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Air Travel Hits Highest Level since March 2020; Schools Race to Vaccinate Students before Fall Classes Start; Negotiators Says, Progress in Iran Nuclear Talks, But Differences Remain. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired June 21, 2021 - 10:30   ET




We don't know which vehicle or how it may have initially trigger, but if it was the intense rain, which the area was having, the possibility is that you could have hydroplaning. Once one vehicle starts, the horrible thing about a chain reaction accident like this is then the others come in and come in after that. There isn't time to react, or when they do react, they may be caught up in the same instant that triggered the initial accident. There were at least two semi-tractor trailer trucks involved and seven of the vehicles did catch on fire.

The most deaths occurred in that ranch van that you were described. There was one survivor and the CEO who runs the ranch talked about that person.


MICHAEL SMITH, CEO, ALABAMA SHERIFFS YOUTH RANCHES: The survivor of that van is our director of Ranch Life here at the ranch. And thank God for the survivors -- I mean, the people that were there, the bystanders that were there to help her become a survivor, because they actually saved her life from the van.

SAVIDGE: She was pulled from the van?

SMITH: She was pulled from the van. She -- she was trapped in the van. She was unconscious. And they were able to pull her from the van and her life was saved.


SAVIDGE: And that survivor actually was the driver of the van. And she had two of her own children who died in that van. Passersby are considered to be the real heroes here as they pitched in before even first responders got to the scene. They did save lives, but there were still many more other lives that were lost, Poppy and Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Having to tell that mother when she regains consciousness about that loss, goodness, just one of so many layers of a heartbreaking story. POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Martin Savidge, thank you for being there and for bringing it to us.

SCIUTTO: Goodness.

Well, up next, why American Airlines is canceling hundreds of flights this summer, just as demand for air travel is spiking.



HARLOW: Well, new this morning, the TSA says its officer screened more than 2.1 million people ast airports across the country yesterday. That is the highest number since the pandemic began.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And if you have been in some of those airports lately, you really see it. I have. Just as air travel is spiking, American Airlines says it has to cancel hundreds of flights through mid-July due in part to a labor shortage.

CNN's Pete Muntean is following this. Pete, how is this impacting travelers and why a labor shortage?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Jim, passengers are really caught by surprise by this because airlines have been caught by surprise by the sheer volume of people coming back to commercial air travel. The TSA just screened 2.1 million people at airports across the country on Sunday. That is the highest number we have seen since March 7th, 2020, the fifth time we have seen a number higher 2 million just this month alone, and that 2 million is significant because that's about 75 percent of where we were back in 2019 pre-pandemic.

But American Airlines says it is struggling to keep up. It's had staffing issues. It's had maintenance issues. The weather has been bad in June. So it had to cancel about 6 percent of all of its flights on Sunday, about 180 flights in total. And now it says it is going to take a targeted approach of this, canceling about 1 percent of all of its flight into mid-July. It's about 50 to 80 flights each day. It says it has to do this to try and get more people back on the job, not dip into its reserves too much, also to not inconvenience passengers in a big way.

Now, if your flight is canceled, you could be moved on to a flight earlier or later. But remember that if you're canceled on a flight that is different by more than four hours than what you were originally scheduled on, then you could be entitled to a refund, just one more way that this industry is facing growing pains as people are coming back to travel. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Pete Muntean, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you Pete.

Well, as students set off for summer break, school districts getting to work, scrambling to get students that are old enough vaccinated before the next school year starts. In one South Carolina county, officials are holding vaccination drives with live music and raffles.

SCIUTTO: The governor says all schools will be required to open five days a week, masks optional.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro following this. Evan, tell us the news.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Poppy, it's good to see you. I spent a remarkable 24 hours in Columbia, South Carolina, following the end of one school year and the difficult to getting that school year ended followed by the difficulty of getting the next one going just right away, right after that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You excelled. You persevered.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice over): Graduation day for the Richland One School District in Columbia, South Carolina. This county was hit hard in the pandemic. More than 47,000 cases reported so far and nearly 600 deaths. The schools were not immune. Long-time staff died. Students lost family members. That makes these the final moments of high school for students who learned a lot about chaos, fear and loss, in the last two academic years.

ERICKA HURSEY, PRINCIPAL, LOWER RICHLAND HIGH SCHOOL: You were unstoppable. Despite the many challenges faced, car accidents, illnesses, job losses, the deaths of immediate family members, medical scares, and the horrible COVID-19 pandemic.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Richland South Salutatorian Joe Gilmore took the stage as his family impacted this year by the pandemic and economic and mental health crisis looked on.

