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Death Toll Rises as Flooding Paralyzes Northeast. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 02, 2021 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, September 2. I'm Kaitlan Collins, live in Times Square. John Berman is in Westchester County, assessing the damage, because we're starting with breaking news this morning.

After there were torrential rains and catastrophic flooding that hit the Northeast, causing a lot of damage overnight and stranding people in their cars, causing people to be evacuated from the subway here in New York. And at least eight people have died in New York and New Jersey. Several of them after calling for help after rising flood waters.

Both states are now under states of emergency. New York City had the heaviest single hour of rain in the city's history. And flash flooding has stranded thousands in the subway overnight. And like I said, trapping people in their cars.

Rescues were happening throughout the city as New York City's major imposed a travel ban until about an hour ago, due to the dangerous flood conditions.

At least one tornado reported touching down in New Jersey. And the storm is now moving up the East Coast with an eye on Boston.

We're going to go to John Berman. John, I know you're seeing cars that have just been left on the side of the road, because people had simply no other option.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Not even the side of the road, Kaitlan. The middle of the road.

Let me tell people where I am. I am north of New York City in Westchester County. I'm really only about two miles north of the city. I've been trying to get to work for the last several hours, and it's impossible. I'm going to try to show you why.

Now, this is not a high-tech operation. I'm sitting here literally with two cell phones trying to shoot this. I'm going to turn around and turn my camera around, if I can. All right. And so you can see, I think, these cars just parked on this road. I see some 20 cars just parked here.

The ground here is covered with this muddy film. And I see -- yes, one, two, three, four, five, six, at least a dozen as far as I can see. There are no drivers. The drivers are long gone. These cars have just been abandoned.

And here's the thing that's truly amazing about this if people can see this and get a conception of what I'm talking about here. I'm walking southbound. This is a southbound lane that I'm on. All these cars are pointed north or pointed nowhere.

I guess at some point they got off the road they were supposed to be on and just thought they could get on this northbound lane going the wrong way, and they gave up. And they just abandoned ship. So now there are these cars just parked, abandoned on the wrong side of the road in a few inches of mud. And traffic is stopped, you know, for half a mile, a mile going back. So there's just no way to get in.

I could tell you last night where I live, the rain was just torrential. It was coming down, you know, three -- three inches or so in an hour. Let me try to flip the camera around here again. I can't do that. OK, there we go. There's me.

Coming down about three inches in a one hour. And when I left my house this morning, a while ago now, I mean, there was a giant tree on the street with the power lines down.

So there are tens of thousands of people without power in this area. And just, you know, you can see flood waters depending on where you go, you know, two, three feet higher than they normally are.

So, this year, Kaitlan, is the situation that people are facing all around the city. I can't imagine what it's like even in the city in worst parts where you are.

COLLINS: Yes. And John, we knew there was going to be rain. We did not know there was going to be this much rain, right?

BERMAN: Yes. The forecast -- there was rain in the forecast. But I don't think anyone had a sense that there would be this much flooding or things would be quite as shut down as they are.

Look, to be completely honest, if I knew it was going to be that bad, I would have slept in the office overnight so I didn't get stuck -- I didn't get stuck on the road where I am right now.

COLLINS: Yes, yes. New York City there was a travel ban in effect until about 5 a.m. this morning, because the roads were that dangerous. And so many people, as you see there in those cars, were caught out on the road as this was happening last night.

And the videos coming out of New York City are just stunning in and of itself, because there were buses that were going through several feet of flood water. And of course, you know, just a few inches can sweep you off your feet. Just a foot of water can wash away your car. And so these are incredibly dangerous conditions that so many people in New York were caught in last night.

We're here in Times Square, and you can see people just kind of coming out and talking about how stunned they were by what had happened overnight and how this really caught people off-guard.

And it's having deadly consequences, as well. I want to go to Polo Sandoval, who is in Newark, New Jersey.

