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Search and Rescue for Survivors of a Landslide in Atami City in Japan; Collapsed Condo in Florida Demolished; Storm Headed Towards Landfall to Cuba; U.S. Forces Pullout in Afghanistan as Taliban is on the Move; A Military Plane in the Philippines Crashes Killing 50; Pope Francis Underwent Colon Surgery; United Nation Warning of Famine in Tigray, Ethiopia; Former South African President Appeals 15-Month Prison Sentence; Coop Sweden Closed Due to Cyber-attacks; British PM To Set Out Next Steps In England's Reopening Plan; UK Official: Mask Wearing Will Become Personal Choice; More Than 64% Of UK's Adult Population Is Fully Vaccinated. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired July 5, 2021 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN HOST: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Paula Newton. Ahead right here on "CNN Newsroom," a daunting task for search crews in Japan as workers sift through mud and debris looking for survivors who could be buried in a massive landslide.
As the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan nears completion, a dire warning from a top U.S. general about Taliban advances. And as food and fuel run out, new calls for urgent action to ensure the safety of people leaving in Ethiopia's war torn Tigray.
And we begin this hour in Atami, Japan where rescuers are combing through debris in hopes of finding survivors two days after a deadly mudslide. Now, a local official tells CNN three people are confirmed dead and we have just learned that a number of missing is now 80 following Saturday's disaster in that coastal city.
Now rain and the threat of another landslide have of course been complicating rescue efforts. CNN's Blake Essig has been in the region and brings us up to date. There is some good news there I see they have brought down the number of people that are unaccounted for. Yet I can only imagine how difficult the search and rescue effort remains.
BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Paula, I mean, when it comes to, you know, those figures, you know, it really has bounced around, you know, pretty drastically in the past 24, 48 hours and that's just because there is still so many questions. They are trying to locate people.
We've talked to residents here in town who say that, you know, a lot of these houses might have been swept away. That they might have been people's second homes and so they might not have been in there and they might be elsewhere so trying to track down and get an idea of just how many people might be missing, you know, is going to be a real challenge for Atami city officials.
Now, so far, 25 people who were stranded inside structures had been rescued, and of course, that's incredible news given the devastation caused by this massive landslide that swept through the seaside resort town. But at this point, as you mentioned, three people are dead and, you know, anywhere upwards of at least 80 people are still reported missing or remain unaccounted for.
Now, I recently spoke with a woman searching for her husband from a distance. She says she can still see that her house is standing, but was told by neighbors that her husband was outside when the landslide came crashing through town and was likely slept away. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN (through translation): I haven't been able to reach my husband since 11:00 a.m. last Saturday. We were on a family group chat on our phones. I tried contacting him but couldn't get through. I thought it was odd and came back. I just really want to see my husband again no matter what. That's it, really.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ESSIG: Just, obviously, devastating talking to her, listening to her story, you know, sadly, you know, this is a story that we have heard from a number of people that have been evacuated to shelters, maybe not immediate family, but it seems, you know, this town is small and everyone seems to know each other.
Now, more than 560 people are currently sheltering into private hotels in Atami. These hotels are being used as evacuation centers to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But, for a second full day here in Atami, more than 1,100 people are assisting in the search and rescue efforts. We've watched as people or crews have used chainsaws, you can hear them in the distance right now, trying to cut through wreckage, searching for survivors.
There are drones and helicopters being used. Coast Guard scouring the coast. And then we have even seen a dog being used to squeeze into partially collapsed buildings in order to look for any signs of life. Now, this landslide cut a path of death and destruction turning what was once a residential area into a wasteland.
Atami state officials say 130 homes have been completely destroyed, buried, or swept away, while an additional 100 to 300 homes have also been damaged by this landslide. We're up high overlooking the devastated area today because police have put in roadblocks, only allowing a handful of residents and emergency personnel inside the disaster area. And, Paula, it's an area that remains dangerous after several days of torrential rain, even though the rain has been pretty mild today.
