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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

California Teacher Infects Half Her Class By Unmasking for "Story Time"; Hurricane Ida Batters Louisiana, Knocking Out Power and Killing One; U.S. Official: At Least Five Rockets Fired at Kabul Airport. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: How transmissible is the Delta variant? Well, there's an elementary school in Marin County, California, an unvaccinated teacher made an exception for story time. She took off her mask so she could read to her class. By the time she tested positive two days later, half her class of 24 had been infected and the outbreak had spread to other classes, siblings and parents. And she had gone to school --


ROMANS: The health authorities -- she didn't feel well and thought she would power through it. We are way past powering through it if you don't feel well, folks, especially if you're not vaccinated and not wearing a mask.

JARRETT: Yes, and that is to put it mildly I think. EARLY START continues right now.

ROMANS: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, this is EARLY START, I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett, it's Monday, August 30th, it's 5:00 a.m. here in New York. And the breaking news this morning is of course Hurricane Ida. One person already confirmed dead, more than a million people without power as the storm slows to a crawl over Louisiana. Deputies responding to a scene in Prairieville, Louisiana, Sunday evening, found a tree had crashed into a home killing the storm's first victim. All of Orleans Parish, including New Orleans, now in the dark after catastrophic damage to the transmission system. The power company, Entergy Louisiana, says some of its customers could be without electricity for weeks.

ROMANS: There's extensive flooding across the state. The levies have overtopped around the town of Jean Lafitte, that's south of New Orleans. Here is the lieutenant governor.


BILLY NUNGESSER, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA (via telephone): When you see the boats and the vessels like clocks bouncing around off of Port Fourchon and out of Venice, and the barge is floating around in Mississippi River, the amount of wind that has broken those vessels loose, and then just tossing around like small toys, we haven't seen anything like that since Katrina.


ROMANS: In hard-hit Lafourche Parish, it's not even possible to call for help, 9-1-1 and sheriff's office's phones, they are down right now. The generator has failed at a Tammany(ph) Hospital here prompting a scramble to relocate ICU patients.

JARRETT: Instead of being able to use mechanical ventilators, the hospital had to give patients oxygen manually. The local sheriff spoke to CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This building is our operations center, but three hours ago, we sustained roof damage, and we have buckets and garbage cans catching leaks. We had to -- we had a brief reprieve when the eye came over and we were able to relocate our emergency operation centers into another building. Now, we're on the backside of the hurricane. So, we're still getting a lot of wind gusts and we still are not able to be able to respond to any calls for service. Even if we had -- would want to, every road is impassable.


JARRETT: President Biden has now declared a major disaster in Louisiana. The National Hurricane Center out with a brand new update. CNN's Chad Myers joins us live from the CNN Weather Center. All right, Chad, what do you know?

CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's a tropical storm now. That's the good news. It was a hurricane for a very long time. In fact, it was a major hurricane well inland because the land down here is mainly swamps, marsh, and ditches. So, it didn't really ever get over land until it made its way north almost of i-10. But now, it is only a 60 miles per hour storm making rain and wind. Also the possibility of a tornado or two. Remember Katrina made 59 tornados after a landfall because of the spin, the storm is already here. They already have. They're coming in with spin. All they have to do is get a little bit bigger and they'll spin themselves and put those tornados down.

It's still raining in some spots. We still have flash flooding emergencies in some spots especially around the plus, and the rain has just been coming down 2 or 3 inches per hour at times. A million people without power. Many of them will be without power for a long time. This is just -- this is the fact of the matter. If you don't have power, I know you can't watch me, but you may have to deal with this for quite some time. Big transmission lines are down. There you go, there's the rain, that purple there, that's 10 inches of rain or more from the storm. So, where does it go from here?

Well, it gets up and toward Memphis, it gets across parts of Nashville, it also gets up to the northeast into Cincinnati. Not as a real wind maker. You may see winds 30 to 40 miles per hour by the time we get that far. It is just the rain that is still going to come down because it's moving fairly slowly. We're still going to see 4 to 6 inches of rainfall all across most of Mississippi, parts of western Alabama. And then I expand the view all the way up to Upstate New York, we'll see some heavy rainfall. Pittsburgh too into rainfall of about 4 to 6 inches.

We have to watch for those heavy, hilly areas when you talk about that much rain. So there's the storm, tropical storm Ida, 60 miles per hour, moving north at only 8 miles per hour at this hour, finally working its way out of Louisiana. But it has been a very long night for these people.

JARRETT: And the work --

MYERS: Guys?

JARRETT: Of course is just beginning here, Chad --

MYERS: Yes --


JARRETT: OK, thank you so much for that update.

