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New Day

Five Rockets Fired on Kabul Airport, Defense System Intercepts. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2021 - 08:00   ET



MICHELLE PUGET, VETERAN SON DIED IN HOUSTON HOSPITAL WAITING FOR TREATMENT: -- hospitals, the shifts were there to take care for COVID patients and everything. We don't see any of that in any of the states going on. And if they did -- the military could come in with their medical staff and help. So I just think that's something that needs to be considered because my children, my daughter and my nephews, my grandsons, Danny's nephews and everything, they lost a wonderful person in their life. And I'm just hoping his story might save one life, maybe 1,000 lives. I don't know. I want his story to be told.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Michelle, thank you for telling Danny's story. We, too, hope --

PUGET: Thank you.

KEILAR: -- that people hear it and understand the stakes, as we see this surge in coronavirus cases affecting even people who do not have the disease. Michelle, we are so sorry for your loss.

PUGET: I just firmly believe that everybody needs treatment when they need treatment, especially for life-saving treatments.

KEILAR: You're right, Michelle. Michelle Puget, thank you so much for being with us.

PUGET: You're welcome. Thank you.

KEILAR: NEW DAY continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: A very good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Monday, August 30th. I am Brianna Keilar along with John Avlon.


KEILAR: Good morning to you. We begin with breaking news on two fronts. Really this morning. First, there's hurricane Ida. It has been downgraded to a tropical storm after inflicting catastrophic damage in Louisiana. This is vide just in from LaPlace, Louisiana. There's flood waters there high enough to partially submerge two tractor trailers. At least one person conformed dead at this point in time. But look, the day is early. We're trying to really get a sense of things and where the damage is -- 1.1 million customers are without power. This includes the entire city of New Orleans exactly 16 years after hurricane Katrina hit. The storm overtopped levees. It has trapped people on roofs, we understand from rescuers, and efforts to get those people are getting under way this morning.

We have a live look at Ida, as it continues its path toward Mississippi. There's still a risk of dangerous flash floods here, also storm surge and possibly even tornadoes.

AVLON: Also breaking this morning, the final hours of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was punctuated overnight by rocket fire targeting Afghanistan's international airport. And video obtained by CNN shows a burnt-out car that was apparently used as an improvised launchpad to fire five rockets. Five hours earlier, the U.S. carried out a preemptive drone strike on a potential suicide bomb in Kabul, calling it an imminent threat by ISIS-K. And airport evacuations continue, hundreds of more citizens and allies trying desperately to get out in time. CNN's Clarissa Ward will join us ahead.

But we begin with the utter devastation from hurricane Ida. CNN's Derek Van Dam is live in hard-hit Houma, Louisiana. Derek, what are you seeing as the sun rises?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: John, we've got first light here in Houma, Louisiana, where residents, the battering winds from a powerful category four hurricane that literally pivoted over this exact location, almost equivalent to a 50-mile-wide EF-3 tornado with winds over 134 miles per hour for several hours at a time. Look what it did to what was our evacuation center, the Courtyard Marriot, taking literally the sign, ripping it off from above us, splintering this air conditioning unit below.

And what I found interesting is that when it broke the sign in half, the "A" was separated, the "R" was separated. We don't know where the "D" is, but you can see the "R" right behind me.

I want to talk about how wet it has been here, because this is a very important point because as the winds continue to churn across northern Louisiana, we've had such a saturated start to the year, some of the wettest weather we've had in New Orleans, for instance, in history, I should say. And look at this tree. It's a saturated environment, so it didn't take much for it to topple down. But when we had winds over 130 miles an hour, snapped it over like a twig.

It is extremely volatile here, because we haven't even been able to, let alone move from this area, talking to some of the residents who sheltered within this Courtyard Marriott with us last night during the height of the storm, they just want to get back to their homes or what is left of their homes to see and assess the damage to their property and to their businesses as well.


Houma was hit particularly hard, and we know that once we start to navigate the city streets across this area, we believe we will see major damage throughout Houma. Back to you, John.

AVLON: Derek Van Dam live in Houma, thank you very much, as always. Good luck today.

KEILAR: And joining us now is the lieutenant governor of Louisiana Billy Nungesser. Sir, thank you so much for being with us and we're really just starting to get a grip on the damage there. I know that you're in Baton Rouge right now. What are things looking like where you are?

LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER, LOUISIANA: The winds have died down. We've got through the worst of it here. But overnight, the areas where the levee seems to have failed, and we were working all night to get people out of those neighborhoods south of New Orleans as that water rushed up Highway 23, just another area that's heavily impacted. And as the sun comes up, we're going to see widespread destruction from the winds and the water.

