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CNN NEWSROOM

Branson Set For Historic Space Plane Flight; Haiti In Crisis; Delta Variant Cases Spike In U.S.; Tokyo Bans Olympic Spectators; Euro 2020 Final; Argentina Win Copa America; Surfside Condo Tragedy; Charlottesville Removes Confederate Statues; Extreme Weather In Western U.S. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired July 11, 2021 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): We're just hours away from a historic space launch, as Richard Branson aims to go where no billionaire has gone before.

Questions over who's in charge in Haiti, after the assassination of the country's president.

And Argentina's Lionel Messi finally captures an international championship, leading his home country to victory in the Copa America final.

Welcome to those of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

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BRUNHUBER: We are just a few hours away from what could be the next step in the future of space tourism. Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic, hopes to make history. He and five other crew members are getting ready to take a short suborbital flight.

He'll be the first billionaire to travel into space on a vehicle he helped fund. Even his fellow billionaire, Jeff Bezos, is wishing Branson and his team well, as the Amazon founder prepares for his own cosmic date with destiny on his own rocket later this month.

Now be sure to tune into CNN's live coverage of the flight, which is scheduled to take off at 9:00 am Eastern time. Branson's flight will be a first for tycoons who want to open up space travel to paying customers. Rachel Crane has more on that.

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RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The countdown is on. And in just hours, entrepreneur Richard Branson hopes to become the first person to ride a self-funded rocket into suborbital space.

RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP: Astronaut 001 Richard Branson.

CRANE (voice-over): A launch nearly two decades in the making.

CRANE: Tell me, how do you feel?

BRANSON: Well, I managed to avoid getting excited for 17 years since we started building spaceships and mother ships and spaceports and all these things. And I finally got the call from our chief engineer saying that every single box have been ticked on the safety aspect and that I was, would I like to go to space? And I hit the roof, I was so excited.

CRANE (voice-over): The Virgin Galactic rocket-powered space plane is set to take off tomorrow from New Mexico. The mother ship will release the spaceship at around 40,000 feet. The rocket will ignite and take Branson, two pilots and three others on a 2,400-mile-per-hour ride more than 50 miles up to touch the inner edge of space, as defined by the U.S. military and NASA. The crew will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before gliding back to earth.

BRANSON: When you're up there, the spaceship will turn over under these enormous windows and it's going to be able to float around.

CRANE (voice-over): If successful, the space baron will edge out fellow billionaire and world's richest man, Jeff Bezos, who is set to ride his own company's rocket into space in the coming days.

The two men have jockeyed for the astronomical bragging rights that come with being first. Branson has insisted that there's no space race with Bezos and that the missions are different.

BRANSON: The kind of experience you're going to get with the two companies are almost as different as chalk and cheese. So we don't see ourselves as a direct competitor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two, one.

CRANE: While Bezos' flight will be after Branson's, his rocket system, New Shepard, will go even higher, past the Karman line, which is the altitude internationally recognized to be the demarcation of space.

His company Blue Origin taking a shot at Branson's trip, tweeting their rocket was, quote, "designed to fly above the Karman line, so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name."

LEROY CHIAO, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT: If you fly 50 miles or 62 miles, you're in space. You're not going to notice the difference between those 12 miles. Neither of these vehicles go into orbit, by the way. They touch space and then they come right back down.

CRANE: Both space companies have had successful suborbital test flights over the past decade. But with space travel comes inherent risk. In 2014, a co-pilot for Virgin Galactic was killed during a test flight of a previous model of their spacecraft.

MIKE MOSES, PRESIDENT, SPACE MISSIONS AND SAFETY, VIRGIN GALACTIC: I like to say you can do risky things safely if you know the risk you're taking, you know the controls you have in place and you verify that they are active and we do just that. I don't think the risk of this flight is high.

[04:05:00]

MOSES: It's not zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one, zero and liftoff. The final liftoff of Atlantis on the shoulders of the space shuttle.

CRANE: In the 10 years since the launch of Atlantis, NASA's final space shuttle mission, the privatization of space flight has quickly expanded.

Today, the commercial aerospace company SpaceX, founded by yet another billionaire, Elon Musk, regularly takes NASA astronauts and supplies into orbit at a fraction of the cost of the space shuttle. So far, NASA has been supportive of the billionaire's endeavors, especially after the successes of SpaceX.

BILL NELSON, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: We are seeing the result of these billionaires, that you call them, putting their wealth into the research and development of the space program. We're seeing a lot of advancing of technology, which is good for our country. It's good for building American jobs as well.

CRANE: If tomorrow's mission is successful, it could launch yet a new era of space travel and the final frontier could soon open to space tourism. So far, hundreds of people have signed up for future Virgin Galactic flights, some paying more than $200,000 each. Branson hopes that someday will be soon.

BRANSON: I've had to wait almost a lifetime to be able to go into space. Hopefully, we can speed that process up for many, many others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a billion-dollar view.

CRANE: Here at Spaceport America, they are in their final stages of preparation for this hotly anticipated space flight. But it's important to remember that this is still a test flight.

Virgin Galactic is taking extra safety precautions as a result. All the passengers will be wearing parachutes and supplemental oxygen will be on board -- in Truth and Consequences, New Mexico, I'm Rachel Crane.

