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Storm Paralyzes Northeast, Killing at Least 46 People; Food, Fuel, Basic Supplies Running Low as Power Remains Out. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 03, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Friday, September 3. I'm John Berman. Brianna is off. Chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins back again.


You brought a whole lot of news with you when you came up here.


BERMAN: Eventful. Eventful is one way to put it.

Look, these storms just devastating. This morning, the death toll is rising after the powerful remnants of Hurricane Ida battered the Northeast with record-breaking rain and historic and deadly flooding.

At least 46 people have now died across six states, many drowning in their homes and cars. More than 20 million people remain under flood warnings this morning. The threat of flooding from rising rivers is expected to continue into the holiday weekend.

COLLINS: And officials say that more than 500 New Yorkers had to be rescued from flooded roads, buildings and subway stations. The New York Police Department even had to make a water rescue in Central Park.

At least eight tornadoes touched down in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Jersey, at times reducing homes to nothing but splinters.

And now, the clean-up and damage assessment begins. We begin this morning with CNN's Polo Sandoval, who is live in hard-hit Bound Brook, New Jersey.

Polo, hey, what's going on? And what are you seeing over there?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kaitlan, good morning to you.

That nearby river is actually slowly -- it is still a big concern here. The flood waters that actually overtook this whole community, at least where I'm standing, those flood waters are rapidly receding. But still, that river does become a source of concern as those drenching rains from Wednesday. It caused the levels in that river to reach something that they hadn't seen since 1999 when Hurricane Floyd devastated the area.

And now, as we get a clearer picture of the devastation and the heartache, it becomes clear that communities like this, it's going to take some time to get cleaned up and back on track.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): The remnants of Hurricane Ida overwhelming parts of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic with flood waters.

DONOVAN RICHARDS, QUEENS BOROUGH PRESIDENT: This storm was a biblical proportion. It came fast and furious.

SANDOVAL: A race against time for first responders working in overdrive to save people from their homes. In Pennsylvania, emergency crews conducting thousands of water rescues.

ELLIOT PALMER, BRIDGEPORT, PA, RESIDENT: The water started gushing in so I head around the back door. The water was raising so high I couldn't run straight to the street. I had to run up the fire escape. I winded up on the roof, where they had to get a boat to rescue me.

SANDOVAL: Pennsylvania National Guardsmen assisting first responders, rescuing people from their apartment buildings. The Schuylkill River near Philadelphia rising two feet above major flood stage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think we know yet the entirety of the damage from this storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

SANDOVAL: At least eight confirmed tornadoes ripped through the Northeast on Wednesday. One touched down just outside of Philadelphia in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, heavily damaging or destroying at least 25 homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our house was gone. What do you mean? He said the tornado.

SANDOVAL: Residents are starting the clean-up, still in disbelief.

MIKE CASSELL, MULLICA HILL, NEW JERSEY, RESIDENT: All of my back windows exploded, and then it sounded like a freight train ran through my living room. Still feels surreal to me.

SANDOVAL: Following unprecedented rainfall, flood waters are overflowing in many parts of the Garden State, enough to even fill up this minor league baseball stadium.

First responders used boats and rafts to evacuate people stranded in their homes. Extreme flooding in New Jersey turning deadly, four residents drowned at their apartment complex near the river in Elizabeth.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): An extraordinary, sadly tragic, historic 24 hours in New Jersey. There's no other way to put it.

SANDOVAL: In Queens, New York, the NYPD saying at least eight people died in the basements of homes filled with water, with the brutal storm bringing New York City's subway to a stop, leaving some of its boroughs and surrounding areas underwater, the governor saying she's investigating failures in preparedness.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): It's been a hard day for New Yorkers to not just deal with the weather but to wake up and know that we lost some of our fellow citizens, simply because they weren't able to get out of their car; they weren't able to get out of their home.

SANDOVAL: President Joe Biden approving emergency declarations overnight, ordering federal assistance to New York and New Jersey after Wednesday's catastrophic weather.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to everyone affected is we're all in this together. The nation is here to help.


SANDOVAL: And back here in Bound Brook, New Jersey, it's pretty remarkable just how fast these waters are actually receding and leaving behind a very kind of ominous feel here. All this water, the asphalt here soaked by those flood waters and all you can really hear is a fire alarm from a closed-up business nearby here.

And a few people have been driving around, Kaitlan. But again, as we get through today, we'll get a clearer picture of the damage and the devastation. But as we heard from Governor Murphy yesterday say, a majority of those deaths, about 23 deaths reported here in New Jersey. A majority of them were people that were in their cars.

COLLINS: It's so sad. It was almost painfully sunny yesterday as you were getting the first look at this damage that happened overnight. Polo, thank you for joining us.

BERMAN: So some of the craziest images we have seen of the flooding come from Montclair, New Jersey, where water was just pouring into basements like this one.

