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New Day Saturday

Five-Million-Plus Under Hurricane Warnings As Northeast Braces For Henri; Source: 14,000 People Now At Kabul Airport; Some Biden Statements Contradicted By Facts On The Ground In Afghanistan; Full FDA Approval Of The Pfizer Vaccine As Early As Monday; ICU Care Units Over 90 Percent Full In Five States, Including Florida And Texas; Fear Over Fate Of Women And Girls Grow After Taliban Takeover Of Afghanistan. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired August 21, 2021 - 06:00   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Always so grateful to have you with us. Good morning to you on your NEW DAY. I'm Christi Paul.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Christi. I'm Boris Sanchez. We are tracking Henri, the tropical storm expected to reach hurricane strength before making landfall in the northeast. We have the latest on the track and the storm's potential impacts.

PAUL: Also, desperate to leave, thousands of Afghans are camped out at the airport in Kabul. They're begging for a flight out of that country. What we're learning now about those evacuation flights and the efforts to get Americans back home.

SANCHEZ: Plus, imminent approval, a source telling CNN that full approval of the Pfizer vaccine could come as soon as next week, the news coming as hospitalizations among children reach their highest levels yet.

Good morning. We are thrilled that you are with us this Saturday, August 21st. Thanks for waking up with us. Good morning, Christi.

PAUL: Good morning, Boris. Good to see you and good to have all of you with us here. We do want to begin this morning with more than 5 million people across Long Island and Connecticut under this hurricane warning now as Tropical Storm Henri is slowly intensifying over the Atlantic.

SANCHEZ: Yes. The storm expected to strengthen into a hurricane later today. It's likely going to make landfall on new York's Long Island tomorrow and if Henri stays on this course, it's going to be the first hurricane to directly hit that area in 36 years.

PAUL: Connecticut and Massachusetts, for example, have both activated their National Guards in anticipation for these life threatening storm surges and widespread power outages that are expected ahead of Henry's -- or Henri's landfall. Excuse me. Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker said this about what people should expect.


GOV. CHARLIE BAKER, MASSACHUSETTS (R): We're also activating up to 1,000 members of the National Guard and they'll be ready to assist with high water rescue, debris clearing and public safety support, should it be necessary. The storm could knock out power for somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 residents based on the current estimates.


SANCHEZ: Let's get straight to meteorologist Allison Chinchar. She's in the CNN Weather Center. Allison, good morning. Give us an idea of where Henri is right now and ...


SANCHEZ: Yes. Henri. And when things might pick up.

CHINCHAR: Yes. So it's a good question because there's a lot of -- there's been a lot of confusion because the track has gone back and forth the last couple of days. So people really just want to know where is it going to go and what are the impacts going to be? So let's start with where it is now. It's just off the coast of the Carolinas out to the east there, sustained winds at 70 miles per hour, moving to the north-northeast at just about 12 miles per hour.

We have tropical storm warnings here in blue and hurricane warnings here in red because even though it is not a hurricane now, it is expected to intensify up to a hurricane at least at some point today. Could be a few hours from now, could be later on this evening. Then it continues to make its curve back towards the west just a little bit, expecting landfall likely somewhere around lunchtime tomorrow.

The question of where really could be anywhere from New York over through Hartford, Connecticut and then it starts to make that sharp turn back out to sea. Now, you mentioned it's been a long time since Long Island has actually had a direct landfall.

It was Gloria back in 1985, but look at some of these other storms, 1954, 1960, 1976. So for an entire generation of people living in this area, they have not experienced a storm this strong making landfall, so this is certainly something people need to pay attention to.

Storm surge is likely going to be a really big concern. The red area here, including Nantucket, 3 to 5 feet up towards Providence and New Haven. A little bit farther to the west, about 2 to 4 feet, but even along the Jersey Shore, looking at 1 to 3 feet. Now, one thing to consider, too, is that high tide is possibly going to line up in a lot of these places with when landfall is expected.

And, Christi, you and I were talking about this earlier, but both of you, tomorrow is a full moon. So you not only have the daily high tides, but astronomical high tides that will be a factor in this storm as well.

PAUL: It's like everything is just lining up in a really bad way for that area. Allison Chinchar, we're so glad you're on this. Thank you so much.


