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Ida Could Make Landfall Imminently Near Houma, LA; U.S. Carries Out Air Strike Against Suspected ISIS-K Bomber; Biden Attends Dignified Transfer of 13 Americans Killed in Kabul. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired August 29, 2021 - 12:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: But as you get inland, there are going to be a lot of residents experiencing 100 plus-mile-per-hour winds as this storm blows ashore. There's another advisory coming in from the National Hurricane Center. So Wolf Blitzer takes over our coverage now.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with breaking news on two fronts, Hurricane Ida expected to make landfall as a strong category 4 storm in the next hour, so the National Hurricane Center is reporting catastrophic storm surge and hurricane force winds moving on shore right now.

Also happening right now, President Biden is at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where he will attend the dignified transfer for the 13 American servicemen and women killed in Kabul on Thursday. We'll bring you those moments when they happen. Stand by for that.

Also this morning, the Pentagon says a U.S. drone strikes - a drone strike took out a suspected ISIS-K car bomb, which was targeting Kabul's airport. We'll have full reporting on that as well.

We have a team of reporters standing by, first of all, in Louisiana ready to take you inside the storm as it makes landfall in the next hour. So let's get right to CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, where is the storm now and what's the latest projection? When can we expect landfall along the Louisiana Coast?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Sure. We call landfall when the center of the eye crosses over a beach or anywhere. But right now we're getting the eye making landfall, but that doesn't count for landfall. That just means that the worst of the wind is now coming on shore for Grand Isle.

One hundred and fifty-mile-per-hour storm, this blew up as we knew it would overnight when the sunset and the air mass cooled off a little bit, that warm water in the Gulf of Mexico just exploded this eye. We watched the pressures dive like we've really never seen. Only about two or three storms have ever gone down this quickly in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean in any future or any past.

So here we go, there's the storm coming ashore on Grand Isle. I've been looking at some wind gusts and also some overwash at Grand Isle, it's not very good there and it's about to get worse as that eye wall comes on shore. We do have this extreme wind warning stretching almost up to the West Bank there into New Orleans.

So anywhere you see that red, you're going to see wind gusts of 115 or more. So here's the gust we have right now, we have west of Delta, there are some buoys out here. Also, there are some oil rigs out here that have reported numbers over 100 miles per hour already and those numbers are likely to go up. But look at the size of the area that's going to be 110 or greater.

And then down here, obviously, at the bottom of the boot, you're going to be 130 or greater. But this 110 or greater gets very, very close to Metairie and Kenner and even to New Orleans. We're going to lose power and we're going to lose power for a very long time with this storm. Some people won't get power back for a month.

Here are the shells and this one Waveland six and also Shell Beach six foot surge right now and that number will certainly go up. You know what, Wolf? We're going to be at 10 to 16 feet for storm surge in the back areas here and these back levees may not hold all of this water. And so we may flood some of these Southern West Bank towns here, we may flood those from the backside overtopping some of these levees. That is not out of the realm of possibilities.

I talked to the Army Corps, they said they're built to withstand it, but if you get right up to the top of the levee and then you get another 10 foot wave on top of that, that wave is going to go on top of that levee and over and spillway. If you're anywhere there in Plaquemines Parish, Southern Jefferson, you need to pay attention to that potential.

Also tornadoes. I mean, Katrina had 59 tornadoes, this thing could have the same. We've already had some tornado reports and some warnings, but right now as it comes closer to shore, that's when the tornadoes will be most prevalent as we work our way into later on this afternoon. Strongest out here by Friday, but it is a big storm with heavy rainfall, so all of the threats are with us.

BLITZER: I can't help, Chad, I'm sure a lot of our viewers can't help, but remember it was exactly 16 years ago today when Katrina hit Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. We know the destruction, the damage more than 1,800 people were killed as a result of Katrina. The levees didn't hold up in the New Orleans area. Walk us through the difference. That was a category 3. This is going to be a category 4 approaching a category 5.

MYERS: Right. The problem of trying to compare the two is that Katrina was a category 5 down here in the Gulf of Mexico. So it built its surge.

