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At Least 41 Killed in Taiwan Train Derailment; Witnesses, New Videos Detail Final Moments of Floyd's Life; Pfizer Says Its Vaccine Still Effective After Six Months; Inside BioNTech's New Vaccine Production Factory; Biden Holds First In-Person Cabinet Meeting of Presidency. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 2, 2021 - 04:00   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Dozens killed and many more injured when a train derails in Taiwan.

Derek Chauvin's supervising officer tells the jury when George Floyd should have been released from the choke hold, as we enter day five of the trial that's gripped America and the world.

And Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine provides at least six months of protection from COVID-19. CNN has an exclusive look at how the shot is manufactured.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world, I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

We begin with breaking news out of Taiwan where dozens of dead after a train derailed. You can see rescue teams here in this video helping survivors from the damaged cars. Taiwan's government says at least 41 people were killed. And we're hearing from the Central News Agency that the accident may have happened after a vehicle hit the moving train.

Let's go straight to Ivan Watson who is following the developments from Hong Kong. Ivan, a tragic start to a holiday weekend in Taiwan. What's the latest there?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a desperate rescue effort, frankly, after this terrible and deadly train disaster. Where you have the premiere of Taiwan now updating that up to 41 people are believed to have been killed in this accident, including the driver of the train. It was the number 408 Taroko train that was traveling down the east side of Taiwan from Taipei and it was entering a tunnel north of the city of Hualien when the derailment occurred and continued inside the tunnel itself.

The premiere has said that though perhaps 100 people have been rescued, many injuries, scores of injuries, that there's still according to the latest figures some 200 people still to be rescued. So that's a tremendous number on a train that earlier we had been reporting for some 360 passengers, now it appears to be up to nearly 490 passengers who were on board the eight cars of this train.

When you look at some of the footage here and the aerial footage, this took place on a stretch of track basically on the side of a steep mountain that leads down to the sea and there are skid marks that you can see from a road just above and it appears that some kind of vehicle fell down from the road and hit the train and caused this terrible disaster. So this is big news in Taiwan.

The president of the country has tweet about this, she said, quote, in response to a train derailment in Hualien, Taiwan our emergency services have been fully mobilized to rescue and assist the passengers and railway staff affected. We'll continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.

And complicating matters here is the fact that several of the cars are inside the tunnel and that makes getting access with the kind of heavy equipment that you'd need after a major train crash a much more difficult for the rescue crews. It's been I'd estimate a little bit less than eight hours since this accident did take place -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, you mentioned almost 500 people on that train. I understand it was a holiday. So was that what played a role here in the possible number of victims?

WATSON: Sure, the beginning of a four-day-long weekend, the Tomb Sweeping Festival.


So some survivors have said that they were on their way to their hometowns or to their families and may have contributed to the large number of people who are on the train at that time.

Harrowing accounts from one couple who say -- who told Taiwan state news agency that they escaped their train car by breaking through a window, by bashing it out with their luggage to try to get out. And we fortunately have seen footage of people walking away, some clearly not really injured, but judging by the numbers that still remain to be rescued there is a lot of work still to be done and we will have to watch closely at what happens here.

It's not -- this may be one of the deadliest train disasters in Taiwan's recent history. Another one took place in 2018 in the northeast of the country where 18 people died in a derailment that happened at a train station. This much more challenging of course because of the topography here and the fact that the train had its accident, and these cars were basically smushed together inside a railway tunnel.

BRUNHUBER: Oh, unbelievable. Well let's hope the rescuers can get the rest of the passengers off safely. We'll keep following the story. Thank you so much, Ivan Watson in Hong Kong.

Testimony will resume in just a few hours at the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of killing George Floyd during an arrest last summer. Through emotional testimony and new videos prosecutors have been trying to paint a clearer picture of the type of man Floyd was and describe what happened in his final moments of life. CNN's Sara Sidner reports from Minneapolis.


DEREK CHAUVIN, FLOYD MURDER ACCUSED: Yes, I was just trying going to call you and have you come out to our scene here.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The jury heard newly released audio. Officer Derek Chauvin talking on the phone with his supervisor to explain his version of events on May 25, 2020.

CHAUVIN: We just had to hold the guy down. He was -- was going crazy, he wouldn't go in, shutting off here in a moment -- wouldn't go in the back of the squad.

SIDNER (voice-over): From the witness stand, Chauvin's police sergeant recalled Chauvin's description of events omitted key details.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he mention anything about putting his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck or back?


SIDNER (voice-over): The sergeant says he soon arrived on the scene to talk to the police officers involved. Then went to the hospital with Chauvin and other officers to check on George Floyd.

