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The Situation Room
Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); National Weather Service: Some Locations May Be "Uninhabitable For Weeks Or Months" From Hurricane Ida's Wind, Rain And Surge; Mayor: Hurricane Ida Represents A "Dramatic Threat" To New Orleans; Pentagon: Remains Of 13 Service Members On Way Back To U.S.; Rate Of COVID Deaths Increased In 42 States In The Last Week. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired August 28, 2021 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN "BREAKING NEWS".
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (on camera): Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, we're following the Breaking News on Hurricane Ida.
BLITZER (voice-over): The storm is set to begin intensifying very soon. Expected to make landfall in Louisiana as a powerful -- very powerful Category 4 hurricane tomorrow.
The National Weather Service now warning that the storm could make some places in Southeast Louisiana, uninhabitable for weeks or even months.
Look at this new video just in to CNN, shows backed up traffic out of the New Orleans area on a major highway. We're talking about Interstate 10. Folks are trying to get out as quickly as they can. People listen to the urgent warnings, they're rushing to get out of the storm's path. We hope they make it.
BLITZER (on camera): The mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell is expected to hold a briefing in just a few minutes. We will have live coverage of that briefing once it begins.
Our team of reporters is covering this storm from all angles. Allison Chinchar is standing by the CNN Weather Center. But let's begin with Nadia Romero, Jason Carroll. They're on the ground in New Orleans for us.
Jason, first to you, are the people you're talking to, are they leaving New Orleans right now or they trying to hunker down and stay?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, well, Wolf, it's a combination of both. You know, whenever you're out here and covering these hurricanes, you always hear from that one person who says, hey, I'm going to stay and I'm going to ride it out. That's what we're hearing too right here in the Ninth Ward.
I just want to (INAUDIBLE) because it really shows you what's at stake here.
CARROLL (voice-over): And this back during Katrina, it failed, Wolf, in two spots, in this specific spot where we're standing right here.
The waterway that you see right out there, that is a canal that feeds right into the Mississippi River. And during Katrina, this entire area flooded.
CARROLL (on camera): And the Ninth Ward was completely devastated during Katrina.
Right behind this levee here, you can see what's at stake. All these homes here, this is all new construction, Wolf. All of these homes that you see here, were basically wiped out during Katrina.
So, this go around when speaking to those folks who were out here in the Ninth Ward. You know, I wanted to find out from them whether or not they thought these levees here would hold, and it's pretty much a mixed bag.
Some of those who say, look, we know what the city has done in terms of installing levees, and fixing the system here. But they still feel as though the best course of action is to leave.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANDETHA BEVERLY, EVACUATING NINTH WARD HOME: I was going to stay. I honestly was going to stay because my thing is they spent enough money on it supposedly.
CARROLL (voice-over): The levee.
BEVERLY: Just keep it going. But I'm 10 feet up, up in the air. So, clearly, I was going to stay but due to the friend and she was unsafe. So --
CARROLL: You're talking about 10 feet up in the air. You're referring to your house. Is that your house right over there?
BEVERLY: Yes it is.
CARROLL: But still, the decision you get the kids and get out.
BEVERLY: Yes. If I'm leaving the city, I'm not leaving none of my kids. Even the grown ones, I'm not leaving them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL (on camera): So, that woman there, Wolf, again, thought for a moment that she could ride out the storm on the second story of her home, but thought better. But again, we also spoke to -- spoke to some folks out here in the Ninth Ward who have decided they are going to stay, they have every confident that these levees are going to hold. Wolf.
BLITZER: As I keep pointing out, the Hurricane Katrina, 16 years ago, exactly, almost to the day 16 years ago was a Category 3. This is going to be a Category 4, even more powerful than that. Folks got to get away as quickly as they possibly can.
Jason, stand by.
Nadia, the mayor, LaToya Cantrell set to speak in just a few moments. We're going to get her message today. What are you hearing? What are you seeing where you are?
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Wolf, we know the mayor is urging people to get out of the city as quickly as possible, saying that they've run out of time to have a mandatory evacuation order because the storm is moving so quickly, but she wants everyone to leave if they can.
So, I'm standing here in the French Quarter right outside of Jackson Square, and we're a little bit higher elevation than where Jason Carroll is. And so, this area is not prone to flooding, but it can still happen here.