And of course, Polo, we know that there have been deaths reported out of New Jersey. What are you hearing from officials on the ground about what they're seeing as they're waking up this morning and trying to assess the level of damage that happened overnight?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Kaitlan, also no shortage of damage, particularly in southern New Jersey. And I can tell you, when I drove into New Jersey from New York this morning, there were also plenty of those abandoned vehicles on the highway, creating a very different hazard.

But this is what the aftermath looks like. And really, for most it's traffic trouble. Some of the major highways, at least one in particular that's just outside of downtown Newark that leads into Newark's international airport, is blocked. So that is leaving drivers this morning with few options to get around. Package.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): Hurricane Ida's remnants pummeling the Northeast and mid-Atlantic unleashing torrential rain, extreme flooding, strong winds, and even tornadoes throughout the region.

Governors in New York and New Jersey declaring states of emergency.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY) (via phone): It's always quite shocking when you see the streets of New York looking like the river is flowing and people just in shock over what's going on.

SANDOVAL: Multiple sightings of tornadoes in the Garden State.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard, you know, this rattle and my daughter ran out and said get in the house, quick.

SANDOVAL: One confirmed tornado tearing through this town just outside of Philadelphia, destroying several homes in its path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hear just a little noise and next thing we heard we heard everything just breaking.

SANDOVAL: The severe weather bringing New York City to a standstill. Heavy rains creating waterfalls rushing into subway stations and even overflowing down the stairs and onto the tracks.

Dangerous conditions forcing the city to suspend all subway service, leaving some riders stuck in the crowded subway cars and others stranded for hours at stations, including this one in Times Square, with no way to leave safely. Some service returning close to 3 a.m., allowing passengers to finally

go home. Record-breaking rainfall and the flash flooding causing the mayor to issue a state of emergency.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY (via phone): What we're hearing from different parts of the five boroughs very troubling. We're seeing a kind of rainfall we almost never see, this kind of speed with which the rain has come. Everyone has got to get to safety.

SANDOVAL: The unprecedented rain turning roads and highways into rivers. The floods filling up this baggage claim area in New Jersey's Newark airport, the storm forcing the facility into a ground stop temporarily.

Homes and apartments across multiple states filling up with water. Fire and rescue crews finding one person dead at this flooded complex in Maryland.

Wind pushing around parts of the U.S. Open, sending fans scrambling to leave in the downpours.

Outside Pittsburgh, rescue crews pulling 41 passengers trapped in flood waters on a school bus Wednesday morning.

And in New York, and New Jersey, first responders working around the clock, rescuing people stranded in their cars. Local leaders urging residents to continue to be careful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way that we could have predicted how bad this storm would get. The intense rainfall, the concentration of water, which can result in trees coming down. Cars can be repaired, property can be replaced, but the loss of life cannot.


SANDOVAL: At Newark's Liberty International Airport, we're told just before midnight that flight operations did resume at a limited capacity. But still really important, Kaitlan, that folks who may have flight plans today to certainly check with airlines.

But look, just getting to the airplane alone is certainly going to prove to be a headache. Because as you can see here, Kaitlan, which I'm sure you're seeing in New York City, as well, just getting around is certainly not easy in the aftermath of the storm that we experienced yesterday -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. Polo. Newark Airport looked more like a port than it did an airport, with all that water rushing in overnight.

And of course, you know, in New York, this is the first flash flood emergency. Not a warning; it's an emergency. And the first time this has ever happened here in New York City.

And the Metropolitan Transit Authority is now reporting people were on the subway as this was happening. And you've seen these images of water rushing down the stairwells while people were trying to get on trains. They were stuck on these trains for several hours. They had to be evacuated.

So we are going to go to Shimon Prokupecz, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. He is live in a subway station right now.

And Shimon, what are you seeing down there? And are any of these lines even running right now?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, I'm just underground from where you are -- where you are, Kaitlan, at 42nd Street here in Times Square. And it's just been packed here all night. And I've been here since I would say around midnight. And it just stayed this way.

Let me show you what's going on here so you can see for yourself. Many of the people -- this train here I just want to tell you has been here since 9:45 last night.