PAUL: And we'll keep you posted, of course, as we're tracking the storm all morning. Next hour, in fact, we're speaking with the administrator of FEMA, talking about what the federal government's doing to prepare for Henri.

SANCHEZ: Now to the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghan citizens desperate to escape that country are making a harrowing journey to the airport in Kabul, a source telling CNN that right now, 14,000 people are at Hamid Karzai International and even those who make it to the perimeter wind up waiting for hours to get inside. You can see in this video some are so exhausted they're sleeping, camping, on the gravel outside.


PAUL: Listen, one of the most heartbreaking scenes, look at this, this baby. That is a baby there being handed over a wall topped with razor wire, thank goodness into the arms of U.S. troops. The Pentagon says that baby's been treated for an illness and the baby is back with its father. The U.S. is scrambling, though, to find new locations for evacuation flights to even land.

President Joe Biden says every American who wants to leave will be evacuated, but officials don't know how many are still in Afghanistan. Flights out of the country were paused for several hours because of the backlog of people trying to get out of -- out of Afghanistan.

SANCHEZ: CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh joins us now from Doha, Qatar. Nick, your sources telling you that 14,000 people are currently at the airport roughly. Do we have a time line as to when they may be able to get out?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Not all at this stage, no, and 14,000 is an horrifically large number. Clarissa was told 10,000 yesterday when she was at the airport by Marines. Obviously, these numbers can fluctuate and no number is solid in case evacuation flights actually start getting underway, but this probably explains why an Afghan on that base speaking to me was told by a U.S. Marine that they should try and stay out of the main airport compound, referring to it as a trash-filled dumpster.

It is heaving with people at this stage. Why? Well, the source I was spoken to saying, well, this is because for a period of time, the sort of filtration system that the U.S. had lapsed and it became essentially humanitarian and if you knew somebody who would get you one, you would get on. That's what they're dealing with inside now, flights getting back underway to Qatar, to Dubai, to Kuwait, although I understand Kuwait is if you are en route to the United States, Germany as well, possibly Hungary, the source told me as well.

But you are left now with this extraordinarily large operation that doesn't have a defined endpoint. President Joe Biden clear all Americans will be taken out in this. In fact, he also said that they were finding that Americans had no difficulty getting to the airport, which is utter, utter, nonsense. They may not be impeded by the Taliban, but getting in to the compound itself, that is exceptionally hard for anybody.

Separately to that, he said he would like to get as many allied Afghans out as possible, but the definition of who's eligible keeps expanding, it's been expanded, the paperwork's very slow. So the question is how long does this go on for? The U.S. will be a victim of its own success, likely. If it gets loads of people off, a lot of people will keep turning up trying to get in. If it suddenly declares that it's got not much longer left in this, there'll be a flood to try and be the last out on the planes.

The source said to me the discussion about how long has already begun and the possibility is that some defense officials are thinking about a week. Now, obviously that's not been official policy at this stage, but it shows that most likely those dealing with this are beginning to see these scenes and think they can't go on and do this forever.

One more thing I should just say to you. A lot of people here wondering what on earth happened to former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. He suddenly vanished about a week ago. I've been speaking to a senior official close to him who gave me one remarkable fact in all of this. There was a moment when the Taliban went to the presidential palace and said basically your time is up. We need you to surrender. We need a peaceful handover of power.

That message was delivered to the national security adviser of the Afghan government (ph), but it was delivered by man called Khalil Haqqani. Probably don't know who he is, but Haqqanis are the Al-Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan. Essentially you have somebody very close to Al-Qaeda, even Al-Qaeda, wanted as a terrorist in the United States, turning around to the government America supported for 20 years and saying you're done, it's time to hand over power to the Taliban. Think about that.

SANCHEZ: A devastating fact considering that so much of what has been sacrificed over the last 20 years has been an effort to undo Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Nick Paton Walsh, as always, thank you so much for the reporting.

President Joe Biden says the United States has made significant progress since the Taliban took control of Kabul on Sunday, but as you just heard there from Nick, several things we've heard from the White House have been contradicted by the facts on the ground in Afghanistan.

