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President Biden Attends Dignified Transfer For Service Members Killed In Kabul; Hurricane Ida Makes Landfall In Louisiana; Residents Near Louisiana's Amite River Bracing For Flooding; Aired 1-2p ET
Aired August 29, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: 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. It was an incredibly dark, difficult day here. And I saw some people just stepped into the halls. Some people despite the rain that day stepped outside, just to have a moment to think and process.
The flow of information that day was incredibly high. You had to process that information. At the same time the far more difficult information to process that U.S. service members, as it would turn out 13 of them, had been killed in that attack and nearly 20 others wounded. All of that made it such a difficult day here all the way into Friday. And that's when we began to learn, not only the names and the ages, but of course the lives and the stories of these service members.
And that made it all that much harder. This is all part of that process in Dover, Delaware, at Dover Air Force Base, watching this final journey home, just part of it with the dignified transfers here. It's never easy to see this. And certainly, it's even harder to see that many of them, one after another. And I suspect that even with the secretary of Defense there, there are many service members, officials, enlisted officers that are watching this happen around the country realizing what it means to have lost a brother, a sister, a colleague, a service member, somebody who was part of the family here in the Pentagon -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And they're so young. Some of them were just babies 20 years ago when 9/11 occurred. And now they're being brought back to the United States in these transfer cases. You know, it must be so difficult.
Kaitlan, you're covering this for us as well, for the president and the first lady to be watching this, to have met with the families already. And they're going through a very, very painful experience.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Probably the most painful experience, Wolf. And you see the president and the first lady there. The president, he's bowed his head several times, places his hand over his heart as they bring these transfer cases that are draped with the American flag out. And he spent several hours behind closed doors before this dignified transfer with these families of these 13 service members who were killed who, as you noted, were so young.
The oldest one was 31 years old, Wolf. And most of them, several of them, five of them were 20 years old, of course just born shortly before the September 11th attacks. And so the president of course is known for being able to strike an empathetic tone. He is, unfortunately, no stranger to grief. And so he spent several hours behind closed doors with the families. And then there they stand as this dignified transfer happens.
You will only see 13 of the cases come out of the planes. That's at the request of these families who of course have the right to make whatever decision they would like. But there are 13 in total that will come out of that plane right now. And 11 of them Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier who were all killed in this attack. And of course this has been -- this has caused the president and his top aides to monitor this intelligence closely and try to thwart any other future potential attacks.
As they have said, this is the level of danger of this mission of this evacuation that you've seen going on in these last few days of the U.S. presence there.
One thing we should note, Wolf, this is -- the president has seen these transfers before. He saw them as vice president. But this is his first time as president participating in one of them.
BLITZER: Eleven fallen service -- 13 fallen service members, 11 of them men, two of them women. Let's watch.
(DIGNIFIED TRANSFER OF REMAINS CEREMONY)
BLITZER: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, retired U.S. Army is joining us once again, CNN military analyst.
You know, it's so painful. And once again, you participated in these moments, these dignified transfers as they are called. Give us some sense of how painful this is for you personally to watch this, General.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, this -- I've got to tell you, Wolf, it's choking me up because I not only participated in a couple of these as a one-star general when I was assigned to the Pentagon, they would ask flag officers to volunteer to go to Dover to meet the transfers at the height, at the early stages of both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. And several of us went up.
It's not only tough from the standpoint of just seeing this because these great patriots sacrificed their lives for our country doing the job that they were asked to do, but in this case you also have -- and in many cases, the family members are there. And I believe all of the family members are there. The president spoke with them. And I can tell you from my experience in combat, either talking to parents or loved ones, spouses of soldiers who died in combat, oftentimes they're very thankful for the call, for the letter that they received, for the sharing of grief of the loss of a teammate.
