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Hurricane Laura Slams into Gulf Coast with 150 MPH Winds; Reports Say, Lakers, Clippers Vote to Boycott Rest of NBA Season. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 27, 2020 - 07:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day, and we have breaking news at this hour, because Hurricane Laura battering Louisiana as we speak.

Overnight, Laura made landfall in Cameron, Louisiana, as a powerful Category 4 storm, packing 150-mile-per-hour winds. This is the most powerful hurricane to hit Louisiana in more than a century.

The winds in Lake Charles knocking down power lines, it toppled this R.V., as you can see. The storm also blowing out windows, causing very dangerous debris to fly around.

This morning, storm surge is still a major concern. Forecasters had predicted that it could be as high as 20 feet. That's a level they say would be, quote, unsurvivable. So in moments, we'll get you an update on what the levels are right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Truth is, we still just don't know how bad the destruction is just yet. The light not up completely. We're contacting as many people as we can on the ground to get a sense of the damage.

Interstate 10 is closed in some parts of Louisiana due to flooding concerns. The governor of Louisiana has mobilized the state's entire National Guard. Some perspective here, why we are so concerned right now, this storm hit with more force than Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people 15 years ago, exactly.

I want to go first to CNN's Martin Savidge in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Martin, I can see you're outside assessing the damage. What have you seen? Give us the very latest?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's the first time, John, that we've been able to even come out of shelter for over five hours. And the wind is still blowing here. But let me tell you, I've been through a lot of hurricanes, this one had a number of frightening moments.

The ground shook. It literally made the ground shake. The building, which is a huge hotel, which we're next to, you could listen to it as it was vibrating and shuddering under the wind load. And then, of course, you know, you can see some of the damage. This is just landscaping here.

But what I'll tell you is interesting about this tree, it didn't just blow over, it snapped off at the base. So, of course, this gives you some indication of what the power of this storm was like and maybe what lies ahead when people start trying to assess.

We're hearing of damage inside the city of Lake Charles. We're also hearing that there was flooding as well. The flooding seemed to come after eye of the storm moved past. And now the only way people are going to assess this is in daylight. We haven't got it yet. And, in fact, it's still too windy for crews to go out there safely and try to figure out how bad it is.

But just think of the poor families that stayed behind and what it must have been like in the total darkness as the power went out and the very world around them was falling apart.

So, I mean, this storm here is still in the throes of thrashing Louisiana. It's a powerful storm and it's not done yet. But I really do fear what they're going to find not just here, but, of course, right up against the coastline. John?

CAMEROTA: Okay. Thank you, Martin. Stay safe. We'll check back with you to see what's happening, because every half hour is different on the ground there.

Let's go to Chad Myers and Chad can tell us where the storm is and what's happening right now. Chad, what are you seeing?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The worst weather right now would be Ft. Polk. This is an area up here north of Lake Charles and the winds are likely somewhere around 105 miles per hour. That's the latest from the Hurricane Center and I believe it. That's about where this thing looks. This is really what it looks like for the rest of the day.

Notice, there's still more convection developing on the south side of the storm. That will push into the bayous of Southern Louisiana. One of the good news, bad news things is much of what was hit in Southern Louisiana was national wildlife refuge. And, hopefully, those animals and birds all got out of the way in time. But I'm sure that there's some devastation here, especially to the beaches that will be unimaginable.

When you get this much water pushing onshore, it doesn't matter if it's a man-made beach or a shoreline with mice mangroves, there's going to be some destruction going on and that's likely there.

Here is what we're talk about right now, Ft. Polk, you're almost getting into the eye as the wind begins to die off briefly. 330,000 people are still without power in Southwest Louisiana, and that may take weeks if not months to get everything back up. So many trees, so many power lines are down.

This is the bayou. You can't bury power lines. Everything is aboveground. Everything will be knocked down. These power lines are snapped. These power poles are gone. So it's going to take a long rebuild process.

We didn't really see that I think of yet, I can't find any 15 to 20- foot surges. I found some 11-foot surges out there, and that's certainly enough to over-wash some of these beaches around Cameron, around Holly Beach. Still a storm system to be reckoned with, we will see storm systems down in Little Rock later today as it continues.



BERMAN: All right. Chad, we'll come back to you in a second. In the meantime, joining me is Ken Graham. He is Director of the National Hurricane Center. Director, thank you so much for being with us.

You were so concerned about this storm surge. You had warned of unsurvivable storm surge. Can you give us a sense of what you're seeing so far or when it might reach its height?

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes. You have a situation that all of that wind coming up from the south pushes that water in. And I've looked at some of the gauges and you're still seeing some areas that still hold the water in, so, yesterday, seeing some of these 11-foot storm surges.