KEILAR: At this point, is it unknown? Do you have a sense of what the damage may be, of what the human toll may be? Because we know that St. John the Baptist Parish has been inundated with 911 calls for rescues because of flooding, and yet we know that rescuers haven't been able to go to the folks who need help.

NUNGESSER: No, we've gotten calls overnight of people that were stranded, and because of the safety issue, they couldn't go out till this morning. I'm sure we're going to find many people in their attics, on roof rooftops that rode this thing out. And hopefully, we're hopeful that we can find everyone alive. But looking at the videos and the phone calls from places like Grand Isle, Lafitte, and some of these areas where rainfall inundated, LaPlace Hammond, St. John Parish, we're going to see a lot of devastation and hopefully very little loss of life.

KEILAR: What about the power situation? New Orleans because of transmission lines taken down entirely lost power. We know this is also affecting other places in the state. What can you tell us?

NUNGESSER: Right. I'm talking to you on the only cell phone working from my location. AT&T is out. Many of the cell services even up at Baton Rouge, is not working. So communications for the public is limited in getting in touch with loved ones. So, that's going to further affect how we get to those areas and also communicate with loved ones, that people are OK as we find people that rode it out safely.

KEILAR: How do you check on people if they can't contact you?

NUNGESSER: It's very difficult. The communications between the first responders and National Wildlife and Fisheries, as they go out, they will have a great network to get out and rescue those people. But letting loved ones know, until we're able to get those people back to communications is going to be very difficult. My phone was filled up last night several times as we were evacuating people all through the night from Jesuit Bend. And I'm sure now that personal cell is filled up with people wondering, did we get everyone out. So it's just another bit of stress that people are going to have to deal with until we can get these lines back up of communication.

KEILAR: All right, Lieutenant Governor Nungesser, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us this morning. Best of luck. And certainly we are wishing for the best as we get a better sense of the rescues that will be under way.

NUNGESSER: Thank you.

AVLON: As you just heard from the lieutenant governor, emergency services are being inundated with calls from people in need of rescuing. The U.S. Coast Guard has teams activated, ready to assist in rescue operations throughout the region. And joining us now is Captain Christopher Hulser. He's the commanding officer of the Aviation Training Center for the U.S. Coast Guard in Mobile, Alabama. Captain Hulser, thank you for joining us. As daylight rises, what are your teams seeing from the air today?

CAPT. CHRISTOPHER HULSER, COMMANDING OFFICER, U.S. COAST GUARD AVIATION TRAINING CENTER: Good morning, John, and thanks so much for your focus on this issue. So about an hour ago, we launched our first wave of rescue assets out of Mobile, Alabama, from the Aviation Training Center. And at the same time we launched the first wave from Houston. So those assets are just now arriving on scene. We launched them about a half-hour before sunrise. That way they could actually be there just after sunrise. There are reports of people on the roof right now and people actively looking for help. But I don't have any numbers for you right now. Those are literally coming in just minutes ago.

AVLON: But you're actively seeing people gathered on roofs in need of rescuing? It's too early for data, but that need is there as the sun rises in the region?

HULSER: Yes, yes.


AVLON: What is your team's specific role? I just want folks to understand what it is specifically you do in the aftermath of hurricanes.

HULSER: Yes, sir. So we started a couple of days ago by flooding the area with Coast Guard resources. So we actually got nine states worth of Coast Guard forces here. We've got ships at sea that are moving in from the south. We've got 54 aircraft on the left and right side of the storm. They're actually going to be out looking, fixed wing and rotor wing, looking for people, looking for environmental hazards, and doing what they can to respond. So our fixed wing aircraft will be spotting the people or problems, and then the rotary wing assets will be coming in and hoisting people off of rooftops if they need, from clearings, and then taking them to hospitals, or just safer places to be.

AVLON: So storm surge, rising flooding. Your unit is there to save their lives. Captain, I'd like you to take a look at this video. It's pretty incredible. It was shot by a man in Louisiana who is riding out the storm in a boat. So what goes through your mind when you see something like this?

HULSER: Well, the first thing that we always tell people a couple of days before something like this is come back from sea if you can, and get to a safe place. The minute you get into trouble, call 911. And once you have called 911, stay somewhere safe and wait for help.

AVLON: Stay somewhere safe. You can see from this video, riding out the storm in a boat has got to be the kind of thing that drives rescuers -- there's no way to get help in the middle of a storm. But hopefully, this person will be rescued and will be safe soon.

I want to just comparatively -- we're on the 16th anniversary of Katrina. How does hurricane Ida compare so far to the other storms you've seen in the region?