JOEL NEHEMIAH GILMORE, SALUTATORIAN, LOWER RICHLAND HIGH SCHOOL: This graduating class is very special and very remarkable.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: It was a moment of normalcy in a year that has been anything but.

So, mom, are you are you feeling? You're feeling pretty proud?

DONYA COHEN, PARENT: I am so proud.


I'm just about to burst.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You may now turn your tassels.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Did you ever worry you weren't going to have a graduation like this this year at some points during this time?

HURSEY: Yes, we did. We were really concerned because we've been watching the COVID numbers and how things were going up and down. so we weren't certain we would make to it this point. MCMORRIS-SANTORO: But just a few hours later, for some, it is time to start worrying again. While Salutatorian Joel and his brother, Steven, celebrate their graduation at home, their mom, Donya, is already thinking about their younger siblings. They have to go back to school in the fall.

You have to still think about pandemic school next year?

COHEN: Yes, it may actually come right back to where we were all year this year. So, you know, we just have to hope that it is going to be different. But it is challenging.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: It is a valid concern. Elected leaders in South Carolina have put public schools at the center of their push to get life back to normal. Orders from Republican Governor Henry McMaster requires students to reopen five days a week this fall, allow students to opt out of in-school mask requirements and ban schools from requiring students provide proof of vaccination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like a sticker? There we go.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: School leaders are telling us that vaccination sites like this are really one of the most effective tools they have to keep transmission rates down when classrooms reopen.

The last school year just ended, but the next one is only weeks away. The morning after graduation, school leaders are focused on one thing, shots in arms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if we want to get back to a sense of normalcy, this is the way to do it.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So like in the last 24 hours, I got to see you (ph) take a like a tiny breath of relief, a tiny break and then right back to being nervous again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Well, that's the role of a superintendent.




MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): So the challenge here is getting these vaccines out, because, as we know, community spread is what is -- puts COVID in schools and how COVID works inside schools. So, the South Carolina school system is telling us that the only tool they really have left at this point is these vaccination sites. And you watch these things actually run, it is like a Walmart gift card, please get this Walmart gift card and get your shots and maybe keep your kids safe when they reopen in just a few weeks. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: It is a great piece. I am so glad you went there. By the way, congratulations on the new baby for our viewers who don't know, you became a dad.


HARLOW: I know.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: I am very excited about it and I am very, very tired.

HARLOW: Get used to it, it doesn't end.

But, quickly, before you go, what does it mean for -- I mean, because the masks are optional in those schools, it makes this vaccination push even more significant.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: That's absolutely right. The political leaders in South Carolina are making these rulings about what they want things to look like. They may not necessarily be associated with what the best science practices are. So, school leaders can't actually say we want kids to wear masks because students are allowed to opt out of that, it's already starting happening. So they're having to find other ways to try to keep the schools safe, keep the distance they can get. And the main tool, as I said, are these Walmart gift cards and raffles trying to get people to get those vaccines.

So it really is a battle between the political will and the idea from politicians to have a normal life next year. And then the reality that, like COVID is still around, especially in places like South Carolina, where the vaccination rates are low, and it is very possible we could see this virus return.

HARLOW: Evan, thank you for your great reporting. We will get a lot of it this summer, I know, as we get ready for kids to go back to school. And congrats again.


HARLOW: All right. Up next, Iran's hard line president-elect laying out his foreign policy priorities today and also saying he will not meet with President Biden even if they agree on a nuclear deal. More on that ahead.



SCIUTTO: Well, developing this morning, just a few days after they met face-to-face, the Russian and U.S. presidents, the Biden administration is preparing new sanctions on Russia for the poisoning and imprisonment of Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny.

HARLOW: This is according to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said on CNN yesterday the sanctions will be finalized once the U.S. can verify the correct targets.

Now, the announcement comes just days after President Biden's summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian embassy says that Russia's ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, has returned to Washington, look at that announcement there, after spending almost three months in Moscow during their summits last week. This is an area where the two did come together for an agreement. President Biden and Putin agreed to send both the U.S. and Russian ambassadors back to their posts.

It sent a signal that the diplomatic relations between the countries had hit a new low when the ambassadors were both called to their respective homes in April. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, is scheduled to return to Moscow in the coming days.