PAUL: The president's going to Wilmington, Delaware later today. He delayed his trip by a day to deal with this crisis. White House reporter Jasmine Wright is with us live. The president initially, Jasmine, struck this defiant tone in response to the criticism over the botched withdrawal. What are we hearing from him now?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Christi. Well, yesterday, we heard President Biden trying to get on the offensive, really just a little bit of change in the strategy, trying to get ahead of the chaos instead of the defensive, as you just said, that we have seen from him and his aides over the past week. And so for Biden, that meant injecting a little bit of optimism, but that also meant injecting a little bit of empathy, something that we have seen from the president over the seven months that he has been in office.


And in one of those remarks yesterday, he pledged, as Nick said, to bring any American back to the U.S. that wants to come back, but also he said he would bring any Afghan that helped the U.S. over that 20- year war get out if they wanted to, going a step further than he had before. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home, but make no mistake, this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and it's being conducted under difficult circumstances. I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or what it will be -- that it will be without risk of loss, but as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary.


WRIGHT: But, Christi and Boris, you are right that we did hear some contradictory statements, first when he said that he had no indication that Americans weren't able to get to the airport safely. We just heard from Nick saying that that's not exactly true. We heard from Clarissa Ward yesterday in Kabul saying that she saw folks getting trapped outside of the airport, really in kind of a mob that would sometimes turn violent and then once they would get there, they would wait hours upon hours.

And President Biden's own secretary of defense, Austin, told House lawmakers yesterday in a private call, CNN learned, that they did know of reports of Americans getting beaten outside of the airport and then when we talk -- and then President Biden said that he had -- no allies were really questioning the U.S.' competence. We know, over days and days of reporting, that that's just not true from politicians in the U.K. and Germany.

But President Biden says that, you know, there will be time for criticism later and was still really steadfast in his decision to withdraw. Christi, Boris?

PAUL: Jasmine Wright, we appreciate the update so much. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Let's bring in CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton. He served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. Good morning, Colonel. Always appreciate your expertise.

Let's talk about the situation on the ground. President Biden admitting that the White House doesn't know exactly how many Americans are in Afghanistan. The State Department's estimate earlier this week was between 5,000 and 10,000, not to mention the thousands of Afghan nationals that have assisted the United States that have put their lives at risk that have an opportunity to get out of Afghanistan. In your mind, what are the odds that the military can get everyone that it needs to out by that August 31st deadline?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Going to be tough, Boris. Good morning. There are so many factors here and one of them is that the perimeter that the allied and usually American military forces control is right by the airport. It's not -- it doesn't extend beyond the airport very much.

I have received messages from people who are actually waiting to get into the airport. One gentleman, an Afghan who has all the paperwork, told me that he waited this past evening from 8:00 P.M. all the way to 9:00 A.M. the next -- this next morning and no luck, couldn't get in, couldn't get past the crowd.

So this shows that there are going to be some really difficult things that have to happen here. They're going to have to speed up the in- processing efforts at those gates. That's going to be something where they're going to have to work really hard in order to get even a large portion of the people who need to get out or want to get out onto the tarmac at the airport.

SANCHEZ: And, Colonel, officials have been calling on the Taliban to allow for safe passage of those that want to get to the airport. President Biden has said that he hasn't really heard reports of harassment by the Taliban. That's been contradicted by officials in his own administration and by our own reporters, Nick Paton Walsh calling it utter nonsense just a few moments ago.

What can the United States do at this point beyond pleading with the Taliban to allow for safe access to make this happen? Does the United States have any leverage over the Taliban at this point?

LEIGHTON: Well, the United States actually does have some leverage. In a tactical sense, we can make very clear to the Taliban that the minute that they harm somebody, there be consequences. Of course you have to be careful with that. That could escalate very quickly and especially with various elements of the Taliban getting involved, it could be difficult.

On the more diplomatic or strategic front, the Taliban could be warned that if anybody is harmed, they would lose funding, international funding, they would lose their ability to have relationships with other countries and that, you know, is something that of course is also fraught with some risk because the Taliban see things as they're happening on the ground. They, in many cases, react to those things where they control the narrative on the ground.


So it's a difficult way ahead either way, but it is possible to influence them and, in some ways, to talk reason to them.

SANCHEZ: And, Colonel, I want to get your reaction to something that Nick just reported. I'm not sure if you were able to hear what he was saying about the handover of power that when the Taliban reached the presidential palace in Kabul, the person who actually told the national security adviser that there should be a peaceful transfer, that the Taliban was knocking at the door, that the president should leave has affiliations to Al-Qaeda.