HULSER: So one of the things we always do in the Coast Guard is even if there's only a five percent chance of a storm hitting or it won't be that bad, people say we always plan for the worst case scenario. All the lessons that we learned through the 33,000 people that we saved in Katrina, all the lessons learned in Harvey, we apply every single one of them to every single storm. And we were ready for this one.

AVLON: That is a blessing. Thank you for your team's heroism and the hard work ahead to save more lives in the wake of hurricane Ida. Captain Hulser, thank you very much.

KEILAR: Ida has weakened, OK, but it's still a real danger. Let's check in with Chad Myers tracking this storm to tell us what is ahead, and also, right now, Chad, we're really waiting as day is breaking there in Louisiana to see what this storm has wrought.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We still have 45-mile-per-hour winds. And I know that's not even a severe thunderstorm, Brianna, but there is going to be an awful lot of rain with this. This is a tropical system, which means there's tropical moisture that's still in the storm. I just counted. We have 19 flash flood warnings going on right now. I lost count at 14, so I just recounted them -- 19 different areas in the parishes of Louisiana and into Mississippi, and now even sneaking into Alabama with some flash flood warnings there.

There's the rain right now, and it's going to be moving to the north. We still have these tornado watches that are in effect for these counties and parishes off to the east. The right side of that eye, the northeast quadrant of any eye, that's the area that the tornado is going to be possible because of the spin that's already happening with the storm itself.

And look at how far we go. Orange, four to six inches, all the way up into Pennsylvania the next couple of days. So I put it into motion for you, turning to the northeast as we work our way into later on today, still raining across the Gulf coast, still some surge there, although not as much, probably only one or two feet. Just that wind action pushing waves on shore, and then you get a high tide. And then the rain gets into Pennsylvania and also even into New York. That's your flash flood watches, all the way up to Cincinnati, even toward Marietta, Ohio. The rain is still coming down right now. It will come down for quite some time today.

Here's what happened. The storm was in the Gulf of Mexico. It came in as 150-mile-per-hour storm. And it made landfall very close to Port Fourchon. And the worst of it right there was Grand Isle. But it didn't lose an intensity, because typically we hit land. Well, Brianna, there's not much land at north of Grand Isle. It's also swamps and ditches and marshes. And that's why this storm didn't lose any intensity until it got west of New Orleans. Finally, though, some of these spots have picked up between 10 and now I'm hearing now 17 inches of rain since the storm started.

KEILAR: Seventeen inches of rain, oh, my goodness. Chad, look, we're still waiting to see, right? That's the bottom line. A lot of this has happened overnight where we need to see what happens. Chad, thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

AVLON: And up next, breaking developments just in on evacuations from Afghanistan. New numbers on how many are getting out with just hours left until the withdrawal deadline.

KEILAR: And rockets aimed at Kabul's airport intercepted by U.S. defense systems. We'll have a live report from CNN's Clarissa Ward.

And later, the pastor who was fired for promoting COVID vaccines on television.



KEILAR: We have some breaking news. Just a short time ago, the White House now telling us that 1,200 people have been evacuated from Kabul over the past 24 hours.

Also breaking overnight, U.S. defense systems shot down a series of rocket fire. Video shows the car that is believed to be behind the attack, which as you can see here is now incinerated, and the White House says that President Biden was briefed on the situation overnight as evacuations are continuing ahead of tomorrow's final deadline to withdraw U.S. troops.

Let's go now to CNN's Clarissa Ward who is live for us in neighboring Pakistan.

Tell us the latest here, Clarissa as we're seeing this really final stage of evacuations and drawdown.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. I mean, it's remarkable that evacuations have still been continuing despite that huge blast on Thursday, despite ISIS car bombs driving around the area, one being hit with a drone strike, despite five rockets being fired off. In spite of all of that and the continued threat, the evacuation is continuing.

[08:20:01] WARD: At any moment, frankly, it could be drawing to an end because

we've always understood that tomorrow is the deadline, but the hope is to, you know, get everybody out or as many people out safely as possible before then.

And we're definitely seeing a steady decline in the numbers, something like 2,900, from Saturday to Sunday, that's dropped to just over a thousand from yesterday to today. So, it appears that they are sort of in the final throes of this operation. And that, of course, is one of the most vulnerable moments because that is when you are sort of pulling back the perimeter, extracting your own people, extracting any sort of weaponry that you might have to or destroying anything that might be left behind.

And in terms of who may be left behind, we are learning a little bit more about that. I've been speaking to an American family this morning, a family of four from Houston, Texas who have been trying to get into the airport now for two weeks. They are saying, they haven't been able to get past that Taliban checkpoint and they have appealed to the U.S. military for help. The U.S. military says it's been trying to help them. But so far, they have not been able to get in that gate.