NEWTON: Yes. And that's the key thing, right? It's still very dangerous. Just still unbelievable to look at those pictures. [02:04:59]
You know, a tidal wave of, you know, catastrophic proportions there. Blake, I'm glad you're on the scene and continue to bring us up to date. Appreciate it.
In South Florida, crews have carried out a controlled demolition of the partially collapsed condo building. What was left of the high-rise was brought down a short time ago. You can see it, right there. That paves the way for search and rescue efforts to resume, but still, it must have been so tough for the families to witness that.
Twenty-four people have been confirmed dead, while 121 are still unaccounted for. Officials raced to demolish the building before the impacts of Tropical Storm Elsa were felt. And right at this hour, Elsa is off the southern coast of Cuba and hurricane warnings are in effect for some areas of the island.
Meteorologist, Allison Chinchar is following the storm for us. And it's been a big mystery, right? It's kind of wobbled in the last few days, the forecast has been changing rapidly, but what does it mean now for Cuba and then onward to Florida?
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The key for Cuba is really going to be in the next 12 hours because it's entering an area of really warm water, so it still has the potential to strengthen even a little bit more in the immediate timeframe right up until landfall.
Winds sustained right now are 100 kilometers per hour. It's gusting up to around 120, the forward movement to the northwest, to just about 24 kilometers per hour. You have the hurricane warnings here, that's the red color indicated on the southern end of the island.
But you also have tropical storm watches and warnings. That's the blue and yellow colors you see there, not just for Cuba, but also for portions of Florida. And that's in advance of where we anticipate this particular storm to go in the coming days.
In the short term, we expect it to make landfall late Monday morning, across southwestern Cuba, then going back out over the open water and making its way up towards Tampa Bay likely late Tuesday, early Wednesday timeframe before veering back into the north and east, crossing back out into the open Atlantic.
Storm surge is going to be a concern again along portions of southern Cuba up to about one to one and a half meters. Our Key West, you're talking about less than half a meter, but a lot of these depends on exactly where the track goes and how quickly it continues to make its way off to the north.
Flooding is also going to be a concern. These areas where you see the red and orange color, you're talking 100 to 125, even 150 millimeters of rain in a very short period of time. So, not only flash flooding, but also the potential for some landslides exists not only across Cuba, but also at areas for the flash flooding in Florida as well. That's why you've got the flash flood threat mainly focused along the
southwestern tier of the state, but even further inland where you're going to still have some of those impacts as it crosses over on to the other side of the state.
Now, one thing to note, the models. We talk about the Americans versus the Europeans. They're in pretty good agreement in terms of the timing. They both anticipate it's going to be over that Key West region by about midnight Tuesday.
However, where they differ is the intensity of the storms. The American model has a slightly stronger storm where the European model really just doesn't get this storm going again once it crosses back over towards the Florida Keys. It's anticipating losing a lot of its strength over western Cuba.
Again, when it interacts with land, it really weakens the storm as a whole. Whereas the American model was anticipating that once it gets back out over open water, it will be able to re-strengthen just a little bit. So certainly, something we're going to have to keep a close eye on in the coming hours.
NEWTON: Yes. Intense hours ahead for Cuba, but also for Florida. I appreciate the update there Allison.
Now, as the U.S. military nears its final stages of withdrawal from Afghanistan, one of the country's vice president says families in the countryside are already fleeing to the cities to escape the Taliban. A U.S. Army general is warning of a possible civil war meantime as U.S. forces leave the Taliban and are advancing relentlessly.
According to the "Long War Journal," the Taliban control more than 160 out of nearly 400 districts, those are being gray. The Afghan government controls only about 80, it should be in white. And those in red, those are the ones that are contested. CNN has not independently confirm these details.
Speaking with ABC News, U.S. Army general, Austin Scott Miller, he's been quite blunt and he says it is important to preserve what has been fought for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AUSTIN SCOTT MILLER, U.S. ARMY GENERAL: We should be concerned. The loss of terrain and the rapidity of that loss of terrain has to be concerning. One, because it's a -- war is physical, but it's also got a psychological or moral component to it. And, hope actually matters and morale actually matters.
