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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

One Dead, One Million-Plus Without Power In Louisiana From Hurricane Ida; U.S. Official: At Least Five Rockets Fired At Kabul Airport; COVID Surge Leaves Southern Hospitals Low On Oxygen Supplies. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 30, 2021 - 05:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It's just about 30 minutes past the hour.

And our breaking news this morning, Ida now a tropical storm and still a threat. At least one person dead and more than a million without power.

JARRETT: The National Weather Service in New Orleans now reports flash flooding from a levee failure near Alliance, Louisiana. Some residents in Plaquemines Parish have been told to evacuate immediately.


TODD TERRELL, PRESIDENT, UNITED CAJUN NAVY (via telephone): What's happening right now is even in Plaquemines Parish, the back levee, we just heard is over top. And so there's a lot of things that are happening that we're not really prepared for. There's some pumps still out -- they're out in certain areas. So we're hearing some dire reports. A lot of roofs off of houses.

People are calling this in over social media, Wi-Fi, and stuff with desperate attempts. Just -- it's a dire situation down here right now and it's only going to get worse as the evening goes on.


ROMANS: Yes, the power is out in all of Orleans Parish. Entergy Louisiana said Sunday that some of its customers could be without power for weeks.

The mayor of the town of Jean Lafitte says the levees there have overtopped.


MAYOR TIM KERNER, JEAN LAFITTE, LOUISIANA (via telephone): We've stopped the flooding before. We suffered strong storms (ph) but I've never seen water like this in my life. And it just hit us the worst way possible and it was such a massive storm that -- and it just over- devastated us.


JARRETT: CNN is live in the Gulf this morning. Let's go first to Nadia Romero on the ground in New Orleans for us. Nadia, good morning.

I know when we just saw you it was pitch black there on the ground. New Orleans residents now being advised to limit their water usage, of course, because the citywide power outage knocked out sewer pumping stations.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Laura, and the situation isn't getting any better. I think we're just learning right now the impacts of that hurricane. Hurricane Ida coming in as a category four on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which was a category three.

You heard that mayor there talking about the water overtopping the levees. This was a good test to see if the levee system would hold. But it wasn't the water in all parts of Louisiana that people were worried about, it was the wind and it was being without power -- and well, here we are. Eight transmission lines impacted during the storm, knocking out the power to the entire city of New Orleans.

We'll shut off the lights again so you can see just how dark it is here on Bourbon Street. One of the most liveliest streets in the country pitch black this morning.

Now, people are walking about trying to figure out where they are, with flashlights, with headlamps like I'm wearing. We'll turn the lights back on -- as people are trying to figure out what is next. What's the next steps, especially before the sunlight comes on and we really get a good look at all the damage? That's when we'll be able to see the impact of the storm once we have the sunrise.

At this point, though, it's a little eerie to be out here on Bourbon Street because you know what Bourbon is supposed to be like, but here we are the day after a storm.

So we know that one person died, having a tree fall on a house. That's another reason why those mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders are so important for people to abide by because you just don't know the impact of a storm and how deadly it can be.

We're also dealing with people who have the power out not only in their home, but we knew that a children's hospital was on a backup generator as well. And all the hospitals in this state are at their ICU capacities -- at it or near their capacity levels because of COVID-19.

We had some 1,500 people in shelters in Louisiana due to the storm and they had to work through COVID protocol, something that they didn't have to worry about 16 years ago with Hurricane Katrina. The pandemic adding yet another level to this particular storm. And again, we'll continue to update you throughout the morning as we learn more about the damage left behind by Ida -- Laura.

JARRETT: Yes, the pandemic just making all of this that much more complicated.

Nadia, thank you for your reporting.

ROMANS: All right, from Nadia in New Orleans to hard-hit Houma right now, where CNN weather anchor and meteorologist Derek Van Dam is live for us this morning. And Derek, this storm -- 13 hours as a category four hurricane, five hours over land -- remarkable. It's a tropical storm now, still very dangerous.

Walk us through what you have experienced over the past hours here.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, Christine, people here in Houma, Louisiana know and are familiar with hurricanes. They know what to expect from a category one, two, three -- even a category four.

But this storm was different. It was a relentless fury of a pivoting storm that moved over this location for hours. An analogy I've been using, but I think this is an apt way to say it. It is like taking a direct hit from a 50-mile-wide EF-3 tornado with winds over 140 miles per hour.

Talking to residents, talking to some of the evacuees at the hotel that we're located at, they came here to seek shelter. They thought this storm would be more of a storm surge and flood threat. Now, of course, that's ongoing in some locations, but just in our immediate vicinity the winds have been the major story here. The wind factor will be catastrophic as we get first daylight within the coming hours.