[12:05:01] It built all the water in its bubble and it pushed that water even

though the storm was dying in intensity, because the water got colder up here. It pushed the water into Lake Pontchartrain and that's where all of that surge in Ninth Ward, the breaking of the levees into Pontchartrain, that's where that came from.

This storm was not a five down here, it was a one or two until last night until about midnight. The surge is not really built with this. We're still going to get 10 to 15. But Waveland and Bay St. Louis with Katrina had a 26 foot surge. We don't actually know the number, because none of the surge monitors survived. We only know the number because where the waterline was as it moved right on shore.

This is a storm, I think people don't understand what 150 means, I'm going to give you a quick primer here. If you take a 75-mile-per-hour hurricane and you compare it to 150-mile-per-hour hurricane, that seems like it's two times stronger. That's not the way it works.

It's not a linear progression, it is exponential. You have to do the two times two times two times two. And by the time you use a one multiplier for 75 miles per hour, by the time you get down here to Ida, it's 256 times more potential damage with 150 than 75. So that's where it blows your mind when you talk about a category 4 or 5, and the potential damage, and the surge, and the wind, and the tornadoes and the flooding comes in. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. It's going to be awful in the next several hours. We'll have an extensive live coverage. Chad, don't go too far away. We'll get back to you.

I want to bring in our Meteorologist Derek Van Dam. He's in Houma, Louisiana right now. Ida expected to make landfall right around where you are. Give us a little sense of what you're experiencing already and it's a relatively still, what, an hour or two or three away.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, Wolf, that's right. This is the stuff of nightmares. It is unfolding right before us. We are staring down the eye of a monster not 50 miles away from where I'm standing in Houma, Louisiana in the Terrebonne Parish.

Extremely terrifying situation. This is now the time to shelter-in- place. If you have friends that did not evacuate, if you are indeed here within this location and you didn't evacuate. It is time now to get inside of your home away from windows in that secure location that you have thought about, have your hurricane preparedness ready.

Now extreme wind warnings have been designated for this area all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. That is reserved from the National Weather Service for only the most rarest of events. This being one of them, 150-mile-per-hour sustained winds at a minimum. That is life threatening. That is potentially catastrophic to this area and that is why they have issued that extreme wind warning.

Every once in a while, we're starting to see the wind gusts come in. Remember, hurricane force winds extend out 50 nautical miles from the center of major hurricane Ida and that's about as far out as we are from the center of the storm. So we are now starting to experience the onset, the onslaughts of Hurricane Ida's worst.

So we are anticipating conditions that go downhill within this area, the Terrebonne Parish. It is protected by a series of levees as well as flood gates. The floodgates have been closed. They're meant to protect this particular location about a hundred thousand people live here, most of them evacuated hopefully.

It's meant to protect them from catastrophic flooding and storm surge. Of course, it only measures up to a category 3 hurricane and we know Ida will make landfall as a strong category 4. But when we're talking about a powerful category 4 or a minimum category 5, we're really splitting hairs here because the damage will be catastrophic. We know what's coming and we're preparing for it, Wolf.

BLITZER: When you say you're preparing for it, Derek, I know a lot of our viewers are going to be worried about you and our photo journalists, our production people, what are you guys going to be doing?

VAN DAM: I wish so badly, Wolf, that I could turn the camera back and show you where we are. But our camera man, our photojournalist, our producer and our crew are completely safe in a sheltered area. This is a building that is reinforced with concrete. It was built 13 years ago, so that's post Katrina. You know that today is the 16th anniversary of Katrina.

So there were different hurricane codes post Katrina for buildings like this. We have double pane windows that can withstand category 3 winds. Of course, this is a category 4, but that concrete reinforced structure is going to mean everything for us as we retreat into the inside of the building away from windows like our viewers should be doing now.

BLITZER: But you say most of the people where you are at home have evacuated, have they managed to get out safely already?


Because the orders were given, the mandatory evacuations, the voluntary evacuations, they've been given over these past of couple days.