So, if we take a look behind me, you can see some of the business owners are starting to board up.-They've been working on this all morning. Boarding up -- either this gentleman working on this shop by himself. We've seen crews about a half a dozen people out boarding up buildings, getting ready for that storm. Because we know it's not just the water but it's also the high wind speeds up to 140 miles per hour that could impact this area.
ROMERO: And this is an iconic part of New Orleans, right? This is when you mark it on your calendar.
But it's also the high wind speeds up to 140 miles per hour that could impact this area. And this is an iconic part of New Orleans, right? This is when you mark it on your calendar, and you come here, we ran into so many tourists who spent their hard earned money to be in New Orleans, to take time off of work. And now they're being told that they need to go home.
And so, some of them are still hanging about. Some of them have redirected their travel plans by getting on flights, trying to get out of the area.
People who live here though some of them are under mandatory evacuation orders. So, we know the Grand Isle and about four parishes under that mandatory evacuation orders. Others being told to leave voluntarily.
Many of the hotels telling folks, you don't have to go home but you got to get out of here. You can't stay at this hotel. And warning people that if you are evacuated, the National Guard usually rounds people up and takes them out or you risk the chance of being stuck in your home and trying to survive, ride out the storm on your own.
I spoke with one shop owner just around the block from here. He says he's been in that location here the French Quarter for 20 years. He's never seen it this empty on a Saturday morning. He's never seen so many people afraid of this storm, because they all remember Hurricane Katrina. Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I mean, it's really empty, the streets over there. And as you correctly point out, anybody who's been to New Orleans on a Saturday morning, your time 11:00 noon here on the East Coast, it would be jam-packed with tourists and others, enjoying the beautiful city of New Orleans, right?
ROMERO: Absolutely, Wolf. I mean, we are a block away. I'll show you. This is Cafe Du Monde. You can see the green and white building this way. That's where everyone goes. It's like 24 hours, you get your beignet and your coffee. It's a must-do on your list when you come to New Orleans.
And so, we're just a block away from there. You can see people still moseying about, but not like what it's supposed to be on a warm summer, Sunday -- Saturday morning. On a sunny day like today, you expect the streets to be packed with people.
Unfortunately, that's not happening. Many of them are leaving the city. We've seen taxi cabs lined up, Lyfts and Ubers rideshare companies picking up people, taking them to the hotels, because they don't want to ride out the storm.
They're supposed to be here to have fun. But there's a hurricane likely a Category 4 on the way. Wolf,
BLITZER: Yes, an awful situation, indeed. And Nadia, stand by.
Allison Chinchar's over the CNN Weather Center. I know we recently just got a new update. What are you hearing Allison?
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST (on camera): Right. So, the latest with this particular storm is we're still starting to see the storm strength. And, in fact, you can even see the beginning right there of a little bit of an eyewall. So, it is, it's strengthening. It's trying to get itself together here and intensify as it moves to the very warm Gulf of Mexico waters.
Sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, gusting up to 105. You can already see some of these outer bands beginning to impact the Gulf Coast. So yes, landfall is not until tomorrow, but the impacts begin today. We cannot emphasize that enough.
Category 1 for now. But it's expected to rapidly intensify as it moves through the very warm waters of the Gulf. Likely a Category 2 just a few hours from now, Category 3 by tonight, and a Category 4 by tomorrow morning. And it's likely expected to stay a Category 4 at landfall.
Storm surge going to be the biggest concern right here in pink, including Grand Isle, 10 to 15 feet. This purple color here, seven to 11 feet. That does include the City of Biloxi.
Now, when we talk about storm surge, it's kind of a concept, it really kind of have to explain. This is what it would look like at storm surge of four feet. OK, you already start to have inundation of water flowing inside your home. But we're not talking about 4-feet, we're talking about 10-feet in some of these areas.
When you're talking about nine to 12 feet, that goes over the roof of some homes. That will completely make it impossible for you to stay in your home at levels like that. That's why the National Weather Service keeps telling people to get out if you can. It is not a safe place to be if you were in those zones.
And it's not just the storm surge. It's the combination of the storm surge but also the winds. This is what makes this storm different than Katrina. Katrina, yes, flooding was terrible. But with Katrina, it was a Cat 3 at landfall. This is anticipated to be a Category 4 at landfall. Meaning the winds are expected to be stronger than they were during Hurricane Katrina.
110-mile-per-hour or even higher wind gusts in this purple area you see here. But even further inland, you're talking 60 to 80 mile per hour wind gust. That is plenty to bring down trees and even some power lines throughout these areas.