And just hearing that is difficult to stomach considering all the sacrifices that have been made by the United States in blood and treasure to rid Afghanistan of terror.

LEIGHTON: Well, absolutely, Boris. Two-thousand-four-hundred-and- forty-two Americans killed in action in Afghanistan and they were there to defeat Al-Qaeda and to prevent Al-Qaeda from getting to the United States and to our allies and to hear that from Nick Paton Walsh was, you know, in many ways stunning and the idea that the Haqqani network was doing what they're doing, that they're actually controlling many things within the Taliban, that gives you pause and tells you what the future really has in store for us.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it does not portend for a positive outcome from the United States withdrawnal in Afghanistan, at least in this way. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you so much for the time. Appreciate you.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Boris. Any time.

SANCHEZ: Of course. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is frightening for many reasons and especially for women. Up next, details on how their lives have been impacted by a swift regime change and what it could mean for their futures.

PAUL: Also, COVID-19 cases are surging across the country. We're talking with a physician and an infectious disease expert about hospitals that are running out of ICU beds, the expected approval by the FDA of the Pfizer vaccine. A lot of things to talk about. Stay with us.




SANCHEZ: New this morning, some good news on the COVID front. Full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine is eminent. According to officials, full approval could come as early as Monday. This comes as the Delta variant, of course, fuels a surge of coronavirus cases. According to the department of Health and Human Services, one in five hospital ICUs now has at least 95 percent of its beds occupied.

PAUL: And now the CDC says the rates of hospitalizations for children and young adults under 50 are at their highest levels since the beginning of this pandemic and in some states, the battle over masks is still going on. In Texas, school and local mask mandates are allowed for now after Texas Supreme Court rejects Governor Abbott's request to intervene. CNN's Nadia Romero has more.


NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (Voice over): Full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is, quote, "imminent" and a Biden administration official said approval of the two-dose vaccine could be as early as Monday. Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations filling up ICUs across the U.S., with the worst of it in the nation's southern states like Florida.

MARY MAYHEW, PRESIDENT & CEO, FLORIDA HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION: We are seeing a much younger group of individuals who are hospitalized for COVID in our intensive care units on ventilators. These are healthy, young 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds.

ROMERO (Voice over): The Sunshine State now sitting under a dark cloud of COVID-19 milestones. There have been more than 17,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in about six weeks amid severe staffing shortages. Florida's governor pushing infected Floridians to undergo antibody treatments. Studies show it can reduce the risk of hospitalizations and deaths. This Florida woman, sick with COVID, collapsing on the ground while waiting for an antibody treatment.

GOV. RON DESANTIS; (R) FLORIDA: Well, I think this is probably the most significant thing we can do to keep people out of the hospital.

ROMERO (Voice over): But the governor doesn't support mask mandates. Under his direction, the Florida Board of Education ordering Broward and Alachua counties to allow mask opt-out for students in the next 48 hours or start losing funding. Late Friday at an emergency meeting, the Sarasota County School Board voted to adopt a 90-day mandatory mask policy for students, employees, visitors and vendors with only medical or IEP opt-outs in place.

On Thursday in Georgia, the state seeing its highest number of COVID- 19 cases since January, but Governor Brian Kemp giving businesses a pass to ignore local COVID-19 ordinances.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP, (R) GEORGIA: Georgians know the risks of COVID-19 and they also know how to go about their lives.

ROMERO (Voice over): Cobb County schools, just north of Atlanta, in the midst of a fiery debate over mask mandates in the classroom. Friday, the district reporting a little less than double the active cases from last week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if there are a certain number of positive cases that you're looking for or do a certain number of kids need to die before you humble yourselves enough to admit that you're wrong?

ROMERO (Voice over): In Alabama, every county listed as high transmission for COVID-19, but still some at a Lauderdale County school board meeting wanting to make masks optional for kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're hurting our children and these teachers that want to act like they have control of our children in dictating to them, no. ROMERO (Voice over): Texas governor Greg Abbott still battling COVID- 19 himself and local mask mandates. The state's Supreme Court allowing local mask mandates, including those in schools, to remain in effect, at least for now.


ROMERO: And back here in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, his battle with school districts continues. Broward County schools, Alachua County schools both say they will keep their mask mandates and they'll respond to the governor within the next 48 hours.