And so as you watch the Taliban moving across the country, what you don't want to have happen is that people lose hope and they believe they now have a foregone conclusion presented to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[02:10:02] NEWTON: So CNN's Anna Coren is in Afghanistan and has this report.
ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the security situation continues to deteriorate across Afghanistan, the U.S. embassy here in Kabul has updated its emergency evacuation plans, unnerving local Afghans.
The State Department says this is just a routine procedure, however, it comes just days after U.S. and NATO forces left Bagram Air Base, once the nerve center of a 20-year American war. They've now handed it over to the Afghans, essentially winding down Americas involvement in this war.
Six hundred and fifty marines will continue to protect the U.S. embassy while other troops and contractors will secure the international airport until a permanent solution is in place. But, the Taliban is emboldened. It's claimed more than 50 percent of territory, launching its offensives across the country, particularly in the north with districts falling on an almost daily basis.
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are virtually nonexistent. There has been little, if no progress made in recent months. And people here say there is no political roadmap for the future of Afghanistan.
They say that the withdrawal could not have come at a worse time. Leaving Afghanistan in a state of helplessness, violence, and insecurity. Anna Coren, CNN, Kabul.
NEWTON: Officials in the Philippines say everyone has now been accounted for in Sunday's deadly military plane crash. At least 50 people were killed and dozens more hurt after a Philippine Air Force plane crashed while attempting to land. Three of the fatalities were people on the ground.
The C130 aircraft burst into flames after missing the runway and crashing into a nearby village. Video shows a large plume of smoke rising, you see it there. It was rising from the wreckage just moments after the crash. Eyewitnesses also told officials they saw several troops jump out of the plane even before it hit the ground. Sunday's crash is the Philippines worst military air disaster in decades.
A surprise announcement from the Vatican after the pope's appearance for his regular Sunday afternoon blessing. Details ahead on the pontiff's surgery.
Plus, nearly 2 million people in northern Ethiopia are facing famine and war, is stopping them from getting critical food aid. The latest on the crisis in Tigray, that's next.
NEWTON: Pope Francis is recovering from planned surgery for a colon diverticulitis. Now, the pope went into the hospital after conducting his regular Sunday blessing in St. Peter's Square -- you see him there. The Vatican announced the pope reacted well, in their words, to the surgery.
CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen joins me now live from Rome. Good to see you. Okay, so, he went and had this blessing and then went straight to the hospital. As we understand it, it was scheduled, right? Not an emergency. But the fact that he went through all of his duties and then went to have this planned surgery pretty much in keeping with his character, right?
JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Absolutely, Paula. In keeping with his character and a couple of points. One, this is a pope who is just determined not to be slowed down by anything. I've often said, he is like the energizer bunny of popes. Francis just does not have an off switch.
The other way in which this is very much in keeping with his personality is that although this was planned prevention as you said, it is certainly not a plan the pope share with very many people. And so it sort of felt upon the world as a surprise.
Pope Francis always enjoys keeping you guessing. The way I know this, Paula, the testing of course was the 4th of July, and my wife and I were -- the wife were partying on the terrace (inaudible) cooking. We had about 25 (inaudible) and within 15 minutes, our place became a ghost town when this news broke. Everybody had to scramble to respond to it. So, very much (inaudible) Pope Francis performance, Paula.
NEWTON: Yes, absolutely. I do have that vision in mind and while we should point out that everything has gone really well, this sometimes can be a bit of difficult surgery, but I'm going to remember that John. We're going to leave it there for now, but I will remember that. The energizer bunny of popes. Okay, you said it, and we'll remind you, you said it. Thanks, John, appreciate it.
Now, Ethiopia's civil war is causing a massive hunger crisis. It's happening in the Tigray region. It's been locked in conflict since November. The U.N. warns that nearly 2 million people there are on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands may already be in famine.