The outer bands again will continue to start to push inland as we go through the day today. They'll become more frequent, they will become stronger as we go through the overnight hours, and especially into the early hours tomorrow. That is why you have a high risk of flash flooding.
I'm not just using that term in a general sense. That is the category, it is referred to as high. It's the top level of flood risk that no one issues.
So, again, to emphasize the potential for flash flooding in those areas, including Baton Rouge in New Orleans is extremely high.
Again, we talked about, Wolf, the difference between the categories but also the distance. Ida is anticipated to have landfall be just to the west of New Orleans, different than Katrina, but that's actually worse because typically in a storm, the worst part of a hurricane is the Northeast quadrant.
CHINCHAR: So, if it really does make landfall west, it puts New Orleans in a much less area than Katrina was. You would rather be on the west side of the storm than you would the east side of the storm.
BLITZER: All right, Alison, we're going to get back to you. Allison Chinchar, thank you very much.
Nadia and Jason, I want you guys to be very, very careful. You're both in New Orleans for us. This is going to be a devastating hurricane. We will stay in very close touch with you as well. We'll update our viewers on what's going on next few minutes.
We'll also hear from the mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell. She's going to be briefing all of us. We'll have live coverage of that.
In the meantime, we're following other Breaking News this time out of Afghanistan.
We just learned two -- not one, but two ISIS-K members were killed in that U.S. drone strike. The Pentagon says the threat though from the terror group is far from over. You're looking at some brand new video we just got, exclusive video obtained by CNN taken after the drone strike and showing the damage left behind. Pretty significant video.
Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna. He's a key member of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. The Pentagon says this U.S. drone strike killed two ISIS- K, what they call planners and facilitators and wounded one other ice- k -- ISIS-K member up.
How far do you think this goes and degrading the threat from this terror group?
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): I applaud the president for taking firm and decisive action to take out the terrorists who killed our troops. It is a first step, we need to see what more needs to be done. But anyone who is contemplating, farming our troops, or farming this country should be very clear that Congress will overwhelmingly support this president in taking retaliatory action that is just, and I'm glad that the president has done this.
BLITZER: The Pentagon says that the threats, though at the Kabul airport remain, in their words very real, very dynamic, very active. Should the Biden administration, Congressman, speed up the withdrawal? It's supposed to be completed by Tuesday, in order to avoid further casualties. In other words, just get out of there as quickly as possible.
KHANNA: Wolf, I think this is why the president is sticking to the August 31st deadline. It takes a few days to remove our troops very safely. My understanding is that the bulk of the focus now is in -- on protecting our troops and on getting out safely. And I am confident that they will do that by August 31st with every safety protection.
But it is a dangerous mission, as the president has said. And these people who are serving our troops are really heroes. I mean, they are risking their own lives to save other Americans, to save Afghans, our entire country owes them a huge debt of gratitude.
BLITZER: And let's not forget over these past 10 days, two weeks or so, since August 14th, 117,000 people, American citizens, green card holders, Afghan, allies, third-country residents, they've been evacuated. Of that 117,000 were told, 5,400 American citizens were flown out.
Congressman, the Pentagon says some flights out of Afghanistan are now carrying military equipment. Meaning, they're packing up getting out. Have you been briefed on how much could potentially be abandoned, though, which could ultimately end up in the Taliban's hands, or in worst, terrorist hands?
KHANNA: Our understanding is that they are going to take out as much equipment as possible without putting our troops in harm's way. And that's a judgment that the president has to make.
But even after we leave, Wolf, we're still going to have, as you know, over the horizon capabilities. We're still going to have the ability to strike, and we're still going to have, as Prime Minister Johnson has said, tremendous political, economic, and diplomatic pressure on the Taliban.
So, even though our troops will be out, that doesn't mean that America's vigilance against terrorism is going to stop, nor is our effort to rescue Afghans and vulnerable people going to stop.
BLITZER: But once the U.S. pulls out of that Afghan airspace, leaves the Kabul airport, how will the U.S. help the remaining several hundred U.S. citizens and other friends of the United States, Afghans, who worked at the embassy, who helped America over these past 20 years? How will they manage to help get them out?
KHANNA: Well, it has to be a multifaceted effort. It has to be our highest priority, and the president has said any American who wants to leave will be able to leave. As you know, there are special operations that can go in there.
