Return to Transcripts main page


Winter Apocalypse, Southern-Style; Carol Costello Interviews Atlanta Mayor

Aired January 29, 2014 - 11:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll have to rotate out, but the Georgia Guard and the 48th Brigade will be out here. We'll stay out here until our mission is over, until it's completed and the governor says he doesn't need us anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If people are stranded and they need assistance from you all, is there a number that they can call or do they just have to wait and hope they see a humvee come by?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's still 911. And what's been happening, I believe they've got the GEMA has been activated, Georgia Emergency Management Agency. And everything for us, how we get missioned or how we get tasked, all goes through that. So that's what we wait for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like your guys are taking water to those people on that bus there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. We're -- we try to take advantage. We've got limited resources out here. Like I said, we've been out here for a while now, but we look for whatever we can help out.

Earlier today, we actually had a couple out here that had two infants with them, and they had run out of water. They couldn't make formula. So luckily we were able to provide some water for them.

So that was one of the really good ones. You're doing something like that, you always want to make sure that the kids are taken care of.

We have had some people -- we will put them in the Humvee to warm up. We have some wool blankets and other things. Anything we can provide we'll take care of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever seen anything like this before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not from the National Guard perspective. I know they had the bad ice storm in 2011, about this same time of year. I know it was bad then, too.

Yes, this has been a real challenge. The ice makes it difficult no matter what. Even with our Humvees and four-wheel drive, you still slip and you still have to be careful. It is pretty dangerous.

The big trucks, they have to get momentum. A lot of times, they don't have enough running space to get going specially with the smaller vehicle. Just hope that folks stay off the roads as much as they can. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks a lot, Captain.

You can see as Marcus (ph) pans around, the traffic trying to head into Atlanta and still backed up. We are actually and here comes a Georgia state patrol, heading down here as well.

We're actually at the top of this hill right before Cleveland Avenue. This seems to be the problem area. This is where these big rigs are getting stuck. Once they get past this point, the road opens up.

The traffic is moving, but it is just a matter of getting past this point and it looks like where we are is a quarter of a mile from the Cleveland Avenue exit.

If you can see, there is no traffic in front of us. This is just a matter of getting up this slope.

This big rig right here next to us, it is stuck. It has been slipping and sliding since we have been out here just trying to make it up here. Whether it does, I'm sure it will be on its way.

This is the troubled spot actually. We have been out here ourselves since midnight. We were stuck in this traffic.

Once we left Clayton County last night around midnight, we slept in our live truck for about three hours. We got out started working again.

Once we got to this point, we were excited. That's the thumb's up from my photographer, Marcus (ph), excited to see traffic finally moving and to figure out, to finally see where the problem spot is.

Now, we've seen Georgia state patrol, Army National Guard, Atlanta police officers were out here actually helping -- trying to help some of these truckers get through here.

And there is a bus that's actually sliding back there. That bus, it's stopped now. It was sliding downhill.

This -- we have not -- the one thing we have not seen out here, though, are the salt trucks, the sand and salt trucks. If they can get -- if the Army National Guard can get here, these police officers can get here, why can't we see a salt truck get here and salt this hill, put some sand on this spot right here?

I believe -- I'm sure that that will help these truckers get through here.

And here's another member of the Army National Guard. She just took some water to the people stranded on that bus. It looks like the bus says it is on its way to New York.

There was a gentleman who walked up here a few minutes ago. He says he's been out here for, what did he say, 13, 14 hours he's been stranded out here?

So, that is the latest out here on I-75 northbound. Back to you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to believe you were talking about getting excited. I've got to believe those folks --

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Our thanks to WGCL, our local affiliate here in Atlanta.

Much more on the winter apocalypse in Atlanta with Ashleigh Banfield.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Welcome to our continuing breaking news. It is Wednesday, January 29th. This is LEGAL VIEW.

It is only a couple inches of snow, but for millions of people across the Deep South, this has become a complete emergency. Look at the gridlock. That's what it looked like overnight in Atlanta.

The nation's ninth largest city is effectively on its knees today, pregnant women and children trapped on the roads for hours upon hours. Some drivers who left work yesterday are still not home as we broadcast to you live this minute.

Others took refuge at stores, stores that opened as shelters, just opened up their floors. Look at the result. Now some of those people who took refuge at stores are stuck there.

In Alabama, thousands of children, snowed in at school, could not leave, all the children having to hunker down for the entire night with teachers as their guardians.

And it is not over yet. Sixteen-hundred flights are already canceled today. That count is a moving target.

Emergency declarations are still in place from Louisiana to North Carolina. And, now, public officials are back on their heels and trying to explain how this got so bad.

We are taking you live throughout this storm today. We are live in College Park, Georgia. We are live in Atlanta and in the CNN Severe Weather Center, as well.