VAN DAM: Evacuation started yesterday at 6 am in the Terrebonne Parish where I'm located. The mandatory curfew went into effect 6 pm on Saturday and we saw people take that very seriously. They were taking advantage of that narrow window of time when they could fill sandbags, help protect property, help protect their lives and their businesses as well.

And then at 6 pm, it was a ghost town, there was nobody on the streets. So people took it very seriously. Occasionally, we'll see police officers drive by just monitoring the area to make sure everyone is safe. But really, we can see the winds just starting to bend over some of the trees here. We've got palms above us.

I've been in a lot of hurricanes, Wolf. You and I have done a lot of live crosses like this and one of the concerns that I have from the strong winds within this general areas, a lot of the shingles come off of buildings around the area, some of the metal fabrication on the top of the buildings. That's something we're going to monitor.

And a lot of times, Wolf, people wonder, "Hey, why does Derek and other reporters stand in the middle of the storm?" Well, it's our job to show you at home why you evacuated. We need to tell that story to show you what it is the reasoning that you were forced to leave your homes and your businesses and your property so you know what to come back to. Wolf?

BLITZER: And the levees that have been built, rebuilt, strengthened as a result of Katrina 16 years ago today, are people pretty confident that they're going to hold in this category 4 almost category 5 storm?

VAN DAM: There's no doubt, Wolf, that we're going to be testing the extremes, the limits of the levee, and floodgate and hurricane protection system here within the Terrebonne Parish. In New Orleans, they spent around $15 billion post-Katrina to build up their hurricane levee and flood protection system.

But here it's called the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection system and that was designed and built in 2013. So it is meant to withstand category 3, but when you were talking about a powerful category 4 teetering on category 5, as you say, that is when we start testing the limits of what it is capable of.

BLITZER: All right. Derek, be careful over there. We'll get back to you. Derek Van Dam on the scene for us.

Further inland, Ed Lavandera is joining us right now from Port Vincent, Louisiana. Ed, give us a little sense of where you are, it looks relatively calm so far. I suspect it's going to be getting a whole lot worse.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Port Vincent is one of dozens, if not hundreds, of towns here in Southern Louisiana that are bracing for not just the wind impact from this hurricane, but the rain and flooding that will come. Here in Port Vincent, it's on the banks of the Amite River back here.

And this is an event that will not just last throughout the course of this day in the storm, it will last for several days. Arlene Meir (ph) lives in this house. I was just speaking with her and just like many people in this region, they know exactly to the inch how much water it will take to get inside their homes and she told me a little while ago that the water up to the front door of her house, that stage is about 11 foot three inches. Anything over that begins to flood her home.

She's starting to get nervous because the latest report she just got, Wolf, is that floodwaters here could reach close to 13 feet. So she's clearly in a very nervous situation now (inaudible) a lot of this. They plan to ride out the storm here and then have (inaudible) and drive into higher ground as the storm approaches.

And even south of where we are (inaudible) Louisiana, that is about to take a direct impact from the eye of the storm. There are still people that are planning to ride out the storm. We spoke with Ronald Dufrene just a little while ago. He is a commercial shrimper. He plans to ride out this storm on a 100-foot shrimp boat that he just got back from the Gulf of Mexico in and he's riding out the storm with his wife there. I spoke with him just a little while ago, Wolf.


RONALD DUFRENE, PLANS TO RIDE OUT STORM ON HIS BOAT: I've ridden my boat in every storm for the last 42 years. We rode out three of them last year. I mean, don't get me wrong this is a buzz saw we have coming. We rode out Katrina here at the dock. During the summer last year, it was around this time we rode one out. I mean, Mother Nature is a beast.

LAVANDERA: Why don't you want to evacuate?

DUFRENE: My livelihood and I feel it's the safest place. The safest for me and my family is on that boat, that's the way I feel. You get on a highway and you drive 10, 15 hours bumper to bumper traffic with maniacs, you're surrounded by steel.


I got enough food water on there for months.