We can have coordination with our allies, we can put tremendous pressure on the Taliban to make sure that they're being released. And some of the folks, Wolf, are not near Kabul. So, the current mission won't be able to help them.
What we need to do is first, convince the Taliban, pressure the Taliban that they need to open the borders so that some of them may be able to go to other countries and then fly to the United States.
KHANNA: But I represent the largest Afghan American community in the country. And I'll tell you, there are people in Congress who are going to make sure that those Americans, and green -- want to get out, we'll be able to get out. That we're not going to forget them.
BLITZER: All the specific Afghans still in Afghanistan, who have connection with the Afghan Americans in your district. Have the Afghan Americans told you that their relatives, their friends, have been able to get out or still stuck behind?
KHANNA: Some are still stuck behind, Wolf, in honesty, and it is hard to get to the airport. I mean, I've heard stories of them being beaten by the Taliban, having to go two or three times, of being harassed at the checkpoints or being fearful for their lives.
So, there are people who were interpreters, were allies, were still there, and we're going to have to continue the mission to rescue them. But putting our troops there in harm's way where we just saw, we lost 13 service members, I've been reading about the family -- the incredible grief, we can't do that. We can't have more of our service members in that kind of harm's way.
We need to withdraw our troops, but continue through other means the operations of rescuing certainly all vulnerable Afghans and our Afghan allies.
BLITZER: And our deepest condolences to the families -- the loving families of those 13 U.S. service members, who were killed, as we say. And may their memories be a blessing.
Congressman Ro Khanna -- for joining us.
Coming up, the mayor of New Orleans is expected to speak at any moment now. You're looking at live pictures coming in from New Orleans as this major hurricane is now bearing down on the Gulf Coast.
We'll have live coverage when we come back. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, is expected to speak at any moment as this major hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Intensifying very soon, expected to make landfall in Louisiana as a powerful Category 4 hurricane tomorrow. Katrina, 16 years ago exactly was a Category 3.
We'll have live coverage of the news conference with the mayor. That's coming up soon.
In the meantime, we're monitoring very significant developments out of Afghanistan. The United States now says it conducted a drone strike killing not one but two high profile ISIS-K terrorists and wounding another.
It comes just days after the terror group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Kabul's airport. The Pentagon wrapped up a briefing just a few moments ago. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR GENERAL HANK TAYLOR, UNITED STATES ARMY OPERATIONAL TEST COMMAND: I can confirm as more information has come in that two high profile ISIS targets were killed and one was wounded. And we know of zero civilian casualties.
Without specifying any future plans, I will say that we will continue to have the ability to defend ourselves and to leverage over the horizon capability to conduct counter-terrorism operations as needed.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us right now. CNN Sam Kiley is also joining us from Doha, Qatar in the region.
Barbara, what more did we learn there during this latest update from the Pentagon?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Wolf, they refused to identify much about either of the ISIS operatives they killed, other than to say they were planners and facilitators that does not indicate that they were senior operatives, it does not indicate that they were in command of anything.
We are told here at CNN that at least one of them was involved in planning potential future attacks against the airport. So, the threat there is very concerning.
One of the big questions, of course, is did this strike have a permanent impact on the ISIS organization?
In Afghanistan, here is what the Press Secretary John Kirby had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: One planner, one facilitator that are no longer on their muster roll. So, they have lost some capability to plan and to conduct missions.
But Barbara, make no mistake, nobody's writing this off and saying, well, we got them, so we don't have to worry about ISIS-Ks.
As I said earlier, the threat stream is still active, still dynamic. We're still laser-focused on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: The threat stream from ISIS-K in Afghanistan now being watched in real-time, minute by minute by the Biden administration, as they start the countdown of operations at the Kabul airport.
They are now getting into being hours away from the Tuesday deadline for which -- for which all U.S. forces are to be gone from Afghanistan. ISIS-K, a threat, a lot of concern as these dangerous hours tick down. Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, indeed. Standby. Barbara.
Sam, you're there in Doha, Qatar, you're in the region. As you heard, the Pentagon says it's still processing Americans with passports, also processing Afghans with Special Immigrant Visa, SIV applications vulnerable. Other vulnerable Afghans who've worked with the U.S., they're processing all these people for flights out of Kabul -- today, what's going on?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, their way down, is the short answer to that, Wolf. The overnight numbers of the last 24 hours, 3:00 a.m.to 3:00 a.m., were 2,600 down from a peak of over 12,000. And just, just on the U.S. side.