I want to start live out on the roadways with Victor Blackwell in College Park. Our Nick Valencia is also standing by.

Victor, you have been out there since midnight last night. I watched your reporting then. I've watched your reporting, and it is sad to say, not much seems to have changed.

Take me through the most up-to-date details you've got.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We just received moments ago information about the first confirmed fatality here in the state of Georgia related to weather.

We know that this victim was a 60-year-old woman, Yvonne Nash. She was driving through Coweta County, which, I'm in College Park, south of Atlanta. Coweta is about 25 miles south of me, of where I'm standing right now.

We understand she was driving her SUV, lost control, flipped into a ditch and first-responders actually used an ax to pull this woman out, but she died later at a hospital.

The latest numbers we have, more than 1,250 crashes in Georgia that officials responded to.

But you're right. This was a major catastrophe for people just driving home in the middle of the day.

A commute that would typically take an hour for some people took 10 hours, 11 hours, and, as you pointed out, for some, still has not ended.

There are people we know still in Home Depots around the state of Georgia, still students waiting at a Kroger, a supermarket.

They were stuck on a school bus, 90 students stuck on four school buses on the roads overnight. Ambulances had to rush to them, take them out and rush them off to the supermarket.

And we know from Atlanta public schools, their Twitter update, they're now putting resource officers into vans to go to nine school sites to try to reunite those students forced to stay at school overnight with their parents, now, almost 24 hours into this nightmare for these students.


BANFIELD: Victor, we just got a live picture up to the right of the screen here.

And I don't know anything about it, other than it's a vehicle on fire on one of these icy streets, more than likely, one of these terrible statistics of these 1,000-some-odd traffic accidents that have been reported since this emergency began yesterday.

I have no idea at this point about the people who occupied that vehicle or any emergency response to it. I can't see any emergency response to it.

Victor, one of the questions I wanted to ask you and I wanted to ask you this last night when it first crossed our wires that school kids at midnight were on board those buses that were stuck on those freeways that were iced.

Does anybody have any information at this point as to how the children were cared for?

The first thing that crossed my mind, they've been out of school since 1:30 in the afternoon. That's almost 12 hours straight.

How are those children being fed? How are they going to the bathroom? They are on freeways with, effectively, a bus driver.

Do we know anything about the care of these kids overnight?

BLACKWELL: We don't. Once those students were -- at least the students from Fulton County, the 90 students who were on those four school buses, they were put onto the -- put into the ambulances.

They were rushed to the supermarket and the employee we spoke with at Kroger said they just let the students go to the shelves and pick off whatever they wanted. They were hungry, they were thirsty and they just went to the shelves and ate what they could.

And you can imagine 90 teenagers, it was from a high school, locally, rushing to get some food. It was very desperate situation.

But we do know from the students who were at the schools, through tweets from teachers, from students, from parents, that there were concerns about getting food even to the schools.

At 11:54, late into the evening, the APS, Atlanta Public Schools, they responded that food was on the way to one of the schools, and those students had been there for the entire day.

In the morning, there were requests for blankets at elementary schools, as well, on -- to the Atlanta Public School Twitter account.

So, although the officials say, this morning, everyone has been fed and there are resources for everyone, the question I've been asking and not yet been given an answer is, when did the resources get to the students?

Was it at 6:00 p.m.? Was it at 6:00 a.m.? How long were they without the food, without the resources, the blankets that they needed to have some level of comfort in this disaster?

BANFIELD: It's unbelievable, seeing those -- I'm glad you said that these were at least older kids.

I don't know if we have a confirmation that all of the children who were on those school buses were older children or whether any of them were younger kids, clearly requires a lot more care.

The facts are also coming in very feverishly at this point. I want to just go up to the road to Atlanta where Nick Valencia is standing by as we look at some of these live pictures.

The helicopters are up and about and moving really freely, but, Nick, it is hard to believe at 11:00 in the morning, the day after, we are still reporting people are trapped on freeways.

Give me an up-to-date picture from within the city limits.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor was talking about just the desperate situation that so many are here in, and that's exactly what people are dealing with in Atlanta.

Others throughout the United States that are more accustomed to dealing with severe weather and snow may look at this and laugh and think that it's laughable, but this is not funny, what's going on here.

People are trapped in cars in very -- in emergency situations. I spoke to somebody just a little while ago who's been trapped since 5:00 p.m. yesterday, stuck in their car on an interstate. They had to sleep in their car. They had a friend come and deliver food to them.

Just awful, awful circumstances here, and people are outraged at city officials that no one, Ashleigh, no one, not the mayor, not the governor, is taking responsibility for what happened.

People are blaming it on bad forecasts and that they weren't anticipating this type of snow. That's just not accurate. Our own CNN meteorologist reported this yesterday, Indra Petersons, warning our viewers in the South that this was coming.