Storm surge is so sensitive to track. I've seen situations 30 or 40 miles can make the difference between a couple foot of storm surge and ten feet of storm surge. And I've seen some of these values, but this is important right here, because we have the center of the circulation up here, the winds shift to the southwest, so some of that storm surge that came in last night gets held in place. So you're still -- south of Lake Charles, you're still going to have some of that storm surge holding. It could be prolonged. You can start seeing that storm surge. It may take another day before some of that water gets out of there.

BERMAN: It will be some time before we know whether or not they're fully out of the woods just yet. This storm made landfall at 150 miles an hour in Cameron, Louisiana, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the United States, the most powerful to hit in more than a hundred years in Louisiana. Give us a sense of the force here.

GRAHAM: Yes, the force. I mean, you think about this, you know, making landfall, 1:00 A.M. Central, 150 miles an hour. You think of those winds. And another way to look at it, I mean, look how far inland we are and the latest we have, 105 miles an hour. So you've traveled from the coast all the way up to portions of Deridder, getting further up to Shreveport. We expect Hurricane Laura to still be a hurricane even when you get up to Shreveport right on the Arkansas border.

BERMAN: Yes, we're trying to make that point here. We're still very much in the now. This is still very much a dangerous hurricane that is hitting population centers and will for some time to come, to be sure. Light hasn't come up yet in Lake Charles. What do you think we will see when we begin to assess the damage?

GRAHAM: Definitely going to see some of that storm surge damage. The other part of it is, you can't put 150 miles an hour winds anywhere without seeing structural damage. You're going to see structural damage. And not just that, we're not done yet. I mean, if you think about this, this big picture, when this storm is moving due north, what happens is, these rain bands go over the same areas, over a prolonged period of time.

So we're still going to see some active areas and cases of flash flooding. You're going to see damage, you're going to water damage, wind damage, and it's still ongoing.

BERMAN: What are the cities you're most concerned about?

GRAHAM: Yes. Right now, definitely around Lake Charles. Anything right on the coastline there with the storm surge, I mean, Holly Beach, any of these areas are really going to have some big issues, all sorts of damage.

But even ongoing into the future, I mean, look at some of these rainfall totals, just not done yet. I mean, we just got to stress to people, it's not just on the coast, it's not about just what happened last night, look at the potential of this rainfall. You get five to ten inches, maybe even 12 to 15, as far north as even Arkansas today.

So still a tropical storm in Arkansas. So let's think about it, a lot of rain, you have that wind, you're going to have power outages, trees down all through portions of Louisiana, East Texas, even into Arkansas.

BERMAN: And, obviously, one of the concerns as you move inland, people aren't as conditioned and often not as ready to deal with this situation. Give us a sense of the track over the next day or two then as this storm continues to move inland.

GRAHAM: Yes. We still expect hurricane force winds all the way up to the Arkansas border near Shreveport and with time still a tropical storm. This is 1:00 A.M. Friday, this is 1:00 P.M. Friday. So if you think about it, you're still going to have those winds all the way up here through Arkansas and then getting into Tennessee and Kentucky.

And even with time through the weekend, this is way out here over Virginia, 11:00 P.M. Saturday and back out into the Atlantic.

BERMAN: And one last question. One of the concerns was I-10, which, of course, is the major highway through the southern part of Louisiana into Texas. One of the concerns there is that it would be inundated, completely flooded over. Any sense that it has been or will be?

GRAHAM: Yes. Some of that water got in there. I mean, you start looking at where I-10 is here. So whatever happened last night into those bayous, the water flows up in there.

I haven't heard of any of those issues yet, but I think the key here is just anybody, it's just not the right time to travel. You can't go back in these areas, especially when you're holding that water back in here.

But I think as the sun comes up, I think we're going to see a true picture of what happened last night.

BERMAN: Okay. That is what we're waiting for. We're trying to reach as many people as we can on the ground to get a true sense of the scope of the damage. Ken Graham, Director of the National Hurricane Center, as always, we appreciate the help you've given us and we appreciate the warnings you were giving people days in advance here. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Let's go back to Chad Myers now. He's been listening to everything that Ken Graham just said. So, about that storm surge, when would we know if we're out of the woods? I mean, you were telling us that you had only so far clocked it at 11 feet.


And so when could you heave a sigh of relief?

MYER: Well, for Cameron, that number is down now, but we still have storm surges, saltwater going up freshwater rivers. It's still happening right now. And so as that surge pushes up, we are now even at Lake Charles, up to major storm surge numbers at six feet. And that's a major flood for Lake Charles. And so although this is a smaller areas of inundation that was forecast, this is still happening.

