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Erin Burnett Outfront

Hurricane Ian Strikes South Carolina As Florida Death Toll Climbs To 42; Florida Faced With Widespread Destruction: Homes Torn Apart, Boats Pile Up On Land, Some Islands Accessible Only By Boat, Air; Floridian, Who Rode Out Hurricane On Devastated Sanibel Island, Says Some People Struggled To Keep Heads Above Water; Ukraine Says It Has Captured Key Village In Donetsk Region; Biden: Nord Stream Pipeline Leaks A "Deliberate Act Of Sabotage". Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 30, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Ian making landfall again. The deadly hurricane's punishing winds and devastating storm surge causing extensive damage along the U.S. coast. Piers are destroyed, homes flooded. The threat of flash flooding is very real at this hour.

Plus, the utter destruction in Florida. The death toll now in rising. It is now 42. This time last night, it was only 17 -- 42 and still a lot unknown. We're going to take you to one of the hardest-hit areas where almost an entire island was decimated.

And her rescue during the hurricane made headlines. A nurse desperately trying to get to work was caught in the rising floodwaters. Thankfully, a nearby reporter was there, saw her and saved her. And that nurse is my guest tonight.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight: Ian's fury still remains an extremely dangerous storm making its way through the Carolinas tonight. Let me show you this powerful video showing a pier in north Myrtle Beach torn into pieces as the hurricane came ashore. The storm surge ripping through neighborhoods like the ones I'm showing you here, leaving even more destruction of homes in its wake. Even these homes built up on sticks, so many of them deeply damaged.

And parts of Charleston's historic downtown also underwater. And tonight, there is still concern for life-threatening floods as the storm could dump up to 12 inches of rain as it moves north. Meanwhile, in Florida, the death toll rising, and sharply rising to 42, more than doubling the known death toll in 24 hours. And we still don't have a complete picture of the damage Ian inflict the because the reality of the situation is, is that some of those barrier islands and neighborhoods are still completely cut off.

What we have been able to see is devastating. Neighborhoods obliterated. We've been able to send drones up to get a view as much as we can. Let me show you drone footage that we have here at CNN that we took from Fort Myers beach. Boats piled up in backyards, RV parks just gone.

Our Bill Weir spent the day there. 90 percent of the town, he says, no longer exists. And that's what officials say as well.

And not far near Sanibel Island, on the left is what the area looked like before. And then look at the right. The scene tonight, it looks like it was burned through. Now, the before and after images are hard to even look at, but they do tell the story. They force us to see it.

So, let me show you another. This is a beach resort before and then after. Utter destruction, decimation, scenes that are repeated along Florida's west coast where street after feet are filled with rubble, piled-up boats, and even now power and cell phone lines are down. Rescues are still underway.

Now, the Coast Guard seen rescuing a man stranded in his boat. The Coast Guard alone says it saved the lives of more than 270 people since yesterday. Then these rescues began when the storm was sort of leaving. And they're still doing that.

We have a team of reporters standing by. I want to begin with Miguel Marquez. He is out front in Pauley's Island, South Carolina, to begin our coverage.

And, Miguel, what are you seeing on the ground there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this is just some of the damage. Keep in mind, it came on as a category 1 hurricane here just south of where we are. But this is some of the damage that it still caused. This was a massive pier that locals used here in Pauley's Islands used to fish off of and love. You see the pier itself, what's left of it. About half of that pier is now gone.

We drove up from Charleston and saw lots of emergency vehicles and roads blocked off. Lots of tree damage. Trees over lines, over electrical lines. The whole area is really battered, to a large degree, from this storm, even though it was only a category 1.

They are used to storms here in South Carolina, but because of the damage in Florida, people were really paying attention. There were no evacuation orders here, but we did not see a lot of people out in Charleston. We have no reports of anybody injured or killed up in this area. It is amazing. We met people who were on the beach and staying here on vacation. They survived all ten members of their family survived.

