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New Day Sunday

U.S. Embassy Issues Security Alert At Kabul Airport Due To "Specific, Credible Threat" At Multiple Areas; Dangerous Hurricane Ida Now Category 4; Jefferson Parish Warns Of "Unsurvivable" Storm Surge; Communities Come To Grips With U.S. Service Members' Deaths In Kabul Airport Attack; U.S. Evacuation From Afghanistan Now In Final Phase; Female Activists Stay In Afghanistan To Fight For Rights; Mississippi Nurses Battle Burnout. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired August 29, 2021 - 05:00   ET




CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome so much to you on "NEW DAY." We're glad to have you here. I'm Christi Paul.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Phil Mattingly. There are two very big stories we're following this morning. Breaking news just moments ago, Hurricane Ida strengthens into a dangerous category 4 hurricane. It's taking direct aim at Louisiana.

In the latest advisory, the National Weather Service is warning of life threatening storm surge and catastrophic damage. Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is standing by with the latest.

PAUL: Also, developing this morning, the U.S. embassy in Kabul warning of a, quote, "specific credible threat" to U.S. citizens near the airport. President Biden warns another attack is highly likely.

The special edition of "NEW DAY WEEKEND" starts now.


PAUL: Sunday, August 29th, thank you so much for spending some time with us this morning.

Good morning to you, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Good morning, Christi. No shortage of huge news.

PAUL: I know. Starting today with the very real danger that we're watching as it barrels toward communities along the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Ida has gained strength, as Phil said earlier. It's approaching the coast of Louisiana and it's a beast.

MATTINGLY: Yes. There's no question about it. Overnight, Ida strengthened into a powerful category 4 storm. It will make landfall sometime today, bringing as much as 20 inches of rain to some areas, the potential for storm surge and strong winds. FEMA trucks and generators are already in the area. The National Guard

has been deployed. But experts warn the pandemic could make emergency responses more difficult.

Yesterday, bumper to bumper traffic stretched for miles, as people left their homes for safety. Ida will be the fourth hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana since August of last year.

PAUL: Also, a strike today would follow exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the region; 1,800 people died during Katrina. Louisiana's governor says this storm is even much more powerful.


GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (R-LA): This will be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit anywhere in Louisiana since at least the 1850s. We can also tell you that your window of time is closing. It is rapidly closing. And just like we said yesterday, by the time you go to bed tonight, you need to be where you intend to ride this storm out.




PAUL: People on the Gulf Coast are not strangers to hurricanes. They're making sure they're ready when Ida makes rainfall.

MATTINGLY: A resilient community but one that knows about preparation. CNN's Michael Holmes has more.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Filling up and getting out, many people in New Orleans are leaving town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Katrina was here, hey, I had -- I had to stand in the water and I slept on the bridge for two days, I am not about to do that again.

HOLMES (voice-over): The lines of heavy traffic leading out of the city show just how many people aren't taking their chances with the storm named Ida. Many residents have been through major hurricanes before.

But officials say this one could be a monster. There are warnings in New Orleans and the surrounding coastal regions to evacuate, if at all possible, by morning. One man says his neighborhood on a barrier island is emptying out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody packing up, getting out. I hear it's only going to be about a dozen people probably going to try to ride it out. But you know, it's going to flood. HOLMES (voice-over): Louisiana has taken the punches of many of these

walloping storms before. It's still recovering from Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Zeta, which made landfall in the state last year, causing nearly $20 billion in damage.

And 16 years ago, on this very day, Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury on New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities. More than 1,800 people were killed in the storm and its harrowing aftermath.

The city taking early action, based on mistakes made during that disaster. It spent billions of dollars reconstructing its levee system. U.S. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration to free up federal assistance.

FEMA is moving trucks and generators to the area. And more than 200 National Guard members are already on the ground in New Orleans. Rescue teams from across the Southeast, also, gearing up to help. Some getting coronavirus tests before they deploy.

Officials and experts say the pandemic will make emergency responses more difficult. And with low vaccination rates in places in the storm's path, Ida could bring a surge not only of floodwaters but of more COVID-19 cases -- Michael Holmes, CNN.


MATTINGLY: Michael, thank you for the reporting.

As Hurricane Ida closes in on Louisiana, many local leaders are warning people in their communities to get out as fast as they can. One of the leaders, Cynthia Lee Sheng, the president of Jefferson Parish, joining me now.