Very scary moments not only for my team but for the people who seeked (sic) shelter here. You can imagine the people who don't have sturdy concrete reinforced window buildings within the Terrebonne Parish where I'm located -- what they went through and what they're going to be waking up to this morning.

The sounds of generators humming in the background all too familiar from previous hurricane chases. We have had helicopters flying overhead, which is unusual because it's still nighttime here. They don't usually do damage assessment until the sunlight comes up.

And wow, what an extraordinarily scary situation for the residents here on the ground in Houma, Louisiana. The catastrophic wind will be the big story here -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, an hour -- just about an hour until sunrise, so we'll get a better picture of what that wind damage is. But that analogy -- you know, a tornado -- tornadoes usually a hit and run event. This was a sustained high winds. It will be amazing to see what that looks like.

Derek, thank you for that.

VAN DAM: And tornadoes are only a mile wide at most.

ROMANS: Yes -- yes, wow. All right, thanks.

JARRETT: So, Dave Bernard is the chief meteorologist at WVUE T.V. in New Orleans. He says this in a tweet. Quote, "This is the hardest day of my 30-year career. And tomorrow isn't looking much better. We are being devastated."

Let's bring in CNN's severe weather expert, our very own Chad Myers. Chad, we know this has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, but how long is this pounding going to continue?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the wind now probably isn't a problem because 60 is OK. But the roots of these trees are completely saturated. You can still lose trees and lose power with a 60 mile per hour wind or a 70 mile per hour gust.

It's the rainfall that we're worried about now. This has turned into a rainmaker -- a heavy rainmaker -- and it's still raining. Every red box you see here -- and I didn't count them -- there might be 13 -- that's a flash flood warning or a flash flood emergency, which means it is going on now and you need to watch out.

We know people were on top of their homes in LaPlace as the water just came completely up and not even in a surprise. We had 10 to 15 inches from Hammond all the way down to that area. And then here for New Orleans, probably somewhere between four and six, depending on where you were in the city.

The story here is that it could be flash flooding all the way up, even in toward Ohio. These are flash flood watches. These here are the flash flood warnings. Watches means it's going to rain. And yes, it's going to rain four to six inches in some spots, and that could be enough -- and especially when your ground is saturated -- to cause more flooding on top of what you've seen.

Here are the numbers that we know. Even though I've seen higher numbers at Port Fourchon -- I've seen 178, it's just not official.

Grand Isle, you are 148 mile per hour gusts. We're going to see pictures out of Grand Isle that are probably pretty devastating. They may look a little bit like Mexico Beach with Michael. \

But that star is there because that's when the anemometer -- that's when the wind measurement tool broke.


MYERS: When it lost connection. So it could have been higher than that. They were eastern eyewall the entire time. They -- Grand Isle was really the worst part.

We know we talk about Lafourche being where -- Lafourche County Parish, where it was actually making landfall at Port Lafourche. The problem here is that the eyewall -- the right side of that eyewall -- that's where most of the problem is because that's where it came onshore.

Here it goes for the next couple of days all the way up even into parts of Ohio. And for that matter, almost all the way up into Pennsylvania by the time we work into tomorrow.

ROMANS: Gosh. And Chad, that eyewall, even when it came onshore, was still so organized because it's just so darn --


ROMANS: -- wet. They've had so much rain. Sixty-five inches of precip in New Orleans. You usually get that in a whole year.

MYERS: Yes. And you look at the map of Louisiana. It looks like there's land there. It's not really land. I mean, it's -- you -- even though it looks like dirt you need an airboat to get through --


MYERS: -- a lot of that marsh. So that marsh was warm and that's why the storm didn't die like a typical storm dies when it hits land. It was still over water, essentially -- just not maybe ocean water. But it wasn't cold water --


MYERS: -- that's for sure.


ROMANS: That's for sure.

All right, Chad.

JARRETT: From wind to rain. All right, Chad.

ROMANS: Thank you so much.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: Breaking overnight, as many as five rockets fired on Kabul's airport with the final U.S. withdrawal just one day away. The State Department says about 250 Americans who want to leave Afghanistan remain in the country.

Nick Paton Walsh joins us live from Qatar.

Nick, a day just away until this final U.S. withdrawal tomorrow. The U.S. and the Taliban, of course, want to leverage each other. The Taliban wants recognition to stay in charge; the U.S. wants stability. Can they reach that point where both think this is a win?

NICK PATON WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I think on the surface we'll see this sort of mutual standoff continue for some time. But the ultimate place the Taliban want to be, which is international recognition, I think is an unlikely place for the U.S. to end up. And it does appear at this stage that the U.S. is not going to keep diplomatic presence inside the country.