But sometimes they're in those stages of grief where they want to vent. They really want their anger -- you know, rightfully so, some of them will have anger come out. And I'm sure the president, in speaking with the family members, had all sorts of emotions in those couple of hours that he was with family members in the meeting hall they have there at Dover. That's the toughest part because when you're a commander or in some cases the commander-in-chief, you understand the great loss, what will be an empty chair at the dinner table or the missing person at a family event in the future.
All of these Marine, soldiers and sailor, will forever remain young. You know, Kaitlan just mentioned the ages of all of them. And that's just -- it's just tragic that all of these young military folks lost their life at such a young age, but they will always remain at that age to the family members and to the friends. That's one of the harshest parts, just the loss and the grievance and the starting of the phases of grief.
And I'm sure the president probably had some emotionally distraught parents and spouses at those meetings that he's been attending the last couple of hours. And coming home from this event -- you know, again, when I was in the Pentagon and came back home, it was numbing. And when I went up there, it was only one individual. It was numbing to come home and think about it.
We know inherently that war unfortunately causes the loss of life and the sacrifices, but a ceremony like this just really drives all that home. It's tough for a soldier or a commander, as we see so many of the general and flag officers standing there with the president. It's tough for them. They understand it a little bit more than the civilians, but you see the secretary of Defense. He certainly understands it.
I think you see the secretary of State standing behind the president. As the civilian leaders, they know their actions contribute to our nations going to war and that, in fact, when they ask the military forces to do what they ask them to do, that this is sometimes the result. You know, when military personnel take that oath of office saying that they will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, there is an inherent danger that this could be the result.
It is the only profession, the profession of arms, is the only profession that pledges to give their life in the defense of the nation. So all of these things play a role when you're talking about these dignified transfer of remains.
The span and spectrum of emotions and thoughts as, you know, each transfer case passes, and they always have the Guard of the Service of the person that is in that case. So you're seeing the majority of the bearers being Marines right now. But I'm sure there may be a transfer case soon with sailors surrounding it and one soldiers surrounding it as Sergeant Knauss and Corpsman Soviak, the Navy corpsman that was killed, come off the plane.
But these are -- even in the teamwork of the individuals carrying the transfer cases, I don't know if you've noticed, but as they place the case on board the vehicle that they're all helping one another, that they put their hands on each other's back, and that's also a reinforcement of how individuals become team members as they even treat their comrades to their final departure.
Now what we'll see in the next couple of days, Wolf, I'm sure there will be people on United Airlines or American Airlines where they'll see the continuation of this process as these military personnel are prepared and then transferred to caskets and then carried across the country on commercial airliners. And I'm sure many of your viewers have watched that out the window as everyone is asked to stay on board when those caskets are pulled out of the hull of the aircraft.
And that in itself continues the emotion and brings it home to the American people who might be traveling somewhere.
BLITZER: It is such a moving -- such a powerful moment that we're watching right now. As a former Pentagon correspondent myself and having dealt with these kinds of issues covering them for CNN, it just brings back a lot, a lot of especially painful moments knowing how young these men and women were, in their early 20s. So many of them only 20 years old, the oldest only 31 years old, and knowing the pain that their families, these Gold Star families are going through right now. Let's watch.
(DIGNIFIED TRANSFER OF REMAINS CEREMONY)
BLITZER: Oren Liebermann, it's only recently that the Pentagon allowed the media to cover these dignified transfers. And some family members don't want the media actually to cover the transfer of their fallen loved one. Tell us a little bit about that. Thirteen fallen troops are being honored today, but we'll only see 11 of the transfers. Two family members really didn't want the media to cover it. Tell us about that.
LIEBERMANN: Wolf, it is an intensely, intensely personal and private decision whether to have this dignified transfer seen in public, not only to those that are there, the president, the secretary of Defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and so many others, but basically to the entire world, some families have simply decided to do that in private.