Thank you for your time. It's a critical moment for you. I want to start with something you talked about last night. You told residents they should evacuate immediately. Even though parts of your parish are under mandatory evacuation order, you heard from some people, a few dozen, that hadn't left yet.

Any updates on the people?

Are they planning to move?

CYNTHIA LEE SHENG, PRESIDENT, JEFFERSON PARISH: In the parish I'm talking about is Grand Isle. It's the first land mass this storm will hit. It's about two hours away from where I am now.

It's a very narrow island with one road down the middle, houses on both sides. I'm estimating -- and I spoke to the mayor earlier -- we think there are about 40 people on the island. So I'm concerned for them. You know, it's our main concern for what their night is going to be like.

MATTINGLY: In a situation like that, you know, what is your capacity to get emergency assistance to those people in the middle of something like we think is coming over the course of the next several hours or day?

SHENG: Right now, they have to stay there. They didn't leave in time. And we will have search and rescue immediately. The problem is it's one road in and the road often will get flooded over. It's impassable. It's a difficult search and rescue mission for us. It takes us some time to get there.

It's not really close to where I am, so it's a very difficult situation. Now here where I am in the hurricane protection system is a little bit different. We have different threats. But certainly our concern is Grand Isle. I liken it to they take the first punch for us.


SHENG: Actually, the storm probably weakens by the time it gets to where I am, because it goes through them. They take the first punch for us for these storms.

MATTINGLY: For people who are watching now and paying attention to updates and the window has closed for evacuation, what should they be doing to stay safe?

What should they be doing to hunker down?

SHENG: They need to just stay home and be safe and make sure their homes are secure and then, you know, wait until the storm passes. Then, you know, really, if they're safe in their home, to stay in their home and, you know, let our first responders have use of the roads, have exclusive use of the roads.

We have to clear trees and make sure that the electrical lines are safe, that none of them are live before we really can have citizens go out on the roads.

So we're prepared to do search and rescue. Our firefighters are equipped with boats. They know where people are. You know, we're people that know where each other live in many of our neighborhoods. So they know where to go.

In the Lafitte area as well, we estimate there's about 400 people still there in the low lying areas of our parish. So we're prepared to get out as soon as possible and do search and rescue.

MATTINGLY: Close knit communities know each other well and have no shortage of experience in moments like this.

Do you have everything you need?

You know, obviously, your governor is explicit about what is available and what is going on now; from the federal level, as well.

Do you feel like you have the resources?

Do you feel like you're getting the adequate amount of supplies and resources you need for what is coming? SHENG: Our state prepositioned buses in our parish for a post storm evacuations. We also have 200 National Guard troops in our parish to help our firefighters and our law enforcement officers in security measures and also in search and rescue.

So you know, we're just hoping that we get the response that we need; obviously, we're going need help when this thing comes through. And I have the governor's phone number. I have the congressman's phone number. We have the people and we know the people. I'm sure everybody is going to help.

I've received a lot of texts. In the surrounding parishes, we help one another. I'm sure if I need help, I'll have plenty of people willing to do so.

MATTINGLY: Yes. No question. Please keep us posted, as well, as you move through this. Our thoughts are with you guys as the storm comes in. Thank you so much for taking the time with us.

PAUL: And we should point out Ida's path is on a crash course with Morgan City. We're talking with the mayor about the surge and what that city is doing this hour.





PAUL: It's 5:16, early morning. There are evacuations going on right now, as you may be sitting at home watching this. They're going on across parts of the Gulf Coast as Ida is barreling toward Louisiana.

Again, if you're just joining us, this category is now -- this hurricane is now a category 4. It's expected to make landfall later today.

MATTINGLY: OK. Christi, over the last 24 hours, all you had to do was look at the highways and airports. Thousands have been seen leaving New Orleans ahead of the storms, which could bring winds of 140 miles per hour.

Dangerous flash flooding and heavy rains lasting into tomorrow. Now officials have urged residents to make final preparations now before the storm hits. For those who have not departed in time to prepare for power outages in the coming days.

PAUL: Forecasters are projecting the cat 4 will make landfall west of New Orleans now. That's the red zone, as you see it there. Coastal communities are getting ready for life threatening storm surges, up to 15 feet, in fact.