We've seen a letter now from the U.S. and 100 allies to the Taliban asking them to stick to the promise they've made, which is to allow people to still leave the country after August the 31st. The Taliban's statement has been they will allow that, provided people have, quote, "the right legal documentation." So it isn't entirely clear what that means.

And there are critics of the Taliban who say well, what are they really going to do -- allow these people who assisted the U.S. presence in Afghanistan to depart? These are essentially people who they consider to have been their enemies in the past. But that will play out over time.

What the international community in that 100-strong letter seems to have on its side is the desperate need for the Taliban to receive international assistance. That's always been part of a sort of rationale behind diplomatic talks with the Taliban and the notion the Taliban could be forced into a more moderate existence.


Banks are suffering. There's potential for the health system to be under strain as well. They need food. A lot of things have to come into Afghanistan fairly quickly to enable the Taliban to show that they can govern. Because they've gone from an insurgency whose job is to fight what they refer to as the occupied, to the people who now have to pick up, frankly, the mess that Afghanistan is in after the last month and the last 20 years.

So a lot riding on both sides, certainly. But it is absolutely clear we are in the closing hours of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and that possibly explains the heightened tension around Kabul international airport.

ROMANS: You make such a good point about the big concern here for these Afghans who may be in danger if they stay.

Listen to this one-time interpreter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a very difficult time. I am very, very concerned about me and my family because the Taliban in different occasions actually tried to get me. But fortunately, I escaped from them. And it is -- it is very tough times here. A very, very dangerous time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: You know how many, Nick, of these people will be left behind -- if they're ever going to get a chance to get out?

WALSH: I think one of the major problems with the whole SIV operation is not only how slowly it was operated for years to the point where a federal judge complained about it. The point now is that we simply don't know how many people really are eligible because they haven't been able to apply.

The criterion for applying is a priority, too, on the application status is -- potentially represents a very wide swath of Afghans who worked for NGOs, U.S. media, et cetera. So that increases certainly to the tens of thousands of people who are eligible, if not hundreds of thousands -- 117,000, the last figures. They've probably gone up a little bit by now at the number who have been evacuated.

(Audio gap) extraordinary flights -- make no mistake. It's a remarkable effort. The question is how many of those were SIV applicants.

There's been a lot of talk about the separate channel for entry into the airport run by Afghan security forces that wasn't really as official as those being run by U.S. staff on the base. And they may have contributed quite a large number of those within the 117,000.

So the question, of course, is who is left behind. President Joe Biden promised to never leave any Americans behind. Well, they seem to -- it's possible that as an American citizen you've spent the last week not listening to the warnings to get to the airport, or not been able to do it. They may be in the low hundreds at this point. The question is the SIV applicants -- less concrete promises --


WALSH: -- to get them out from the Biden administration but certainly, something they want to achieve.

The emphasis now is does civilian air get back up again, and will the Taliban let these people leave.

ROMANS: And we know some of these people who are still in the country are sleeping someplace else every night. They're hiding. They're trying to keep a low profile to figure out what to do next because it's just such a dangerous situation.

Nick Paton Walsh in Qatar, thank you.

Joining us now is retired Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton. He is a CNN military analyst and a former member of the joint staff at the Pentagon.

JARRETT: Colonel, nice to have you this morning.

You just heard Nick Paton Walsh talking about the Afghans who could be left behind. I understand you're speaking to someone in Kabul about that very subject. What are you hearing? CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER MEMBER OF JOINT STAFF AT THE PENTAGON (via Webex by Cisco): Well, Laura, that's exactly right. What I'm hearing is that people who are actually SIV recipients are not being able to get their visas. I -- there is no mechanism for them, apparently while they're still in Kabul, to get the visas that they can print out or put on their phones and go to the airport.

So there's that problem. There's the problem of getting to the airport.

And then the other thing that these people are dealing with is the fact -- and Nick mentioned this as well -- that there is no money for them. They've run out of money. The banks are closed, prices are going up. They are going to be facing an existential crisis on --


LEIGHTON: -- many, many fronts here.

ROMANS: I spoke to a man yesterday whose brother is in hiding in Kabul. He said the first issue is a security issue of sleeping someplace else every night. People are disappearing.

He said then it's the job situation. You're not getting paid. You're not going to work. What about food? And then what about telecom?

I mean, it's a country that's sort of imploding here while the United States is trying to just get out.

How is the U.S. securing the perimeter of that Kabul airport to avoid further attacks? Because that seems to be America's number-one job right now is to get out with no more loss of life.