So, the numbers of civilians getting out are going down very rapidly, not surprisingly there because not only the Taliban have their ring of steel if you like around the airport. That's a public policy, not allowing Afghans through it.
KILEY: But on top of that, the gates are all closed for security reasons. So, those getting into the airport are coming in by covert means, after with pre-arrangement with now predominantly or almost entirely, the United States.
United Kingdom is in the process of drawing down entirely their operation after ending the British evacuation process, the 16th their result pulling out. So, this will not mean that the base is more vulnerable because they were outside of the main airfield running their own perimeter security.
So, the U.S. perimeter security remains intact for now. But there is a substantial amount of men and material will be starting to move now, as the Americans draw down their operations with ever-dwindling numbers of evacuees going out.
I have to say there's quite a lot of surprise that any are getting into the airport, let alone getting off, and pretty soon that will become almost impossible when the covert operators who are able to get out into Kabul can no longer do that.
And for their own safety, and because there isn't the overwatch, and the overwatch is going to be focused on the airfield. They are not going to be able to go out into the towns even with the cooperation of the Taliban. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sam Kiley in Doha, Qatar for us. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Both of you please stand by.
Up next, there are growing tributes to the 13 U.S. service members who died in the airport attack. We'll have that and much more when we come back.
BLITZER: Right now we're tracking two breaking stories here in the Situation Room. People in the south east, they are racing to protect their homes, trying to get to safety as Hurricane Ida begins to intensify over the warm waters of the Gulf. Ida by the way, taking a very similar track as Katrina did exactly 16 years ago threatening to make landfall tomorrow in Louisiana, not as a category three storm like Hurricane Katrina was but as a category four hurricane even more powerful. President Biden by the way is set to receive an update from FEMA in the next hour. We'll have live coverage of that once it begins. Stay with us for that briefing.
Meanwhile, the State Department says about 350 American citizens are still waiting to leave Afghanistan as the U.S. evacuation mission nears its end. The Pentagon just announcing that the U.S. killed two high profile ISIS-K targets in a drone strike last night, a third ISIS-K individual was injured. The remains of the 13 U.S. service members killed in that deadly attack at the airport. They are now headed home.
This comes as we're learning more about those heroic service members who served our country so beautifully. CNN's Natasha Chen is joining us right now. Natasha, it's so heartbreaking, still learn who these 13 service members are, how young they are to see their pictures. What can you tell us about them?
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's such a devastating personal loss for so many families, Wolf. We're hearing for example from the sister of Rylee McCollum. He was a marine from Wyoming. His sister tells us that he was a father with a baby due in just three weeks. This is a man who wanted to be a marine his whole life. She talked about how he would go around in his diapers and cowboy boots and toting his rifle. And he was sent to Afghanistan when the evacuation began.
This was his first deployment and was at the checkpoint, manning the checkpoint when the suicide bomb went off. She said he was tough, kind, and loving and that his jokes and wit brought joy to so many people. We're also learning about Maxton Soviak from Ohio, a Navy medic.
His parents through a statement said that his final words to his mother through FaceTime when she said to be safe, he said, don't worry mom, my guys got me, they won't let anything happen to me. And that statement they said that she realized they all just went together.
He was so proud of being a devil doc for the Marines and was also proud of being part of a state champion wrestling team and state playoff final for football team two years in a row. We're also learning about 23-year-old Corporal Daegan Page, a marine from Nebraska.
His parents in a statement said he had a tough outer shell and a giant heart. He planned to possibly become a lineman when he finished and Lisman (ph), loved hunting in the outdoors. He's a longtime Boy Scout and played hockey for the Omaha Hockey Club, was a diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan. Here's one of his longtime friends talking about how Page would be remembered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CODY HIGHFIELD, FRIEND OF MARINE WHO DIED IN KABUL ATTACK: He was kind. He was one of the nicest person 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHEN: I also want to tell you about Hunter Lopez, a 22-year-old Marine Corporal from here in Southern California, from Riverside. His mother said that he shared a photo with her saying that he had scooped up a small Afghan boy and carried him on his shoulders for five miles to safety. He told his mom, we're so resourceful, we hotwire the car to get back safely to the base. His mother tells us, my son was going places.