Food and fuel are quickly running out. The World Food Program says families are receiving some of the last stocks of aid. Roads to and from the region are blocked. And of course, one of the major bridges we've been talking about here to Tigray was destroyed last week.
Larry Madowo has been following all of this for us from Nairobi. And I guess we shouldn't be surprised, but at this point in time, obviously, food security, the issue of security is now front and center in this conflict.
LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Paula. Some eight organizations are describing the famine situation in Tigray to be the worst since 1984. And they say it is critical to get supplies and nutrition to those that need it urgently, otherwise, people will die needlessly. It's now exactly a week since the Ethiopian government declared this
unilateral ceasefire that was rejected by the Tigrayan fighters. Today, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will be answering questions from the House of the Peoples Representatives and hopefully the situation will come up. SO it will be interesting to see what his answer is because this is a situation on the ground. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADOWO (voice-over): Truckloads of supplies bound for people desperate for food in Ethiopia's Tigray region, standstill at a checkpoint for days.
This footage filmed by Reuters more than a week ago shows sacks of aid eventuality being unloaded from the trucks at a warehouse near a checkpoint controlled by government allied forces.
The stockpile here is little help to the people of Tigray without enough to eat. The U.N. warns shipments like these are critical as shortages of food in the war-torn region have sharply increased in the past few weeks.
RAMESH RAJASINGHAM, ACTING U.N. AID CHIEF: One of the most distressing trends is an alarming rise in food insecurity and hunger due to conflict. More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine.
MADOWO (voice-over): The World Food Program says it resumed operations in Tigray, but is facing access problems from ongoing fighting. And the destruction of key supply routes like this bridge that the U.N. says was targeted by forces allied to the government.
The Ethiopian government denies blocking aid and blames the Tigrayan fighters for gutting the bridge. But the spokesman for the Tigray People's Liberation Front which has been battling the government in an eight-month civil war says that the damage is part of the government's plan to cut off the region.
GETACHEW REDA, TIGRAY PEOPLE'S LIBERATION FRONT SPOKESMAN: Amhara and Abiy's forces are busy destroying and blowing up bridges so they could, one, prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the people of Tigray, and second, and more importantly for them, to prevent Tigray defense forces from taking over the western parts of Tigray.
MADOWO (voice-over): The urgent need for food aid coinciding with a major shift in battle. A week ago, the Tigray defense forces re-took the regional capital, Mekelle. It's a blow to the government, which with the help of Eritrean soldiers, forced the fighters out of the city last November. The foreign ministry criticized Tigrayan forces for at first rejecting a ceasefire called by the government.
DINA MUFTI, ETHIPIAN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translation): The cessation of hostilities was taken unilaterally from our side. However, to implement the ceasefire fully, it needs two to tango. The other side has to react appropriately.
MADOWO (voice-over): But on Sunday, Tigray set out conditions for a negotiated ceasefire that include an independent investigation into alleged war crimes and a safe corridor for aid to reach the region. This follows a show of power by Tigrayan forces as they paraded thousands of captured Ethiopian soldiers through their recaptured territory.
But it's a victory that could be short-lived. Food and fuel are running out in the city because of a blockade by Eritrean forces. Eyewitnesses say government forces and militias are obstructing roads out of the city, and there is no power there leaving many homes without running water, conditions that will surely bring more misery to the civilians if help does not arrive soon.
MADOWO (on camera): The Ethiopian government didn't like that on Friday the U.N. Security Council finally had a public meeting about the situation in Tigray. They see this as an internal matter that other countries should not be meddling in. And I suppose that will again come up when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, this darling of the west only a few years ago when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, now, his army accused of atrocities in the north of the country, ethnic cleansing, rape, and starvation as weapons of war. And there has been a huge amount of international condemnation, Paula.
