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Starving, Dying Children Pack Yemen Hospitals Amid Civil War; Some Republican Voters Show Support for $1.9 Trillion Relief Bill; Japan Marks Ten Years Since Devastating Earthquake and Tsunami. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: 400,000 children are at risk of dying right now in Yemen as a six-year civil war rages on. That's according to the United Nations World Food Program. Now a heartbreaking new CNN investigation shows just how dire the situation really is.

The Biden administration says it wants to bring an end to the war partially funded with American tax dollars by no longer backing the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian backed Houthis. U.S. backing of the war started under President Obama and escalated under Donald Trump.

CNN's investigation found it's been more than two month since U.S. backed Saudi blockade has allowed tankers packed with fuel, for food and supplies for starving Yemenis, to dock at the crucial port of Hodeidah, which is controlled by the Houthis.

Fourteen tankers scheduled to dock there are also currently being held off the Saudi coast, according to a vessel tracking app. Now this goes against a United Nations agreement and is making the situation on the ground desperate for innocent parents and children. CNN's Nima Elbagir, Barbara Arvanitidis, and Alex Platt made a very dangerous trip on a small boat to get inside Houthi territory in northern Yemen. A place few foreign journalists have never been to show the world what's at stake. And we want to warn you some of those images will be tough to watch.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The derelict coastline of the north of Yemen, rusting hulks tell a story of war, blockade, and devastation. For years now, the Houthi- controlled north has been increasingly isolated from the outside world.

We secretly travelled through the night by boat after our previous reporting here led the government to deny us entry. On the road to the Hodeidah port, we get a sense of the humanitarian disaster kept from the outside world. Along the roadside, hundreds of stalled food supply trucks with no fuel to move. In a country in the grip of hunger, their cargo stands spoiling in the hot sun. The port of Hodeidah is the supply gateway for the rest of the country. It should be bustling with activity, but today, it is eerily empty. A result of the U.S.-backed Saudi blockade.


The last time you get to dock here was in December.

In the echoing silence, it dawns on us, we are about to witness the terrible impact of this blockade.

Desperate patients and family members trying to get the attention of Dr. Khalid, chairman of the Hodeida's hospital. If he signs these papers, they get some financial relief for their treatments and medicines. He doesn't get far before he is stopped again and again.

DR. KHALID AHMED SOHIL, CHAIRMAN, AL THOWRA HOSPITAL, HODEIDAH: Nima, this is the pediatric emergency.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Since the Yemen war started six years ago, families have been in financial freefall. The fuel blockade has sped that descent into oblivion.

This is the main hospital for Hodeidah province, and we're surrounded by doctors and nurses rushed off their feet.

ELBAGIR: Is this a normal day? Is it this busy all the time?

SOHIL: Not that busy throughout the day.

ELBAGIR: This is not a busy day?

SOHIL: It's a normal day.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): Dr. Khalid wants to show us some of his critical patients in the therapeutic feeding center. A 10-year-old girl whose growth has been so stunted by starvation she can no longer stand.

ELBAGIR: Dr. Khalid says every hour of every day, they are receiving more and more cases of severe malnutrition that are this advanced because the parents can't afford to feed their children. They also can't afford to bring them to the hospital to treat them.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The U.N. says pockets of Yemen are in famine- like conditions. But it says Hodeidah is not considered one of them because it doesn't meet the metrics to declare a famine. But Dr. Khalid thinks the reality on the ground has outpaced the U.N.'s projections.

The Saudi fuel blockade is biting. Malnutrition numbers are spiking. And at the same time, this busy hospital is running out of the vital fuel that keeps its generators running, which means that babies like Midian (ph), who doctors say at two months weighs the same as a newborn, would die. Yemen has been devastated by a Civil War which has pitted Iran-backed Ansarullah, known as Houthis, against the internationally-recognized government and a U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition. We are in Houthi territory. Some of those officials have been designated as terrorists by the U.S., for targeting neighboring Saudi Arabia.

We've been granted a rare interview with a leading Houthi official. We must meet in an undisclosed location, because, his aides say, of the threat of assassination. We ask him to respond to allegations they are escalating this war.

MOHAMMED ALI AL HOUTHI, SENIOR HOUTHI OFFICIAL (through translator): Not true at all, the battle is continuing, and it has not stopped.

ELBAGIR: Do you trust America to take forward negotiations to bring peace here in Yemen?

HOUTHI (through translator): Trust must come about decisions. And so far, we've not seen any concrete decisions being made.