She said that she wanted to share. She's praying for those in the hospital, she's on her way to Dover to meet the remains of her son. He was going to follow his parent's footsteps after this deployment and become a deputy for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
So Wolf, there are many lives here affected. These are very young lives. They had so much ahead of them. And their families are devastated in this moment. And our thoughts are definitely with all of these servicemembers and their families, Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly are. Natasha, just look at these young men, they were, you know, born just before 9/11. And we're about to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11. So many of these young servicemembers were born just prior to what happened 20 years ago and now sadly, we see them coming home in this very, very tragic way.
And Natasha, thanks very much in to these family members. Let me express on behalf of all of our viewers here in the United States, our deepest condolences. These were wonderful, wonderful young men, may they rest in peace. And as we say, may their memories be a blessing.
Coming up, the mayor of New Orleans is expected to speak at any moment now as Hurricane Ida is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. President Biden by the way, expected to receive a briefing on hurricane preparations from FEMA in the next hour. We'll have live coverage of that. Lots going on, stay with us.
BLITZER: Right now people in the southeast are racing to protect their homes and try to get to safety as Hurricane Ida begins to intensify in the Gulf. Ida by the way, taking a similar track as Katrina did exactly 16 years ago threatening to make landfall tomorrow in Louisiana as a category four hurricane. The mayor of New Orleans LaToya Cantrell expected to give an update at any moment now.
We're looking at live pictures coming in. We'll have coverage for sure. Also, by the way, in the next hour, President Biden is set to receive an update from the FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. We will have live coverage of that as well stay with us. But let's get to the pandemic right now in the very sobering numbers about kids and COVID-19 here in the United States. The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says more children are currently hospitalized with COVID than at any other time during this year and a half pandemic going back to the very start during the bad, worst, worst days. All of this comes as hospitals across the country are being stretched thin and running out of ICU beds due to the surge.
COVID deaths are on the rise, one health official in Alabama saying they simply run out of rooms for the bodies. Joining us now Dr. Esther Choo, she's a professor of Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University.
Dr. Choo, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks to all you're doing. Are we at a tipping point right now for children, for kids and the spread of this COVID virus especially the very, very transmissible Delta variant?
DR. ESTHER CHOO, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, OREGON HEALTH & SCIENCE UNIVERSITY: Yes, Wolf, thanks for having me on. I think there's no question that we're headed into a really tough time for young people. Last year, you know, we had the reassurance that COVID disease and hospitalizations were really rare among children. But this year, we're going back to school in person on mask across the United States.
There's a lot of resistance to things like mask mandates and vaccinations that would keep our kids safer in schools. And of course, our younger kids are still not eligible for vaccination. So, you know, we're still rolling through schools opening but past Labor Day, as all schools are open, we're no doubt going to see more of what we're seeing now, which is hospitals just bursting with pediatric admissions.
And of course, as sheer numbers go up, we will start to see more of these rare events, these events that should be almost never in children, which is deaths from COVID are of course already seeing that in hospitals around the country.
BLITZER: Dr. Choo, I just want to -- I want you to bear with us for a few moments. The mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell is briefing reporters right now in this devastating Hurricane Ida that's about to hit New Orleans. I want to listen in and then we'll come back to you.
MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL, NEW ORLEANS: -- if you want to leave, you need to do that now. We need to make sure that you are in a safe place, everyone, whether you're going to leave voluntarily or stay on site, hunker down, wherever that is, hopefully that's your home, in our city, but in a safe space.
If you're staying, you need to be prepared, prepared for damaging wind, power outages, heavy rain, tornadoes. What I'm told is that this storm in no way, will be weakening. There will be and there are no signs, again, that this storm will weaken. And there's always an opportunity for the storm to strengthen. As you know this continues to remain a very fluid situation. And we know, again, the time is not on our side. It's just -- it's rapidly it's growing, it's intensifying.
And so that is, again, if you are voluntarily evacuating our city, now is the time to leave. You need to do so immediately. If you're planning to ride it out. Again, make sure that you're able to hunker down, you have your supplies in hand, so that you're able to respond post storm and, we, the city, we are preparing for a post storm response.
Given the time of this, it has pivoted us to focusing specifically on post storm response. We are however, paying very close attention to and indirect communication with our residents that are on our special needs registry. But those with severe medical conditions, we know who they are, it's an average of up to 100 people, they will continue to be our priority as a city when it comes to today but also when we think about post storm.