NEWTON: Yes, a condemnation that hasn't really led to the Ethiopian government changing its posture, whatsoever. Now, Larry, I know you were just there. You definitely covered the elections there. Do you see anything changing in the sense that we had the self-declared ceasefire and now, in fact, the Tigrayan forces have put their demands on the table? Do you see the shifting in the next couple of weeks and shifting in a way that might actually allow for aid to be brought to the region?
MADOWO: It is difficult to tell, Paula, because this conflict has been raging since November. There is thousands of people who have died since that time. And finally, the Ethiopian government has tried to say that it declared this unilateral ceasefire for humanitarian reasons so aid can get to the people that need it, so that the farming season can go on as planned and people can till their land and get some degree of normalcy.
And finally, the Tigrayan fighters are also saying we are happy to implement that ceasefire if you agree to our demands, independent investigations, pull out Eritrean troops, pullout some of the special forces (inaudible) neighboring regions and then we can talk.
So there is still a lot of hardline positions here, which means that any kind of resolution might take some time and would need a whole lot of dialogue to get all the parties to the same table.
NEWTON: Yes. And I don't have to remind anyone that when we talk about famine, the most vulnerable are young children who basically in matter of 24 or 48 hours, officials tells us, can really take a turn for the worse. So that's why it's so precarious right now. Tens of thousands of kids really on the brink, as we speak. Larry Madowo, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
Now, former South African president, Jacob Zuma, is lashing out at the judges who sentenced him, comparing them to white apartheid era rulers. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court for refusing to answer questions from an anti-corruption commission. He was supposed to turn himself in Sunday, but that's been delayed until the court hears his challenge to the jail term on July 12th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACOB ZUMA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Things like detention without trial should never again see the light of day in South Africa. The struggle for a free South Africa was a struggle for justice where everyone is treated equally before the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: Zuma also faces multiple charges including fraud, racketeering, and corruption relating to an arms deal when he was deputy president. He denies all charges.
A supermarket chain in Sweden says it is among the victims of a global cyberattack aimed at an American software company. A spokesperson for Coop Sweden told CNN, "A major I.T. disruption affected its cash register -- registers, pardon me -- prompting more than half of its 800 stores to close.
Now, it comes as U.S. cyber officials track a massive ransomware attack on software vendor, Kaseya. The firm says it's the victim of a sophisticated cyber-attack. The White House is urging companies who believe their systems were compromised to immediately report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. U.S. President Joe Biden says he's directed federal agencies to assist in that investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: First of all, we're not sure who it is. I've directed the intelligence community that you give me a deep dive on what's happened and I'll know better tomorrow. And if it is either with the knowledge of and or a consequence of Russia then, what I told Putin, we will respond. We're not certain. The initial thinking was it was not the Russian government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: So, earlier, I spoke with cybersecurity expert, Dmitri Alperovitch. I asked him about the level of sophistication in recent cyber-attacks and the threat posed by criminal hacking groups.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, CHAIRMAN, SILVERADO POLICY ACCELERATOR: These groups are now becoming so good. Remember, they are take in hundreds of millions of dollars in ransoms every single year from all of these victims that they're hitting, that they are able to buy out the most sophisticated cyber weapons, hire the best developers. Their capabilities are now rivaling some of the best nation states. So, it doesn't excuse companies that get hacked, but for certain, they are facing a really formidable adversary now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: Yes. Some blunt words there about their capability. Our thanks there to Dmitri Alperovitch for speaking with me.
Now, the delta variant is driving up COVID-19 case numbers right across the U.K. Within the coming hours, the British prime minister is expected to lay out England's final steps to reopening. That is ahead.
NEWTON: So in just a few hours, the British Prime Minister is set to lay out plans to further ease England's Coronavirus restrictions, Boris Johnson is expected to discuss distancing, face coverings and working from home. This despite the fact that infections are arising right now across the UK.