SCIUTTO: New this morning, another difficult international relationship for the U.S. International negotiators say they are inching closer to an agreement with Iran to try to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that was thrown out by the Trump administration. They do say differences remain. Diplomats held their first round of talks Sunday since Iran's ultraconservative chief of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi won what Iran is describing as a landslide victory in the country's presidential election last week.

Jason Rezaian joins us now. If you know Iran better than him, in addition to being Global Opinions Writer for The Washington Post, he spent 544 days himself imprisoned by Iranian authorities until his release in January 2016.


Jason, always good to have you on.

JASON REZAIAN, GLOBAL OPINIONS WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good to be on, Jim. It is a strange time with the developments in Iran, but it's good to be here.

SCIUTTO: I heard, for years, from Iranian dissidents, the name Raisi with fear and anger as head of the judiciary and in other jobs he has on his resume. He's a brutal piece of work, right? You served in a prison alongside folks sent to prison through his judiciary.

REZAIAN: 100 percent.

SCIUTTO: Tell us about the man.

REZAIAN: Well, so, Raisi is currently the head of Iran's judiciary, even more conservative than the previous one. He, before that, ran Iran's biggest religious conglomerate, a massive organization that has no government oversight. And previous to that, he had been Iran's prosecutor general for many years.

But the really concerning part of his resume is his involvement in what they call the death commissions in 1988, when thousands of Iranian dissidents were executed. And Raisi was one of four judges that sat on that panel and signed the death warrants for many people.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. It is a good point you make too, that religion is business in Iran. Many of the religious leaders run the many ways that Iran makes money.

From the American perspective, as you've noted, there are four Americans currently are being held there. They have been the subject of negotiation between the U.S. and Iran, negotiations that in the past have led to releases, like your own, or Raksana Sabari (ph). What does his ascension mean for those Americans?

REZAIAN: Well, I think it means that time is of the essence and the Biden administration would do well to try and get them home as quickly as possible. We know that negotiations for their release are ongoing in a parallel track to the nuclear talks in Vienna. But he's not somebody who has shown a lot of leniency towards Iranian people, but also towards dual and foreign nationals.

When I was in prison in Iran, he called for the harshest punishments against me publicly, vociferously many times. So I don't think it bodes particularly well for them. And I would hope that the Biden administration is able to secure the release of those four Americans in the coming weeks.

SCIUTTO: So, parallel, as you mention, ongoing talks between U.S. and Iran to resurrect the nuclear deal. Now, there are some politics here with the hardliners may want the deal to be done before the relative moderates who proceeded them leave. So it's kind of on their laps. I mean, do you see his victory here as making agreement on the nuclear deal more likely in some odd way?

REZAIAN: I think in a similar way to the prisoner situation, it really lights a fire under the feet of the American and the current Iranian negotiators. They have already said that the current negotiating team will remain in place for the first foreseeable future. But I think that that's more an indication of the fact that Raisi, A, is on American international sanctions list for his human rights abuses, so he probably can't travel, and many of his deputies won't be able to either, but, B, and even maybe more importantly, these are people that don't have experience managing international relations.

So I think that the nuclear deal -- it doesn't matter if there is a more insular-looking or a more moderate government in Iran. It is in the national interests of that country. And although the indication is that, you know, he won such a large percentage of the vote, I don't think we can put a lot of stock into the fact that this is a popularly elected individual. The vote seems to be pretty bogus in terms of how they are reporting the turnout, and also there wasn't a lot of competition. So I don't think that he necessarily represents the will of ordinary Iranians in any kind of way.

SCIUTTO: Yes. A lot of moderate candidates and voters sat this out or were barred from running.

I wonder, does the U.S. want to do a deal with an Iran run by Raisi? What are the risks for the Biden administration?

REZAIAN: Well, I think we have to also acknowledge that the supreme leader who is aging and may not live to be that much older than he is right now is really the final decision-maker on all matters in Iran. And I think that the consensus within the Iranian establishment is that they need that deal much more than we do. So there is a drive to get it done.

But adhering to international law, that's a different story. I mean, you know, these are people who have a long history of abusing the rights of their own citizens, interfering in activities and the running of other countries in the neighbor and flouting international laws and regulations.


So I think that the real key is to build in the same kind of, or more stringent mechanisms of inspection into a nuclear deal this time around.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And Raisi even mentioned as a possible successor to Khamenei as the supreme leader. Jason Rezaian, wishing you to best.

REZAIAN: Thanks Jim, good to see you.

HARLOW: Great discussion there. Thanks to all of you for joining us today. We will see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: I'm Jim Sciutto. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break.