PLEOGER: Someone approached me, let me know that he passed away.

STEVE SCHLEICHER, MINNESOTA SPECIAL ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Do you have an opinion as to when the restraint of Mr. Floyd should have ended in this encounter?


SCHLEICHER: What is it?

PLEOGER: When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint.

SCHLEICHER: And that was after he was handcuffed and, on the ground, and no longer resistant?

PLEOGER: Correct.

SIDNER (voice-over): The tears were immediate for Thursday's first witness, Courteney Ross

SCHLEICHER: When was it that you first met Mr. Floyd?

COURTENEY ROSS, GEORGE FLOYD'S GIRLFRIEND: This is one of my favorite stories to tell.

SIDNER (voice-over): She testified the first time she met George Floyd, she was upset and he then a stranger consoled her. ROSS: But has this great deep Southern voice raspy, and he's like, sis, you're ok sis? And I wasn't OK.

SIDNER (voice-over): Ross eventually became George Floyd's girlfriend.

ROSS: We had our first kiss in the lobby.

SIDNER (voice-over): In their nearly three-year relationship. She testified they both struggled with prescription pain pill addiction.

ROSS: Floyd and I both suffered with opioid addiction. We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.

SIDNER (voice-over): The defense homed in on where the drugs came from and the timeline of their drug use, including an overdose in hospital visit for Floyd two months before his death.

ERIC NELSON, DEREK CHAUVIN'S ATTORNEY: You did not know that he had taken heroin at that time?


NELSON: It was your belief that Mr. Floyd started using again, about two weeks prior to his death. Correct?

ROSS: I had noticed a change in his behavior. Yes.

SIDNER (voice-over): In redirect prosecutors highlighted Floyd's history and built up tolerance for opioid pills.

SCHLEICHER: When he took those, obviously he didn't die, right?

ROSS: No, he did not.

SCHLEICHER: He was OK after using them?

ROSS: Yes, he was playing football, hanging out eating.


SIDNER (voice-over): This video introduced in court today showed the moments paramedics loaded Floyd into their ambulance. Paramedics and firefighters testified they had initially been called to respond to a non-emergency patient with possible intoxication and a mouth injury.

SCHLEICHER: The information you had as you were initially responding was that there was a mouth injury, correct?



SIDNER (voice-over): The call was later upgraded. And when they arrived, Floyd was unresponsive.

DEREK SMITH, HENNEPIN COUNTY, PARAMEDIC: I thought he was dead. SIDNER: What is remarkable is that even though those two paramedics thought that George Floyd was certainly unresponsive and maybe dead, even when they got there Derek Chauvin was still on the neck of George Floyd when he simply wasn't moving for several minutes.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Minneapolis.


BRUNHUBER: After hearing the testimony from Chauvin's former supervisor the Floyd family attorney spoke with CNN about how much of an impact it could have had on the trial. Listen to this.


BEN CRUMP, FLOYD FAMILY ATTORNEY: I think it's devastating to the defense, Erin, when you hear his sergeant, a person who knows the policies and procedures intimately of the Minneapolis Police Department, to say, him keeping his knee on George Floyd's neck after he was restrained and facedown was inappropriate.

It's very important that this is all consistent with our principles of common sense and decency and most of all humanity. You don't treat anybody like that if you have one ounce of humanity. Obviously Derek Chauvin had no humanity, and we believe the jury will see that and come to the conclusion that Brandon, his family and everybody in America who has seen this video have come to the conclusion he was killed from an overdose of excessive force.


BRUNHUBER: And as the trial pushes ahead at some point the current Minneapolis police chief is expected to testify.

Most people around the world celebrate Easter this weekend. Health experts in the U.S. and elsewhere are urging people to keep wearing masks and avoid crowds. And for those who have been vaccinated, well, there is this encouraging news, the makers of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine say people who have received the first doses six months ago are still showing strong resistance to COVID-19. We get the latest from CNN's Nick Watt in Los Angeles.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Pfizer's vaccine is highly effective for at least six months, and the study is ongoing.

DR. ADRIAN BURROWES, FAMILY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: It could be a will the longer than that, but at least for six months and that's great news.

WATT (voice-over): Bad news, human error ruined a batch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during a test run at a plant not yet FDA-authorized. So no issue with doses already out there, but --

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It's really quite unfortunate that about 15 million doses now are not going to be able to be used.

WATT (voice-over): Apparently, J&J's delivery schedule remains on track.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have been assured that we -- that they expect to meet those deadlines.