And he'll have to battle the state's largest school district, Miami- Dade County public schools. They start on Monday with a mask mandate of their own. Christi, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Nadia Romero reporting from Miami. Thank you so much. So let's talk to an expert about all of this. Dr. Taison Bell joins us now. He's the director of the medical intensive care unit and an assistant professor of infectious diseases and pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Virginia. Dr. Bell, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your expertise.

Let's start with the latest news on the Pfizer vaccine. If the FDA gives it full approval by Monday, what is that going to mean? How much of a game-changer could that be?

DR. TAISON BELL, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: This is very good news and thank you for having me on. When it comes to full approval, I think that there's a small amount of the population who are waiting for full approval from the FDA. It's really the highest bar for approval, but what this really does is really open up the ability for businesses, colleges, universities to really require the vaccine.

And so I think you'll see a lot of more employer requirements and hopefully an up-tick in our vaccinations from this, but this is certainly very good news.

SANCHEZ: And, Doctor, you've been getting calls from states like Florida, Alabama and Texas and they're requesting help because their ICU beds are reaching capacity. How frustrating is it for you to be getting these pleas for help when you know that these issues could have been prevented if simply more people had been vaccinated?

BELL: Well, it's very surprising, you know, to get calls from hospitals that are in different time zones to try to transfer patients because they're overwhelmed and at the same time, you're seeing leaders of these states debating the utility of mask mandates and talking about things like monoclonal antibodies, which do have a role in preventing severe disease, but are not the way to prevent hospitalizations being overrun.

So I could speak for a lot of my colleagues when we say that we did not expect to be at this place at this point with vaccines available and as far as the severe disease, it's really been in people that have been unvaccinated. I have not yet taken care of a fully vaccinated COVID-19 patient in the ICU. So it's just -- it's sad, it's infuriating and from the perspective of healthcare workers who -- we began ramp-up for COVID-19 thinking that this race was going to be a sprint. It's now turned into a marathon and many people are just tapped out at this point.

SANCHEZ: That's such an important point to keep in mind. You are facing a different kind of shortage in your hospital. You're short on staff. Help us understand why and what, if anything, can be done to fix that issue.

BELL: Well, fixing staff is certainly a very hard issue. So some of the most important people in the country right now are healthcare workers and specifically nurses and ICU nurses and my hospital, like many others, are facing nursing shortages and so capacity limits are not as simple as do you have a bed available or not? You could easily expand a unit, close down elective procedures or set up a field hospital in dire circumstances, but getting a person who's qualified to take care of patients in that bed is much more difficult.

And so we've been doing things like offering incentives to get nurses, but this is a nationwide problem and so, you know, this is only going to lead to worse care really for anyone because if you have any problem that requires hospitalization and you're going to a hospital that's overwhelmed, does not have enough staff to take care of patients, both COVID and non-COVID, then everyone suffers as a result.

So it's a very big problem. The emotional toll of taking care of COVID-19 patients was always very difficult. These are some of the most complicated patients we've ever taken care of in our lives, but now there is the added layer of, especially in the ICUs, these are preventable cases and so there's an added layer of frustration and angst and a lot of healthcare workers have had enough and are going on to other areas or leaving altogether.

SANCHEZ: And underscoring the point of the strain on the healthcare system, those that are available and those that are helping have been working around the clock. Case in point, you're talking to us from an ICU right now where you've been helping patients. So we really appreciate you, not only the work that you're doing, but also taking time to offer some words of wisdom and perspective. Dr. Taison Bell, thank you so much, sir.

BELL: Thank you for having me.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

PAUL: The right to work, getting an education, being able to leave their house. Coming up, the rise of the new Taliban regime, it threatens to strip women in Afghanistan of those basic freedoms.


[06:30:00] PAUL: It's obviously deep concern over the fate of women and girls in

Afghanistan now that the Taliban are in control of the country. The fear is that, two decades of progress on basic women's rights are just going to vanish. Joining me now, Rukhsar Azamee; a former producer for "TOLO" news channel in Afghanistan. She left the country six years ago after receiving death threats. She's now a graduate student at New York University. Rukhsar, thank you so much for being with us.

Help us understand, you bring us into that moment, if you would, where you were watching what was happening next week and what your thoughts were.

RUKHSAR AZAMEE, FORMER TOLO NEWS PRODUCER: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I -- so the day -- especially I -- when -- this whole two weeks has been very chaotic because one province fall after another one.