So I want to bring in Sean Spiller, the mayor of Montclair.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us. Those pictures we saw from your township, just -- just stunning when you think of what the basements all across must have been like. Can you give us an update on where things stand this morning?

MAYOR SEAN SPILLER, MONTCLAIR, NEW JERSEY: First, thank you for having me on. And I want to start by saying, thankfully, you know, like we've heard from our governor that you just heard in the previous segment, you know, we -- we did not see loss of life in Montclair, so we're thankful for that.

[06:05:07] But as you see from those images, you know, these are people's lives. These are people's homes. These are people's vehicles. These are people who have been traumatized with car rescues and literally getting people out of their homes and apartments.

This is real. You know, this is not something that we should be experiencing. This is the new normal with -- certainly, with climate change. But our residents were deeply impacted, and it's something that we're going to have to keep preparing for in the future.

BERMAN: That is good news, at least in your community, that no deaths reported. What's the biggest remaining danger this morning?

SPILLER: Right now, we've still got crews out, you know, taking up the remaining trees, cleaning up the mud and debris. You know, obviously, that's always still a challenge.

We've been really focused on our schools, quite frankly. We had a number of our schools that were flooded and damaged there, and we've got students that are going back shortly. And we've got to make sure those are safe and prepared for them to come back. So that's been a real focus.

We've still got residents without power. We know that the problems that causes for people, especially with medical conditions or others. We're keeping a close eye there and working with our PSE&G partners to get work done there.

So the work continues. You know, it's all hands on deck in all levels of government. But the threat out there still remains, and we've got to make sure we keep addressing it.

BERMAN: Mayor, what lesson do you think has been learned here?

SPILLER: You know, I mean, at the local level, certainly, we continue to work to do all we can to improve our infrastructure, to prepare for these storms. It's not just, you know, building these things back. It's, you as we've -- there's still a line, we've got to build them back differently. We've got to add resiliency. We've got to do a lot of different things. And I think it's really important at the local level that, as we get the opportunities like this to maybe get the ear and the voice of those in Congress, you know, it's quite frankly time to stop -- stop playing games, stop denying climate change, start getting serious.

Climate change is going to require bold action if we're going to address it. And we have to get infrastructure funding. That's another conversation that's going on right now. We can do what we can, but we need those federal dollars. We're going to need that assistance here in Montclair and, certainly, throughout this nation.

And quite frankly, the Republicans have to get serious about that.

BERMAN: Sean Spiller, I'm sure you haven't slept much the last 36 hours. So we wish you --

SPILLER: Can you tell?

BERMAN: You look great. I know this has been hard. I mean, this has been something unexpected, something the likes of which you probably haven't had to deal with before.

So thank you for joining us this morning. Wish you the best of luck in the coming days.

SPILLER: Thank you. Appreciate it.

COLLINS: In a few hours, President Biden will travel to Louisiana to survey the damage from Hurricane Ida as people there are still struggling to find food, water, power and gas.

At least 14 people have died in Louisiana and Mississippi as a result of the storm.

And we find CNN's Adrienne Broaddus live in New Orleans. Adrienne, it's been several days now since the storm. Are people even able to get basic necessities yet?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They can get some basic necessities, Kaitlan, at this gas station behind me, for example. It was one of -- it was really the only gas station open for a moment.

You'll see the police tape here. And officers have been here throughout the night, protecting the property to make sure no one goes inside to steal items.

But I do want to show you, take a look at this neighborhood. We're in uptown. It's still dark. Now, if you take away our TV light, this is pretty much what you see. Darkness other than our TV light.

And President Biden, as you mentioned, will be here in Louisiana and Mississippi to survey the damage. Power is slowly returning to parts of the state.

Here in Louisiana, less than 900,000 power outages. So that's a number that is improving, but it's slow and steady. And as they fight to restore power, there's another battle brewing. The heat.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're in the heat. We don't got no lights. It's been, like, almost five days. I got to sleep in the car. My kids are hot. We hungry. We're going to die in here.

Where is FEMA? Where's the Red Cross? We need help now! Can y'all help us! We're about to die. We got children in here. I'm a single mom, and I'm doing it by myself. It's hard out here. Can they help us? Where is the president? Can he come help us? Where's the FEMA?


BROADDUS: President Biden will be here, and he wants to reassure residents that help is on the way. I also wanted to mention there are at least eight different cooling

stations across the state. And at those eight stations, there are FEMA representatives taking information and helping people with the online application process if they need federal assistance -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: And we know a lot of people are going to need that assistance.

Adrienne, before we let you go, I want to ask you about another pretty infuriating story, which is that four nursing home residents are dead and more than 800 have had to have been evacuated after they were sent to a warehouse to ride out the storm.