ELBAGIR: You've spoken about being subjected as a nation to international terror, but three of the leaders within the Ansarallah movement are designated by the U.S. as terrorists. One of your key slogans talks about death to America. How do you see this as pushing forward the negotiation and the possibility for peace in the future?

HOUTHI (through translator): When we say death to America, they effectively kill us with their bombs, rockets and blockades. They provide logistics and intelligence support and their actual participation in the battle. So who is bigger and greater? The ones who are killing us or the ones who say death to them?

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The Biden administration has announced it has withdrawn support for the Saudi offensive. But it comes after 6 long years of war. And for the children dying of hunger it's still hasn't brought peace any quicker. Peace and help can't come soon enough.

ELBAGIR: Over half the hospitals in this district are threatened with shuttering. They need urgent support, urgent help. Can you imagine what it would do to this community if this facility was shut down? Look at the chaos that there is already here and that's while it's functioning.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): For years, now the U.N. has been warning that famine is coming to Yemen. Doctors across Yemen's north tell us famine has arrived. Another hospital witnessing wave after wave of children in the red zone, severe malnourishment, impoverished mothers, desperate to keep their children alive, are forced to make harrowing choices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Just to get to the hospital, I stopped eating and drinking, not even water, just to get him treated.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): These doctors are keeping track of the numbers spiking beyond what they ever imagined. ELBAGIR: The doctor saying, in 2020, this population 23 percent of the children under 5 here, were severely malnourished. In 2021, they think that the number is going to go over 30 percent. There is no doubt in his mind, he says, that they, here in Hodeidah, are in famine.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): Nearly 3 years ago, the U.N. Security Council condemned the use of starvation as a method of warfare, demanding access to supplies that are necessary for food preparation, including water and fuel, be kept intact. Here and in other conflicts, that clearly hasn't happened.

Once more, the world has stopped caring. The U.N. needs almost $4 billion to stanch this crisis. They received less than half that from donors. Numbers don't lie. But numbers also don't reflect the full tragedy.

This is Hassan Ali, 10 months and struggling to breathe, he came into the hospital 6 days ago, he keeps losing weight even with the critical care he's receiving. Hours after we left, Hassan Ali died. One more child in Yemen that represents so much more pain.

The doctors here are desperate for the world to see and to help.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Hodeidah, Yemen.


CNN has reached out to Saudi Arabia for comment but hasn't received a reply. All right, outstanding reporting there by Nima. We'll be right back.


BRUNHUBER: Now to a court proceeding that will be closely watched across the U.S. and the world. The trial of the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd. Five jurors have now been selected for the trial of Derek Chauvin. He's the former Minneapolis police officer who has pleaded not guilty to charges of second degree unintentional murder and second degree manslaughter.

Chauvin was videotaped kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes while the unarmed black man said he couldn't breathe. The jury's racial makeup is being closely followed. Of those selected three appear to be Caucasian, one appears to be black, and on appears to be biracial.


Minnesota's highest court has denied a request by Chauvin to review a lower court's ruling that could lead to third degree murder charges of being reinstated.

When the ambitious COVID relief bill cleared its final hurdle in Congress, it was merely the blip on the radar of some right wing media. Fox News largely ignored the passage. But many Americans including Republicans still care about the bill. Here's CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich.


ALEXO BELL, REPUBLICAN VOTER: We are definitely feeling the crunch like most people.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Alexo Bell is a Donald Trump loyalist but he's willing to put party affiliation aside to support President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

BELL: Whether it be Biden or Trump, I think the country needs that stimulus.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): He's not alone. Sixty-one percent of Americans support it. One of the largest aid packages in history. Bell's work as a promoter dried up during the pandemic.

BELL: I'm mostly a stay at home dad right now watching my little guys, and my wife is the primary breadwinner right now.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Just 26 percent of Republicans support the overall bill according to a CNN poll, but a majority approve of the family tax credit. One of those, an extra $1,000 per child for families who qualify.

YURKEVICH: That's significant, you have two kids. That's an extra $2,000.

BELL: It is. And I think that people who have more than two children would be getting that much more of a break.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): In the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, Frank Herron says his restaurant survived because of two PPP loans. This bill calls for $7 billion in additional PPP money and $25 billion in grants for restaurants and bars.

FRANK HERRON, VOTED FOR TRUMP TWICE: Actually gave us a lot of confidence that we would be able to make it through.

YURKEVICH: Herron voted for Trump twice and says while this bill is needed, he is concerned the massive price tag could boost inflation.