This train pulled into the station and has not left. And there are people who have been here since 10 p.m. last night. These people sitting here. You can see one woman, she took her shoes off just to get more comfortable.

There's no way for many of these people to get home. The subways are their life. This is the way they get home. Many of them coming from work.

This woman here, she's a nurse's aide. She was coming from work, trying to get home. And this is the way folks get home here. Most of the people can't afford a cab, can't afford an Uber. So this is what they rely on.


And it's been very upsetting for a lot of people. They've been spending the night here. I came here around midnight or so. It's been the same people here for the last several hours who have just been sleeping here, sleeping on these benches. Some other people here all along the staircases. And a lot of people are just frustrated.

One thing that's been happening here, is that no MTA representatives have come here to talk to anyone. There have been these overhead announcements, saying that service is limited and that there is no service at this particular stop. But that's about it.

But people are still streaming in here. In the last hour or so, people trying to get to work have been streaming into here, thinking they see a train, thinking they can get on it. They run to the train only to be told, Well, this train is not going anywhere.

So this has been really the scene here the whole night. So many people spending their night here sleeping, haven't eaten. I talked to a woman earlier who said she was starving. She was afraid to leave the subway stop, the subway station, because she was afraid she was going to miss her train. So she was afraid to leave, afraid to get water.

Finally, she left. And I told her stores are open. You can go outside and you can come back in. So she left, and she never came back. And now the big thing is, you know, for folks like the ones I was

talking about earlier who have been out here, sleeping on these benches, taking their shoes off now, since 10 p.m. How are they going to get home? And that's the big thing.

It's heart breaking, in some ways, to see this. And then just to see people laying on these subway platforms, sleeping, taking their shoes off, a couple of people making friends.

But the big question now is for some of these folks, how are they going to get home when this is their only way to get home?

And of course, for them, they didn't expect this. You know, they got here. They thought they would be able to get home. They -- no one knew how bad this was going to be.

And now the big question is how are they going to get home? You know, a lot of people can't afford to take Ubers. They can't afford to take taxis home. So, what happens next? And that's the big question.

There's no indication here, Kaitlan, that the subway is going to come back any time soon, certainly at this station. People have been coming up to me, asking me for information. And so I tell them, Well, you can go take the a-train, which is also -- you know, we're here at Times Square, surrounded by several subway -- different stops. Different lines. And so I tell them, Well, you can go take the A-train, the C- train. That is running limited -- limited stops. Otherwise, they don't know.

And now what's happening is it's all filling up, because people are trying to get to work.

So we'll see how this -- how this plays out through the day. Some of the buses are running, but people don't want to take buses. They want to take the train.

And I'm just amazed at how these people have been able to sit here through the night, not leave and just wait and wait and wait in hopes of getting home.

This one gentleman here who I was talking to has been here since 10 p.m. He's got to go back to work at 2 p.m. And he says, I have to go back to work. So, we'll see what happens.

But it's just, you know, for some of these people, certainly, it's been difficult to see them here sleeping this way for this many hours, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. That man has been stuck there for eight hours if he is still there. Of course, a lot of these happened as people were commuting last night, trying to get home.

But even coming aboveground, and not taking the subway, a lot of those buses were stuck overnight, because they were out driving the middle of this. And getting a taxi and an Uber, of course, is also an added delay. Because as you saw from John Berman and what we've seen throughout not just New York but New Jersey, cars were just stranded in the road, as well. So people left them, because there was really no other option.

So yes, we expect there will be a lot more delays this morning as people are heading to work. We're seeing a ton of people walk by us here in Times Square. So we'll check back in with you to see how the subway is running, if those delays are getting any better shortly.

Now, I do want to go to the acting chair of the Metropolitan Transit Authority -- Transportation Authority. He -- Janno Lieber.

Of course, you have been up all night, I imagine, dealing with these evacuations of these subway stations, as you saw these videos of water rushing in.

What can you tell us about what the status is right now? You just heard Shimon's report there, where some people have been in these subways, underground in the subway stations since about 10 p.m. last night.