So, as bad as it is here, it is nothing like what happened in Florida. And people here are thankful, despite the damage here, tonight -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Miguel, thank you very much.

As Miguel says, despite the damage, just look at those images that's up while Miguel is there. I mean, the damage is incredible. This is massive damage. And this is where, as he points out, Florida had it much worse.


This is still devastating just in that pier alone that he was showing you, and also this utter destruction, these neighborhoods with the flooding and the surge.

I want to bring in Brandon Ellis now, director of emergency services for Georgetown County, South Carolina.

And you heard Miguel. He's in your country, on Pauley's Island. He was talking about that pier. We saw some of those images and total destruction. What more can you tell me about the damage so far?

BRANDON ELLIS, DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY SERVICES, GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SC: Yeah, good evening. Obviously we've experienced catastrophic storm surge. Ian brought in storm surge in excess of 4 feet. We've had similar storms before. So it's not unique to us.

But this one, it kept pounding our coast line for hours and hours on end. We've experienced major damage along Pauley's Island as well as garden city beach just north of there. We've got reports of very similar damage there as well. So, lots of folks whose homes have experienced flooding from storm surge. We've got infrastructure damage to roadways and accessibility issues at this hour.

BURNETT: As you say, there are so many things that contribute to a storm being truly terrible. It's not just the category rating. It's how long that it lasted that that storm surge was just relentless in pounding the coast line.

Miguel showed that pier on Pauley's Island. Brandon, I know there's a lot of debris in the area. Are you worried at this point about more structures collapsing? I guess, in part, because of what you just said, which was the long duration of the storm.

ELLIS: Yeah. The water started to recede. We've completed all of our rescues, so we'll start our damage assessment process. So that'll give us a really good idea of, you know, the extent of the damage, what the status of many of the structures that were impacted are. That process will initiate tomorrow at first light, specifically on Pauley's Island, the causeways have been closed this evening so no one will be allowed on the island until it is cleared tomorrow morning and ensured that it's safe.

BURNETT: I know you mentioned the rescues. The numbers out of Florida are horrible. Just give people a moment to reflect here. Twenty-four hours ago, we heard there were 17 dead. Now we hear there's 42, and there's still a lot of places they haven't been able to get to.

That number is likely to go up. And that is a terrible death toll and loss of life. I know you have not seen loss of life.

What -- have you been able to figure out where everyone is? Have you been able to complete any rescues needed? ELLIS: All of our rescues that have been requested or reported to us

have been completed at this hour. So no one's left in that regard. We were able to access everyone through our technical rescue team and our high-water vehicles. So, those assets were extremely beneficial to get in and get those folks who needed assistance.

So, right now, we have no pending rescues. We really have no reported major injuries or fatalities, thankfully.

BURNETT: Do you think people behaved differently because of the images and the destruction they saw in Florida from the storm?

ELLIS: Absolutely. I think folks took this a lot more seriously, even though it was only a category 1 storm. We tend to not focus on the category. And we preach that in our public preparedness events.

You know, category of storm doesn't matter. We focus on the impacts. And this storm is a prime example of that. Storm surge can be just as catastrophic if not more catastrophic than wind damage.

BURNETT: That's an important point and one that millions of people have now learned.

Brandon, thank you very much. I appreciate your time tonight.

ELLIS: Thank you.

BURNETT: And I want to go to Jennifer Gray in the CNN weather center.

And, Jennifer, to Brandon's point, in a sense, the category is less important than the water and the duration and all these things that make a storm so devastating and life-threatening. And I understand there is still a lot of potential out there from this storm, its mass, its slowness. What happens next?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right, and you're right. That's very true. We can't look at the category. You really need to focus on the impacts. And that's what we try to communicate leading up to this storm. With this storm, it was definitely the surge and the rain with this storm. And that was still true when it made its way to portions of the South Carolina coast line.

Of course, not as much as we saw in Southwest Florida, of course. But still saw surge and third highest storm surge we've ever seen across Myrtle Beach. And now, we're seeing rain pushing inland.

So we are going to have a rainy period over the next 24 hours or so, clearing up along the coast of course still going to be breezy. But that surge is already coming down, which is good news. And that will continue to be the case.

Most of the water has already pushed out. There is a tornado watch until 10:00 this evening where we could see tornados, brief spin-ups as this storm continues to push on shore.

But here's the radar looking forward. Across the mid-Atlantic, up into the Northeast, we're still going to get a lot of moisture and some rain from this storm. So we are going to see some torrential downpours over the next 24 hours or so, especially across the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.


Look at the I-95 corridor could pick up 2 to 4 inches of rain. And then of course portions of West Virginia where we have some higher terrain here. We could be looking at potential for some flash flooding here and there.

So, can't let your guard down just yet, even though Ian is now post- tropical, moving inland and starting to wrap up, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.

And next, one of the hardest-hit towns, Fort Myers. Utter destruction, the boats just tossed in piles, and the mangroves blocks in. Our Bill Weir spent the entire day there, and going to see the powerful images of what he experienced. That report is next.

And we're going to take you inside the effort to rescue those who are still trapped, right now still trapped in the floodwaters.

And Putin celebrating what the west says is an illegal land grab. Already, though he is suffering a humiliating defeat in what he defines as his own territory. We are in a Ukrainian region that Putin says is his.


BURNETT: And tonight, new CNN drone footage showing the complete destruction in Fort Myers. You see debris everywhere. Cars thrown around, and it comes as CNN obtains audio of one woman who was trapped for several hours before she was rescued. Listen to this.


HOPE LABRIOLA, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I am up to my neck in water.

LISBETH WHELAN, FRIEND: Okay, all right.

LABRIOLA: I am so cold.

WHELAN: Hopie, I'm losing you. I can't hear you.

LABRIOLA: I love you.

WHELAN: I love you.


BURNETT: I play that because that story had a happy ending. That woman is safe tonight, we can confirm. She does tell CNN she's still in shock, and now picking up the pieces she's lost absolutely everything she had. Although blessed to have her life. Bill Weir is OUTFRONT. He's live from Fort Myers.

Bill, you have seen some unimaginable things in the past 24 hours and the people who rode out this storm where you are tonight went through some indescribable trauma.

What did you see today when you finally were able to get to areas that nobody's been able to see since the storm hit?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we weren't actually able to get to Fort Myers beach. The sheriff's department's not letting folks in there unless you live in there. We've heard reports that 90 percent of that community has been wiped away.

So, we did stop where we could. As you were saying earlier in the show, everywhere you look along this stretch of the coast, there is something else that will put your jaw on the floor. Here's a little sample.


WEIR: These are shore birds and pelicans walking across wreckage in what used to be San Carlos harbor. It's seen better days, as you can see.

This is the destructive path of Ian. It came raking across here. A lot of the businesses here of course have to do with recreation here in paradise, kayak rentals, bait shops, completely split open by the wind.

But what's most striking about this particular spot is the boats that have been tossed into the mangroves across the street here. We have a bit of a bottleneck of human activity because this is the road to Fort Myers beach. And the sheriff's department's not letting anybody on.

If you haven't seen any pictures of Fort Myers Beach, this is why. There is a first and former law in Florida that's supposed to give us access when there's a state of emergency. But you got to feel for the sheriff's deputies just trying to manage the crowds here now that are piling in.

You've got journalists, first responders. You have residents who are just curious who are coming by. And that's creating this huge pile. But this is what I wanted to show you. This is across San Carlos Boulevard. And just get a load of this. Just wanton, indiscriminate destruction. I think about how a family saves up their whole life to buy a boat. Or if you're a fisherman, you dream of being a captain one day, and how perilous that is even in a good year sometimes.

But now what this will do to the maritime businesses around here, the insurance, the marine insurance companies that will have to deal with the aftermath of this. And this is what I really wanted to show you guys. Look at this. I will always remember the sight of Captain Greg's boat, the Cracker Jack, which is now parked on top of this Chevy Suburban. You can hear the alarm going off inside the boat to alert the captain that something's wrong. It's heartbreaking in this setting. And then you've got laundry baskets up in the mangroves there, another bait shop over here.

And then you find stuff like this. Look at this. Just a random -- this is Nicholas Rollins' (ph) MGM rewards card just sat down by the most violent storm to hit this part of the coast in history. And meanwhile over here, you have the beeping of earth movers as they try to shove these grounded sail boats out of the way.

As we learn in Irma and Maria, cleanup can be as much of a man-made disaster as the hurricane itself, if not properly managed. We can only hope that all available resources will manage to un-jumble this mess as soon as possible for these poor folks.


WEIR (on camera): There is a real estate evaluation company called CoreLogic. Today, they put out a study that losses from this storm could be between $28 billion and $47 billion. For perspective, Katrina was a $65 billion storm, Erin.

But those sort of numbers really seen callous when you think about the human lives, that count that keeps going up, and the fact that a lot of these boats were homes for people. A lot of people lived on their boats. We've heard stories of fellow yachters trying to convince people to take shelter as the storm was coming.


So it's a grim thought that we don't know if anybody perished and is in these vessels. And so, it's heartbreaking at every turn -- Erin.

BURNETT: So, can I just ask you a question about that, Bill? Because last night -- and I know last night you were in Sanibel, you were trying to get back with the horror of what you had seen. But at this time last night, we were told of a death toll of 17. And we were expecting it would go up.

But the context was sort of everything has been seen by someone. There wasn't this feeling that it was going to go up dramatically. And yet here we are tonight at 42. And it's very clear from what you're saying and what you're showing us that that number could go much higher. We just don't know. What is your feel as you go around?

WEIR: Yeah, Governor DeSantis' press conference today, I'm not sure the official who came in, I was listening to it. He talked about that there are three phases to search and rescue. The first one is cursory, which is what we did yesterday on Sanibel, where you drive around on a boat and go "is there anybody here that needs help?" And those who are willing to go, I'm up in my bedroom, as we saw, you can attend to them.

But for folks who can't call for that, there are two other searches. One comes through and goes door to door. You've seen it storm after storm where they'll put an X code on the door to say that this one's been checked. And then somebody goes in again. So there's three checks for proof of life, and given the scope of the disaster zone, that's going to take a long, long time. BURNETT: And you've been talking to people there even where you are

right now, you talk about people trying to drive in to see their homes, right? Residents in that capacity, residents who are at the destruction itself. What are they telling you right now?

WEIR: Well, now, I've seen these with storms past. The sun comes out and then it's sort of like the five stages of grief as you realize the enormity of it, the depression sets in. You don't know what to do.

So, a lot of people are just sort of trying to organize their thoughts about what to do next. And I've seen some amazing, you know, neighborly behavior. There's not a working stop light between here and for another I don't know how many miles, people are taking turns and being respectful of each other, looking out for each other as this drags on, that's the real test of the fabric of a community.

But we have a bunch more stuff today that we weren't able to capture. We've got more for you in the next hour. But, Erin, everywhere you look, it's just enormous human stories at every level.

BURNETT: Well, Bill, thank you so much. We're so lucky to have you there telling them. Thank you.

And Bill talking about the rescues and how that happens. He's explaining the step-by-step. So, we're going to take you inside of missions that are still underway to rescue people who are trapped even now after the hurricane tore through Florida.

Plus, the story that made headlines of a nurse, trying to get to work during Iran. She was trapped in rising floodwaters. But thankfully, a television reporter was nearby and saw her and helped. And that nurse will tell her story OUTFRONT next.



BURNETT: Tonight, Ian moving inland through the Carolinas. Right now, the winds are still up to 70 miles an hour. It is now technically considered a post-tropical cyclone. Cities across Florida have been left underwater and are just barely even beginning the first steps of any sort of a recovery, if that's even the appropriate word this time.

First responders and Good Samaritans across the state are still carrying out heroic rescues to save people who are still stranded. These five sheriff's deputies that you see here were forming a human chain to rescue a woman whose car was swept away.

Carlos Suarez is OUTFRONT in North Port, Florida, where officials have spent the day evacuating people.

Carlos, what have you been seeing there on the ground?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, these rescues are still taking place at this hour. Soldiers with the U.S. army are working with folks that just live in this area to get a hold of the people that have been stranded in their homes for days now. In fact, one of these boats just pulled up a few minutes ago. A family got out, they had their belongings with them, a few pieces of luggage. They had their two cats with them.

There's another family just off to the side that's been waiting for three hours for someone to be able to try to check on their loved ones. What you're looking at here is what they have been doing the entire day. No sooner do one of these boats come in when the word is you guys got to go right back out.

They're just going down the street, they will make a left. They go down another block. They'll grab whatever family, whatever group of people need to get out of their homes.

We talked to a number of individuals earlier today including one couple that said they have been stranded in their home for two days now. Another person told us they've also been waiting for hours to get out of their homes. The flooding out here is not expected to get better any time soon. The water levels, the flooding were not expected to recede until at earliest tomorrow.

Here's what these folks told us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flooding was insane. Trees torn everywhere. Nothing looks visibly remotely the same as it used to be before the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of trees down, a lot of people that are stuck in their homes. And from what 911 said, we've got houses that are covered with water. So, I'm just glad we made it out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My grandparents are still at the house. We have animals there. They don't want to leave the animals. So whenever we left on the boat, it was just a scary feeling like you don't know if you're ever going to see them again, if you're going to see your house again, your animals again. So that's why I'm a little shaken up. You never know what you're going to come back to.


SUAREZ: Erin, the Red Cross is on the scene and is helping to find some of these folks a shelter.


And we're expecting that these rescues will go on well into the night.

BURNETT: Carlos, thank you very much from North Port.

Kelsey Smith is with me now. She was on Sanibel Island throughout the hurricane. She rode it out there, obviously one of the hardest-hit areas in the entire state.

And, Kelsey, I am so glad that you are safe. When the hurricane made landfall, I know you were sheltering inside a

three-story building. We've seen the images of Sanibel now and the utter devastation. What was it like when the storm hit?

KELSEY SMITH, SURVIVED HURRICANE IAN ON SANIBEL ISLAND (via telephone): It was awful. There are no words for what that was like. We thought we'd be okay in a three-story building. We ended up being safe. But it did flood to the second story. The house began to move. The roof began to rip off. The shingles from other houses were ripping off.

All three vehicles were flooded out front, trucks had water over the top of them. At one point we had to question how we would get out of the house if the roof were to tear, how we would swim. And again --

BURNETT: I mean, Kelsey, you must've thought that, at a time, that you weren't going to make it.

SMITH: Absolutely. And at the same time we were getting random signals and text messages would come through of people who were also lost or trapped. A friend of mine had lost her grandmother and her two dogs. And those reports were coming in at the same time we were in that same situation. It was terrifying.

BURNETT: Truly you talk about your friend's grandmother. I know that when you were talking to a producer earlier today, you talked about a man in Sanibel that you came across his brother had died.

Look, we understand, Kelsey, that 42 people are confirmed dead in the state. That is an unbelievably high number. We're talking about Florida, the United States in the year 2022. And yet it seems like when you look at places like Sanibel where they haven't been able to go door to door, that number could go a lot higher.

Do you think that's possible based on what you've experienced?

SMITH: Absolutely. When we were standing on Periwinkle, it was completely unrecognizable, the devastation that happened on Sanibel if you weren't prepared or you were staying in shelter in a one-story ground floor home, you were facing -- you were facing death. And there were a lot of people who had to face that.

BURNETT: Kelsey, when we look at Sanibel before and after, I know you've had a chance to walk around a bit. I know it's impossible for you to wrap your mind around what you went through. You'll be reliving this for the rest of your life. What are you going to do now?

SMIITH: Good question. You know, we are staying with friends who have an extra room for the three of us. We are kind of all gathering here. There's been a lot of gas and water and food dropped off by friends and family, and then also by complete strangers. We plan on taking it day by day at this point.

My partner lost everything, his boat, his truck, his house. My house was on stilts and I did not lose everything. I had my vehicle parked on a loading dock at the grocery store and it made it through the storm. The police ended up taking it to use it for the island. It was one of the only vehicles in service.

So, that is a heavy question. And there is no plan at this point. It is just to continue to survive and be grateful that we are alive.

BURNETT: Kelsey, thank you so much for telling your story.

SMITH: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next I'm going to speak to a nurse. And this is her in this video. This is what happened. She was on her way to work during Hurricane Ian. A trauma nurse, she wanted to get there and she became trapped. She could have died, but she was saved by the person in that picture who happened to be a reporter.

Plus, Putin's war, entering a new and extremely phase for the world tonight. The Russian president now claims control over four provinces that are part of Ukraine. They don't belong to Russia, but he says they do. Tonight, though, Putin may be at risk already of losing one of those regions in his war.



BURNETT: Tonight, stunning video out of Orlando. Telephone shows dozens of homes and streets still submerged underwater. The floodwaters are not even going to begin receding until possibly tomorrow. Officials warning residents it could be days before that water fully recedes.

And as those floodwaters came in, there were tragedies, and, of course, emergencies. Look at this nurse. She was rescued after her car was caught as the floodwaters suddenly rose. She was an essential worker trying to drive to the treatment center where she works in the midst of the hurricane to help others.

A reporter from CNN affiliate WESH intervened and saved her. You can see him there carrying her on his back. The water, as you see, at certain places up to his waist and mid-thigh. If you look closely, you see he's also carrying her purse.

And tonight the nurse you see being rescued in that video is OUTFRONT. Tonya McCullough joins me now.

Tonya, wow, I'm so glad to see you. When you realized you were stuck in floodwaters, I mean, I'm presuming at one point you thought you could drive through it. And suddenly you realize and it's pitch dark and you realize you might die, and then you see this person, tell me how this happened.

TONYA MCCULLOUGH, NURSE SAVED FROM FLOODWATERS IN ORLANDO: As I realized that I was going deeper into the water, and I was trying to reverse the car trying to get out, the car kept going further into the water, so I just stopped. And I was trying to decide what do I do, how do I get out of the situation.

And I saw Tony peek around the corner because they saw the water moving, and they realized there was a car stuck in the water.


I waved to him and yelled "help", and he said, okay, I'm coming. And went to go do something and then came back and walked through the water. And just as calm as could be and asked me to release my seatbelt, climb out of the window, and get on his back and that he would carry me to safety.

BURNETT: So you mentioned Tony. And his name is Tony Atkins, the reporter. After rescuing you, he pours the water out of his boots.

Tonya, you talk about how calm he was. He said, okay, unfasten your seatbelt step by step. Sometimes in moments of incredible fear and trauma, a calmness can take over.

What would you have done if he hadn't been there?

MCCULLOUGH: I keep asking myself that what would I have done, because the fact that he was there, I know that was God because it was dark. There were no police cars or ambulances or fire trucks. There was no one else around to help me at that moment. And he was available immediately.

So the fear hadn't set into where I started to panic because he was there immediately to help me out.

BURNETT: And I know you were reunited today. Today you saw him. What did you say to him? We're showing the picture now of you and Tony this morning. What did you say?

MCCULLOUGH: It was so emotional to see him because I did not get the opportunity to express my thanks and gratefulness and let him know he was my hero, my champion, my knight in shining armor, and how grateful I was and how much I really appreciate him taking the time, not ignoring me, not running away pretending like he didn't see me, and just let me fend for myself. He immediately came to my rescue.

BURNETT: You know, after you were rescued, Tonya, I want everyone to know, you then walked a mile and a half. You went to work.


BURNETT: And you worked a 16-hour shift. And I find that unbelievable. I find that to just be so incredible and powerful and profound.

But you don't have a car, your car doesn't work. Where you work, the care center you work for is an hour away. So what do you do now?

MCCULLOUGH: Right now, I'm just going to have to wait and trust god to figure out how I'm going to get transportation since I have none. And until I can find transportation, then I will be at home waiting until I can figure out how to get a car.

BURNETT: Well, Tonya -- MCCULLOUGH: So right now I'm unemployed.

BURNETT: Right now, because they're not going to pay you, is what you're saying?


BURNETT: So you're immediately unemployed and not being paid because you can't get there?

MCCULLOUGH: I can't get there. Unless I'm working, that's the only way I'm getting paid.

BURNETT: Well, that's awful. And I hope that changes because that's awful. Someone who goes through the night and walks a mile and a half and works a 16-hour shift deserves more.

Tonya, thank you. Please, we'll stay in touch and thank you.

TONYA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BURNETTT: And, next, Putin, he is celebrating the illegal land grab. There is a stunning counterattack by Ukraine on what he now defines as Russian territory tonight.

And Biden calling the leaks of the two Russian pipelines a deliberate act of sabotage, tonight.



BURNETT: All right. Our other big story tonight. Ukraine announcing a major victory against Russian forces inside an area that Putin just hours ago claimed as part of the country of Russia, formerly annexed it. Ukraine says it has just regained control of the village of Drobysheve as Ukrainian forces appear on the verge of retaking the long Russian occupied city of Lyman in Donetsk.

These places and this war are being waged just hours after Putin proclaimed the annexation of about 20 percent of Ukraine. Leaders around the world blasting the move which was based on a sham vote. And it comes as a defiant Putin tonight held a concert in Red Square to celebrate his announcement and annexation. He slammed the West and claimed, quote, victory will be ours.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT in Kramatorsk.

And, Nick, you are standing in what Putin now defines as Russia, even though, of course, it's Ukraine, but he is now -- he says -- annexed it. And this could be a huge change in this war.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, look, extraordinary scenes in Moscow today. A real bid by Putin to suggest victory could be something Russia might actually see despite enormous international dissent of his partial mobilization and a continuously faltering campaign on the battlefield here.

He suggested a ceasefire, diplomacy, things frankly Ukraine are never going to accept, given they are seeing progress here and don't trust Russia as an honest partner at the negotiating table. He held out the possibility of the nuclear threat, not direct but in the background in his speech.

And, frankly, the key takeaway here is he stood on the stage with four Moscow-appointed leaders of the occupied areas here in Ukraine. And they signed pieces of paper together. Hasn't changed what's been happening here today as he was standing there and over the past days, which is Ukrainian forces are moving forward very purposely and deliberately to try and encircle a key hub here at Lyman where there are now thousands of Russian troops, some quite well-equipped, some relatively advanced, potentially encircled.

And we saw the road in direction towards that over the past weeks how blistering and fast the Ukraine advance has been.


WALSH (voice-over): Hidden, but unstoppable. Ukraine's not bragged much about its march south from Kharkiv towards the prize of Donetsk. But every rooftop or tree line suggests they've just been too busy advancing.


Day-by-day reducing how much of occupied Ukraine Moscow has this day falsely declared Russian territory, with the ultimate goal, in circling the vital railway town of Lyman at hand, no quarter given, all the way through the forest, to the monastery town of Sviatogirsk.

The drive to this point, probably the most depressing two hours east but on the road and the whole six months of this war, just laying bear the utter ferocity of the fighting but also to the speed of Ukraine's advance to this town, which itself is shocking. Eight years ago at the start of the conflict, I lived on and off here for six months and just learned to appreciate its normality, its peace among the middle of the pines here. That is just gone.

It is the most fragile who remain when Russia moved in. Anna is one of nine people left in her block. She almost did not make it.

ANNA, SVIATOGIRSK RESIDENT (through translator): The scariest was when the Russians one night were in a firefight in my courtyard. I was in the doorway and tried to hold a steel door shut, but a soldier pulled the door, so I jumped down and fell in the basement. He tore open the door, shot his gun into the darkness and missed me.

WALSH: Some seek survival in their god here, whose monastery looks down on the mess.

Lyuba asked me if they will come back, the Russians. They made such a mess of their new post office, she says.

On her shirt, a lock of hair from her local beloved priest killed by shelling in June.

I've attached it as a protective amulet, she says. Tell me, can I leave here now?

Even the carcasses here still rocked by shelling.

But the church bells finally rang again two days ago. They brought Ludmila (ph) to tears.

It rang and I heard, she says, and I listened and it got louder.

They are not out of the church basement, where they hid from the bombs and still try to live.

She saying it's cool down here, and you can feel that. Seven months on the ground.

Anxious to not show their faces, their plight down here is their private tragedy, one says.

Ludmila's disabled son was injured in the shelling and taken to hospital, she tells me. She last saw him alive, but that is all she knows down here. There is a little salvation, only ruin turning to Russia. There is no letup in Ukraine's advances. All of Moscow's intimate annexation, the absurd claim that this land is actually now Russian territory.

The land here a testimony to how the collision between this right and that's wrong shred the very thing both covet.


WALSH (on camera): Now, we're on this curious moment of escalation here where Vladimir Putin says where I'm standing is Russia. It's not. That's nonsense, and therefore the ceremony we've seen in Moscow is really belied by the reality of what's happening on the ground. So, that leads Putin to a very, very impossible task, frankly, to square what he's saying is happening, what is really happening, and the danger is he chooses to try and bridge that gulf -- Erin.

BURNETT: Next, thank you very much, from Kramatorsk tonight.

And next sabotage at sea. How Putin's secret forces to blame as Biden accuses Putin tonight.



BURNETT: Tonight, sabotage at sea. That's what President Biden is calling the leaks and explosions on the Nord Stream pipelines. The Russian gas lines are essential. They supply 35 percent of gas from Russia into Europe. They've been attacked.

And Nic Robertson is OUTFRONT.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): It looks like a boiling cauldron. The busy Baltic Sea bursting with gas from ruptured Russian Nord Stream reinforced pipeline. More than an inch of steel coated in places and approximately four inches of concrete, not easy to break.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: These pipelines are only about 200 feet or so of water. Russia does have an undersea capability to easily lay explosive devices by those pipelines.

ROBERTSON: Denmark's foreign minister uncharacteristically cautious about Russian ships seen in the area days prior.

JEPPE KOFOD, DENMARK'S FOREIGN MINISTER: I don't want to go into speculation --

ROBERTSON: Unity among allies about not blaming Russia without evidence.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We're not going to get ahead of the investigation.

ROBERTSON: Danish and German warships deployed to secure the area. Norway putting its nearby energy infrastructure on heighten alert too, as Sweden begins an investigation.

The Kremlin announcing its own plenary investigation into possible international terrorism.

ANDREY KORTUNOV, DIRECTOR GENERAL RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Here in Moscow, of course, many people are saying we should look at who might benefit from this incident. And, of course, they point at the United States, which might find it easier to sell its gas to Europe.

ROBERTSON: It could take you weeks before year pin investigators to a close look at the pipes that recently stopped sending gas to Europe may never be fixed.

FIONA HILL, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There's no turning back on the gas issues, and it's not going to be possible for Europe to continue to build its gas reserves through the winter.

ROBERTSON: But even before knowing if Russia responsible, assessments of what it means are being made.

BRENNAN: I do think it's a signal to Europe that Russia can reach beyond Ukraine's borders, so who knows what he might be planning next.

ROBERTSON: An emerging calculation Putin is escalating ahead of proposing terms for peace.

HILL: He is now trying to exit the war in the same way that he entered it, with him being the person in charge and him framing the whole terms of any kind of negotiation. ROBERTSON: And that's why the caution of calling Russia out is going

to take global unity to get Putin to back down.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


BURNETT: And thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" begins now.