That kind of a storm surge could top levees and leave a lot of critical roads submerged, not just for a little while but for days. The mayor, Lee Dragna, is with Morgan City, Louisiana, and he is in the path of this storm, his whole community is.

Mayor, can you hear me?


PAUL: Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us. I can imagine how you're feeling this morning with the ways things progressed. I understand you had issued voluntary evacuations on Friday.

What do you know about the number of people in your area who left and those who stayed?

DRAGNA: Well (INAUDIBLE) about 35 up to 40 percent of people of Morgan City left. It's quite a bit because there were around last night, looking in and there's a lot of people that left, you know, a lot of houses without cars, let's put it that way. And nobody on the streets. So that means they left.


So what do you know about the people who have stayed?

I talked to one city leader yesterday, who said, you know, there are people who stayed because they can't afford to leave.

Are there people in your community in the same predicament?

DRAGNA: Oh, yes. Most definitely. There's people that stayed. They couldn't afford to leave. There's business owners, a lot of self- sufficient people around here that won't leave. It's just the way it is.

PAUL: As a mayor, what do you say to those people?

Did you ever have mandatory evacuation order announced?

Or was it all voluntary?

DRAGNA: It was all voluntary. We -- by the time the parishes made their -- the parish (INAUDIBLE) made their evacuation shelter available to us, it was just too late for them to get on the road and get jammed up in the traffic.

PAUL: Have you been able to get people to shelters?

DRAGNA: We offered that shelter to people and I believe quite a few people went to it at the last minute.

PAUL: OK. So you believe there are people at your shelters.


PAUL: I know COVID --

[05:20:00] PAUL: The numbers in Louisiana for COVID have been skyrocketing.

How has that complicated your efforts to keep these people safe, particularly those going to shelters?

DRAGNA: That caused the parish not to give us access to a shelter to the last minute because they were super worried about it, making a super spreader situation in the shelter.


PAUL: But the shelter is available for you now. I know that you have a pretty sophisticated floodwall and levee system. But again, the news coming out of this latest report on Ida puts you straight in the path for this 10- to 15-foot storm surge, which would, as I understand it, topple your levee.

Talk about the confidence or lack thereof you're feeling this morning.

DRAGNA: No, no, our levee is 20 feet and it's strong. We don't have that issue. Some surrounding areas do but we don't have that issue. We're not worried about the storm surge.

It's more the rain that falls inside that we are going to have to fight to keep it to a manageable level to where we don't flood people.

PAUL: OK. And what resources do you have available right now as we're probably just 10 hours away from this thing hitting to help people once the storm hits?

When you say 40 percent people left, it means 60 percent are still in your area. I'm wondering how confident you are in the resources you have available.

Do you have resources not just in the city but state and federal?

DRAGNA: Well, most definitely. The state has helped us a lot. They gave us five huge pumps so the city has installed them. Also, they have generators -- they have given us generators. We have our own generators to run our sewer (ph) stations and our pump stations; spares, too, just in case.

And we know the lights are going to go out. We know that so we have three different crews of people on standby to help us with electricity and debris and, you know, helping people. Also the Ochsner's (ph) hospital system has a high water rescue truck, in case we need it. They have big military trucks.

The governor's office has offered us any help we want as soon as this thing passes.

PAUL: Before I let you go, what is your biggest concern, Mayor?

DRAGNA: The wind and loss of electricity.


PAUL: Mayor Lee Dragna, we're wishing you the very best for safety and for all the resources you need to take care of your people there. Thank you so much.

DRAGNA: Thank you. 'Bye.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Coming up next, President Biden says another attack in Kabul is highly likely. Now he's warning the strike against ISIS won't be the last.

Plus, a soon-to-be father, a long time Boy Scout and devoted brother. We'll tell you more about the U.S. service members killed in the airport attack.




PAUL: Here's a live look for you of New Orleans this hour. You see the rain on the lens there. Those are the outer bands of Hurricane Ida, already kind of giving us a glimpse of a little bit of what is to come here. We'll follow the track. The latest on Hurricane Ida for you, of course, all day long.

We'll take you back live to New Orleans in just a few minutes.

MATTINGLY: Yes. At the same time we're also learning more about the 13 U.S. service members killed Thursday in the attack at the Kabul airport. CNN's Natasha Chen with the details.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were young, they were passionate, they believed in their mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, as we all know, the freedom we enjoy as Americans isn't free.