JANNO LIEBER, CHAIR, METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY: Yes, Kaitlan, your reporting has been spot on. This -- this historic storm did a number on all of the infrastructure in the New York region. And the subways are no exception.

We -- starting last night, suddenly, we had a normal rush hour going pretty much up until after 9 p.m. And then at 9 to 10 p.m., historic one-hour rainfall really started to take out our service.

What we're doing now is when the rain abated, we began attacking the problem. Obviously, water and power don't mix. So we had to wait for the rain to abate.


Right now, we're bringing service up. We have service on a number of lines. And we're starting to put other lines up, as well. As Shimon said, the A-train, which is, you know, a block away from that Times Square station, is operating.

The commuter railroads extremely limited service this morning. They have, you know, major power issues, mud slides. And we're really discouraging folks from traveling on the commuter railways.

But thanks to our bus drivers who did an amazing job overnight, heroic work to get people home from where people were stranded all over the city, working through the night. We are able to provide transportation in many cases through the bus system and through an increasingly operational subway system.

COLLINS: And I know you tweeted overnight that evacuations had been under way for those people who were stuck on subways, stuck on buses as this flooding was happening. How many people were stuck? How many people did you have to get out? And how did you do that?

LIEBER: Well, you know, we have -- we have a couple hundred trains operating in the subway system at the time that this one-hour historic rainfall overtook everybody.

And about roughly between -- somewhere between 15 and 20 trains did get stranded, and folks needed to be rescued. Those rescues were effectuated successfully with no injuries, in tandem with the fire department and the NYPD. It was done successfully, took a couple of hours.

But the most important thing is we did get people out safely, and we're now under way in, you know, getting all the trains moved so that we can resume a more normal service pattern in the subways.

COLLINS: And what is the time frame on that looking like? When do you think it is going to be back to normal? Or are you still pumping water out of these stations?

LIEBER: Yes. We have an extraordinary pumping capacity, which has obviously grown significantly since Sandy. We've spent a lot of money to make sure we have a lot of pumping capacity.

But that -- that really can only begin, and more important, the inspections of the track and the electrical systems so we can turn the power on can only begin once the water abated in the -- in the middle of the night between 3 and 4 a.m.

But we have thousands of people literally out doing those inspections, getting the systems back up and running. And we're hopeful that, by the end of today, we're going to see a much more normal service pattern.

But as I said, your colleague, John, in the commute -- you know, in the northern suburbs, the metro north commuter railroad is really going to be pretty much out through at least most of the day, and the Long Island railroad service is -- is somewhat constrained, as well. So we're looking at a regional -- regional emergency that's hit the entire transportation system.

COLLINS: OK. So you're hoping by the end of the day, the subway system will look back to normal. We will check back in with you throughout the day to see how that is going.

And right now, our special coverage on CNN is going to continue next. I'm Kaitlan Collins, live in Times Square after we saw catastrophic flooding in the Northeast overnight after those remnants of Hurricane Ida just devastated the area with setting records for rainfall and as New York and New Jersey right now are both under states of emergency. We'll be right back.



COLLINS: Good morning. If you're just joining us, I'm Kaitlan Collins, live in Times Square after New York and New Jersey are both under states of emergency after there was catastrophic flooding overnight that has stranded travelers throughout the city, throughout New Jersey, as well. And there have been at least eight deaths reported related to these storms.

We are covering it all here at CNN. And right now, I want to go to Christine Romans, who is in New Jersey where people have abandoned their cars because they were essentially left with no options, given how quickly this rainfall happened overnight, setting records happening within just an hour with several inches falling.

So Christine, what are you seeing? Are there any people out there? Or is it just people who have left their cars and tried to get to safety overnight?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN "EARLY START" CO-ANCHOR: So, some people are starting to creep out and trying to take to the roads, although authorities are saying don't do that. Stay home. They're still trying to figure out what kind of hazards are in these roads.

Behind me you can see a couple of cars that either were abandoned here in the water or washed here. It's unclear. There are cars willy-nilly all over this county here.

I am in Clifton, New Jersey. That is in Passaic County where there was a fatality. An elderly man was a passenger in the car. The road turned to a river, as we saw all over New Jersey. And in that river, firefighters tried to rescue him, and firefighters were swept under the car, as well. And that man died, although the other passengers, we're told, were rescued.

If you go over to Newark, New Jersey, for example, the airport there, you've probably seen those pictures of the baggage claim and how much water was actually rushing through the airport there. We're told that some parking lots are opening, and there is limited flight service again this morning.

So look, if you're trying to go to Newark, New Jersey, to fly, please check your flight, because there are a lot of cancellations and disruptions this morning.

You might not even be able to get there. A lot of these roads are closed here today. Again, Kaitlan, this is -- this is a situation where so much water came so quickly, basements filled up. You've got total devastation in thousands and thousands of basements this morning. Cars abandoned. People, just as the sun rises here, are trying to figure out what to do next.

Authorities are saying, please, though, stay home while they get these cars and this debris removed, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Right. Yes. There was a non-emergency travel ban, we know, in New York at least until 5 a.m. They did not -- if you're not an emergency vehicle, they wanted to you to stay off the road because of these issues.


But as we were showing, people were having trouble even getting home. Shimon was saying some people have been in the subway since 10 p.m., because they simply could not get home right now.

So we'll see if people start coming back to their cars and people are trying to resume normal travel this morning.

Of course, Christine, we will check back in with you in New Jersey, where the governor has declared a state of emergency overnight. But first, I want to go to the Queens borough president, Donovan Richards, where we are told several people in Queens have died. Several of them who had called 911 overnight for help with these rising flood waters, a lot of them stuck in their homes, potentially stuck in their cars.

So Donovan, what can you tell us that you are seeing this morning? And have you essentially been up all night, monitoring this?

DONOVAN RICHARDS, QUEENS BOROUGH PRESIDENT: Yes. This has been a biblical storm, by -- by every means. This -- this is tragic, you know to have lost about three lives, and obviously, we're monitoring very closely.

I did speak with the mayor very early this morning. So the first thing we're focused on is, of course, safety, clearing the roads. We urge every resident who's nonessential to stay home, to stay off the roads. And I hope employers are going to allow their workers to work remotely if they don't have to come into the office, but, you know, the big focus is clean-up right now and safety.

COLLINS: And did you anticipate this? Because I know officials knew there was going to be heavy rain last night. But I'm not sure anyone expected anything like this, given how many people were still out on the roads when so much of this flooding happened overnight.

RICHARDS: We always anticipate the worst. I lived through Hurricane Sandy. These catastrophic storms are going to be more frequent as we -- as we move forward, based on what we know all too well, that climate change is going to continue to roar its ugly head.

So we're already making preparations, as we did just last week, to speak with community stakeholders and, obviously, city agencies very early this morning. And like I alluded to, I did speak with the mayor early this morning, and we're going to -- we want to ensure that city, state and local resources are going to those who incurred damage during this storm.

COLLINS: And did the mayor tell you that would be available starting today? Or what kind of time frame did he offer you?

RICHARDS: Well, he declared a state of emergency, obviously, last night into the wee hours of this morning. So, we'll be working. And this is nothing. Unfortunately, we've been here before, and we really need the federal government to step up.

The Army Corps Of Engineers has continued to drag their foot on projects like the Rockaway reformulation plan. And we don't -- we don't have time to whittle [SIC] our thumbs here. You know, we're running up against the clock. The clock is already ticking. We're here. And if we don't move aggressively to combat climate change, we're

going to continue to lose life, unfortunately. And the city, state and federal government will continue to pay out a lot of dollars to -- to fix many of the issues that happen as we see these more frequent storms occur.

COLLINS: Yes, I think that's going to prompt an even bigger question and conversation about climate change coming out of this, of course, after the damage has been assessed first.

Queens borough president, Donovan Richards, thank you for joining us this morning and keep us updated on what you're hearing about people in your area as we move throughout the day.