People are asking me, does Lake Charles look like Mexico Beach? No, it does not. This was not a water event for Lake Charles, this was a wind event, 120-mile-per-hour gusts or greater for one solid hour. That's an EF-2 over your house that sits there for an hour. Think about the damage that that would do to any house in America.

And something else that we didn't quite get to earlier, I had a graphic up here and it disappeared, I don't know where it went, there also would still be a potential for tornadoes today from Baton Rouge to New Orleans as the storms roll onshore from the Gulf of Mexico, that's the potential any of those storms could rotate and put down some small EF-1, EF-2 tornadoes at any time. So we'll keep watching that.

BERMAN: Yes. We're still very concerned about the rainfall. We're very concerned about the winds and possible tornadoes, not to mention storm surge that could still develop depending on how things play out. Chad Myers, please keep us posted.

And as we've been saying all morning long, we don't know, we just don't know the extent of the damage, because it hasn't been light out. We are seeing videos like this which do tell a story. We're going to speak to a resident in Lake Charles who rode out this storm. The home severely damaged.

Our breaking news coverage continues right after this.


CAMEROTA: Okay. We are just getting our first look at some of the damage that Hurricane Laura causing in parts Louisiana. The roof of this home in Lake Charles was torn off. Windows, of course, have been blown out. About a half a million homes are without power right now across Louisiana and Texas.

And joining us on the phone from Lake Charles is the man who shot this video. It's Toller White Jr. His home, as you can see, has been substantially damaged. Toller, thank you for joining us. Tell us what your past few hours have been like.

TOLLER WHITE JR., RESIDENT OF LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA: Well, you know, again, I was pretty much prepared for it, as I tried to explain to someone else, you know, I'm a pest control worker. And one of the problems with -- well, not a problem, but like every time we have a major weather event down here like this, you start getting all of these mosquitoes and rodents and snakes and you have it.

And, you know, we already got this COVID-19 battle down here, so we want to kind of like get ahead of this before we start (INAUDIBLE). So, it wasn't like I wanted to ride this out just because I wanted to ride it out. It's kind of more like that's why I'm here.

CAMEROTA: That's good to know. So, in other words, you stayed because you know that your services are going to be immediately needed.

WHITE: Yes, ma'am, that's always the case.

CAMEROTA: Okay. But what was it like for you in this house while this was happening?

WHITE: Well, once the power was out, I just crawled under my barricade and I started doing a crossword puzzle and I dosed off. And the next you know I heard this loud bang that wakes me up, and I said I'd go into the main room and I saw the roof has been torn off.

So, for me, I'm not trying to (INAUDIBLE) because it was pretty much a (INAUDIBLE) because I slept through most of it.

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm only laughing at your zen-like crossword puzzle- doing in the middle of 150 miles per hour. I mean, was that your coping device or what?

WHITE: Well, that's what I did during Rita. I mean, it's kind of like just a -- you know, I don't know. I guess I'm just that kind of a person. I really wasn't too concerned about it. I've got a good faith in the man upstairs and he's always taken care of me in the past and he took care of me tonight. And I think he knows that once this is over, I've got a job to do out there and that's why I really wasn't too concerned about it.

CAMEROTA: Well, he really did spare you. But what was your -- describe your barricade. Where were you taking cover? WHITE: Oh, I have a table here that I put a mattress -- I leaned a mattress against it, and then, of course, the two box mattresses on top of that. And between the brick wall and that, I took care of it.

Now, this is my first year in this condo, so I wasn't aware of how it was going to hold up. And so -- but, again, I chose the strongest place in the condo to stay in. And it lasted pretty well.

CAMEROTA: But how has the condo held up? Because it looks like there's significant damage to your roof. Do you still have a roof?

WHITE: I have a roof in this room. The roof in the others rooms are gone. So I did get a chance to look out the window. Again, I stayed away from the windows for the most part. I had a chance like about half an hour ago to just take a peek and there's a lot of destruction out there.

CAMEROTA: What are you going to do living in a condo without a roof?

WHITE: Well, I do have a manager, again, we made plans before this occurred and what Robert did was, depending on how his location is, probably will be staying with him over the next couple of weeks until we figure out what we're going to do.

CAMEROTA: But do you know what the damage is to his house?

WHITE: No, I haven't had a chance to contact him yet.

CAMEROTA: And so, I mean, I can hear that you're a generally calm, zen-like collected guy, but when you were under that table with the box spring and the mattress propped against it as a barricade, were there scary moments?

WHITE: Of course there were. But, I mean, you know, it's not something that I couldn't handle.

CAMEROTA: I can hear that. Well, Toller White, thank you, we really appreciate knowing how you alone in what looks like a devastated condo rode this out. We appreciate and are so happy that you have survived, it seems, unscathed, at least, emotionally. So, thanks so much for joining us.