CHEN: Across the U.S., the families and hometown communities of these 13 U.S. service members are grappling with loss after a suicide bomb attack killed them and more than 170 others outside Kabul's international airport on Thursday.

A moment of silence was held for 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz of St. Charles, Missouri.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are incredibly grateful for Jared's service to our nation.

CHEN: And a gathering of friends remembered 23-year-old Marine Corporal Daegan Page from near Omaha, Nebraska. His family says he was a longtime Boy Scout, played hockey and loved hunting in the outdoors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was gone. He was one of the nicest persons I've ever met. I mean -- he was there for you when you needed it and he was there for you when you didn't want it. But he was the definition of best friend I've ever had.

CHEN: The father of 31-year-old Marine Staff Sergeant Taylor Hoover of Salt Lake City said his son was called to action by a defining moment of his generation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was 11 years old, at 9/11. At that time, he decided that, hey, that's what I want to do. Best kid in the world and couldn't ask for any better. Loved his family. His sisters absolutely adore him.

CHEN (voice-over): The sister of 20-year-old Marine Corporal Rylee McCollum, said he was on his first deployment and was expecting a baby due in three weeks.

Another Marine, 23-year-old Sergeant Nicole Gee of Sacramento, California, had posted a week ago on Instagram, a photo of her holding an Afghan infant.

She wrote, "I love my job."

Her friend, who served with her, posted a tribute on social media, saying, "Gee cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world."

Gee was one of two female U.S. service members among those killed.

The other was 25-year-old Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo from Lawrence, Massachusetts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a conversation with her mother yesterday, she spoke of her daughter as a vibrant young person who wanted to give back to the community. And as a result of that, it is her mother's desire that Johanny will be brought back to the city of Lawrence as the hero she is.


CHEN (voice-over): In addition to the 11 Marines killed, one Army Staff Sergeant 23-year-old Ryan Knauss and one Navy Hospitalman 22- year-old Maxton Soviak were also killed.

The last time Soviak spoke to his mother, she told him to be safe. The family said Soviak's last words to her over FaceTime were, "Don't worry, mom, my guys got me. They won't let anything happen to me."

His mother said she realized they all just went together.


MATTINGLY: Natasha Chen, devastating stories that need to be told over and over, thanks again. PAUL: Have to remember those people and their families right now.

President Biden is actually doubling down on his promise to hunt down anyone involved in that terror attack and he says, "Make them pay."

MATTINGLY: I want to bring in my colleague CNN White House reporter Jasmine Wright.

I haven't seen an administration this explicit about incoming threats as they've been over the last couple of days, even more explicit yesterday, saying highly likely an attack will come.

What is the president doing in response to the threat?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president vowing that Saturday's strike won't be the last. It's part of those steps, remember, it represents kind of a two-part strategy.

Yes, he said that the U.S. will defend itself. He's sending a message with that retaliation with troops on the ground but also it represents a prevention strategy, trying to prevent any potential attacks coming against the troops on the -- in Afghanistan as we lead up to that drawdown on August 31st.

Remember, those two ISIS targets killed, the Pentagon identified them as planners and facilitators, saying that one, quote, they believed was associated with potential future attacks at the airport. Take a listen to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby kind of assess the threat as it still stands.


ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Make no mistake, nobody's writing this off and saying, well, we got them so we don't have to worry about ISIS-K anymore.

Not the case. As I said earlier, the -- the threat stream is still active, still dynamic. We're still laser focused on that and force protection. And we aren't thinking, for a minute, that what happened yesterday gets us in the clear, not a minute.

But do we believe that we hit valid targets, bad guys who can do bad things, and can plan bad missions?


And do we think that that will have some impact on their ability, going forward?



WRIGHT: So the Pentagon maintains they will have the ability to defend itself on the ground as well as leverage those over-the-horizon capabilities, which is what we saw within the strike on Saturday. And President Biden says he has instructed his commanders to take

every possible measure to prioritize force protection as this mission enters a retrograde period which the president has been warned will be the most dangerous part of the evacuation mission.

MATTINGLY: Jasmine Wright, thank you.

Now 48 hours and counting. That's roughly about how much time the U.S. has to complete the evacuations from Afghanistan.