LAVANDERA: So Ronald says he is going to wait it out there on his boat. The thing he's most concerned about, Wolf, is another ship in the area becoming dislodged and being flung into his ship. That is what he's most concerned about. But here in the community is a little bit upstream from where that gentleman is, they're really bracing here, as I mentioned, for this double punch.

The storm coming in today and then over the course of the next few days as the storm passes over, dumping rainwater north of them, all of that has to come back south and flow back toward the Gulf of Mexico and that's when the flooding comes and that's what they're bracing for here in the coming days. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people, billions presumably, are eventually at least for a time being going to be losing their power as well. Ed, be careful over there. Tell our photo journalists to be careful as well. We'll get back to you.

We're continuing to follow the breaking news on Hurricane Ida. Once again, it's expected to make landfall in the next hour or two or three as a strong category 4 storm much more of our special coverage coming up.



BLITZER: Once again welcome back to our special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news as we track Hurricane Ida which is expected to make a very strong category 4 landfall in the next hour or two. Category 4, the National Hurricane Center's reported catastrophic storm surge and hurricane force winds moving on shore.

Flooding, of course, is a major concern, especially in New Orleans and elsewhere as Ida is expected to dump as much as 20 inches of rain. New Orleans already seeing its second wettest year on record. All flights, by the way, arriving and departing from the New Orleans airport have been canceled for today.

Let's go to CNN's Nadia Romero. She's in the French Quarter for us. Nadia, so what are you seeing over there, what are the latest conditions that you're experiencing?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's really picking up. It's really picking up, Wolf, right now. We're definitely feeling that wind that we've been knowing that was going to come, it's now happening here. It is so windy out. Right now we are right next to Lake Pontchartrain. There's a bridge, the Causeway that will take you over to the other side of Covington.

And this area is just being pounded right now by Hurricane Irma. You can see the trees here are just taking a beating right now from that wind. It's the reason why we have (inaudible) people off the State of Louisiana without power. And that's one of the fears is that so many (inaudible) could be weeks before (inaudible).

Take a look, we're also concerned about (inaudible) a surge. Wind coming over, picking up the water and then raise over on top of the levee system. That levee system some $20 billion that was poured into all throughout this area after Hurricane Katrina. And Wolf, you know this is the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and so many people remember what happened on that day and what happened the day after when the levees broke.

So we are feeling the impacts of Ida right now as she makes her way here through the Gulf Coast. So many people were trying to evacuate, but we met some people who were pretty stubborn saying I made it through Rita and Katrina, I'm not leaving for Ida. So they're staying in their homes.

But the Governor of Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards making it clear, no one is coming to save you to rescue you until after the storm passes. We have National Guard troops all throughout the Gulf Coast; Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana on standby and some have already been deployed.

And we have FEMA in this area as well with large trucks, truckload full of cases of supplies to help people after the storm. But for right now, people are just hunkering down trying to survive the storm surge, the flooding, the lack of electricity, all of the things that will come from this major category 4. Wolf?

BLITZER: How far are you right now, Nadia, from the French Quarter in New Orleans? A lot of us are very, very familiar with that area and millions of tourists have visited there, although it's pretty empty right now.

ROMERO: Yes. We're not far at all. So if I could walk, let me just turn you around. So on the other side of this railroad is Jackson Square. On the other side of that just maybe down the block is Cafe Du Monde. And Cafe Du Monde is one of the most well known areas in New Orleans in the French Quarters where everyone goes and gets their beignets and it's a must do. So we're not far from there.

Over here is where, I think, this is the (inaudible) New Orleans and (inaudible) a lot of people do that as well. So all of that (inaudible) to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street if you really wanted to. Obviously, today wouldn't be the best day to do it, but we're not far from anything at all.

A lot of people live on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain and commute back and forth over that Causeway. Today would not be a good day to do that, Wolf.

BLITZER: It would be an awful day to do that. I hope people did accept the orders to evacuate and I want you and Nadia and our crew to be very, very careful over there. We'll stay very close touch with you, but once it gets really, really bad I know you guys have a location where it's safe and secure. We'll get back to you. Excellent reporting, Nadia Romero, on the scene for us in New Orleans.