LEIGHTON: That's exactly I think how it's playing out, Christine. The way they're working it is they are making sure that they're defending the perimeter. They've established different procedures than what we had before Thursday and that horrific attack that took 13 of our service members' lives.

And that specific defenses that they've established include better perimeter defense. They've got a rocket defense system that -- you know, kind of think iron dome on a much, much smaller scale. And then they have other capabilities to include intelligence assets that are supposed to forewarn of attacks. And I think we saw that with the result of that in operation yesterday when they took out that car that had the bomb in it.


So there are those efforts that are going on right now. Whether those efforts stay successful, of course, remains to be seen. But you're right, that is job one is to get out right now without any further loss of life.

JARRETT: And Colonel, it's 20 years post-9/11 next week and it feels, in many ways, like we're back where we started in Afghanistan. America's presence ends there tomorrow.

Fast-forward three months from now. Where do you think we are?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think, Laura -- I think what you'll see is an Afghanistan that is going to splinter in many different directions. Of course, a lot depends on what the Taliban do now. If they continue to behave in what we'll call their 2.0 mode where they're nicer, friendlier, more accommodating to women, more accommodating to the international community, things could be a little bit better for them and they could receive international aid.

If there is no international aid and if other factions continue to fight for power, it's going to be a very, very bad place. And that Afghan war that we are trying to get out of -- that war will continue for the people of Afghanistan, no question about it.

ROMANS: I mean, what are your personal thoughts 20 years on? We -- the United States ousted the Taliban and spent 20 years and trillions of dollars to hand the country back to the Taliban.

LEIGHTON: Yes, that's -- you know, that seems like money down the drain now. And it is a very sad situation for those of us who walked in Afghan operations. To me, it really belies the efforts that we made.

The whole thing that we've gotten to deal with here is one where we should have developed a much better strategy -- had a much more limited mission to go in and take care of the business that we needed to take care of, which in my view was to get rid of Osama bin Laden. We did that.

We stayed a lot longer and we tried to change their society. And it's very hard to change a society that's been around for thousands of years and deal with that aspect of things.

We did modernize a lot of things. We have created an Afghanistan that's very different for the Taliban now. But it also shows that there are some real perils to what we did and we better learn from them.

ROMANS: Yes. Taliban 2.0, you say, but 1.0 was a -- was a medieval cult, essentially.


ROMANS: So we'll have to see where things go from here.

Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN military analyst, thank you.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

ROMANS: All right, to COVID -- to the COVID crisis now.

Hospitals in parts of the south are running out of oxygen as COVID cases and hospitalizations keep surging, driven mostly by the unvaccinated. Several hospitals in Florida, South Carolina, Texas, and Louisiana are struggling with oxygen supplies, and some are at risk of having to use their reserves or risk running out. Florida has the highest COVID hospitalization rate in the country.

JARRETT: Legendary actor Ed Asner has died.


ED ASNER, ACTOR, "THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW": You know what? You've got spunk.



JARRETT: Asner played the iconic Lou Grant on both "THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW" and the self-titled spinoff, pulling off the rare feat of playing the same character in a comedy and drama series. His seven Emmy awards are a record for a male actor. Asner was also a renowned activist and philanthropist. Ed Asner was 91 years old.

ROMANS: My kids loved him as Santa in "Elf."

JARRETT: Wonderful.

Finally this morning, Chef Jose Andres is on the ground in New Orleans to help serve thousands affected by Hurricane Ida. The chef left Haiti on Saturday to assemble a team ahead of the storm. Andres and his World Central Kitchen organization team have set up three kitchens in the city to serve more than 100,000 meals.


JOSE ANDRES, CHEF AND FOUNDER OF WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN: We had to change plans. We had a kitchen in Baton Rouge that still, we have it there. But for a lot of reasons, when the hurricane began moving, coming directly to New Orleans, I made a call to let's put all the teams close together. Let's maximize it within one place and after the storm passes we can then do what we always do -- go to other cities and very quickly fire up the kitchens that we have people stationed there.


JARRETT: Andres says the kitchens are stocked and they will be operational as soon as it is safe. Nobody steps up in a disaster like Jose Andres.

ROMANS: Yes. Thank you so much for your service.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.


[05:59:27] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Avlon. It is --


KEILAR: Good morning to you. It's Monday, August 30th. We're following a lot of breaking news this morning on two fronts.

Hurricane Ida, a monstrous category four storm with 150 mile per hour winds, ripping a catastrophic gash across southern Louisiana. At least one person is confirmed dead at this point in time. Ida is now a tropical storm but there is still extreme danger with up to eight inches of rain yet to fall in some cities.

The mayor of one Louisiana town calling this total devastation. The storm overtopping levees and trapping people on roofs.