But we have our hands. We want our hands on them. And of course, direct communication with these individuals pre storm as well. I want you to know that that is absolutely happening. What I will also say and I'm going to turn it over to Lauren first to give us some updates on from the National Weather Service. You're going to hear specifically in regards to that.
But before so, look, this is our time, your time to prepare yourselves now, this is it. Check on your neighbors, check on your friends, of course your family, a system where needed. If you see something, say something, because we want to ensure that we collectively are able to respond to the needs of our people and what we learn, particularly during Katrina. First responders, we are first responders, all of us, all of us, our neighbors, we're all first responders.
And so right now, it's about taking care of one another. Not only coaching folks, you know, to make the best preparations for themselves, and for their families. In addition to pets, that has been something that the Louisiana SBCA yesterday, they had a large amount of residents bringing pets, please do not do that.
They have -- they're at full capacity, they can no longer accept, and they have also shifted to a post storm direction in terms of how they will deal with pets. It's not now pre storm. It's shifted to post storm. Tyrel (ph) will touch more on that.
So I did mention I was going to bring up Lauren, but let me keep it going with Collin Arnold, our Director of Homeland Security to touch up on anything that I may have missed. Of course, we'll go down the line.
We'll hear from Ramsey. We will hear from Lauren, and we will also hear from Colonel Bailey (ph). We will go to questions and answers as we need to and give you as much as information as we can at this particular time. So with that I'm going to go head on. And Collin I ask you to come up.
COLLIN ARNOLD, DIRECTOR, NEW ORLEANS OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Thank you Madam Mayor. Good morning. There have been no significant changes in the forecast track of Hurricane Ida since our last update yesterday. It's still expected to strengthen to a category four hurricane when it makes landfall west of New Orleans on Sunday.
Our mandatory evacuation of areas outside of the levee system and our voluntary evacuation for the rest of the parish and city still stand. If you are intending to leave, do so now. There's a small window of time for evacuation. But by this evening you need to be ready to shelter in place. If you're leaving plan for traffic delays, leave with a full tank of gas. You can use gas buddy.com to track gas availability on the road.
If you need to shelter outside the area, if you're evacuating and you don't have a place to go text L.A. shelter to 898211 or call 211. If you plan to stay through this storm be ready to shelter in place this evening by midnight. Finish gathering your supplies today, including water, nonperishable items, flashlight, battery powered radio, and medication for at least 72 hours, food and water for 72 hours, three days.
We say the first 72 is on you. The first three days of this will be difficult for responders to get to you. You need to have your supplies prepared. Prepare your property by securing outdoor furniture, decor, and trash bins. Charge your electric devices, lower the temperature of your refrigerator. And of course today you can move neutral ground -- vehicles to neutral grounds after 12:00 p.m.
I want to be clear that we are facing a dangerous storm that needs to be taken seriously. Damaging winds of 74 to 110 miles an hour can cause downed trees, structure damage, and prolong power outages. Heavy rain in excess of 10 to 15 inches in isolated areas that could be higher can cause flooding. And dangerous storm surge can cause flooding outside of the levee system. And cause some overtopping potentially on the west bank.
Hurricane warning is in effect for all of New Orleans. A storm surge warning is in effect for the areas outside the levee system and on parts of the west bank. A flash flood watch is also an effect for our full area. Please understand that if you were staying for the storm, you need to expect significant impacts. Extended power loss is almost certain, as is street flooding and some flooding from rain.
Depending on the strength of winds, significant damage as possible. Please be ready to stay in place in a secure structure until the storm has passed. And please remember that emergency personnel will not be able to safely respond during the storm's impact. And again, I'm imploring you to take this storm seriously.
Finish your preparations today. Be where you need to be either on the road or in your home by midnight. Stay connected to us by texting NOLAREADY to 77295, follow us at NOLAREADY and we're always at ready.nola.gov. Thank you.
LATOYA: Thank you, Collin.
ARNOLD: And I think we have Ramsey Green, our deputy CIO of infrastructure.
LATOYA: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor this briefing. You heard the New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell make it abundantly clear to all the residents of the New Orleans area. She said if you want to leave, you need to leave now.
This storm will not weaken, we just heard. She said time is not on your side. Time is not on our side. This is it. This is a category four hurricane that potentially tomorrow afternoon could hit the New Orleans area, the Louisiana coast.