PAUL: Yes. The threat of another terrorist attack is adding to this already complicated drawdown, obviously, as American troops are preparing to leave. Afghan citizens, who were able to get out of the country, are now arriving here in the U.S. They're undergoing screening and vetting before and after they are admitted to the country.

CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh is live with us from Doha.

We want to get updates on the evacuation. The U.S., as I understand it, the embassy warned that U.S. -- or Americans trying to evacuate to avoid the Kabul airport because of the terror threats.

Where are they supposed to go?

What do we know about the tactic?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Obviously, it's increasingly fraught and difficult to get people on to the airport. The warning was specific about certain gates on the airport as well.

So it is hard to see, in that current security environment, with that kind of warning, how the pace of evacuation can be maintained. We're seeing it dropping off substantially. The last numbers for the last 12 hour period with 1,400 evacuees with 600 allies. It's dropping off dramatically and did so over Friday night.

So yes, I think there may be individuals brought in possibly, if they are American citizens trying to get out.


WALSH: I heard from a source familiar with the situation, miraculously, people were still being brought through the gates, even though they're closed, in their single numbers or small families yesterday. But we're seeing the numbers tail off enormously at this stage.

And, obviously, security is paramount. Obviously, the military presence there is into the most difficult phase. They are withdrawing. That's always the most dangerous moment. They're withdrawing under the threats.

As President Biden said, in the next 24 to 36 hours, there could be another ISIS-K attack. So they have to put their safety first. I'm sure we'll have relatively limited information moving forward as to quite how the withdrawal happens.

The Pentagon did say yesterday they had begun putting equipment on planes. But a very fraught closing window here and, of course, that deadline of the 31st of August, a lot of activity, I'm sure, in the hours ahead.

PAUL: Nick Paton Walsh, please stay safe. Thank you so much.

Coming up, courageous female activists who refuse to quit fighting for women's rights in Afghanistan, CNN speaks with them about what is at stake as the Taliban returns to power.

MATTINGLY: And we're staying laser focused on Hurricane Ida. The storm strengthening to a powerful category 4 overnight. The National Weather Service warns of catastrophic winds and flooding rains. The latest on the track and impacts coming up.




PAUL: It's 39 minutes past the hour.

I don't know if there are words to accurately describe the fear and the dread of women and girls when it comes to the Taliban's lightning fast return to power in Afghanistan. I mean, they're facing uncertain futures and possibilities that the gains they've made over the last 20 years, that all of it will be erased.


MATTINGLY: Yes. And the remarkable thing?

Some activists have chosen to risk everything and stay in the country to continue their work. CNN's Anna Coren talks about their stake.


ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "I'm in my house, waiting for any help and support for protection."

"Due to the dangerous situation, my family has stopped me coming on the media."

"I think we will be left here in this hell under the dark shadow of this tyranny."

Testimonies from women inside Afghanistan. All across the country, they are dreading the Taliban's return to power, wondering what it will mean for them.

Many are desperately trying to escape; entire lives, dreams shattered. Their fears are not unfounded. Under Taliban rule, in the '90s and early 2000s, the group denied

women basic rights, forcing them to cover their entire bodies, banning them from the workplace and prohibiting most education for girls, driving many schools, like this one, underground.

The Taliban's longtime spokesman says women's rights will be protected within Islamic sharia law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There will be no violence against women, no discrimination against womens. Of course, based within the framework of the Islamic law.

COREN (voice-over): But already, signs that things have not changed that much. Just days ago, field commanders told women they had to be covered up. And their spokesman instructed women to stay home, temporarily, because their soldiers are, quote, "not trained to respect them."

And yet, despite the impending nightmare scenario, some women activists are choosing to risk it all and stay in Afghanistan for now to continue their work.

Mahbouba Seraj is one of them. She's a prominent activist and head of the Afghan Women's Network.

MAHBOUBA SERAJ, AFGHAN WOMEN'S NETWORK: I am planning to stay here. And I am going to for as long as I am needed in Afghanistan, for as long as there is something I can do which is useful. And I will be hopefully capable of going outside. I am not worried or afraid about that.

COREN (voice-over): This courageous woman in her 70s is waiting to find out what life will be like after the August 31st deadline but says the Taliban cannot afford to count women out this time.

SERAJ: Afghanistan has 35 million people and there are 18 million women. And there is a lot of people that they are educated here. We all need to work together. And -- and that's what I am hoping that is that -- it happens.