I want to check back with our Meteorologist, Chad Myers. Chad, you can hear the wind, you can see the wind, it's only beginning right now. It's going to get a whole lot worse in the next hour or two and three, right?


MYERS: We're going to add 10 more miles per hour to what you just saw there over the next five hours and hopefully we can get her behind and the crew behind a nice building, still show the effects, but keep everybody away from windows and the wind. The big story here is going to be people losing windows, people losing shingles, people losing tree branches. You don't want to be out there in those winds when things start flying around. I've been there, I know this.

Now, we talked about the 150-mile-per-hour winds, those winds are only around the eye itself. There's a secondary eye that's trying to form here. The winds in that part, the secondary eye, probably around 100 miles per hour. But if you take this whole thing and I just move it with my hand right up here to the way it's going, these 75-mile-per- hour to 100-mile-per-hour winds are going to get into Baton Rouge. Certainly, it's going to get into Kenner into Laplace and into New Orleans proper.

And when you get a hundred, things start going - bump, I mean, it's going to go and bump in the night because by the time a lot of the wind gets here, it will be dark. That's a real dangerous time to be outside. I've been to Cafe Du Monde three times and it's been closed all three times, because they've closed it for hurricanes, Wolf, so I've never had a beignet yet. BLITZER: I've had a beignet. I've been there at several occasions.

It's a great, exciting place to be and eventually we'll get back to normal to have a good time over there. Right now it's a good time to stay away from that area. All right. Chad, we're going to get back to you. We're staying on top of Hurricane Ida. It's going to be a category 4 storm. Much more coming up on that.

We're also though following breaking news out of Afghanistan right now. The U.S. is carrying out an airstrike against a suspected ISIS-K suicide bomber inside Kabul. Our CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh is joining us from Doha, Qatar, our correspondent Oren Liebermann is over at the Pentagon and our Chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us from the White House.

Oren, you're at the Pentagon. What do we know, first of all, about this U.S. drone strike?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The strike was carried out by drone over the horizon, meaning the drone was not based in Afghanistan but came in probably from a base in the Gulf carrying out a strike against a car with explosives.

Now, the initial information was that there was a secondary source of explosions, meaning there were explosives onboard that car that triggered even larger explosion, which is part of the information that led the U.S. to believe that they had hit their target. But it is unclear at this point, according to defense officials that we've spoken with, whether it was a car bomb, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device or whether there were one or more suicide bombers on board that car ready to carry out what U.S. Central Command called an imminent threat to the airport. That information is still being assessed at this point.

But defense officials are sure that they hit a valid target because of the explosives on board, so we're looking to see more information about that as well as Central Command assessing reports of civilian casualties as a result of the strike.

Keep in mind it was only about 15 hours ago that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said they had a specific, credible threat to the airport and warn U.S. citizens to get not only away from the airport itself but away from specific gates. That was some of the sternest, harshest language we had seen in terms of the threats they were looking at.

President Joe Biden has said just yesterday that they were looking at the possibility of another attack against the airport in the next 24 hours to 36 hours. And that gives you an idea of the of the environment in which this operation, both the evacuation of Afghans and U.S. citizens is happening, as well as now the process of retrograding or withdrawing the remaining U.S. forces that are on Kabul International Airport at this time.

In spite of all of this, in spite of the threat, in spite of this drone strike, the evacuation continues. Some 2,900 people moved in a 24 hour span according to the latest numbers we have. It is worth noting that there are fewer people on each flight at this point. The average now less than a hundred people on each flight when it was some 350 people on a flight just a few days ago, so the evacuation continues in the face of the surrounding threats.

Again back to the strike, it was carried out by a drone against an ISIS-K. Imminent threat was the information from U.S. Central Command. The Central Command is assessing reports of civilian casualties, but because of the secondary explosions on the car that was hit, they are confident they took out a valid target, either a car bomb or suicide bombers onboard that car, Wolf.

BLITZER: But they're still bracing for a strike from ISIS-K. I assume this will only embolden them to try to even move up any planned terrorist attack that they're launching. And I know US officials are bracing for that, right?

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely. That's been on the radar for more than a week at this point ever since and before Biden talked about an ISIS-K threat to the airport. And let's remember it was just about 13 hours ago or so that the U.S. announced they had carried out a strike against ISIS-K in Nangarhar Province which is east south east of the airport.

So the possibility is there. The window is narrowing which means if you would think the urgency for ISIS-K to carry out an attack is growing, because soon there won't be a U.S. military presence there as the U.S. also works to evacuate as many of the remaining U.S. citizens in the country as possible.


As the U.S. draws down the number of troops it has at the airport, security becomes an even greater risk, security becomes an even greater question why there's an urgency not only to get U.S. troops out before that August 31st deadline up until that deadline, but also that urgency for any terror groups to try to carry out an attack against the remaining U.S. presence.

BLITZER: All right. We'll get back to you, Oren. And let us know if there's going to be a pentagon briefing. We'll be anxious to hear from the leadership over there.

I want to go to Doha, Qatar, Nick Paton Walsh is on the scene for us as he has been over these past several days. The U.S. clearly, Nick, on alert for more terrorist attacks. Could we see a more us airstrikes though in these final two days before the complete withdrawal scheduled for Tuesday?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, there's definitely that possibility. Certainly, I think I was a little surprised we had another one quite so quickly but it does appear, according to U.S. officials I spoke to, that this particular either suicide bomber or car bomb was 'loaded and ready to go'. They assessed that they were dealing with a very specific immediate threat there.

I should point out reports from the scene do suggest possibly more casualties than the one suicide bomber killed, which was suggested to me. But I know my colleague Jake Tapper and Barbara Starr being told possibly more suicide bombers may have been hit in this too.

So really unclear information at this early stage and also to the phrasing news around the possibility for civilian casualties does suggest that they are actively looking at that possibility. But at the same time, it feeds into a broader picture of the growing threat to the airport. And that is, of course, increasing as the numbers of Americans on it decrease.

We don't have detail as to quite what number they're at, at the moment. And, of course, the evacuation operations are beginning to slow dramatically. The last 12 hour period, I think if my math is correct, had about 900 people flown out, which is a significant reduction, despite the sheer volume of aircraft that still appear to be going into that airport.

That would suggest to me that they're also now involved much more in the retrograde process, the packing up of the forces on that airport and bringing them out. At some point in the next 48 hours, most likely 72 hours, we are going to see the last American soldier leave Afghanistan after America's longest war, which will be frankly a monumental moment of great symbolism for so many American families impacted by this war, not just in the last week, but in the last 20 years.

And of course, a security will be something I would imagine they will have to negotiate yet still further with the Taliban at the last moments of that withdrawal. The Pentagon were very clear that the gates around the airport are still under their control. They are not controlled by the Taliban, they said.

We know for a fact that the southern entrance of the airport does have a Taliban presence on it that often negotiates the (inaudible) to head towards the military side. But they'll come a point, of course, when the number of U.S. troops on that airport reduces to the point where they have to start pulling away from the perimeter and thinking about getting on their aircraft and pulling out.

So a very delicate stage ahead here. And clearly the ISIS-K threat is something that's been constantly monitored, but also acted against, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Nick, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

I want to go to the White House right now. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is on the scene for us. Kaitlan, President Biden, he's at Dover Air Force Base in his home state of Delaware right now taking part in this dignified transfer of those 13 U.S. service members killed in Thursday's terror attack in Afghanistan.

Tell us about that. What can we expect? Because I understand we're going to be getting some video fairly soon.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we will. The President has been there for about four hours. It's him and the First Lady and several of his top aides. This morning, they've been meeting privately with these families of the 13 who were killed in that suicide blast this week.

And about 30 minutes ago or so is when this dignified transfer got underway and that's where you see those flag-draped transfer cases coming out of the plane, making their way across the tarmac, an incredibly solemn moment for those families, of course, who have just gotten the worst news that a military family can get.

And so the President is there on hand. You saw him earlier climbing the stairs of Air Force One as they headed to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. And this is a ceremony or excuse me this is a dignified transfer that is expected to last about two hours, given there are 13 families that are there. Eleven of them have agreed to have media coverage of that. That is something that has only really been in practice since about 2009 when the Pentagon started allowing that and each family of course has the right to say whether or not they would like that to be covered.

Eleven of these 13 families have, but all 13 are there as the President has a meeting with them behind closed doors. And Wolf, we should note that during this dignified transfer, of course, it is a very somber time. It is the President's first time actually doing it since taking office. He attended some of these dignified transfers as Vice President. I think he was at one in his final few months as Vice President.


This is his first time going to one since taking office. And so, of course, he is spending several hours there. This is something where the President is often or is going to be meeting with these families and talking to them for the first time since they actually got this news.

And then we should note he will later return to the White House. And regarding what Oren was saying about other possible attacks, as they are closing in on the final hours of this evacuation, President Biden is scheduled to get a briefing with his top National Security aides in THE SITUATION ROOM once again to be updated on the latest and including this drone strike that had happened while he was at Dover Air Force Base this morning.

BLITZER: And I just want to read, Kaitlan, from the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations guide book. It says this and I'm quoting, "The dignified transfer is not a ceremony rather it is a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team composed of military personnel from the fallen members' respective service."

This is a very, very moving moment. I've covered these moments over the years going back several years and I know the President is obviously going to be very, very moved not only by the dignified transfer, as it's called, but also meeting with these family members, these Gold Star families who are clearly suffering right now.

And there's another piece of news that I want to you to share with our viewers, Kaitlan, before I let you go. The Secretary of State was speaking today, talking about what the U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan is going to be after the complete military withdrawal on Tuesday. Tell our viewers what he said.

COLLINS: Well, this is a change from what the President and his Secretary of State and their team had envisioned back in April, when he was talking about withdrawing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan is they had initially planned to maintain a diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul.

Obviously, we saw that diplomatic presence, which was already decreased by quite a big amount, leave the embassy earlier after Kabul fell to the Taliban. They've been operating at the airport. And now as Secretary of State Blinken is saying it's highly unlikely they are going to have any kind of on the ground diplomatic presence once the U.S. is out of there on Tuesday.

That is incredibly significant for a lot of those former diplomats who have worked in this embassy for the last two decades, ever since the U.S. re-establish an embassy there. And this is obviously because of the security situation on the ground. It's not safe for people to be there and it does speak to just the level of how much the on the ground situation has changed since cobble did fall to the Taliban.

And so Secretary Blinken saying this morning that it's unlikely there's going to be one after the U.S. leaves on Tuesday, whether or not they re establish that and the weeks and months to come remains to be seen. He said a lot of that depends on the conduct of the Taliban and the security situation on the ground.

And of course, Wolf, we've seen how tenuous this is going to look. No one really knows what it's going to look like after Tuesday, including how the airport is going to be run after Tuesday. That is still something that is being determined at this time. And so a lot of things are up in the air right now. But it does seem clear, the U.S. is not going to have a diplomatic presence on the ground in Afghanistan after the U.S. forces leave on Tuesday.

BLITZER: We can't stress enough how dangerous, how tense the situation is on the ground in Kabul right now these final couple days before the U.S. troop withdrawal is complete on Tuesday. Our Kaitlan Collins will get back to you. Nick Paton Walsh, Oren Liebermann, we'll get back to you guys as well, standby.

We're also, of course, continuing to follow the breaking news on hurricane Ida. Now expected to make landfall in the next few hours as a strong, powerful category 4 storm. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're just getting some video in from Dover Air Force Base over the dignified transfer of the 13 service members that killed in that terrorist attack in Kabul is now taking place. The President, the First Lady, the Secretary of Defense and many others, they are on the scene. They've been meeting with the family members, the Gold Star families and they went aboard that plane to see the coffins and now they're going to be a ceremony outside. Let's just watch.


BLITZER: This is the dignified transfer of the service members killed in that terrorist attack in Kabul. You see the President, the First Lady, the Secretary of Defense and others receiving these flag-draped coffins. A very, very somber moment indeed. So far two of the American servicemembers, their coffins have been brought off that plane. There are still 11 to go. Eleven Marines, one soldier, U.S. Army soldier, and one sailor killed in that terrorist attack. Let's continue to watch.


As we continue to watch the dignified transfer of these service members at Dover Air Force Base. There's the President and the First Lady. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling very quickly before we resume our coverage, the military calls these caskets transfer cases. These flag- draped transfer cases. Give us a little sense, you've participated in these very somber moving moments.

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. These dignified transfer remains, Wolf, are gut-wrenchingly emotional and it will just stay with you the rest of your life for anyone who has been to Dover and met forces. And, in fact, the military assigns and asked for volunteers of senior general officer, flag officers to go there whenever someone comes back.

So when you see everyone in the crowd there, not only the President and the First Lady, but the Sec Def, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also in the crowd is Gen. McConnell, but excuse me, McConville from the Army, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gilday, the Air Force Chief, the Marine Commandant, they're all there as well as many other allies.

But they call these transfer cases because they're being loaded up into vans right now and they'll be shipped to facilities within Dover Air Force Base where more military mortuary affairs technicians, literally military members who have the occupational specialty of being morticians, if you will, will prepare the remains for forward movement to their home base.

Now, what will happen is those remains will be prepared just like a mortician would, they will be given brand. They will be dressed in brand new dress uniforms. They will be placed in a casket and the casualty assistant officer who is with each one of these 13 will continue to stay with that body as it moves across the nation to the various hometowns of these Marines, and Sailor, and Army soldier.

So all of these things are part of a process. It is a welcoming home ceremony to the remains at Dover. And, Wolf, I got to tell you having trained and talk to some of the mortuary affairs assistants, they take this job as just an unbelievable duty and they do it with a sense of honor and dignity and they know that the Preparation of these remains to ship home to their families is one of the most important jobs the military does. [12:55:08]

It's interesting that we actually have military specialists to do this work, but their duty to these young soldiers, and sailors and marines in their final movement is just incredible. When you have, as we're seeing today, the remains of more than a dozen and I really think it speaks to the service and sacrifice of those who joined the military.

And I think whenever you're in that crowd of people, as we see the camera fade away from the President and the other military members and refocus on the back of that C-17, it is an emotionally devastating day. And it really brings home the requirement to ensure that we only send our military in harm's way when it's desperately needed to protect the nation, when there is an existential threat. And I think that's part of the conversation that many people will be having after this completion of the mission in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: It is so moving and I think I speak for all of our viewers when I say our deepest, deepest condolences to these new Gold Star families who've lost so many wonderful, wonderful young people, except for one, one was 31 years old, the others are all in their 20s, most in their young 20s serving their country, doing the best they can in a very dangerous situation in Kabul; 11 Marines, one Army soldier, one sailor and now they're being brought back to the United States in this very, very powerful ceremony. It is so sad to think about what's going on with their families. Let's watch, and listen and simply observe.

As we're approaching the top of the hour, we're watching this dignified transfer of service members killed in the terrorist attack in Kabul on Thursday. There's the President, the First Lady, Secretary of Defense and others who have gathered at Dover Air Force Base in the President's home state of Delaware to receive these flag-draped transfer cases as they are called by the U.S. military.

Oren Liebermann as we wait for the next transfer, give us a sense of how military officials, military officers, service members are reacting to what we're seeing.

LIEBERMANN: Look, the reaction to this, of course, started all the way back on Thursday in the moments after the terrorist attack at Abbey Gate in Kabul when word came out. And initially it was just the first reports, but then the confirmation that U.S. service members had been killed in the attack.

I've spoken to a number of officials here, shocked, traumatic, sad, one official here said as he walked through the halls, there were troops here who took a moment.


Some even had tears in their eyes from what was happening, from what was unfolding.