They'd rather it not be seen. They'd rather deal with this internally in their own way. And of course, that decision is entirely up to them. It's one they make based on either their own conclusions. Others have chosen to make this public. Others want a chance for the country and the world to see their loved one, their brother, sister, son, daughter, honored in such a way, to see -- for the world to see them being honored in front of the president, in front of military officers.
And that, too, is an intensely private and personal decision. So both decisions are made. My reporting job actually started in Dover, Delaware, years ago. And I've seen both decisions made, both public and private.
Wolf, if I may, as we're watching these dignified transfers continue, if I may just review the names of 13 service members, 11 Marines, a sailor and a soldier.
Thirty-one-year-old Staff Sergeant Darin Hoover, 25-year-old Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 23-year-old Sergeant Nicole Gee, 22-year-old Corporal Hunter Lopez, 23-year-old Corporal Daegan Page, 22-year-old Corporal Humberto Sanchez, 20-year-old David Espinoza, 20-year-old Jared Schmitz, 20-year-old Rylee McCollum, 20-year-old Dylan Merola, 20-year-old Corporal Kareem Nikoui.
From the Navy, Navy Hospitalman Maxton Soviak, 22 years old, and from the Army, Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss, 23 years old.
It is stunning and difficult to comprehend how young so many of these were. In their early 20s. And that is part of what makes this -- just a small part of what makes this so incredibly difficult because they were at the beginning of their lives, the beginning of their adventures and yet they chose with their bravery and their heroism to go out there not only to help their fellow services members and their fellow citizens, but the citizens of another country to help them escape Afghanistan, and to try to come to the U.S. To try to find a better life. And it is in that service, as part of that mission, that they paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Wolf, may their memory be a blessing as we watched these dignified transfers continue.
BLITZER: Yes, indeed. Our deepest, deepest condolences to their loving families and to their friends.
You know, Kaitlan, I know you're getting some information. There's a pool of media correspondents who are there. What are you learning?
COLLINS: -- with him today of course obviously staying out of the way, out of respect for the families. And I just want to note one thing. If you're watching this, and you notice it is silent, there is no audio. That is obviously out of respect for the transfer. And you can see the doors closing there now that they have loaded the 13 cases into these vans, for the remains of the 13 service members.
But, Wolf, I just want to note how quiet it is. It's as quiet almost there as well for those reporters on the ground who say essentially barely any sound has been made. You saw the president and the Defense secretary and the first lady go up into the belly of the aircraft earlier. A small prayer was said in there. Of course, no one was present. The reporters were not present for that. But even there on the tarmac, it is incredibly quiet as well.
You just heard them keeping track of course, keeping time as they were putting these transfer cases into the back of these vans. But other than that, Wolf, there is very little said here. It is a very solemn during this dignified transfer as it's underway. Almost as quiet there as it is, without the audio.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. The unspoken words, the silence. They are so, so incredibly powerful. Let's watch a little bit more as this transfer, this dignified transfer continues.
(DIGNIFIED TRANSFER OF REMAINS CEREMONY)
BLITZER: The president of the United States, the first lady of the United States, the secretary of Defense, secretary of State, others, the top military brass, the commander of the Dover Air Force Base, Colonel Matthew Huseman, Mrs. Sara Huseman, wife of Colonel Huseman, Colonel Chip Hollinger, commander of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations at Dover Air Force Base.
A very powerful, moving moment as this dignified transfer is wrapping up right now. And we see the president, the first lady, the secretary of Defense moving on. Very powerful moment.
Let me get some final thoughts as we watch from Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Give us some final thoughts, General.
HERTLING: Wolf, it's tough. It's just tough to see this. I mentioned before that this was an ongoing event at Dover over the last 20 years both from those who had sacrificed in Afghanistan and Iraq and several other places around the world. These ceremonies have gone on sometimes almost daily like during the surge in different countries, but you never get used to them. I would suspect that now today because we're seeing hopefully the last casualties coming out of Afghanistan, that this is especially gripping.