And it better happen sooner because the more time we spent in this -- in this kind of a quagmire of not knowing what is going to be happening, Afghanistan will be in deep danger.

COREN (voice-over): And then, there's the generation of Afghan women who can't even remember living under the Taliban, like 23-year-old Pashtana Durrani. She is the executive director of LEARN, a nonprofit working to expand access to girls' education in the country. She is now in hiding.

PASHTANA DURRANI, LEARN: Because we need (INAUDIBLE) to live, to fight for their rights, to fight for their rights to us for their rights, because it's time that people fight back. Not every person can leave. Not every person has the privilege to leave, right?

COREN (voice-over): Pashtana says she is trying to enroll as many girls as possible on digital learning programs before things get worse. But she is not giving up.

DURRANI: It's (INAUDIBLE) of my country as much as theirs and, right now, we fight back. We ask for our rights.

COREN (voice-over): Only time will tell what the future looks like. But the wellbeing of Afghan women will be the surest sign of whether the Taliban has changed its ways. So the stakes could not be higher -- Anna Coren, CNN.


MATTINGLY: Thanks to Anna for that report.

Coming up, as the Gulf Coast braces for Hurricane Ida, we'll speak with a storm chaser as he prepares to ride out the storm.





MATTINGLY: Right this moment, the outer bounds of Ida are already reaching the Louisiana coast line.

PAUL: Yes. The storm -- if you're just joining us, the storm has escalated to a category 4. Forecasters said it could strengthen before making landfall. That's expected west of New Orleans a little bit later today.

Aaron Jayjack is in Louisiana. He's an extreme weather chaser.

Aaron, good to see you. First of all, I know there was -- we talked to the mayor of Morgan City, who said he believes maybe 35 percent to 40 percent of the people left, which means there are still 60 percent of the population there.

What -- help give us a sense of what it's like there.

What are people doing?

AARON JAYJACK, EXTREME STORM CHASER: Yes. So it's very early in the morning now and, you know, we have the big hurricane approaching. There are still cars driving around now. There's definitely people still here.

I think people may be -- this intensified rapidly to a category 4, so maybe some people are now deciding they're going to evacuate. There's plenty of time to still evacuate. But things will start rapidly deteriorating here at sunrise.

And as we get closer to the expected landfall, which is probably late afternoon or early afternoon, potentially, it's a dynamic, changing, evolving situation. I actually fell asleep for a little bit and woke up and we're category 4. When I fell asleep, it was a cat 2. So it's a developing situation here.

MATTINGLY: You mentioned how dynamic the situation is. I've been struck by how stark the warnings have been from public officials. I understand there's reason to be cautious before any storm. But these have been ominous. You've been through so many of these.

What is your read right now about Ida's strength and the potential impact here?

JAYJACK: Well, I think, you know, usually when you're watching hurricanes approach, there's flux and variability.


JAYJACK: The storm has drifted a little bit to the east of the original path. But the models and forecasting has all been showing the path here through anywhere from Morgan City, Louisiana, eastward toward New Orleans and in between there's Houma and that whole path has been in that cone of certainty.

The entire time it's been a -- rather the variability in the models have been tight through this area. It's been not very much time, you know, there's a couple of days ago, there wasn't even a cyclone yet.

So it's a rapid, you know, rapidly evolving situation. Not much time left to go. Hasn't been that much time anyway and we've only got a few more hours left before the storm will be pushing ashore.

PAUL: So Aaron, here is my question. You are described as an extreme storm chaser. I'm assuming that means that you're staying.

And, if that's the case, what is your plan to stay there?

Compare this storm coming to anything you've stayed through in the past.

JAYJACK: I'm trying to get into the eye and the eyewall and the most intense part of the storm. So my plan is to shift myself east. As soon as we're done here with the interview, I'll be moving myself to the east toward Houma and Thibodeaux, and try to get into the eye.

As compared to other storms, you know, it's a very powerful storm. It's a category 4 and it's still increasing its strength. It has a chance to make a run at cat 5. It's a relatively small cat 5, compared to Katrina, which was a large hurricane with hurricane force winds extending 100 miles out from the center. It caused a large amount of surge.

It was initially a cat 5 storm and it weakened a little bit. But that caused more impact because of that. So this storm is a little bit more -- it's a little smaller, more consolidated. The effects will be tighter. Kind of like Hurricane Laura last year, when it came ashore and it was a stark line of major damages.