New says that they were laying on the floor in feces, and the blow-up mattresses were flat. This is according to a nurse who witnessed this. She said, "You would walk past them and they would say, 'Help me. Help me.' I ended up vomiting twice, because the smell was so bad."

What are you hearing about this story?

BROADDUS: You know, those details are painful. It's still unclear what exactly happened, but it is under investigation.

Governor Edwards did say that at least 800 residents were moved to that facility last Friday. And they were moved from seven different nursing homes, of course, to ride out the hurricane.

And as of yesterday, all residents, Kaitlan, have been moved out of this area. And a local police chief said, after seeing this area, it's not a place he would want to send his mother or his grandmother -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, I don't think anyone would want anyone in their family to experience that.

Adrienne, thank you for that. We will check back in with you later when President Biden is on the ground.

The destruction that has been wrought by Hurricane Ida is illustrating the growing dangers of the climate crisis. Why one scientist says this should be a warning for cities.

BERMAN: Plus, South Dakota's Republican governor already moving to try to copy the strict abortion law in Texas as the Supreme Court opens a path to end Roe v. Wade.

And Richard Branson's trip to almost space now under investigation. We'll tell you why, coming up.




MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: What we've got to recognize is the suddenness, the brutality of storms now. It is different. A record set two weeks ago, another record set now. Rainfall like we haven't seen ever before. This is the biggest wakeup call we could possibly get. We're going to have to do a lot of things differently and quickly.


BERMAN: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio sounding the alarm about the climate crisis, echoing President Biden and a number of other experts and local leaders who say storms like Hurricane Ida are the worst nightmare for cities.

Joining us now, Professor John Knox, who coordinates the atmospheric science program at the University of Georgia.

Professor, thanks so much for being with us. There was a word that Mayor de Blasio used there, which was interesting. The suddenness of Hurricane Ida. What exactly did he mean there? And why is that so dangerous?

JOHN KNOX, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: Hurricanes can form rather quickly. For the residents of Louisiana, for example, Ida wasn't even Ida until Thursday, and then it was roaring in on Sunday morning.

For the residents of the Northeast, the problem was that Ida picked up speed and combined with another weather system and then dropped a whole lot of rain and storms on the area.

BERMAN: You have -- you use a reference that I think is easy to understand for people like me, who really only understand sports, about what these storms and what the climate crisis is doing to these storms. It's a Barry Bonds analogy. Please explain.

KNOX: That's right. What you can think of with these storms in a globally-warmed world is that they're on steroids. And so a storm that would have been pretty bad is now worse because of the extra water vapor that's in the air because of global warming.

And so instead of hitting 40 home runs, it's maybe 60 or 70 home runs. And so even the lesser storms, that might just, quote, hit 20 home runs are now hitting 40.

So, yes, we're watching the hydrologic cycle on steroids.

COLLINS: Well, and John, you're warning about how quickly these storms can intensify. We know in New Orleans you kind of need several days to actually order an evacuation. That was one of the main issues with Ida.

People here in New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania were caught off-guard by getting the remnants of Ida. And we've heard officials talk about climate change in wake of this. But do you think officials are really prepared to deal with the new climate, the new kind of weather that we are seeing coming out?

KNOX: I think everybody is playing catch-up a bit on this. For example, the meteorological community, when Hurricane Harvey, the forecasts were for 60 inches of rain from our computer models. And some of us looked around and thought, could that really happen? And the answer was, oh, yes, and it did.

So I think it's -- We're in a new normal, both of being able to see how much the atmosphere can do on the extreme end with global warming, and also our ability to forecast that is -- is catching up with the reality, as well. I think it's the people that have to catch up the most, though.

BERMAN: Professor, and just explain again to people, because I think it is interesting, why it's so much wetter? In Central Park, over two days ago, we had the single highest rainfall ever in one hour. But it broke a record that was set the previous week. So why is there so much water in these storms?

KNOX: Right. That's because, if you have warmer ocean temperatures, more of that water gets enough energy to evaporate into the air. And so, with more water in the air, a couple of things happen.

When that water is condensed in clouds, it gives more energy to storms, such as hurricanes, but also there's just more water vapor in the air, so there's more water in the air that can fall on you as rain.

And so studies have shown that this is happening. It's not a future thing. The future is now. We're wetter now.

COLLINS: And so, of course, that raises the question, are people ready to respond now?

Professor John Knox, thank you for joining us this morning.

KNOX: Thanks so much for having me.

COLLINS: The near ban on abortions in Texas is just one of more than 600 new laws going into effect in the state. We're going to tick through the other controversial measures that you may not have heard about.


BERMAN: Plus, the leaders of the synagogue where a massacre happened three years ago disputing a claim from President Biden. Fact check, next.