WHITE: Well, like I said, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have a lot to do here in the next couple of days.


So, I'm quite happy and I'm sure my customers will be too.

CAMEROTA: Take care of yourself.

WHITE: All right. Thank you, Ms. Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Four across on the crossword is roof blown off or something. CAMEROTA: Hurricane Laura,

BERMAN: Remarkable to hear that.

All right, joining us now, retired Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, he was the commander of the joint task force responsible for coordinating military relief after Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Louisiana 15 years ago this week. General, thanks so much for being with us.

We're getting a little bit of a better sense of what this storm has done so far. It doesn't seem as if the storm surge and the flooding that they were most concerned about has materialized, at least not yet. But we are hearing stories like the one just there, of roofs being blown off buildings. So I do expect that when the light fully comes up, there's going to be an enormous amount of damage. So what needs to happen on the ground right now?

LT. GENERAL RUSSELL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, right now, I hope FEMA is ready. And because the first thing in recovery is to start the process, the FEMA process of helping people identify the damage and all of those homes that are going to be uninhabitable, they all have to be available for individual assistance.

And I know I'm talking a little wacky (ph), but since we can't see much, because this is a big concern, FEMA has been very slow and HUD, you know they have not rebuilt the homes from Harvey as well as the homes in the Virgin Islands and they have not issued the contracts for the homes in Puerto Rico and those storms happened three years ago.

So while we always get on the eve of the storm, FEMA is ready, we're going to be there, that's a very slow process.

So imagine Lake Charles with hundreds of homes. That workforce are the people who work in many of these petrochemical plants in and around Lake Charles. This could be devastating to that industry, particularly if people have to find temporary shelter with some of the hotels that may not be operational.

So this is a compounding mess. And I tell you that gentlemen you talked to, he is one lucky man. Because we found too many people like that in New Orleans that didn't make it.

CAMEROTA: Remind me, General, of where we went to that shelters after Harvey in Houston and went to some of the shelters that had been set up and it was packed. Remember, it was just cot after cot after cot after cot, and I can only imagine how COVID-19 is going to complicate the situation in Louisiana today, because how are they going to do that now?

HONORE: Well, Louisiana did a good job. Governor Edwards working with his state agencies, they brought buses in and they took care of people without rides and they moved a couple thousand of them, the last number I heard, from Lake Charles and they took them to hotels, Alisyn, up in Alexandria.

So those people left one place to avoid water and wind and they went to Alexandria and they're being plummeted pretty hard right now. And I hope those people are safe. And people with cars, many of them came to Baton Rouge. But many of the people, the state evacuees, they were taken up into the Alexandria area and I hope they're safe also.

BERMAN: All right. General Russell Honore, stick with us all morning long. We are now just getting a true sense of the scope of the damage from Hurricane Laura. We're going to need your help to understand what we're seeing and what needs to happen. So don't go far.

More breaking news overnight. Remarkable acts of protest as NBA playoff games canceled, the players refusing to play, baseball games, tennis matches. This isn't sports, this is social history that's being made. That's next.



BERMAN: All right. We do have breaking news, not just sports history, but social history, a major cultural event. ESPN is reporting that two of basketball's biggest teams, the Lakers and Clippers, have voted to sit out the rest of the NBA season in protest after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. It's unclear what happens next there.

But we've already seen NBA playoff games canceled. The players wouldn't play. NBA -- baseball games canceled as well with players refusing to play, soccer, tennis, remarkable acts of protest here.

Joining me now, NBA Hall of Famer and NBA on TNT Analyst Isiah Thomas, and CNN Contributor and NFL player for the New Orleans Saints, Malcolm Jenkins.

Isaiah Thomas, I want to go first to you. The significance of this moment, we have never seen anything like this before.

ISIAH THOMAS, NBA HALL OF FAMER: I think this is a very proud moment for sports. I also think that this is a proud moment for America, because what is taking place, and I applaud the athletes and the younger generation, who have really come together to say, hey, we want to end this systemic racism that has been happening for hundreds of years in our country. And we're fighting for equality, we're fighting for equal justice.

And when the players in sports have all come together and say, hey, this is bigger than sports, this is bigger than a game, and it's important that society not only responds, but our legal system responds, our judicial system responds and our governmental agencies respond.

So, this is a big moment and I am truly happy for this time in our society where we are truly close to having an end to systemic racism.

BERMAN: Malcolm Jenkins, first of all, you're in Louisiana, so I hope you and your family are safe as the storm continues to move through your state.


You are in training camp with the New Orleans Saints. Do you intend to play?

MALCOLM JENKINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think, you know, we're a ways away from.