A British Medical Group says weekly cases are up 74% and hospitalizations are up 55% over the week before and that's an England alone. But a British official says safety measures like masks will soon become a personal choice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT JENRICK, UK SECY OF STATE FOR HOUSING, COMMUNITIES & LOCAL GOVT: I don't particularly want to wear a mask. I don't think a lot of people enjoy doing it. We will be moving into a phase though where these will be matters of personal choice. And so some members of society will want to do so for perfectly legitimate reasons. But it will be a different period where we as private citizens make these judgments rather than the government telling you what to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: Now, Mr. Johnson is widely expected to stick with his target date of July 19 for reopening. And out Nic Robertson has more now from London.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Britain's leap of faith is nearing when enough vaccine is enough to remove remaining restrictions, and the balance between politics and science tips in favor of more politically driven decisions. DR. RAVI GUPTA, MEMBER, UK'S NERVTAG ADVISORY GROUP: The problem is
that there are too many unknown parameters in figuring out what vaccine coverages is needed.
ROBERTSON: Dr. Ravi Gupta is an immunology expert and a member of the government COVID advisory NERVTAG team.
GUPTA: Fixing a target of vaccination percentage is probably the most appropriate thing at the moment because we're not going to get to the levels that we really need because to do that we need to go into children. And that's going to take time.
British politicians appear ready to test the science standing by an already delayed so called Freedom Day, July 19. When remaining COVID restrictions are removed.
SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: The Prime Minister has called it our Terminus state. For me, 19th July is not only the end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country.
ROBERTSON: In his first full day on the job last week, the UK's new Health Secretary was bullish.
JAVID: No data we choose comes with zero risk for COVID. We know we cannot simply eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it.
ROBERTSON: The problem here in the UK is that infections are rising rapidly because of the Delta variant. In the past, the response would have been to put on more restrictions. But now the moment of really testing new vaccine data has arrived.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The speed of that vaccine rollout has broken that link between infection and mortality. And that's an amazing thing, that gives us the scope, we think on the 19th to go ahead, cautiously, irreversibly to go ahead.
ROBERTSON: Israel among the first countries to near full vaccination, and a bellwether for vaccine efficacy was recently forced to reverse some of its COVID protections dropped when it ended all restrictions June 1, as COVID infections spiked.
A reality that seems to shape Johnson's characteristics sunny optimism, adding this caveat, Freedom Day will not be complete freedom.
JOHNSON: Try to get back to life as close to it was before COVID but there may be some things we have to do, some extra precautions that we have to take, but I'll be setting all that up.
ROBERTSON: Getting those precautions, right, Dr. Gupta says is critical.
GUPTA: The more transmission we allow, the more opportunity the virus has to evolve further and you know, Delta maybe just the beginning of another line of things a virus is able to do. ROBERTSON: We are undoubtedly less in the dark about this pandemic
than we were a year ago. Even so, as a new phase of living with COVID- 19 nears, we remain in seriously unchartered territory. Nic Robertson, CNN, London.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: The owners and insurers of the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March have agreed to a settlement. Now the ever given container ship will be allowed to sail on Wednesday, the Suez Canal authority held the giant ship during the authority's dispute for compensation. No details of the settlement were given.
The authority originally demanded $960 million for salvaged efforts and lost revenue. It later lowered the request to $550 million. The Japanese owned vessel became stuck in high winds, you'll remember and remain wedged across the canal for six days, disrupting global trade.
Now, today is Jeff Bezos' last day as CEO of a company he founded in his garage. Yes, it's Amazon. Remember when they just sold books? We'll look at what is next for that company.
NEWTON: In just a few hours, Jeff Bezos will no longer be the CEO of the company he founded Amazon. He will be succeeded by the current head of web services that's Andy Jassy. This comes as the trillion dollar online retailer faces harsh criticism over its treatment of workers as well of course its business model. CNN's Clare Sebastian reports.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF BEZOS, CEO, AMAZON: Our obsessive focus on customer experience.
What has worked at Amazon is focusing on the customer.
Customer obsession has driven our success.
CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For 27 years this has been Amazon's stated mission. From pioneering customer reviews to Alexa, it's AI personal assistant to two day shipping and then same day delivery. Jeff Bezos put customers first, even it seemed above shareholders.
BEZOS: As you know, we are a famously unprofitable company.
SEBASTIAN: It took Amazon more than four and a half years after going public to make a quarterly profit two decades to see the billions start to roll in.
BILL CARR, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF DIGITAL MEDIA, AMAZON: We were reinvesting the revenue and profit that we were earning from our operating businesses back into the business to continuously improve the customer experience.
SEBASTIAN: Bill Carr, a former Amazon executive says Bezos was willing to take risks. Case in point, Amazon Prime, which launched in 2005.
CARR: We had actually just invested several $100 million in a fulfilment center network that was designed to ship packages to customers in a timeframe of more like four to five days. So we knew that we would have to scrap it over time. But if we had focused on our sunk cost investment we have, we would have never made that leap to Prime which is what customers wanted.
SEBASTIAN: Today, a growing chorus of voices believes Amazon's growth has come at too high a cost.
STACY MITCHELL, CO-DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR LOCAL SELF-RELIANCE: I think customer focus was always about how do we dominate everybody else in this industry. There's a growing level of concern about Amazon's power and I think you see that you know, across the public but particularly workers, and we've seen a lot of walkouts, a lot of Wildcat strikes over the last year, especially with the dangers of COVID.
SEBASTIAN: As the COVID-19 pandemic drove its sales up 38% last year, Amazon hired half a million people, growing its workforce by more than 60%.
BERNIE SANDERS, U.S. SENATE INDEPENDENT: There is no excuse for workers at Amazon not to have good wages, good benefits and good working conditions.
SEBASTIAN: While an attempt to unionize at an Alabama facility in April ultimately failed, that threat hasn't gone away. One of the biggest U.S. labor unions, the Teamsters has made building worker power at Amazon its top priority.
RANDY KORGAN, TEAMSTERS NATIONAL DIRECTOR FOR AMAZON: Millions of our members over the last 100 years have helped to propel this industry into the middle class. And we just got to make sure that it stays so.
SEBASTIAN: Amazon says its wages of fair and workers also get benefits like health care coverage and a 401k plan. In June, Amazon told us they'd invested a billion dollars in new safety measures in 2020. In his last shareholder letter as CEO Jeff Bezos updated his mission to become Earth's best employer and Earth's safest place to work.
ANDY JASSY, CEO AWS: At AWS, we're customer focused.
SEBASTIAN: It's a challenge his successor, Andy Jassy now inherits, the man who built Amazon Web Services from scratch into the number one player in the global cloud market. He will likely have to do more of this.
BEZOS: We have a policy against using seller specific data. SEBASTIAN: Defending Amazon before lawmakers who believe it's a threat
to competition. Amazon after Bezos, just like Bezos himself will have to reckon with the risks of stratospheric success. Clare Sebastian, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: And I want to thank you for joining us. I'm Paula Newton. World Sport is next.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Welcome back to CNN's 'The Fourth in America Special.' So much good music tonight. All the firework shows. We have more for you now from Chicago. They've got music going across decades. Here's 'Hard Habit to Break.'
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(Chicago's 'Hard Habit to Break' live performance)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Wow. Hard Habit to Break from Chicago and a grateful crowd there. So listen, we've got the finale of finales coming up. The best of tonight's fireworks from across the country. Stay with us, CNN's The Fourth in America continues.
BLACKWELL: This has been a spectacular night. Ana, we saw eighteen firework shows across the country.
ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: It was amazing and I didn't know if I could make it up, stay up this late because this is well past my bedtime. It was worth every moment. Before we go here are the highlights. Plus we have Billy Ray Cyrus in the New York Youth Symphony performing Neil Diamond's America. Have a great night. Thank you for joining us.
BLACKWELL: Happy Fourth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(Billy Ray Cyrus & the New York Youth Symphony's live performance of 'America')
(END VIDEO CLIP)