You know, it's -- the names of anyone in a conflict that is the last to give their life is always the toughest. When you think something is over, and we have as we've conducted this evacuation, the end of this 20-year war, to have more casualties, more sacrifice, it just -- it rips you apart. You know, all of us who have served, and some of us who haven't, have been thinking about this for a long time.
But today really puts an exclamation point on the fact that we have still lost a lot of great lives, a lot of people who are willing to stand up and put on the cloth of their country and serve somewhere that's sometimes difficult, sometimes painful, but oftentimes very rewarding. There's going to be a lot of veterans who probably watch this programming, who watch this transfer of remains and who observed those caskets who are going to be crushed by this.
So many veterans who have dedicated so much blood, sweat and tears to this conflict over the last 20 years who are going to be hurting right now. And what I'd kind of like to say to all of them is if there is hurt, make sure you reach out to a battle buddy, that you share that hurt with someone who understands and that you take these emotions and really understand that you contributed to an attempt to make a part of the world better.
And that's what certainly these 13 young people did, as they were out into these trucks. They need to know that they were responsible for the evacuation of over 100,000 families -- 120,000 individuals. And because of that, those people are going to have a better life. Certainly there will be questions about those who didn't get out, who weren't evacuated. But 120,000 people who were going to have a better life somewhere in the world than in Afghanistan under the Taliban, are certainly grateful for the sacrifice that these 13 made.
BLITZER: We are so grateful and we honor these 13 fallen service members who have now returned to the United States in these flagged- draped transfer cases, as the U.S. military calls them.
Let's honor the 13 right now as we go to a quick break.
BLITZER: 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. We have breaking news on Hurricane Ida. This extremely dangerous storm just made landfall only moments ago as a category 4 storm with 150-mile-an-hour winds. We're just now starting to see some incredible pictures.
Intense winds in Grand Isle. Clearly the worst is yet to come. The National Hurricane Center is reporting already catastrophic storm surge. Very damaging winds are moving onshore across the Gulf Coast.
Let's get straight to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.
Chad, 150-mile-an-hour winds. Just six more miles per hour this would be a category 5 storm.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. And you can't really separate 150 from 160 or 157 except that there's obviously more extensive damage the higher the number goes. It's log rhythmic. Taking a 75- mile-per-hour storm, compared to what we have here, which is 150-mile- per-hour storm, that seems like it's two times greater. No. Actually it's 256 times more powerful when it comes to doing damage because it's not a linear extrapolation, it's a log rhythmic extrapolation because of the wind.
So Port Fourchon, you were the one that did get the center of the eye, dubious honor but really the problem would be Grand Isle. Grand Isle, you got the right side of the eyewall, not the middle of the eye. You only got the eyewall itself. And, you know, 150-mile-per-hour storm, that's almost where we were with Michael that made landfall on Mexico beach. I can probably see similar results in some of those areas there.
Some of these areas are going to pick up 115 miles per hour winds or higher. Everywhere that you see pink, that is a possibility. We've already seen Grand Isle, 136 was the highest gust until the anemometer broke. And so we don't know exactly what that highest number would have been. If you've ever taken a cruise ship out of New Orleans, you've gone down the Mississippi River, well, the last two things you see would be the Pilot Station and Southwest Pass.
That's 128 miles per hour. Those winds are pushing all that water up into the bayous, up into the ditches and possibly even over some of those back levees. We have to watch that for the people that are down south and west of the Mississippi River. And the winds here all those pink areas could be 115 or greater. And that would be Kenner, Metairie, and all the way toward Laplace. You could see those kind of winds.
The farther you get to the east in New Orleans, the less the winds will be. But certainly still a 150-mile-per-hour storm. People expect, oh, it's made landfall, it's going to die now. No, there's not much land down there yet. It's going to take some time. And this storm surge could be 15, 16 feet. And some of these back levees aren't that high. It's pretty close. And if you get winds on top of those 15-foot surges, some of these waves are going to be 10 feet on top of that surge itself, Wolf.