WATT (voice-over): And the White House goal of all adults eligible by May 1 remains. Nearly 1 in 3 Americans have already had at least one dose. And if supply here in Los Angeles County meets projections --

BARBARA FERRER, DIRECTOR, LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: We can expect to reach 80 percent vaccine coverage for people 16 and older in just 12 more weeks.

WATT (voice-over): So could be herd immunity in L.A. by July 1st, but many states are relaxing restrictions already. Some fans in the stands for opening day.

DAVID CROMWELL, SENIOR VP, OPERATIONS, CHICAGO CUBS: Opening day is always special. This is a little more special.

WATT (voice-over): Expect some bumps, Mets Nationals just postponed due to COVID cases. Meantime, March just confirmed as the busiest month of air travel since the pandemic began.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We needed to get our daughter out of the house. She's been stuck at home for so long.

WATT (voice-over): But the COVID-19 death toll isn't falling much anymore. Hospitalizations are creeping up. In Michigan, average new case counts are over 50 percent in just a week.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): Number one, we've got a high proportion of variants. So that means coronavirus spreads faster.

WATT (voice-over): The national average daily case counts are over 60,000 again.

FAUCI: Which puts you at considerable risk of rebounding up, essentially what they're seeing in Europe.

WATT (voice-over): Another wave there fueled by the variants. France just reintroduced at least a month-long limited lockdown.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


BRUNHUBER: Most of the European Union is in some form of lockdown for the Easter holiday for the second year in a row. Two big factors, the EU's poor performance in getting people vaccinated and a surge of new infections.

Riot police in Belgium had to clear out a park full of springtime revelers in violation of the lockdown there. Several injuries and arrests were reported. The event actually started online as an April fools' joke. Nobody was supposed to show up.


Now, overall at least 27 EU members have imposed full or partial lockdowns on their citizens to discourage large gatherings, especially during the holiday. Germans were facing another lockdown before Chancellor Angela Merkel abruptly changed her mind. Let's bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin. Fred, I saw a report which found that only a quarter of Germans have faith in the government's vaccination strategy. Confidence there seems shaken to say the least.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I would say exactly that, Kim, I think confidence is shaken and I think that it's probably getting worse by the day here in Germany. It's not only confidence in the general efforts to try to stem the pandemic it's also confidence in the government at large.

About two thirds now -- according to a recent poll that actually saw this morning -- do not have confidence in the government at this point in time. So clearly some alarm bells going off there for Angela Merkel.

As you absolutely correctly said, there are new tighter lockdown restrictions in place here over the Easter holidays and beyond. Now, the main thing that Germany is hoping for now and most of the European Union is to get more vaccine, to be able to get more vaccine more quickly and the main company they are counting on right now is BioNTech and Pfizer. And BioNTech just managed to open -- or to get approval for a new factory in the town of Marburg that's going to start pumping out and delivering vaccines very, very quickly. I was able to get into that factory and got auto tour around and here is what we saw.


PLEITGEN (voice- over): This is the heart of BioNTech's production. A bio-reactor that produces mRNA, the building block for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

VALESKA SCHILLING, HEAD OF PRODUCTION, BIONTECH MARBURG: So we're starting our look with manufacturing of the job substance. This is a biochemical process that happens basically in every cell. But here, we have restricted to a bio-reactor. And this takes roughly one day, one to two days.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Valeska Schilling is the head of production at BioNTech's new plant in Marburg, Germany. It was just certified by the European Medicines Agency. And she tells me the staff are already ramping up production.

SCHILLING: We all have friends. We have family. We have, you know, a lot of people that are affected by this pandemic situation, and we all want to come out. So we are very happy that we can actively do something against the situation we're living in.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The bio-reactor is operated in a special clean room. It might not look huge but can produce enough mRNA for about 8 million doses every two days, BioNTech says.

The company hopes to produce a billion doses within a year at this plant alone, vaccine that's badly needed.

PLEITGEN: Right now, there's massive demand for vaccines against the novel coronavirus, much more than there is supply around the world. That's why it's so important for plants like this one to not only get up and running, but to get up and running at full speed as fast as possible.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While countries like the U.S., the U.K., and Israel are vaccinating their populations quickly, the E.U. and much of the rest of the world are suffering from severe vaccine shortages. That's despite the fact that so far, BioNTech and Pfizer have exceeded the amount of vaccine they promised to deliver. But the company's cofounder telling CNN they are constantly trying to increase production.

OZLEM TURECI, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, BIONTECH: This is new technology. You cannot just re-purpose vaccine facilities which are there. And you can also not train people very fast. So we are working and turning every stone, basically, to upscale and roll out our capacities.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And the company hopes to further pick up the pace with sites like this getting into full swing.