The city is not only -- it wasn't underprepared. It just wasn't prepared at all. Plows weren't out. The mayor was talking about, earlier, how there was sand -- a mixture of sand and rock being put down on the roads. I didn't see any snowplows out there.

And we're hearing a lot of reaction on social media, as well, Ashleigh. I want to share with you some of the reaction that's being sent to me directly, this one coming to us from Ron Eyester.

He's a very popular chef in Atlanta, and he said he trekked up 75 North, that's Interstate 75 North here that runs through the city, for 11 hours yesterday. He says he's never seen anything like it.

He's lived here for at least a handful of years. I know him pretty well, and he says it was chaotic out there.

Someone else, another person, sent me this tweet, Andrew Saluke, who's from Ohio. He said it was poor planning by the state. Atlanta is a world-class city, but behind small Midwest towns when it comes to snow preparation. And I think so many here would agree with that.

I drove in this morning, saw cars abandoned on the roads still, those roads, treacherous, very icy road conditions. And, if you are not used to driving, and a lot of people in Atlanta here are not used to driving in this type of weather, it can be very dangerous out there.

We just reported a little while ago, already a fatality, over a hundred people injured.

This could have been much worse, but I'm sure for those stuck in it, Ashleigh, they think it was a test of their patience.


BANFIELD: And those who are still stuck. Nick Valencia, thank you.

Some of these pictures have just been astounding to look at, major semis jackknifing and plugging up entire arteries, and, on the other side of the road, obviously, people just at a standstill.

We are just dealing with a partial staff today, because so many of our CNN staffers in Atlanta either took seven hours to try to get home or just simply couldn't get back in today, which makes it all the more maddening and it puts it on a personal level for so many people when you hear the mayor of Atlanta deflecting any blame.

Let me just give you a quick quote. This was a series of independent decisions on the part of the school district, on the part of businesses for letting people out and those pesky commuters for all leaving at the same time, 1.1 million people in Atlanta.

Heaven forbid, they should try to get home in an emergency. So guess what's going to happen in about 15 minutes time? The Georgia governor along with the Atlanta mayor are expected to be holding a live news conference to answer some questions.

That mayor already faced off with my colleague, Carol Costello. I give her huge acclaim for not losing her cool with him when that blame was deflected.

I can also tell you this. We have asked several times for one-on-one interviews with the governor. We have been told the governor is not accepting any interviews at this time and that this news conference that will be live in just 15 minutes will speak for itself. It better. We are back right after this.


BANFIELD: It has been almost 24 hours since the people of Atlanta had an incredible storm descend upon them, and they sure want some answers because many of them are still stuck in traffic after leaving the office. Like I said, almost an entire day later. How about those answers? Carol Costello, my colleague here at CNN, had a chance to interview just moments ago, the Atlanta mayor, Kasim Reed and asked about how this could have happened, and his answers just might stun you.


COSTELLO: You know how angry people are at you?

MAYOR KASIM REED, D-ATLANTA: Well, I don't feel that people are angry at me. I think that they have a great deal of frustration.

COSTELLO: You don't think people are angry at you?

REED: This is the deal, Carol, what I've been doing is working nonstop to alleviate a very tough situation. We got 1 million people in the city of Atlanta out of the city. We haven't had any fatalities in the city of Atlanta, we got all of the children who are on school busses in the APS system off of those buses. And I've been communicating with the people of this city on a constant basis. The last time I talked to the press at 2 a.m. --


COSTELLO: There are plenty of people who say those school children should never have been placed in that position. That schools should have been closed before the weather hit.

REED: Well , Carol, let me say this: if you're being fair, you would point out that the Atlanta public school system makes the call on when the system is closed.


COSTELLO: But don't you collaborate?


REED: No, no, no, you ought to be fair with the interview. The Atlanta public school system calls and the school systems independently call when they close. So what we did was communicate, and yesterday, immediately, I said that I thought it was a mistake for business, government, and the schools to announce those closures. Which caused people to flow into the streets and created a major traffic jam.

COSTELLO: So they just -


REED: I went on the local news --

COSTELLO: -- so they just overruled your suggestions?

REED: This isn't an overruling. The bottom line is I said that if I'd had my druthers we would have staggered the closings, but for you to represent or make it seem as if I control when the school systems close or businesses that's totally not the case.

COSTELLO: So who is to blame?

REED: I think that was a mistake and there is shared responsibility for it so -


COSTELLO: Who made that decision? Who made the decision to allow schools to let out, businesses to let out and government offices to let out at the same time?