DR. ALLISON GILBERT, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, SOUTHWESTERN WOMEN'S SURGERY CENTER: It's devastating. It is heart-wrenching to have conversations with patients who present to us, either unaware of the law or aware of the law, but we're right on the cusp of six weeks and we detect cardiac activity and we have to tell them that we can no longer provide them the healthcare that they have the right to.


BERMAN: That's the director of a Dallas women's clinic, reflecting the growing anger over the new abortion law in Texas that basically prohibits abortions after six weeks, which is before many women even know that they're pregnant.


The abortion ban is getting a lot of attention, but it's just one of 666 new laws that went into effect this week in Texas, including the restrictive voting law passed by the Republican-led legislature, which will be signed by Governor Greg Abbott shortly.

As of Wednesday, Texans -- Texans who are allowed to own a gun no longer need a permit to carry it openly in public.

COLLINS: And teachers are now essentially banned from discussing systemic racism in the classroom, even though some educators say that critical race theory isn't even taught in middle school or high school.

And pro sports teams in Texas are now required to play the national anthem before their home games or risk losing any state funding and business scholarships.

We should note that, in a blow to Governor Abbott, two Texas judges have just ruled against him in lawsuits over a ban on mask mandates.

BERMAN: So the Supreme Court's refusal to step in and block the Texas abortion law, which basically upends Roe versus Wade in Texas. Roe versus Wade is no longer in effect in Texas essentially this morning. It has emboldened other conservative states to follow the Texas lead.

In South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem is pushing for tighter abortion laws in her state. She just ordered a review to ensure they have, quote, "the strongest pro-life laws on the books."

And President Biden has promised a whole of government response to what he calls an assault on women's rights.

Kaitlan Collins, chief White House correspondent, what people don't know is that during the breaks, you're sitting here working your sources, still finding out what's going on in the White House.

What are they saying? What are they telling you? What can they really do about this?

COLLINS: I think they're walking a really careful line, because you've seen President Biden put out a statement. His press secretary said there is going to be a whole of government response. And the Justice Department says they're looking into this. But I think there are real questions about what kind of muscle you'll

specifically see the president put behind it, because notice yesterday he was talking about the hurricane. He did not bring this up in person. He had issued a paper statement on it.

I do think there are a lot of questions that Democrats have. Because they see this as such a big wakeup call for them.

But the president also has to kind of moderate to a degree, because remember he has a lot of people in rural areas that voted for him for president. That was a big battleground between him and the former president. And so I think that that is a factor in this.

While other Democrats may be very motivated by it. You may see other lawmakers be incredibly motivated by it.

BERMAN: One option, perhaps, the furthest end option would be increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court, which Joe Biden was pressed on a lot during the campaign. He's got this commission looking into it. Do you think this would move him in any direction? Any sign there?

COLLINS: The commission is interesting, because when they first had started it and they were talking about it in the White House briefing room, we asked if they were going to make recommendations to the president. What was this actually going to end? What was the end result going to be? Would it actually change anything?

And they essentially said no, that they're not making recommendations anymore. And that's interesting, because maybe the question is does this actually lead to anything at the end of the day?

And so this was so motivating for Republicans, is why -- like a large factor in why they put former President Trump in office, is because they are very driven by judicial nominations. Of course, you've seen McConnell and whatnot.

Democrats have not always been as motivated by it. So it's a big question whether or not this changes that.

BERMAN: We've been talking about the political pressure on Joe Biden here. I actually think there's a lot of pressure now on Republicans politically as they go forward.

Because whenever you take something away, it's very different for a voter or a person. And it also puts pressure on people who want to be president.

Like, Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is a man who wants to be president. Right? So if you are going to run in a Republican primary, if you're Ron DeSantis, don't you have to say, I passed the most restrictive abortion law in my state, or I tried to? Doesn't this compel DeSantis to try to pass this in the state of Florida, which is purple-ish. I mean, purple/red.

I mean, there are a lot of voters in Florida who may not like the idea of an abortion ban. And there are general election voters, you know, for a presidential run who might not like the idea of it.

COLLINS: It certainly could, because I think DeSantis, you know, he is going to be running for re-election. What he'll be up against is you're seeing all these Republican governors really coming out and making names for themselves by doing things like this, by engaging in these battles over mask mandates and vaccine requirements.

And now this is a new frontier, in addition to restrictive voting laws. And so how DeSantis finds his place in that, where he distinguishes himself, I think, is a big aspect of this.

I do want to note one thing. When we talk about this Texas law, because we were -- it's just so restrictive in its nature. And I was listening to Chris Cuomo's show last night. And a woman who was from a reproductive center was on there and was just talking about another Texas law as we're going down this list of Texas laws, where a woman, if she does want to get an abortion, has to go, according to Texas law, and get a state-mandated information and a sonogram from her doctor at least 24 hours before.

This woman last night was saying that there has been an experience where a woman went in, got her state-mandated sonogram before she can get an abortion, went back the next day, a heartbeat was detected.