MYERS: A dreadful day. Probably the worst that some people have ever seen even though, you know, we had Katrina down there and we've had other storms. For many of the people down here across parts of the south part of Louisiana, this is the worst storm they've ever seen.
BLITZER: Yes, and I was going to say, Chad, hovering over this, exactly, exactly to the day 16 years ago Katrina hit that area, and we all know what happened then.
MYERS: Yes. And we're worried about the people on the other side of the river this time. We're worried about the people because when you push this surge up here to the west or south, if you will, because the river bends, this is where the surge is going to be, not so much for the north side, although we've seen a lot of water on the roadways all the way from Biloxi, all the way to Pensacola, as far as Bay St. Louis, you're Highway 90 is under water in many spots, so the surge is already here.
Some of the surge is already six feet. And it's still going up in some spots. So we are going to see that, as the water continues to get pushed this way, one more thing to worry about, this little pink box right there, that is a tornado warning. Remember, talked about Katrina, Katrina had 59 tornadoes associated with it. This is just coming onshore. Keep your heads up for tornadoes because tornado watches are in effect -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And let's not forget more than 1800 people were killed -- died during Katrina.
All right, Chad, we're going to get back to you. Thank you very much. We already are getting some stunning video captured by a surveillance
camera earlier today. Take a look at this. You're seeing the storm surge in Grand Isle, Louisiana. It's expected to rise to as much as 16 feet.
I want to bring in our meteorologist Derek Van Dam. He's in Houma, Louisiana, for us right now. That's just northwest of Port Fourchon where Ida made landfall in the last few minutes.
So what are the conditions like where you are? And I want to remind our viewers, you're being very careful, you and your crew.
DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We've got reinforced concrete building with hurricane windows where we can vacate to very quickly.
Listen, in Houma, Louisiana, conditions are deteriorating, as one would expect. And as the eyewall progresses through southeastern Louisiana, I think it's important for people to understand that they may get the strong major hurricane force wind gusts in excess of 110 miles per hour. It's coming here. We're under an extreme wind warning. We know that.
But there will also be a break for the certain few people, the individuals in southeast Louisiana, likely where I'm standing, where the eyewall of Hurricane Ida moves over. It is likely that you will see the sun come out. It is likely that you will see the birds fly around in confusion. Things will go eerily quiet. That's not the time to get outdoors and inspect your property. That is the time to shelter inside because what will happen is once the back side of the eye crosses over a particular area, the winds will change from a different direction, the debris and all the damage that has taken place will move in opposite directions and literally become missiles and projectiles.
So this (INAUDIBLE) within the past hour specifically, every minute that clocks by, we experience strong gusty winds. It's getting harder to stand up, starting to pelt. Some of our -- pelt our faces as well. We do have a sturdy structure to evacuate to. And a lot of these people ask, Wolf, what (INAUDIBLE), why are we outside in these conditions. I have to take a moment to say we are here to tell the stories about why you evacuated from your home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, I know it's getting worse and worse. And Derek, I know you and your crew, the photo journalists, will all be very, very careful. We're going to get back to you shortly.
New Orleans certainly is facing a very high risk right now for flash flooding with Ida expected to dump -- get this -- as much as 20 inches of rain across that beautiful city. Conditions are already beginning to deteriorate big time.
CNN's Nadia Romero is along the riverfront in New Orleans for us.
Nadia, I want you to be careful as well. The last hour when we spoke, a meter there clocked wind gusts close to 50 miles an hour already. So tell our viewers what you're experiencing.
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the wind has definitely picked up since the last time we spoke. And it almost feels like someone with giant hands has taken the wind and the water from behind me and is pushing it towards the city of New Orleans. So right there behind me, that's the Mississippi River. This way is the city of New Orleans, and you hit the French Quarter, you hit Cafe Du Monde, Jackson Square. Some of those iconic places of the city.