HERRON: I think it's very scary and the value of our money is going to decline significantly because of this.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Barbara Jankowski was a Republican for 40 years but this past November, disappointed with Trump and the GOP, she voted for Biden and changed her party registration. She is all in on the stimulus bill.

BARBARA JANKOWSKI, SWITCHED TO DEMOCRAT: I think it's great because people are hurting. YURKEVICH (voice-over): She and her husband both retired say the previous $600 stimulus checks did little to help with bills. This time, she says, they can save some of their $1,400 checks.

JANKOWSKI: We also keep that money in case our children and need help. If they would run into problems, that stimulus money would go to them.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The motion is adopted.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Zero Republicans voted in favor of the bill.

JANKOWSKI: Shame on them.

YURKEVICH: Well what does it say about the future of helping Americans?

JANKOWSKI: Them voting along party lines was wrong because it was not right for America. It was not right for you, it was not right for me, it was not right for my children.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.


BRUNHUBER: A memorial in Japan marks ten years since the country was devastated by a tsunami and nuclear disaster. We'll hear from some who say they're still healing.



BRUNHUBER: A moment of silence in Japan marked ten years since the country's worst natural disaster. The magnitude 9.1 earthquake and devasting Tsunami that followed. More than 20,000 people died or went missing and that natural disaster triggered a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. So many lives were forever changed by those horrific events and ten years on people in Japan are still trying to find a sense of peace. Our Blake Essig has their stories.


BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 65 years old, Shigeko and Kenji Kobayashi spend most of their day in the garden. A peaceful and beautiful space surrounded by light.

SHIGEKO KOBAYASHI, FORMER FUTABA RESIDENT (through translator): I wake up in the morning and have to remove weeds, cut them and water them. I can spend my whole day like that.

ESSIG (voice-over): For the Kobayashis, gardening offers a chance to heal after surviving one of the worst natural disasters that world has ever seen. In 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off Japan's northeast coast triggered a tsunami with waves reaching nearly 40 meters in some spots. About 22,000 people died or are still missing. It crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The damage has been estimated at $300 billion and left hundreds of thousands of people without a home.

KOBAYASHI (through translator): I kept wondering why on earth things have become like this.

ESSIG: That includes the Kobayashis, who were living in Futaba, just a few kilometers from the nuclear plant.

KOBAYASHI (through translator): My husband was involved in designing the nuclear plant, so when there was an explosion, he thought, this is bad and knew that we cannot go back for a long time.

ESSIG: About 1,400 Futaba residents, nearly a fifth of the entire town's population, were evacuated to this former high school in Kazo city, Saitama. They spent roughly three years living in a classroom just like this, nearly 200 kilometers away from Fukushima prefecture in the homes that they were forced to evacuate.

ESSIG (voice-over): This monument, inscribed with the word "hope," forever marks the evacuation site.

The experience for Kenichi Kurosawa, who still lives in Ishinomaki, was very different. Unlike residents in Futaba affected by the nuclear disaster, Kurosawa almost died when a three-meter wall of water nearly swept him away. He showed CNN how he survived.

KENICHI KUROSAWA, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR (through translator): I remember seeing people who had climbed up trees like me being swept away. There were people in cars gripping the steering wheel being swept away.

ESSIG (voice-over): Kurosawa says he lost everything that day except for his life. A decade later, the struggle to rebuild continues.

KUROSAWA (through translator): It's like my old self died, and I tried to restore it, but it's not possible. I do feel like I'm living a totally different life.

ESSIG (voice-over): Loss that Liz Maly, an expert in post-disaster and community recovery, says can't be quantified.

LIZ MALY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, TOHOKU UNIVERSITY: This disaster is not over after the 10-year anniversary, and that this area and these communities and these people still need support, investment and attention.

ESSIG (voice-over): While many, like Kurosawa, have rebuilt homes elsewhere, the Kobayashis and tens of thousands more remain displaced, unlikely to ever return home.

For Shigeko, it took time to accept her new life in quiet Kazo City. And when she thinks about the future -- KOBAYASHI (translated text): Recovery Olympics?

ESSIG (voice-over): -- she gets frustrated that the world will see a different version of Futaba, as the Olympic torch passes through the town her family was forced to leave.

KOBAYASHI (through translator): People may think Futaba is much restored, but if you travel a little further, there are many places abandoned and ruined that people will see no picture of them.

ESSIG (voice-over): And they won't see the reality of a still contaminated coastline, an ecological and human disaster that experts say will remain long beyond her lifetime.

Blake Essig, CNN, Tokyo.


BRUNHUBER: Well that wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" with Laura Jarrett and Christine Roman is next.