And you get out from the damage things, quickly reduce in the amount of damage you see out there. PAUL: Yes. We should point out remember Katrina was category 3 when it

hit. Laura was a 4. This one though, the experts seem to be really concerned there. So take care of yourself. Aaron Jayjack, we appreciate it. Thank you.

JAYJACK: Thank you.

PAUL: Up next, hospitals in the pandemic hot spot of Mississippi, they're seeing nurses resigning. Not just a few, I mean I droves. We'll get the inside story of why so many have just reached their breaking point.





PAUL: It's a pretty dire situation in a lot of states, particularly Mississippi. A category 4 hurricane is approaching amid this surge in COVID cases. We know hospitals are already running low on beds. And when you look at what is happening in the next 24 hours, I mean, there could be some deadly consequences here.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question. That's not the only problem. There's also a shortage of nurses. CNN went inside one Mississippi hospital to see how staff are battling burnout. CNN's Erica Hill has more.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the ICU is full.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need tubing and another call for you.

HILL (voice-over): Every patient here battling COVID, every one of them on the ventilator. 15 miles east, it's the same story. The nursing staff at a breaking point.

NICOLE ATHERTON, NURSE, SINGING RIVER OCEAN SPRINGS: I come in here and it's war. It's sometimes chaos.

HILL (voice-over): Just 38 percent of Mississippi's population is fully vaccinated. Along the Gulf Coast, it's even worse, hovering around 30 percent, pushing new cases and hospitalizations higher. Officials warned there aren't enough beds. But on the front lines, the focus isn't space, it's staff.

LEE BOND, CEO, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: There's not a bad shortage. There's a nursing shortage.

ATHERTON: We have had situations in here with COVID, with people this critical where two people start to go bad at once. And you have to decide which room you run to. That's a hard decision to make. HILL (voice-over): The stress of those decisions of the growing number of young COVID patients and preventable death brought Nicole to a breaking point earlier this month.

HILL (on-camera): You made the decision to resign. Why?

ATHERTON: Sometimes it feels like we're fighting a losing battle.

HILL (voice-over): Yet a week after that conversation, Nicole was still in the ICU.

ATHERTON: I realized as I was saying goodbye to these nurses here that I couldn't leave them in the middle of this. HILL (voice-over): Nicole is cutting back her hours. But for now, her resignation is on hold.

BUDDY GAGER, NURSING MANAGER FOR PERSONAL CARE, SINGING RIVER OCEAN SPRINGS HOSPITAL: That's where a nurse's heart comes in, you know. You don't want to see your co-worker suffering as much as you don't want to see a patient suffer.

HILL (voice-over): While it helps, one nurse choosing to stay isn't enough. Mississippi has at least 2,000 fewer nurses than it did at the beginning of the year.

ATHERTON: It looks heroic and it looks -- but that's not what it is. It's sweaty and hard and chaotic and bloody.

MELISSA DAVIS, NURSE, SINGING RIVER PASCAGOULA: I didn't even know really what burnout meant as a nurse until I hit COVID.

HILL (voice-over): Melissa Davis has worked in the ICU for 17 years. It's never been this bad.

DAVIS: I've seen a turnover nurses I never would have thought would have turned over because they can't take anymore.

HILL (on-camera): Do you feel that you're close to a breaking point?

GAGER: I think we're already broke.

HILL (voice-over): Burnout, stress, grueling hours. There are multiple reasons career nurses are choosing to leave.

DR. RANDY ROTH, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: We've been seeing it probably hit a peak recently. We have over 120 nursing vacancies open right now.

HILL (voice-over): When they do, that experience is also lost.

DR. SYED ABDULLAH WAHEED, SINGING RIVER OCEAN SPRINGS: It takes years of training to get to the point where you can actually take care of a COVID patient. This is nothing like we've seen before.

HILL (voice-over): The head of Singing River Hospital System is now urging the state to use some of its $1.8 billion in COVID relief funding for retention bonuses. BOND: We need to give them an incentive to want to stay and continue to be a nurse.

ROTH: I think every little bit helps. Do I think it's going to fix the problem? A lot of nurses have told me it's not about the money at this point. It's about, I need to recharge my battery.

HILL (voice-over): Yet with fewer staff and a surge in patients, that chance to recharge increasingly difficult to find.