And we know that that area could flood. It has flooded in the past even from a much more milder thunderstorms, not a hurricane like Ida. And that's why we saw people boarding up and putting down those sandbags.
Now this city is pretty much shaped like a bowl. And around that bowl is the Mississippi River and a giant lake, and it's low lying. That's why we had those issues from Hurricane Katrina. But the city spent some $20 billion on levees to try to keep the water out of the city and away from people's homes and neighborhoods.
Now, the water right now -- the rain and the water that's coming from the Mississippi feels like little pins as it whips against you, as it picks up in that wind coming towards the city right now, making its way.
We can tell the difference, Wolf, the moment that Irma made landfall here, about a half hour ago, everything changed. Earlier today it was sunny. People were outside walking their dogs. No one is doing that right now. Next to me is a casino river boat. This is where people come on vacation to do a little bit of gambling, to go to a brunch, listen to jazz music. Obviously that's not happening now as Irma is already here all around us in the city of New Orleans.
Hopefully most people evacuated. But we met plenty of tourists, Wolf, who were not able to do so. And some people as well who were not able to evacuate either.
BLITZER: And you told us the last time we spoke, Nadia, you're very close to the heart of New Orleans over there in the French Quarter, for example. I wonder if you can show us what's going on over there, at least give us a little sense how close you are to that area.
ROMERO: Yes, I'll swing over and show you as much as we can. So you have the Mississippi River, then you have the railroad. And then right across the street that's Jackson Square. On the other side of that is basically the French Quarter. So we're not far at all from where most people would consider to be the iconic part of New Orleans, where tourists would hang out. We're not far from that area at all.
And that's why so many people were preparing this time. We spoke with a shop owner who said I've never seen it like this, not before Katrina, never. He's been there for 20 years. It's a place where you can go and do swamp tours and ghost tours at night. And he said he never saw so many people who are from the city of New Orleans panicked about this storm, knowing that it would be a lot larger, Ida would be, than Katrina -- Wolf. [13:40:05]
BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there, Nadia. And tell the crew to be careful as well. We'll stay in very close touch with you.
Nadia Romero on the scene for us in New Orleans.
Joining us now on the phone is the top medical official in Louisiana, Dr. Joseph Kanter. He's the state health officer and medical director for Louisiana.
Dr. Kanter, thank you so much for joining us. The storm could not hit at a worse time as your state's hospital ICUs, are already overwhelmed due to COVID-19 and the very transmissible, very dangerous Delta variant. How will this catastrophic storm impact Louisiana's hospitals and medical centers?
DR. JOSEPH KANTER, LOUISIANA STATE HEALTH OFFICER AND MEDICAL DIRECTOR (via phone): Thanks, Wolf. It's nice to be with you. You're right. It's an inopportune time and the COVID situation complicates our storm response. Hospitals are already very full, busier than they've been at any point during our prior three surges.
I'll tell you, you know, Governor Edwards did institute a statewide mask mandate about three weeks ago. And since that time we've had a 20 percent reduction in the number of COVID patients being hospitalized. That's important, because it gives us a little bit of breathing room. But we know any evacuation of any major hospital is going to be complicated by the situation. We have a great team here. We've done a lot of preparedness.
And at this point with the storm just making landfall now, all you can do is hunker down and be prepared to respond as best as possible.
BLITZER: Because what huge difference between Katrina 16 years ago exactly today and now Ida is at least -- I mean, Katrina was awful, more than 1800 people were killed, but there was no COVID at the time. Now there's COVID. That clearly complicates the evacuation and potentially the treatment that people will need in various hospitals, right?
KANTER: There's no question about that. And even to compare it to Hurricane Laura about just over a year ago today, when Laura hit we had about 900 hospitalized COVID patients. Right now we have just over 3,000. So it does complicate it. And the other part of this is, we do our best to remind folks that they do need to evacuate, that they do need to shelter. They have to do so cognizant of the COVID environment, which means masking and distancing.