And there is a sense talking to people on the ground outside the airport now that that gate appears pretty much firmly shut, which is not to say there aren't exceptions, there may well be, but certainly people we're talking to say they do not see a lot of movement in terms of people getting in to the airport at this stage.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Clarissa, you know, it is important to point out that since August 14th, over 113,000 people have been evacuated. That is extraordinary. But the White House this weekend said there were still 350 some Americans -- not SIV visa holders -- who needed to get out of the country.

Is their expectation as these final flights are going that those 350 will get out of the country by the end of the day?

WARD: It's unclear at the moment. From what we're hearing from Americans who are still on the ground, it's not looking positive, but obviously the U.S. has made a commitment to get its citizens out.

I know that when I've spoken about this in the past, a lot of people react and say, well, why did they take so long to get to the airport? Or they shouldn't have waited so long. And I just wouldn't say that some of the Americans that I've spoken to didn't wait so long, they have been trying for a while, but other people -- Afghanistan is a huge country, and with all civilian air traffic basically not happening, if you're trying to get from Bamyan -- sorry, from Badakhshan or from you know, Herat to Kabul Airport by road, that takes some time, so it's not a case necessarily of people just snapping their fingers and forming a line outside the Kabul Airport.

The fear that these Americans have is that once the U.S. has evacuated, they will be in a situation where it is very difficult for them to get out. Now, I want to say though, the Taliban has been clear on multiple occasions that it intends to honor its commitment to the international community to allow anyone who has the appropriate paperwork or anyone who is a foreign national to leave the country without problem.

But for a lot of people on the ground, understandably, they find it hard to trust in that, and so there is a lot of fear and anxiety in these sort of final moments of this evacuation.

KEILAR: Yes, I think it goes to the point of how quickly Afghanistan fell, right? I know that we've all spoken with families who -- I've spoken with one, who, thank God, they are out now, but their flight back was in September, and the fall of Kabul came just a few weeks before they were supposed to fly out.

They thought, hey, this is the last time we're going to see our parents and our grandparents, maybe ever. So, they decided to proceed with the trip thinking they were getting out in time, you know, but I wonder when we hear from U.S. officials, like the National Security adviser who say that, Clarissa, the Biden administration is committed to safe passage and they say that they do have substantial leverage to hold the Taliban to making sure that that August 31st, tomorrow, isn't a cliff.

You know, what kind of leverage are we talking about here?

WARD: So, I think that there's two main issues where the U.S. might have leverage, and one is that the Taliban by their own declaration, and certainly in interviews I've done with them, want to be a part of the international community.

They don't want to be a pariah. They don't want to be isolated. They want to have that support and that rapport.

And they also understand, which brings me to the second point, that if they are part of the international community and have sort of, you know, relationships with other countries and abide by international norms, that opens up the purse strings for international aid and financial support, which they desperately need.


WARD: The Taliban is just embarking on this journey after 20 years of being a sort of guerrilla warfare insurgency movement to governing a vast country with a sort of complex ethnic and sectarian makeup. And so I think, they are mature enough a force now to understand that they really will need support, particularly financial support in order to pull that off.

So, that is definitely some leverage that the U.S. and other international actors might have.

At the same time, I have to say, I've had conversations with people who are not part of the Taliban, but who share the Taliban's ideology and they see things in much more black and white terms, which are, if you worked with the occupiers, the occupiers being the U.S., if you worked with the invaders, then you must pay for that, you must go to court and suffer a punishment as a result of that -- what they would see as a crime.

And so, you have this kind of disparity between what the Taliban says on the surface, which is exactly what the international community wants to hear, and what people who hold the same ideology as the Taliban say privately, which is, all these people must be punished and have to pay for anything they did for the U.S. basically during the last 20 years and that's why you have this incredibly high level of fear and anxiety among so many people, not just Americans who could potentially be left behind, but many Afghans who might be green card holders, they might be SIV - Special Immigration Visa holders, or they may be just people who were part of the Afghan forces, who were feminists, who were human rights activists.

There are a lot of people who feel very vulnerable and at risk at the moment.

AVLON: Exactly right. Clarissa Ward, thank you very much for your reporting and insights always.

KEILAR: We do have some more on this breaking news and what President Biden is really doing behind the scenes, as the U.S. war in Afghanistan is entering its final hours.

AVLON: Plus, we'll go back to Louisiana and Mississippi, where F.E.M.A. tells us there's catastrophic damage from one of the strongest storms to ever hit the United States, and where the Coast Guard tells us rescues are underway right now.