And we were all anxious, we were all worried. And I was constantly on the phone with my family. It was the morning in Afghanistan, and slightly, my evening here when I was speaking with my mom, and I have never -- when I'm saying my mom is a strong, by any means, I mean it, because my mom tried to prepare us for any difficult moment. I have never seen her like that. I was on the phone with her and she burst into tears, and for me just seeing that strong woman just crying like that, that sense of being hopeless, that sense of knowing that I can't do anything, no one can do anything.

I -- so many Afghans I'm sure will understand me. It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking. I got on the phone not just with my family, with my friends. We screamed and cried and cried for like -- and this whole week has been the same way. We have families there, we have relatives, we have loved ones there who are extremely in danger and they have never thought this day was coming. And it's heartbreaking. I can't express it in words like anymore --

PAUL: Rukhsar, I'm so sorry. I don't think anybody can even really -- unless you are going through it as you are -- understand what that must be like. Do you know if your mother and sister are safe right now? And if they're -- I know that they're in Kabul and they have visas. Are they able to get out?

AZAMEE: They have visas. I tried to get them tickets, the tickets keep canceling. They cannot find their way to the airport. This situation is extremely dangerous. They are in hiding. And it's unbelievable. Every other second I fall apart, I put my pieces together. I try my best to see how I can help them to stay strong for them. And the same thing, all of Afghan women across the world, we are putting our hands together to try to help them, to get them some way out of the country, to get them at least somewhere safe.

PAUL: You know on a level that we do not what the Taliban is capable of. We know that they have filed a strict interpretation of Islamic law which does not allow women to work, which does not allow women or girls to go to school. Now, they've publically claimed that women will not be discriminated against. But that they can participate in society -- and this is the key point, "within the bounds of Islamic law". What does that mean to you? And what is your biggest fear right now?

AZAMEE: Well, first of all, let me explain this. In Islamic law, it doesn't say that women are not allowed to go to school or go to work. Whatever the interpretation that Taliban has from Islamic and Sharia law, I don't know where it's coming from. It's totally wrong.

And that's what we have been fighting for all these 20 years. And now that seeing every institution in Afghanistan is getting destroyed, and especially girls are losing hope -- I was just following one of my friends who has a private school in Afghanistan, she posted on her Twitter today that she destroyed all the evidence, all the record of the school documents and girls' documents to not just put them at risk.

Seeing that post, it's so devastating because I will quote her. She says 20 years ago, Taliban destroyed all the documents and evidence and everything about girls education, she put them away from getting education. And today, we are going to get by ourselves to just keep them safe.

And knowing Taliban and knowing the brutality that they have committed many years, during their jurisdiction in Afghanistan, and even in this last 20 years, we cannot trust them. Nobody can trust them. And we know what will be the future of Afghan girls.

It's taking all their hopes away and my heart aches to see that all the fights, all the accomplishments that we had, it has been destroyed overnight.


And I cannot imagine -- I cannot imagine what those girls are going through, that they are right now in Kabul and they know that they cannot go to school or they cannot go to their colleges and universities again --

PAUL: Rukhsar --

AZAMEE: Including my own sisters.

PAUL: Yes, Rukhsar Azamee, please keep us posted about your family. We are praying that they and all of these people are able to get to safety and that they will be OK. We're just so sorry for what you're going through. And we can imagine the hopelessness of watching it and not being able to do anything in that moment. But please take good care of yourself, Rukhsar, thank you for sharing with us today.

AZAMEE: Of course, of course --

PAUL: Of course --

AZAMEE: Thank you for having me.

PAUL: Always, we'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SANCHEZ: In just a matter of hours, CNN is going to bring you the star-studded "We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert".

PAUL: Yes, nearly two dozen artists are taking the stage to celebrate the city's comeback after more than a year of these COVID restrictions. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is near New York's Central Park where the concert is taking place. It will air exclusively on CNN. Shimon, what do you -- what do you expect in your "I love New York" shirt --


PAUL: Very aptly warn.