We have testing in shelters, we have vaccines in shelters. We're doing all we can to prevent the evacuation in the sheltering exercise from exacerbating transmission of COVID. But it's not going to help at all and we know we're going to have to deal with that on the back end of this.
BLITZER: What steps are you taking, Dr. Kanter, to make sure that the hospitals in Louisiana have power, have staff, have supplies in the aftermath of this catastrophic storm?
KANTER: You know, hospitals down here have been significantly hardened since Hurricane Katrina and the 16 years since. All of them have active generators. Many of them have preemptively switched the generator power just so they can do so under controlled environment. They all have a core medical staff that is staying put in-house and they're essentially on lockdown now.
So these type of drills are nothing new. And hospitals down here do it better than ever. The only complication now is that they're just so much busier than they have before. And there's just not a lot of breathing room in the hospitals. And I will say, if you do have to evacuate a large hospital, which we clearly don't, it's going to be a complicated experience.
BLITZER: Very complicated and dangerous. I know, Dr. Kanter, you're also an emergency physician. Can you tell us what it's like inside emergency rooms right now?
KANTER: Well, there's a lot of triaging going on. I mean, there really has been throughout the past few weeks. It's been so busy with COVID. We've done a lot of broadcasting to the public to try and avoid hospitals and emergency departments unless you really need it. And I do think over the past couple days people have heeded that, thankfully, because we don't want any extra traffic going into hospitals.
But I'll tell you, the teams in emergency departments right now are, like they always do, doing the best job they can under sometimes difficult circumstances. But this is not their first rodeo, so to say. They're the best in the world at this. And we have every amount of faith in them.
BLITZER: Yes. We see Hurricane Ida not only impacting Louisiana, but Alabama and Mississippi as well. There you see the eye of the storm.
Dr. Kanter, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Louisiana right now. We'll stay in very close touch. Thanks for joining us.
KANTER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we're continuing to follow the breaking news on Hurricane Ida. It just made landfall moments ago, a category 4 storm with 150-mile-an-hour winds.
Stay with us. Our special coverage continues right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. Hurricane Ida has now made landfall in Louisiana. Right now it's punishing the Gulf Coast with sustained 150-mile-per-hour winds. Officials are warning people to stay indoors as Ida moves farther inland. The National Hurricane Center reports catastrophic storm surge already moving on shore. This category 4 hurricane is one of the most powerful to ever hit Louisiana. Right now more than 100,000 people are already without power across Louisiana and it's only expected to get a whole lot worse as Ida pummels the state.
Ed Lavandera is in the French Settlement, Louisiana, near Amite -- the Amite River, I should say, where flooding is expected once the hurricane rolls through.
So how are people preparing where you are, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, residents here along the Amite River southeast of Baton Rouge are really bracing for a day's long weather event. This is the river. We've been talking to the owners of this property here, Phil and Cheryl Daigle. And they say that this water has already come up two feet. They're staying here (INAUDIBLE) as you guys are scrambling to get ready for everything.
What are you most concerned about right now?
PHIL DAIGLE, RESIDENT OF FRENCH SETTLEMENT, LOUISIANA: Probably the wind. The high winds. More so than the water. I don't think we have enough time for a big surge to build up, but probably more wind- related issues.
LAVANDERA: And Sheryl, you were telling me you've been through this before.
CHERYL DAIGLE, RESIDENT OF FRENCH SETTLEMENT, LOUISIANA: Yes.
LAVANDERA: You guys are going to ride it out?
C. DAIGLE: Yes. Yes. It's called life on the river. You know? And you either like it or you don't. When it's good, it's wonderful. When it's bad, it's bad.
LAVANDERA: And your house, what, probably six feet off the ground?
P. DAIGLE: Yes. In fact, we elevated it after Hurricane Isaac, but yes, about six feet.
LAVANDERA: And most people, your neighbors around here, are they leaving? They're staying? What are they doing?