We heard Collin Arnold, just now the director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness say, leave now, if you don't leave now, by tonight, you have to shelter in place. And that potentially could be very, very dangerous. I want to bring in Allison Chinchar from the CNN weather center right now. So Allison, you've been tracking this hurricane, this storm. It's moving through the warm waters of the Gulf. It's building up from a hurricane one to a two and eventually three and four. Give us the latest we've got on the track.
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. So the track has been pretty consistent of knowing where it's going to move through the Gulf of Mexico. The one thing that's really started to notice, really in the last hour or so is this defined, I will now, again, that is a true sign that the storm is continuing to strengthen.
Now the sustained wind is 85 miles per hour gusting up to 105. But you're seeing that storm as it goes through the strengthening process and intensifying. You already have some of these outer bands beginning to impact areas of the Gulf Coast. So yes, it's not making landfall until tomorrow. But the impacts are beginning today.
It's a category one as of now. We expect it to be a category two and a few hours category three by tonight, category four by tomorrow morning. And unfortunately it's likely to make landfall as a category four tomorrow afternoon, late afternoon, perhaps even early evening.
But again, the reason it's intensifying is because it's moving into much warmer water. And again, we're not talking bathwater you're talking jacuzzi warm water here and that's going to be fuel for this particular storm. Storm surge, this has been the one thing we keep hammering home. This is really going to be the biggest impact along the coast, 10 to 15 feet of storm surge including the area of Grand Isle, 7 to 11 feet just north and east of that including the city of Biloxi.
When we talk about storm surge, again, it's the amount of the water that's there so as the water pushes in even at four feet storm surge you will get inundation of water coming into your home. But in some of those areas, as you saw on that map, we're talking 9, 10 even 11 feet of storm surge. Nine to 12 feet will completely overtop the first story of your homes. If you have a two-storey home, fine, go to the second level. But if you don't, your home is now unlivable.
And that's why the hurricane center, the National Weather Service, have been basically saying, get out because some of these areas will be uninhabitable for as much as weeks after the storm makes landfall not only from the water but also the wind. This purple area here including New Orleans, including Baton Rouge, 110 mile per hour winds if not even potentially higher with those gusts. This is going to be a concern for widespread power outages. And that's the concern.
You're not just going to lose it for a day. You're going to lose it for several days. The outer bands will continue to get stronger and become more frequent as we go through the evening and overnight hours tonight and especially as we head into the early morning hours tomorrow. We are anticipating a very high risk of flash flooding not only in New Orleans, but also Baton Rouge and along the coastline.
So again, Wolf, this is going to be a combination, it's the storm surge. It's the very heavy rainfall and also the very strong damaging winds that all encompassing for this particular storm.
BLITZER: And it hits on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which was a category three, this is a category four. Standby, Nadia Romero is there in New Orleans on the ground for us. Some very serious warnings we just heard, Nadia, from the mayor, from the Homeland Security specialists there. Be prepared. Be prepared to be without power, significant flooding. Are people prepared? What are you seeing you're there in the French Quarter?
ROMERO: We're walking probably hear behind me there's a man who just came out to play his a trumpet and to do what you would normally have happen here in the French Quarter is enjoy that jazz music. But we had that outer band make its way through and because of that so many people scattered, especially the tourists who are realizing that this hurricane is a real threat.
When it was nice and sunny out people weren't taking it as seriously. Now there's people are starting to leave this area because we've had that first outer band make its way. Take a look behind me though, the business owners they've been through this before, boarded up here ready for that storm. Sandbags here as well, there have been sandbagging stations all throughout not just New Orleans, but throughout Louisiana.
We just heard from the mayor of Louisiana or excuse me, the mayor of New Orleans, telling people that now is the time to leave. Leave if you can, but if you don't, don't expect emergency responders to risk their lives to try to come and get you. You've made that decision to hunker down and stay in your home. You're going to have to ride that storm if that's what you choose to do.
Now you can see behind me, those streets are emptying up here in the French Quarter as people decide if they're going to stay in their homes or get on the road. Gas stations are running low on fuel. People are trying to figure out which way will they go? Will they stay and hunker down. Many of them remember what happened when they did that during Katrina. Others say that they're from New Orleans, this is what they do during a hurricane and they're going to take that chance. Wolf?
BLITZER: We wish them good luck. It's going to be a very, very dangerous situation. The mayor saying time is not on our side. The President, by the way, will get a briefing from FEMA next hour. We'll have live coverage of that from the White House. Lots of news going on, we'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer.