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The Situation Room

Pentagon: Two ISIS-K Members Killed, One Injured In U.S. Drone Strike; Pentagon: Threats At Airport Are "Real, Very Dynamic"; Defense Department Releases Names Of U.S. Servicemembers Killed In Kabul; FEMA Briefs Biden On Hurricane Ida; Hurricane Ida Turning Into "Very Dangerous Storm". Aired 1-2p ET

Aired August 28, 2021 - 13:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: 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.

The U.S. Coast Guard and state agencies are now preparing for hurricane Ida to make landfall tomorrow. The mayor of New Orleans just telling residents that now is the time to leave. Roadways now are congested with heavy traffic and people rushing to simply try to get out of the storm's path. President Biden is set to receive an update from FEMA officials in just a few moments. We'll have live coverage of that once it begins. Stand by.

Our team of reporters is covering the storm from all angles. Allison Chinchar once again is standing by at the CNN Weather Center. Let's begin though with CNN's Nadia Romero on the ground in New Orleans for us.

Nadia, we just heard the mayor say she's so very, very serious -- deliver some very serious warnings to residents, leave now or hunker in place. That's going to be very dangerous. People need to take these warnings very seriously. What are you hearing?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we -- you heard the mayor say don't expect emergency responders to risk their lives to try to come in and get you during the middle of the storm, that once the storm passes, they'll come out and their first priority is to clear those roads of debris, especially around hospitals. But if you're going to decide to stick it out right out of the storm, you're going to be doing so on your own.

So, we've seen some business owners here in the fringe corner boarding up their businesses trying to prevent debris from flying, and we know we're going to have some pretty high wind speeds when you talk about a category four storm so we've seen people boarding up all morning long.

Take a look at the hotels, right? This is a huge tourist area. This is a line of hotels along the street. Look at everyone getting in their cars, their lifts, their taxis trying to get out of New Orleans. And there was a shift just moments ago, what we had, an outer band makes its way to the French Quarter and people thought oh, wow, OK, there is a hurricane coming when it's nice and sunny.

People don't really think about it that way because they want to get the last few minutes of their vacation in. Once that outer band came in, we had a really strong rain shower, that's when people started moving and deciding now's the time to leave.

Take a look. You can see how empty the streets are here in New Orleans. We're on the corner of Orleans and Royal Street, and this would normally be packed with people on foot on a Saturday morning. People are worried about this storm as it makes its way through.

And Hurricane Katrina, right, we talk about that so much in whenever you come to New Orleans and there is a storm. And tomorrow, the day -- on that date is the 16th anniversary of the storm. That was the category three storm. We're seeing hurricane Ida come in at likely a category four.

And so, people realize what happened with Katrina, and it's one of two things either they're saying, I survived Katrina, I can do it again. Or people are saying I don't want any part of any storm that could be worse than Katrina, and they're making their way out of the city. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nadia, standby. Alison, I want you to once again, update our viewers of the latest forecast of this Hurricane Ida and what we can anticipate.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. So right now, sustained winds of 85 mph, we're starting to see that. Eyewall begins to form there. You can see it right there. That's again, a true sign that the storm is continuing to intensify, continuing to strengthen as we expected it to do moving back into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

But we're also starting to see some of those outer bands push through along the Gulf Coast region, yes, in Louisiana, but also some of the other states as well. Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, even Texas, getting some of these outer bands beginning to push through. And those will become more frequent and get stronger as we go through the next 24 hours.

It's a category one as of now but we're going to see this thing rapidly intensify as it continues to push through the extremely warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico making landfall as expected as a category four storm Sunday afternoon in Louisiana. And when we talk about rapid intensification, there is a finite term to that.

It means the winds will increase at least 35 mph in less than 24 hours. And the vast majority of the tropical cyclones that get to say major hurricane status, they do undergo this type of structure where you see that rapid intensification. And again, one of the first signs we were looking at as that eyewall that we were starting to notice on some of the imagery there. The storm surge is going to be probably the biggest concern along the coastline. 10 to 15 feet of storm surge from places like Grand Island, everywhere in that pink color. The purple color here that you see just to the East to North, that's seven to 11 feet and that does include the city of Biloxi.

Strong gusty winds also going to be a factor so it's not just all of that water being pushed inland but also the strong winds that will accompany it. So again, you're talking wind speeds, 90, 100, even 110 mph with the gusts being even higher than that, Wolf, so power outages are also going to be a big concern.

BLITZER: So, just to explain to our viewers. All of us remember Hurricane Katrina exactly 16 years ago tomorrow landing in -- on the Gulf Coast around New Orleans at category three, this is going to be a category four, walk us through the differences. Based on what we know right now, what would be the major differences between Katrina and Ida?


CHINCHAR: Right. So, one of the biggest differences with Katrina was it was technically a category three at landfall, whereas Ida is anticipated to be a category four storm at landfall. So, in terms of wind speeds, we're anticipating Ida to be a stronger storm in terms of winds. Now, the track of the particular storm -- Katrina technically made landfall just ever so slightly to the east of New Orleans, Ida is supposed to be a little bit farther to the west.

his is important because traditionally speaking in a tropical system, the worst part of the storm to be in is what we call the Northeast quadrant. If you think of a clock, for example, the area between the 12 and the three on the clock is going to be the worst area. So, unfortunately, with Ida's track being a little bit farther west of New Orleans, it actually puts New Orleans in a worse spot for Ida than they were in Katrina.

BLITZER: Yes, so this could be a lot worse than even Katrina, which we know, killed a lot of people and destroyed so much of that entire area. Is that right?

CHINCHAR: Yes. I mean, the one thing you have to keep in mind with Katrina, the biggest problem was the levees failing. So, you hope that all of the -- all of the things that they've done to fix those levees that it fixed and that it works, and we don't have that same problem that we had with Katrina. But in terms of winds, in terms of rain, you're going to be dealing with very similar situations, if not worse, with Ida than you did with Katrina.

BLITZER: All right, Allison standby, and Nadia, I want you to stand by as well. We just learned that President Biden is set to receive this update from FEMA headquarters this hour. CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us from the White House right now. Arlette, what are you learning about this briefing, federal preparations, I understand that we'll be able to carry this briefing live here on CNN? ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Biden is expected to receive a FEMA briefing at 1:30 on those preparations for Hurricane Ida. The FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will be joining virtually from the FEMA National Response Coordination Center, and the President will be here at the White House in the South Court Auditorium.

Now last night, the President approved a pre-landfall emergency declaration for the state of Louisiana, which opens up some resources to the state as the storm approaches. It could be possible that other states are submitting similar requests, we will see how that pans out over the course of the day.

The President also spoke with the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama yesterday to talk about those preparations. FEMA has already deployed some staff to the region as well as meals, tarps, and generators, as the storm is approaching.

Now, as the President receives this hurricane briefing today, it will also be the first time that we see President Biden since learning of that airstrike that killed two ISIS-K targets in Afghanistan yesterday. The President held a National Security team meeting here at the White House in the situation where we got the latest updates on Afghanistan so we will see if the President takes questions both on those hurricane preparations and the unfolding situation on the ground in Afghanistan, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, that briefing coming up in about 20 minutes or so, we'll have live coverage. Arlette, don't go too far away. Let's discuss what's going on with Jennifer Pipa. Right now, she's the Vice President of Disaster Programs for the American Red Cross. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for everything the American Red Cross does. How is the Red Cross preparing to respond to this storm? It sounds like it's going to be awful.

JENNIFER PIPA, VICE PRESIDENT OF DISASTER PROGRAMS, AMERICAN RED CROSS: It does Wolf, and I'll tell you, we've been preparing for this over the last week or so. By this afternoon, we'll have more than 500 Red Cross responders spread across several states to make sure that we're prepared to shelter and provide a safe place for folks. Just in Louisiana alone, we're planning on opening dozens of shelters sheltering more than 10,000 people.

Should they need a safe place to ride out the storm? We've got pre- positioned products like cots, blankets, comfort kits, but we've also got truckloads of that that are arriving today in these locations to make sure that the shelter locations are stocked and we're ready to take care of folks who need us the most to ride out the storm in a safe and secure place.

BLITZER: Let's hope that happens. As you know, you know a lot better than I do. There are about 14 million people in the storm's path right now. What should they be doing right now to brace for this Hurricane -- this category four landfall?

PIPA: So, I think the New Orleans Mayor had it right on the nose, right? You need to evacuate now if you have that possibility. Get out, get someplace safe but if you can't, you do need to be prepared to ride out the storm in your home. You need to download some apps, you could download the American Red Cross emergency app, which tells you protective actions that you can take prior to a storm, you can also call 211 to find shelter locations if you decide you don't want to ride out this storm.

But you want to make sure that you're ready because most likely you're going to lose power and communications after the storm makes landfall. So being prepared, being ready to support yourself, and your family and your home for at least 72 hours is going to be critical. We will not be able to get in to help you, we need to make sure that the roads are safe and that emergency vehicles can get in first, and then the Red Cross will continue to move in and open additional shelters as needed post-landfall.


BLITZER: And we just heard Jennifer, from the National Weather Service, they are warning that some places in Louisiana maybe, if their words, uninhabitable for weeks or months after Hurricane Ida barrels through. So, what does that mean for people who live in those areas? How do they prepare for a long-term impact and awful situation like that, and what is the American Red Cross potentially able to do to help them?

PIPA: So, you know, the first thing they can do is they can seek refuge in any of our shelters and we can provide a safe place. If they are going to come, some of the things we recommend is bringing some extra clothes, blankets, pillows, all-important documentation like life insurance, homeowners' insurance, driver's license, passports, take all of that identification information with you. Be prepared to stay in our shelter for an extended period of time.

Unfortunately, long-term sheltering is not something that is unique to the Red Cross, we've done it many times, we did it last year with Hurricane Delta so we are prepared to be there and take care of these clients until they have someplace to return home to.

BLITZER: You were active in the Red Cross response to Katrina, which made landfall in Louisiana 16 years ago tomorrow. That was a category three storm, we've been pointing it out. Are you worried that this category four storm could be just as devastating, maybe even worse?

PIPA: Wolf, I will tell you, I was a volunteer when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Raleigh, North Carolina and it was heartbreaking to see folks get off planes in Raleigh, North Carolina who had no place else to go, who knew that their homes were no longer going to be there. It is.

This is a serious storm and people need to take protective actions now. A forecast category four landfall is nothing to try and consider writing out. I highly recommend if people can evacuate those areas, they absolutely should take those actions now.

BLITZER: I second that motion indeed. If you can still get out, get out now. Jennifer Pipa of the American Red Cross, thanks for joining us. And once again, thanks for all the critically important work that the American Red Cross does. We are all, all grateful.

Still ahead. The Pentagon just confirmed that that drone strike killed not one but two high-profile terrorists. The latest on the situation in Afghanistan, that's coming up.

Plus, a growing crisis across this country. Hospitals right now are nearing a breaking point as this highly transmissible, very dangerous Delta variant is spreading big time. Experts are warning that it's not just more contagious, it's a lot more dangerous. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We are following breaking news on Hurricane Ida. Right now, people in the Southeast are desperately, desperately trying to evacuate to get to safety as Ida begins to intensify. Ida taking a very similar track as Hurricane Katrina did exactly 16 years ago, threatening to make landfall tomorrow in Louisiana as a category four Hurricane. The mayor of New Orleans saying residents need to be prepared.


LATOYA CANTRELL, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: What we know is today right now, everyone has to make a decision to leave voluntarily, which I'm recommending. Do that, prepare yourselves. If you're going to leave, you need to do that now.


BLITZER: Very soon, President Biden is set to receive an update from FEMA headquarters. We're going to have live coverage of that once it begins. Joining us on the phone right now is John Rahaim, the Director of Homeland Security for St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana. John, thank you so much for joining us. So, what are you bracing for ahead of landfall?

JOHN RAHAIM, JR., DIRECTOR, ST. BERNARD PARISH'S HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT: Well, what we're looking for sir, is we have a constant threat of wind damage coming in. Surge is the biggest factor right now that we're looking at outside of our levee protection system, which is part of the system that rings New Orleans. We're expecting seven to 11 feet of storm surge in lower St. Bernard to the east side of the Mississippi River.

Now, with that's -- that amount of surge, we are fully prepared to accept that, and we should be fine inside the levee system. Inside the levee system, we're looking at wind damage. We're expecting a sustained-winds between 74 and 95 miles an hour and occasionally a higher Hurricane gust winds right now, sir, that would be coming in later on tonight and tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: So, are you confident in the levee system, which has been reconstructed since Katrina?

RAHAIM, JR.: Yes, we've been in contact with the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority and South Louisiana Floodplain Authority and you know, the work they've done with the Corps of Engineers rebuilding, assist and re-engineering it, the amount of effort they put into it to make sure it works, is much safer than we had 16 years ago.

Before then, it was earthen levees. I witnessed some of the construction of these systems and I'm fairly confident that we should be able to withstand that surge outside the levee system. Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope that works. So, the National Weather Service, as you know, John, has just worried that at least some places in Louisiana, I don't know if they include you -- in your parish, may be uninhabitable for weeks or months after Hurricane Ida barrels through. What does that mean potentially for the residents in your area? What are you advising them to do right now to protect their -- to protect themselves and their families?


RAHAIM, JR.: Right. OK, down in St. Bernard Parish, we're long kind of narrow, we have the Mississippi River on one side and marsh on the other side. Outside of the levee system as well, we have a few families that live here around mostly a lot of sport fishermen, commercial fishermen. That's where we expect the water to do the most damage on those areas.

Now, as for as uninhabitable, that could main those folks outside the levee system because they're -- the lev -- the river is going to divide us between the worst side of the storm and the far eastern side, which would be a little bit of a godsend to us with the reduced wind speeds we're expecting.

But uninhabitable, I mean, after Katrina, we were that way for years, I remember that well. And we're telling people to if you have assets outside the levee system, bring them inside. If you're staying inside the levee system, look around your house, pick up anything that might become airborne.

We don't want somebody getting hurt or killed from something that might fly through the air so look around your neighborhood and make sure you check on your friends and neighbors to see a bear OK. If you plan to shelter in place, make sure you have the necessary resources available such as, water, food, medication, if you're oxygen-dependent have that on hand for at least three days.

BLITZER: And as Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans said, if you want to leave, you need to leave now, later is going to be too late. John Rahaim, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks where you are. Appreciate your joining us. Thank you very much.

RAHAIM: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Thank you. Still ahead, FEMA expected to brief President Biden on Hurricane Ida in the next few minutes, we're going to have live coverage of that. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The breaking news we're following. On the unfolding situation in Afghanistan right now, the Pentagon now confirming that a U.S. drone strike overnight has killed two high profile ISIS-K terrorists and wounded another. Take a look at some brand-new video exclusively obtained by CNN, taken after the drone strike, and showing the damage left behind. CNN's Barbara Starr is joining us from the Pentagon scene and Sam Kiley is joining us from Doha, Qatar in the region.

Barbara, Pentagon officials were very, very careful in how they described this strike that killed these militants. So, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they describe them earlier today as facilitators and planners, they stopped far short of calling them senior ISIS operatives. It's not at all clear that these two commanded anything if you will. But they do tell us that one of them, they believe at least was involved in potentially trying to plan additional attacks at the airport.

And that, of course, is a major concern, the security of the airport as the hours tick down. The U.S. has begun to withdraw troops, the security situation becoming a matter of top-level concern as they watch the ISIS threat around the clock. I asked the Pentagon press secretary -- Press Secretary John Kirby if he thought this strike dealt a significant blow to ISIS in Afghanistan. Here's what he had to say.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The treats are still very real, they're very dynamic and we are monitoring them literally in real- time. And as I said yesterday, we're taking all the means necessary to make sure we remain focused on that threat stream and doing what we can for force protection.


STARR: So, nobody calling this a deathblow to ISIS-K, they are going to keep after it but as the hours do tick down towards that Tuesday deadline, growing concern by the minute trying to keep the airport and all the people there, including the U.S. troops are about to board planes and leave, trying to keep them all safe, especially after the terrible attack a few days ago, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Barbara, the evacuations, they're still underway today and the Pentagon says the threats to the airport remain dynamic. How significant, Barbara, are these threats based on what you're hearing?

STARR: Well, look, they are being very clear in the administration, that they do believe the threats are real. And when they say real and dynamic, and they're monitoring in real-time obviously, they are trying to keep some kind of overwatch, continue to gather intelligence by the minute, hopefully, coordinate with the Taliban who are at the airport to get them to keep people away who don't belong there.

A lot of concern and one marker is, most of the gates we understand into the airport are now closed. This whole thing is now shifting to trying to get the last people out, Wolf.

BLITZER: How were those threats, Sam, you're there in Doha, Qatar, you're watching all of this very closely. How are the threats impacting the massive effort to evacuate all these people, still several 100 Americans and thousands, if not tens, of thousands of Afghan friends of the United States, how's this -- these threats impacting the effort to get these people out of Afghanistan?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're having an immediate impact, Wolf, because people can't get through those gates, they've been closed to anything. We understand other than essentially, covert operations bringing in the very last of American citizens and the very last handfuls essentially, of people. I mean, these handfuls, pretty big handfuls, 2600 evacuated in the previous reporting period.


Those numbers will be drastically down, not just because of the threats, and not just because of the fact that the Afghans Taliban is closing off the road to evacuees.

But everybody, Afghan, American, any other coalition member, is being told, do not come to the gates, there's a very real, ongoing series of threats.

That's the important thing to note here. There's not just one threat out there. In other words, there are concerns that ISIS-K may be planning a complex attack or a multitude of attacks in the last few moments of evacuation.

Of course, Wolf, large numbers of people are being stranded, particularly civil society people, particularly women.

For example, I heard in the last hour from a woman in the south of the country, another in the east, both of them working as journalists.

Both fearing the Taliban, both of them having received threats to the Taliban, and neither of them able to travel to Kabul, much less get on an evacuation flight.

There have been promises from the United States and other coalition partners that, in the future, when the airport or borders are open properly, they'll hold the Taliban to their promises to allow people to travel freely.

That's a promise, Wolf, the Taliban just reiterated. In fact, they're hoping with the help of the Turks. They asked the Turks to keep the airport open. Turkish president said yesterday he was considering that -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Don't forget, since August 14th, Pentagon just announced 117,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan, mostly Afghans. Of that 117,000, 5,400 Americans flown out. There are hundreds more still there in Afghanistan.

Sam Kiley, Barbara Starr, thanks to both of you.

This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The Defense Department has just released the names of the 13 servicemembers killed in Afghanistan. What we're learning about the victims, how they're being remembered, that's next.



BLITZER: We're standing by to get the latest on President Biden as he gets ready to receive an update from FEMA officials on Hurricane Ida, coming up in the next few moments. We'll have live coverage of that once it begins.

Hurricane Ida will be a category 4 when it makes landfall tomorrow in the Louisiana area, including around New Orleans. Katrina, 16 years ago tomorrow, was a category 3.

Meanwhile, the remains of the 13 U.S. servicemembers killed in the deadly attack are headed home. This comes as we are learning more about the servicemembers.

CNN's Natasha Chen is joining us now.

Natasha, first, what can you tell us? The Pentagon -- I see now, I have the list in front of me -- has just released the names of 13 servicemembers. Eleven Marines, one Army soldier, one sailor, two of the 13, women, who sadly were killed in that terrorist attack.

What else can you tell us?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. These are incredible servicemembers, as you mentioned, men and women on the list. Several from Camp Pendleton in southern California.

We are learning about several of them, their stories from families, telling us about their loved ones.

For example, we are hearing about Marine Corps Lance Corporate Jared Schmitz, 20 years old from St. Charles, Missouri.

His father told us that his entire world was the U.S. Marine Corps. And that he was particularly close with his nine-year-old special- needs sister. He would meet her every day at the bus stop, walk her home.

He said that Schmitz, his daughter got a kick out of making her backpack heavier to get on her big brother's nerves. He used that as a moment for training.

We're also learning about Marine Corps Corporal Hunter Lopez, 22 years old from California. His parents are with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

He had shared this photo with his mother, saying he carried this Afghan boy on his shoulders for five miles to safety. Told his mother they were resourceful and hotwired a car to get back to base safely.

She said, "My son was going places." And she's praying for those still in the hospital.

We are also hearing about Marine Corps Corporal Daegan Page from Omaha, Nebraska, 23 years old.

He was a long-time Boy Scout, played hockey in the Omaha Hockey Club. Was a diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan and loved hunting and the outdoors. He loved dogs as well, was possibly going to become a lineman when he finished enlistment.

Then hearing about Maxton Soviak of Berlin Heights, Ohio. His final words to his mother over 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." She realized they all just went together.

He was definitely proud of being part of being with the Marines and being a state champion wrestling team and state playoff final-four football team two years in a row.

The sister of Marine Corps Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum, 20 years old of Jackson, Wyoming, told us he is a father with a baby due in just three weeks.

He wanted to be a Marine his whole life. She said this was his first deployment. He was sent to Afghanistan when the evacuations began. He was manning a checkpoint when the suicide bomb went off.


So just incredible lives lived here. But you can see very young people. They had so much life ahead of them. Definitely gave the ultimate sacrifice, believed in the mission of what they were doing -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Looking at the names and I see, so many of them, 20, 20, 20, 22, 23, 23, 25. Ten of the 11 were in their 20s, mostly in the early 20s. One Marine Corps Sergeant Darren Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah. The two women.

My heart goes out to all of these 13. Johanny Rosario, 25 of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Marine Corps Sergeant Nicole Gee, 23 of Sacramento, California.

And I think I speak for all the viewers when we express our deepest, deepest condolences. May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing. Natasha, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Also with us, national security reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," Vivian Salama.

General Hertling, when you see the names, you see the ages, most of them were born, let's say, just before 9/11 but they all volunteered, served in the Marine Corps, Army, Navy.

What goes through your mind? You had a deal with families, Gold Star families on these occasions.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Wolf. This is the toughest part, seeing the names, hearing the stories.

I will reinforce some things you've already said, maybe add a couple more.

Two Female Marines, Sergeant Johanny Rosario, was part of a female engagement team. That was an organization stood up by the Marine Corps. The other forces also had it. To specifically engage with women in Afghanistan and Iraq. So this is someone who said I want to do something special.

Sergeant Nicole Gee, who you mentioned, was a maintenance specialist. You say what is a mechanic doing on the frontlines like this. It is probably because they needed more women and she volunteered.

She went viral on a photograph a couple of days ago, holding a baby, holding hands of an Afghan woman and child as she escorted them to a plane. Then she tweeted out a photograph that said, "I love my job."

Army sergeant, Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss, who was a Special Operations NCO.

When we -- and I will add one more that hit me hard last night, Navy Corpsman Max Soviak, who you just mentioned.

A Navy corpsman is a medic. That's someone who, in my view, is the most professional, most selfless of all military members because they not only serve their country, but they also serve their fellow military personnel.

It is just tough to see these things. When you hear more and more stories about the character and the values these people hold, it tears you up.

But you have to remember, these 13 people, as well as those wounded that are still at Landstuhl, these folks contributed, along with the rest of their teammates, to over 120,000 Afghans evacuating and perhaps starting a new life in a new country.

That will be their memory that will live on.

BLITZER: Certainly will. Vivian, I may have to interrupt you if the president starts the FEMA

briefing on Hurricane Ida.

So many of these servicemembers, the 10 men, two women, were just barely 20 years old. They were babies when the 20-year-old war began.

VIVIAN SALAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and that underscores how long this war has been going on.

And, B, why President Biden has been so intent on ending it right now is because you have an entire generation that does not remember or was not old enough, not even born, to remember the 9/11 attacks.

A lot of these guys and girls are fighting in this war now without sort of that context that drove us to go to Afghanistan to begin with 20 years ago.

It is a really startling thing to see the list that came out from Department of Defense with so many people 20 years old, born in the year of the 9/11 attacks, and just went out there to fight this war.


SALAMA: The other thing I will --


BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on, Vivian.

The president is about to get briefed on the hurricane. Let's watch.


DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA DIRECTOR: We can, Mr. President. Can you hear me?

BIDEN: I can hear you clearly.

Let me begin by thanking you all, every one of you for the incredible work you're doing. And I want to thank you for joining me on this call today.

And I know so many of you have been working flat-out nights and weekends for a long time now.

Hurricane Ida is coming fast on the heels of a tragic flooding in Tennessee, Tropical Storm Henri. And you've all been part of COVID-19 response for so many months now.


You have been overwhelmed but you don't show it. You have been incredible. Thank you.

Ida is turning into a very dangerous storm, I need not tell you. Just got another briefing from the Hurricane Center. As you know, it is now heading straight for right towards Louisiana.

This weekend is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And it is a stark reminder that we have to do everything we can to prepare the people in the region and make sure we are ready to respond.

Administrator Griswold -- Criswell, you and I have spoken extensively about this. We were together yesterday.

And we spoke to the governors of Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi to ask what they need from us before the storm arrived.

And I've already signed an emergency declaration for Louisiana to make sure they're ready for the surgery responsibilities and capability to deal with whatever comes their way, our way, but it is their way.

You know, we deployed 500 FEMA emergency response personnel in Texas and Louisiana. In addition to 2,000 FEMA personnel already supporting the COVID response in the region.

And we prepositioned food, water, generators and other supplies in the area. Power restoration and mobile communication support teams are also enroute.

We've also closely coordinated with the electric utilities to restore power as soon as possible and to support your response and recovery efforts.

Above all, I am urging people of the area to pay attention and be prepared. Want to say it again. Pay attention and be prepared.

Have supplies for your household on hand. Follow the guidance from local authorities.

If you have to move to shelter, make sure you wear a mask, try to keep distance because we're still facing a highly contagious Delta variant as well.

Administrator Criswell, Administrator Criswell, I am going to turn this over to you in a moment here to give an update on the latest steps we're taking.

And I want you to know, what more -- I need to know everything you think we need to be able to do. If you haven't gotten authority for it, tell me now, we'll get it done.

Most importantly, I just want to say to all of you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Everything you're doing to prepare for the dangerous storm is going to mitigate the impact, potential natural disaster results that are going to be upon so many people in the region.

The work you are doing is vital and you all know it.

Administrator Criswell, let's you and I have a conversation. Tell me what you need and what's going on. CRISWELL: All right, thank you, Mr. President.

As you probably heard from Director Graham, we are beginning to see rapid intensification of the storm.

What we are doing here in the NRCC -- I would like to welcome you to NRCC. This is the heartbeat of your federal family that's has come together to support people of Louisiana and Mississippi.

BIDEN: I have been there, remember?


BIDEN: The last time --


CRISWELL: Now you see it full and active.

BIDEN: I can see it.

You guys are the best.

CRISWELL: They are.

So what --

BLITZER: All right, looks like we lost that connection with the White House. We'll see if we can recorrect.

I want to bring in our White House correspondent, Arlette Saenz.

Arlette, the president, you heard him say Hurricane Ida, which is going to land tomorrow, category 4, a very dangerous storm. He is getting briefed by FEMA on what's going on. This is very worrisome.

What are you hearing there?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is putting a lot of emphasis on preparations for the storm as it is expected to make landfall at some point tomorrow.

The president said this is going to be a very, very dangerous storm. And he also drew parallels to Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans and the Louisiana area 16 years ago this weekend.

He said that serves as a stark reminder of need to be prepared, to be able to deploy as many resources as possible ahead of the storm.

Yesterday, the president declared a pre-landfall or approved a pre- landfall emergency declaration for Louisiana. That opens up some resources to the state as they prepare for this storm.

Those requests come directly from the state. So we will see if any other states submit a similar request before Hurricane Ida hits tomorrow. [13:50:03]

FEMA has already deployed employees and staff, you heard the president speaking to that, as well as resources and supplies down to the state.

That includes food and water, generators, tarps, as they're trying to ensure that the folks on the ground have what they need heading into this storm.

The president yesterday also spoke with the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to not only relay what he's already providing, but also ask what else is needed with this storm.

You also heard the president urge people in the region to take the steps necessary to prepare. This could be a really, really consequential and potentially devastating storm.

The president trying to make clear that they are staying on top of this, that they are deploying those resources needed, and that they are fully prepared for this storm as it approaches.

It's notable that the president did not take any questions while reporters were in the room there with him.

Earlier today, he was also briefed by his national security team on Afghanistan.

So we'll see if there's anything else that comes over the course of the day from this White House as this president is really juggling this domestic issue with Hurricane Ida approaching and also those foreign concerns over in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Ida, by the way, it's just been upgraded from category 1 to category 2. And we're told it will be upgraded to a three and a four by tomorrow.

Arlette, stand by.

I want to bring in our Meteorologist Allison Chinchar. She's watching all of this unfold.

What's the latest on the forecast, Allison?

CHINCHAR: Right. As you just said, we just got the latest update in. And it has increased, the storm.

We anticipated it would. We started to see the eyewall. All of the things that you would look for in a strengthening storm have been there.

So sustained winds now are up to 100 miles per hour. Forward movement still to the northwest at about 16 miles per hour, but it is intensifying very quickly.

We expect it to get to a category 3 perhaps early as this evening and a category 4 by tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, at this point, it looks like it's likely going to make

landfall, still, as a category 4 storm some time Sunday afternoon over areas of Louisiana.

Now, one thing to note, we've talked about the comparisons here of Katrina to Ida specifically. Katrina was 125 miles per hour at landfall, making it a category 3 storm, whereas. Ida is forecast to be a category 4 storm.

In terms of wind speed, Ida is expected to be a much stronger storm than Katrina was.

The other thing to note, too, is the track is a little bit off. The track for Ida is expected to be a little bit farther west. The reason that's important is it puts New Orleans on the eastern side of the storm.

Here's why that's important. Traditionally speaking, the eastern side of the storm, you end up getting stronger wind speeds because of the forward speed of the particular storm.

Which means the right front quadrant or the northeast quadrant of the storm not only has the strongest winds but typically produces some of the highest storm surge and also the greatest tornado potential compared to any of the other areas.

For example, tomorrow, we do have the potential for tornadoes, waterspouts and damaging winds for all of these areas you see here along the gulf coast.

We're also expecting damaging winds, Wolf. They could be in excess of 110 miles per hour.

BLITZER: Allison, this hurricane, once it goes through Louisiana and causes obviously a lot of damage, it's going to continue to move up. Tell us a little bit about where it's heading after that.

CHINCHAR: Right, so rainfall, Wolf, is going to be a huge widespread concern with this particular storm. Not only because of right along the coast, but when you look at this, again, it expands back out.

You're looking at areas of, say, Nashville, Memphis, Cincinnati, areas that are nowhere near the coast, that are likely to end up getting several inches of rain from this particular storm.

Albeit, Wolf, obviously, the heaviest rain will be along the coast.

BLITZER: All right, stand by.

I want to bring in Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne. She's an emergency physician with the University of Maryland's Capital Region Medical Center.

Dr. Clayborne, Louisiana is dealing with one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the country even as this hurricane is approaching. How difficult will it be to manage evacuees during a pandemic? DR. ELIZABETH CLAYBORNE, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

CAPITAL REGION MEDICAL CENTER: I imagine that it's going to be very difficult, Wolf.

You have to understand these hospitals are already at a breaking point because they've had huge surges in sick patients due to the COVID variant.

And they don't have the resources to have an onslaught of additional patients that might be related to the evacuation.

That's why the situation is so serious, why physicians, like myself, have encouraged people to be vaccinated, take a proactive approach to protecting themselves.

And that includes evacuating ahead of a storm like this.

BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be a really dangerous situation. And a lot of folks are going to be evacuated, probably not vaccinated. And who knows what's going to happen as the COVID pandemic certainly complicates a hurricane of this nature.


Dr. Clayborne, thank you very much for joining us. Thanks for all you are doing.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back tomorrow, Sunday, tomorrow, with another special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. That's tomorrow, from noon to 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @WolfBlitzer, and you can always tweet the show, @CNNsitroom.

Thanks very much for watching.

Jim Acosta picks up our special coverage right after this.



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

Hurricane Ida is barreling toward the United States and aiming directly at Louisiana.