P. DAIGLE: This time a lot of them have left. Most of them are gone. We told them we would watch out for them or whatever, but we've never left, so we're here.
LAVANDERA: I meet a lot of folks like you guys. We've never left. Are you -- how worried are you? Does this feel different from other storms you've been through?
C. DAIGLE: Not really. I don't really stress about it. The only thing that worries me right now is it's going to be a lot more wind, I think, so it does worry me with the trees.
LAVANDERA: Yes. They're no joke. Look straight up, they're like 7500- foot-tall trees, Wolf, that they have here in these yards so with the high winds and the initial bands of this hurricane are starting to approach this area, so here in the next couple of hours, the scene here is going to dramatically change -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Just tell everyone to be careful over there. Ed, thank you very much. Ed Lavandera on the scene, you be careful as well.
Joining us now on the phone is John Raham, Jr., the director of Homeland Security for St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana.
John, we spoke yesterday. You gave us a little sense of what was going on. What's the situation in your parish like right now?
JOHN RAHAM, JR., DIRECTOR, ST. BERNARD'S HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT: Well, right now, you know, we're situated -- we border New Orleans on their eastern side. We're getting some of the fringe effects of the storm that just made landfall. Currently up in Chalmette, which is the northern part of the parish were getting gusts up to about 65 miles per hour. And down in lower St. Bernard in the fishing communities, we're getting power, I mean, outages. Down we're getting gusts up to about 75, 80 miles an hour.
We have about 3100 customers out of power. Everybody has been told to hunker down if you will because there's nowhere to go. Nobody could come out and do any rescues right now. And we're just kind of watching this being move in, getting ready to respond once it clears and assess the damage.
BLITZER: I know the hurricane came too quickly for you to order a mandatory evacuation for your parish. What advice do you have for resident who are still there trying to ride out the storm right now?
RAHAM: Well, just tell them to stay inside. Do not go outside into this weather with this type of wind, which is what we fear most. It can cause grievous damage to a person trying to move around in this weather. It will blow cars off the highway. We're also expecting some flooding from the rainfall, which are going to be minimal, but just stay inside. Don't go outside. When this is all over, we'll look for you. We'll make welfare checks and come check on people that have called us.
BLITZER: When Hurricane Katrina hit some 16 years ago, exactly 16 years ago today, the storm surge overwhelmed the levees in St. Bernard Parish, where you are, flooded much of the parish, more than 100 residents of St. Bernard Parish died. Have lessons been learned since Katrina, John?
RAHAM: Yes, sir. It was 167 residents died. But the levee system that was in place was an earthen levee system that was built back in the '50s and '60s, and had not been maintained properly. But the new system is a $14.5 billion cement steel construction that runs the parish, most of the parish, and Orleans Parish and some in Jefferson. And people need to realize when you hear some people say, well, I've been through this before. No, we have not been through a category 5 hurricane like this.
BLITZER: What --
RAHAM: Are you there?
BLITZER: I was going to say, it's an awful situation. But very quickly, before I let you go, John, what steps are you taking to prepare for possible rescues if residents who stay put, they get trapped by flood waters in their homes?
RAHAM: Yes. Everybody who's has called us to be evacuated, which we can't do in this weather, we have a list with phone numbers, addresses, and medical conditions. We have parish search and rescue equipment staged in lower St. Bernard.
We have the Louisiana Air National Guard which is in the parish staged with high water rescue vehicles, personnel, and boats to do the rescue once this thing is cleared so we can go out and assess the damage and rescue anybody if necessary.
BLITZER: Well, good luck, John. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in St. Bernard Parish. We'll stay in close touch with you. We're watching this hurricane explode over that entire region.
John Raham, appreciate it very much.
RAHAM: (INAUDIBLE) around here. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
But we're going to have much more ahead on Hurricane Ida. Just made landfall once again as a category 4, category 4 storm.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
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