PROKUPECZ: Well, I'm certainly very ready for this and very excited about this. So, it's going to be a really exciting day when you think about all of the artists that are going to be here from Bruce Springsteen to Jennifer Hudson, Wyclef Jean, l..L. Cool J, Paul Simon, those are just some of the big names that are going to be here. Packed. This park is going to be amazing here. Throughout the day, starting at 5 O'clock, the concert kicks off. People will start streaming in around 3 O'clock. I want to show you guys around just to kind of give you a scene here of what it looks like.

We actually got access into the park. The park is still open, so, we've seen joggers coming through here, people on bikes. That's the stage. That's where everything is going to happen. And then, obviously, all around is where people are going to be. It's a ticketed event.

About 80 percent of the tickets were given out for free of people who were able to go online, sign up and get tickets, 20 percent of those are going to be paid for. Some of them very expensive, for sure, but that's going to give people access closer to the stage. You have to be vaccinated to come in.

But certainly, I think for New York, as the mayor as said, this is to show people that New York is back open, to get people excited, to come back to New York City, and also one of the things they want to show is that what you can do if you are vaccinated. You can go to parks. You can go to shows. You can go to concerts. And that's really the theme here, is to get people together and to show that New York is back.

PAUL: Shimon Prokupecz, I just want to hear Barry Manilow sing "Day Break".


PROKUPECZ: You will. You will.

PAUL: I'm aging myself, but I don't care. Shimon Prokupecz, it's so good to see you -- SANCHEZ: Thanks, Shimon --

PAUL: Thank you so much.

PROKUPECZ: It's good to see you.

PAUL: Absolutely. You can watch "We Love New York City: The Homecoming Concert" tonight at 5:00 p.m. Eastern exclusively right here on CNN. We'll be right back.



PAUL: So long time NBA player looking for a second calling after retirement turned to marijuana because of his grandma of all people.

SANCHEZ: That's what grandma has been hiding in the cookie jar. Al Harrington says he is setting his sights higher, becoming a mentor and advocate for other black entrepreneurs. Carolyn Manno joins us now with more on this week's Difference Makers. Good morning Carolyn.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you both. Had to keep that cookie jar protected. That's for sure. Harrington -- a thousand games for seven different teams, spanning a career that lasted 16 seasons. And while he was an active player, guys, he was a student of the cannabis industry. But now, he's 41 years old and he's the CEO of his own company in Detroit, and as you mentioned, it's named after a very special woman in his life.


AL HARRINGTON, FORMER NBA PLAYER: It started two years ago, it started because of my grandmother. My grandmother suffered from glaucoma, and I was able to tell her about some things that I was reading in the newspaper, how cannabis cured glaucoma patients. And I just said to her, I was like, grandma, why don't you just give it a try.

I said you're in a market where it's legal. And he said, it'll be our secret. So I had her try it, hour and a half later, I went to go check on her, and I just said, grandma, how are you feeling? And she literally turned around crying tears, she said, I'm healed.

She said, you know, I haven't been able to read the words of my Bible in over three years, and that's what inspired me to learn as much as I could about the cannabis plant, and it led me to make an investment a year later, and we named the company Viola, which is my grandmother's name.

You got all people all around the world and they smoke Viola. They told them our truth.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop telling people.

HARRINGTON: I promise, grandmother, you are famous.

My mission was all about changing the stigma because they've demonized this plant, and what we've now learned is that this plant is the most dynamic plant in the world. Yes, obviously, has healing properties for the human body, because of the cannabinoid system in the cannabinoids that are within the plant to all the 103,000 uses of a plant in general. The goal that we see is if more black people can get control of these licenses, we'll invest back within our community.


We are now calling on these lawmakers to put different things in their legislation around tax money so that this money can now trickle back to our community. We want to uplift education and empower people of color and then enlighten them to this opportunity and also be able to give them the tools that they needed and resources so they can be successful because this is generational wealth at risk.

We've seen industries before this where we've dominated or we actually -- I mean, we built America, and right now, we have no ownership, and we just cannot allow that to happen again with cannabis.


MANNO: Al Harrington, our difference maker this week. And you know what, guys, he's not the only athlete current or otherwise is connected to the cannabis industry. It's growing fast. Joe Montana, Kevin Durant, Calvin Johnson, the list goes on and on, and expected to grow as the industry grows.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and notably, former NBA Commissioner David Stern before he passed away, someone who frequently punished players for marijuana- use ended up investing in Al Harrington's company. So, progress being made. Carolyn Manno, thank you so much. Stay with CNN, we'll be right back.