MYERS: You're welcome --

ROMANS: And so amazing that they already had 65 inches of rain, which is more than they usually get in a --

JARRETT: Right --

ROMANS: Whole year by this time. So that --


ROMANS: Storm came in, everything is soaking wet. You know, and all of New Orleans is without power this morning. Across Louisiana, more than a million customers are in the dark. CNN's Nadia Romero is live on the ground in New Orleans for us. Nadia, what are you seeing?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, it's eight transmission lines that were damaged due to Hurricane Ida, and that is the reason why we lost power here in New Orleans for the entire city. So, we're going to turn off our lights to show you just how dark it is here on Bourbon Street. Pitch black outside. You can't see anything. We'll turn the lights back on so I continue talking to you and explaining where we are. We're on Bourbon, this is the area where tourists would likely be filling the streets, having a good time. But of course, Hurricane Ida sends everyone indoors or evacuating running for cover.

So, the power has been out since yesterday afternoon through the evening hours. And there's no sign yet of a timeline for when power may be restored to this area. That's the biggest problem at least here. And downtown New Orleans off Bourbon Street on the other parts of Louisiana, it's the flooding because of all the rain that was dropped. Many people evacuated, heeding those orders, others did not. And that's why we're starting to see a lot of social media videos popping up, showing the damage that we've seen. When we were driving around yesterday during the storm, we saw roofs torn off.

We saw awnings flipped over off of buildings. A lot of damage. And as the sunlight comes out, we'll have a better idea of exactly what we're dealing with here all across the city of New Orleans.

ROMANS: All right --

ROMERO: Christine?

ROMANS: Nadia, thank you so much for that. That's really a visual. The lights are out on Bourbon Street. Thank you, we'll talk to you again soon. Laura?

JARRETT: Just incredible. OK, let's bring in CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam live in hard-hit Houma, Louisiana. Derek, I know, it was touch and go there for a while for you there. What is it looking like right now at this hour?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It was a nightmare that, really unfolded in front of our eyes here. For the residents that decided to actually ride out the storm here in Terrebonne Parish, incredible. It was -- it was just like, as an analogy, it was like taking a direct hit from an EF-4 tornado, that was 50 miles wide, that moved over the same location for several hours. It was relentless. It was daunting. It was almost like driving in white knuckle traffic That high anxiety, high pressure situation, it really wears you down.

Our producers on the third floor of our team actually felt the room in this reinforced concrete building sway in the wind. That's how incredible it actually was. Listen, the sounds that we've had here, very familiar to me who have chased many hurricanes. We've got generators in the distance. Obviously, no power just like Nadia in New Orleans. That is going to continue for days, if not weeks. There are helicopters that have flown around occasionally overhead. Of course, we're waiting for daylight here, the next couple of hours will reveal the extent of the damage.

But from what we have seen, and what you can see just directly over my right-hand shoulder, this is just a drop in the bucket of what we anticipate to see this morning once sun comes up. There are trees on top of vehicles, roofs that have been blown off of homes, signs that had been ripped off the sides of the buildings, the hotel that I'm staying in is one of them. We know that the emergency operations center is completely down in the St. Charles Parish, NOLA 911, New Orleans 911 system is also having technical difficulties. So getting emergency calls to the appropriate people is going to be next to impossible.

The only cars that we've seen on the road ways here are emergency vehicles taking their flash flights and just trying to assess the situation here in the dark. This is in Houma, Louisiana. The bulls eye of where Hurricane Ida made its presence known. And we definitely felt it. It was a scary situation and it will be terrifying for the residents here going forward.

JARRETT: Yes, even if you want to call for help, you can't right now which is why they tell people to evacuate --

VAN DAM: Right --

JARRETT: For this very reason. All right, stay safe out there.

ROMANS: Thanks, Derek. All right, very complicated rescue efforts about to begin in Louisiana. People stranded all over, we'll speak to a commander for the Army Corps of Engineers next.



ROMANS: Updating our top story. Ida now a tropical storm battering the Gulf Coast. Power is out for more than a million customers in Louisiana, including the entire city of New Orleans. So far, there is one confirmed death, but a better sense of the size and scope of the devastation so far is expected to come at sunrise. For more, let's bring in Colonel Stephen Murphy of the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, New Orleans district. Good morning, thanks for joining us.

JARRETT: Yes, thanks so much for getting up with us, sir. With climate change, storms of course, stronger than ever, but we're also seeing them better than we had before, with better forecasting, but also these webcams, security cams on the ground for, you know, especially in places where we can't have a live reporter. We now get a clear look at what's happening as it's happening. I wonder, did more people evacuate this time and heed the warnings, and how does that play into these rescue efforts this morning?

STEPHEN MURPHY, COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY CORPS. OF ENGINEERS, NEW ORLEANS DISTRICT (via telephone): Well, I can't speak exactly to the evacuations because that's the city of New Orleans. But I can tell you, we are working closely with them. And this storm was moving so fast. I think I heard it said earlier on your show that we're certainly not out of the woods yet, you know, it's still dark here, the city of New Orleans just looking at my headquarters window right now, it's just completely dark.


But we were encouraged here in the city that the $14.5 billion federal investment in world class science engineering construction, that is the hurricane storm damage risk reduction system around New Orleans, and really, it performed as designed as indicated.

ROMANS: Colonel, this is why, you know, all these comparisons to Katrina 16 years ago, except the lessons from Katrina with those investments you're talking about, right? So, now, we're talking about a storm that is a wind event, not a water event at least for New Orleans because of those big corps. of engineers investments?

MURPHY: I'd say that there are so many lessons learned. It is -- we're so far from 2005. And it's not just the engineering and science of the system that's around New Orleans, which big pieces that came into play is the system is built for resiliency. So, I know that there were National Weather Service had concerns about overtopping on this southern side of the system called West Bank. But we're watching it closely. And one of the things we've stressed is that in the design of the system after Katrina, the Corps. really went after resiliency, which means the system is designed for overtopping so that there's no way that we can design any hurricane protection system that got walls or levees that are high enough for every storm.

So we designed the system so that if it does overtop, it doesn't erode. It doesn't scour and actually break the system. We have pumps, we have protections for the operators. We have back up power, so just on that side of it, just night and day with the system. But on top of that, I would tell you just the cooperation and the communication, the collaboration that's going on between the state. You remember last year, the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. Five storms that hit the state of Louisiana. I mean, this is a very practiced state.

The Corps. of Engineers is just shoulder-to-shoulder and back-to-back with the state, with the city of New Orleans. So I'm just very pleased with what we've been seeing. And tough day yesterday --

ROMANS: Yes --

MURPHY: When the sun comes up here later this morning, I think it's going to be another tough day to see an exactly what has happened. But I can tell you the Corps. of Engineers is leaning forward and postured and are ready to help the state of Louisiana however they or FEMA asks for help.

ROMANS: A little over two hours until sunrise. So, you're going to get a big look at what it's happened out there. Colonel Stephen Murphy of the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, New Orleans District, thank you so much. It's a lot of work ahead. A lot of work head, but nice to hear that the system worked.

JARRETT: Yes. All right, breaking overnight, rockets fired at the Kabul airport. Who is responsible for the latest aggression as the U.S. withdrawal winds down?



JARRETT: Breaking overnight. As many as five rockets fired on Kabul's airport with the final U.S. withdrawal just one day away.

ROMANS: Let's go back to international security editor Nick Paton Walsh, he is again for us in Doha, Qatar, this morning. And Nick, what do we know about this rocket attack?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: It couldn't get more fraught these closing hours of the U.S. presence in these longest war. These five rockets fired, it seems, in the direction of Hamid Karzai International Airport may have been intercepted by the airport defenses that the U.S. have had in place for quite some time, causing it seems at this stage no casualties that we're aware of. An initial reporting again points the finger towards ISIS-K, responsible for Thursday's awful suicide blast that killed over 170 Afghans and 13 American personnel, and also, it seems for yesterday's -- were the target of yesterday's drone strike by the United States, which appears that they say to have interrupted an imminent threat to Hamid Karzai International Airport.

More details though we are learning about that strike, at the time initially the United States said that it had hit what they referred to as a vehicle which caused a secondary explosion which they said it was very much proof they'd hit the correct target. At that time, they thought they were not dealing with any reports of civilian casualties. At this stage, though, yesterday, they released another statement suggesting that the secondary explosion, quote, "may have caused additional casualties". They're still investigating, but they now say, we will be deeply saddened by any potential loss of life.

So, this feeds into the broad fraught picture, frankly, of the end of this 20-year military presence of the United States. We're seeing it for quite a bit of C-17 activity around the airport, though, it is unclear quite when the U.S. presence there will diminish or come to an end. It has to be by the end of tomorrow, the 31st of August, although, I understand it has always been that U.S. officials did not want to get too close to the beginning of August 31st and still have people on the ground. It is fraught. They're obviously having to negotiate with the Taliban for the security of the perimeter, unclear frankly, at what extent the Taliban are beginning to get closer towards the U.S. inside as a couple of days ago, we were told by the Pentagon that they are not in control of any gates at the airport.

But there will come a point in the hours ahead when the last U.S. soldier leaves Afghanistan and that is happening under the most fraught security circumstances you could possibly imagine.


ROMANS: All right, Nick Paton Walsh for us this morning in Doha, nice to see you again, thank you. Right, Hurricane Ida, the big story here in the U.S. tearing through parts of Louisiana, New Orleans is completely in the dark. At least, one person dead, 911 systems are down, a life-threatening storm surge still a threat. We are live in Louisiana.


JARRETT: Good Monday morning everyone, this is EARLY START, I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans, it's just about 30 minutes past the hour.