REED: The same way that CNN released their employees, other businesses released their employees. There were a series of independent decisions when they saw that the government was closing and that APS was closing, thousands of businesses decided to release their employees. During the day, there are 1.1 million people in the city, and all of those people left at about the same time, which caused a massive traffic jam that caused a great difficulty. That being said, that being said we got 1 million people out of the city. We have not had any fatalities. We cleared the way of all of our hospitals, all of our police stations and all of our fire stations.

(CROSSTALK) COSTELLO: But see, I've heard this from public officials before. We didn't have any fatalities, but that was just by the grace of God. There were a thousand traffic accidents --


REED: No it's not by the grace of God.

COSTELLO: People got out of their cars in icy situations.

REED: That's easy to say from your anchor seat.

COSTELLO: No! I was out stuck in the traffic! I was one of those people!

REED: If you put up CNN cameras it looks pretty good outside of CNN, and -

COSTELLO: Right now it does.

REED: It's not just by the grace of God, it was through a lot of people working, Carol, I think it's by the grace of God, and thousands of employees who did not go to sleep last night, who were working very hard all night long.

So I certainly said immediately yesterday that releasing all of these folks was not the right way to go. And the only thing I've been doing is working constantly, and I agree that God definitely had a role in it. But God needs partners and that's people who are out here doing their work.

COSTELLO: And I'm sure -

REED: We're in the first day of the storm -

COSTELLO: I understand.

REED: -- and we're working right now to clear the freeways, and you know that I don't have responsibilities for the freeways, but I'm partnering with our state partners to get people off of the freeways.

COSTELLO: Okay, well let's talk about the streets within the city of Atlanta because I drove to work this morning. And some of them are quite icy and frankly dangerous. I have talked to many, many people who say they haven't seen a salt truck anywhere. Where are they?

REED: Well, obviously, there are salt trucks because there's salt -- the streets are salted and done on my route here. So, I drove on the same roads you rode on, and I got here in 20 minutes. I know that we had a fleet of 30 spreaders, we have 40 snowplows, and our crews have been running nonstop on 12-hour shifts. So, of course, there are going to be roads that are icy. That's going to happen, but what I know is that we are responding in hour one, ahead of the storm. And you and I -- you were here during 2011.

COSTELLO: Yes, I was REED: The city was closed two and three days, really before there was any activity, so we started --

COSTELLO: Well, let's talk about that. Let's talk about that because - I was going to say other cities have these problems.


COSTELLO: I was going to say, other cities - handle these kinds of problems --

REED: And we have started immediately, so, you know we started immediately. The bottom line is, we're going to work nonstop, and we're going to get the city open and operational faster. We are going to partner with the state and we're going to get folks off the freeways and we're going to keep people safe.

COSTELLO: Well, I was going to say, other cities seem to have it together when things happen like this. You could argue that cities like Atlanta aren't used to dealing with weather like this, but it just happened a couple of years ago. So you had a practice run. And some citizens might say, you learned nothing from that, because it was worse this time.

REED: And I would say to those citizens that they should go back and look at your CNN tape. That's just not true. During the last storm, it took days -- the city didn't even have any snow equipment during the last storm. It took days. For the first two days, it was kind of funny (ph) like snow days (ph).

We were responding immediately. We started deicing the city before the snow ever fell and we are now in day one of this crisis, and we are fully staffed and running full 12-hour shifts. So, as tough as it is right now, it is nowhere near as bad as it was in 2011 where the snow event lasted three or four days. And really, candidly, nothing was done because nobody had any equipment.

This time we had 30 spreaders, we had 40 snowplows, we had 70 thousand tons of sand and gravel, we had it located within the city. And what we're going to do is continue to work and get the city open and operational, and we are going to go out and partner with the state and get folks off the freeways.

COSTELLO: If this happens a month from now, and I hope it doesn't, same scenario, what would you do differently?

REED: What we would do differently is definitely stagger all of the closings, coordinate more with the business community, the local school system and the state on our closings so that we don't have the massive exodus that we had on this occasion that led to a horrible traffic situation that caused people enormous inconvenience.


BANFIELD: So there you have it. The word from the mayor. This was a series of independent decisions. This was not his decision. He got to the CNN interview in 20 minutes, he says, and that the live cameras outside of CNN Center should have shown the traffic was just fine.

I am here to report to you the traffic is not just fine. There are still people trapped after 18 hours in the car. There are still people trapped, Mr. Mayor, on the road, as you say everything is going well. In fact, going better than it did back in 2011.

There are plenty of CNN employees who are reporters and journalists who say, it was not better this time around. It was, in fact, worse this time around.

Coming up, Carol Costello is going to join me and talk more about that interview she conducted and also, man that knows all too well what crisis and emergency is all about. How to deal with the aftermath and maybe more importantly, how to prevent it from happening in the first place, retired General Russel Honore and Carol Costello. Coming up after the break.