PLEITGEN (on camera): Of course, BioNTech and Pfizer in general have now said they want to produce 2.5 billion doses of their vaccine for this year, which is a lot more than they had earlier predicted. So a lot of European countries counting on that, of course, counting on all the other vaccines out there as well. There have been some hitches along the way with the AstraZeneca vaccine, especially here in Germany with Germany now changing the recommendations to say it should only be given to people who are above the age of 60.

So certainly the Germans very important to get their hands on other vaccines as well to try to make sure they can get their population quickly inoculated and finally get that vaccination campaign rolling because it still is very, very sluggish here in this country and of course in many other EU countries as well -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Great reporting as always. Thanks so much, Fred Pleitgen in Berlin.

U.S. President Joe Biden has revealed his jobs cabinet. They will be in charge of selling his new $2 trillion infrastructure plan and that will probably be as hard to do as it sounds. We will explain.

And North Dakota is facing a wildfire emergency with an entire town forced to evacuate. That's ahead. Stay with us.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BRUNHUBER: U.S. President Joe Biden held his first in-person cabinet meeting since taking office, naming five cabinet members to work on his for than $2 trillion infrastructure plan, but not all Democrats are fully on board as CNN's Arlette Saenz reports.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden surrounded by his cabinet for the first time and handing out assignments.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Working with my team here in the White House these cabinet members will represent me in dealing with Congress, engage the public in selling the plan and help work out the details as we refine it and move forward.

SAENZ (voice-over): The president tasking five of his cabinet secretaries as his so-called jobs cabinet, leading the push on his $2.25 trillion sweeping investment in the country's infrastructure and climate initiatives.

BIDEN: My buy American standard.

SAENZ (voice-over): The president also instructing his cabinet to make sure agencies buy American made products.

BIDEN: I will ask you all to report back to me at the next cabinet meeting.


SAENZ (voice-over): The president and his historically diverse 24- member team spaced out in a socially distanced east room, a break from the traditional sit downs in the cabinet room in pre-COVID times.

BIDEN: We've got a lot of business to do.

SAENZ (voice-over): Getting that infrastructure bill through Congress will be a heavy lift. The Senate's top Republican calling the price tag and tax hikes a big mistake.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): And I'm going to fight them every step of the way because I think this is the wrong prescription for America.

SAENZ (voice-over): The Bill also presents a unity test for Democrats with the White House aware of the moderate and progressive divides.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we are looking for is proposals of alternatives. We feel there are a lot of areas of agreement and the president will certainly be inviting Republicans and Democrats here to the Oval Office to have discussions and meetings about the path forward to hear their ideas.

SAENZ: The White House says those meetings are set to start after the Easter holiday. And this is similar to the approach the president took with the American Rescue Plan when he invited Democrats and Republicans into the Oval Office to hear their ideas before ultimately going it alone without GOP support. White House officials acknowledge that this process will be a longer one as they are looking to get the measure passed by the summer.

Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


BRUNHUBER: The number of children in the custody of U.S. customs and border production dropped on Wednesday. It seems that the Biden administration is transferring more of these children to shelters better suited for them operated by Health and Human Services. New facilities for them are opening in Texas.

Now, this night vision video here shows smugglers dropping two small children over a border fence between the U.S. and Mexico. The two little sisters just three and five years old we're told are now in U.S. custody. The governor of Texas says drug cartels are trying to recruit smugglers publicly on social media. Listen to this.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): A concern that we have is how brazen and open the drug cartels are getting in trying to recruit people here in the state of Texas to assist them in these crimes. I was provided these -- I want to show you these two pictures if you can zoom in. These are two pictures from TikTok, and these are ads or videos and things that are being run by cartels on TikTok trying to recruit people in Texas to assist them commit their crime.


BRUNHUBER: So what is U.S. Congress doing about the border crisis? Well, some lawmakers in the House have introduced a bipartisan bill that would provide a $1 billion fund and resources to address the problem. Here is what Democratic Senator Joe Manchin says about it.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): We should be able to go through the process of -- the sovereign process of vetting them and doing all of the things necessary before they come here. It would be safer, it would be much more humane, it would be much more cost-effective for each one of them, the sacrifices they make. It's something that we should be doing. How is that going to happen? Well, we are going to have to be what some people might interpret as being very difficult, very strong, very tough and by being tough we're going to be tough on crime.


BRUNHUBER: All right. There is much more ahead for you on CNN, including a look at proposals coming from Republican legislators across the U.S. that would limit people's ability to vote.

Plus a new watchdog report slams U.S. Capitol Police for lack of preparation ahead of the deadly January 6th insurrection. Stay with us.