atmosphere. We don't quite understand the dynamics of how that works. CRANE: In order to find out, Saildrone deployed five ships into the

ocean and Caribbean, areas where lots of hurricanes develop and are likely to hit land. They're powered by the sun and wind, can stay out at sea for months at a time and are built to take a beating.

JENKINS: It's really designed to get hit by a wave, tumble, submerge and come up sailing.

CRANE: I see a camera up top.

JENKINS: This hurricane mission is key to understand the spray, the foam on the water. So, we're hoping we can see with the camera what the water looks like.