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BRUNHUBER: Earlier, my colleague, Michael Holmes, spoke with retired astronaut, Leroy Chiao, and he explained what these space travelers are likely to experience when they reach the edge of space. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHIAO: This will be a very exciting adventure for all of them. When they get into space, even before, just approaching space but they will get that view of the Earth limn, the atmosphere being lit up by the sunlight, glowing these wonderful shades, bright shades of blue.

So then when they unstrap and get out of their seats, they will get to look down at Earth and see all the beautiful colors. It is a pretty awe inspiring moment. It was for me the very first time I flew into space. The first few moments were really special.

Suborbital flight is much easier than orbital flight. Orbital flight, you go up to 17,500 miles per hour to get into orbit.

In this case, you go around Mach 3. So a lot slower, a lot less energy but you will get the experience of what it's like to be in space and the experience of weightlessness and, for a few minutes anyway and you will get to see that beautiful view of the Earth.

So I think it really helps to get more people having that experience and hope perhaps experiencing what is now called the overview effect, where you have that perspective, which is a bit life-changing.

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BRUNHUBER: And Branson posted this on Twitter, a short time ago.

He says, "My mission statement is to turn the dream of space travel into a reality -- for my grandchildren, for your grandchildren, for everyone."

A special unit of Colombian police officers is now in Haiti to help investigate the assassination of president Jovenel Moise; 26 of the 28 people suspected in the killing are Colombian nationals.

Authorities say several are retired members of the Colombian army, who traveled to Haiti over the past few months. Meanwhile, confusion over who exactly is running the nation has mounted since Wednesday's killing. CNN's Matt Rivers has the latest from the Haitian capital.

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MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the manhunt here in Haiti continues in earnest for the remaining suspects in the assassination of Haiti's president.

With Haitian authorities not really having updated their official numbers in a little while now; 20 suspects have been detained, three suspects have been killed officially and five remain on the loose at this time.

We know that there's 28 suspects in all, 26 of which are Colombian nationals, two of which are Haitian Americans. But that is about all the information that we really have from Haitian authorities that's very solid.

What we don't have is a motive. Why did nearly 34 nationals come here to Haiti to kill this country's

president, as Haitian authorities say they did?

Who financed them?

Who armed them?

How long had they been in this country before the assassination took place?

That's all answers that we don't have right now. And in the absence of official information, there is a lot of theories floating around the Haitian public about why and how this was allowed to take place.

Meanwhile, the political instability in this country continues in earnest. It was on Friday night that Haiti's senate elected the senate president to serve as the interim president of Haiti overall.

[04:10:00]

RIVERS: The swearing-in ceremony was supposed to take place, according to the senate, sometime during the day on Saturday. That didn't happen and it was in the evening on Saturday that the senate president tweeted out that the swearing-in ceremony had been postponed without really elaborating as to why that is.

It's also not clear that, had that happened, other political factions all around the country would have expressly recognized that fact. It just goes to show how unstable right now the political climate is here in Haiti.

This is a place that political unrest, it's not something that hasn't happened for a long time. There are a lot of protests over politics that happen in this country; some of them do turn violent. That hasn't happened yet. But we are going to watch and see how this plays out over the coming days and weeks -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

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BRUNHUBER: Aid groups are also sounding the alarm about escalating violence in Haiti. UNICEF estimates about a third of Haitian children are in urgent need of emergency aid and that includes medicine, food and clean water.

The agency says the rising violence is making it harder for aid groups to provide assistance. Now this all comes as COVID-19 is spiking in Haiti. It's one of the few countries that has yet to start vaccinating residents.

In Afghanistan, another link to the outside world may have fallen to the Taliban. The militants say they have cut off a key highway to Pakistan, as they lay siege to Kandahar. CNN's Anna Coren reports from Kabul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: The Taliban is continuing its offensive across Afghanistan, targeting strategic road and border links as embattled Afghan security forces desperately try to hold ground.

The militants claim to have cut the main highway between the southern city of Kandahar and the border with Pakistan, saying all army outposts in a nearby town have been overrun.

They also claim to have the city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, under siege. In recent days, the Taliban has taken control of one of the country's main trading gateways with Iran.

The dry port of Islam Qala is where millions of dollars worth of fuel and supplies cross every day. Customs officials, also confirming that militants took control of a border crossing with Turkmenistan.

The Afghan ministry of defense saying its forces had killed almost 200 Taliban fighters in 24 hours in operations across Afghanistan and will continue ground offensives and airstrikes to recapture lost territory.

As the fighting rages, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, is still campaigning for peace talks. He is traveling to Qatar, Pakistan and Uzbekistan to meet with regional stakeholders in an attempt to advance these stalled peace talks.

But many here in Afghanistan are convinced that the Taliban is not interested in peace or sharing power -- Anna Coren, CNN, Kabul.

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BRUNHUBER: And in Afghanistan, Australia has completed its full troop withdrawal. That's according to Australian defense minister Peter Dutton. He told Sky News Australia, the withdrawal finished in recent weeks ahead of a September deadline.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is investigating an indirect fire attack in Eastern Syria on Saturday. It happened near an area with oil and gas fields known as Conoko, just east of Deir ez-Zor. It's one of several locations in Syria, where U.S. troops operate to help local partner forces fight against ISIS.

A U.S. Defense official says no one was hurt in the attack. Now it comes about two weeks after President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia groups along the Syria-Iraq border region.

Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, with students across the U.S. set to return to the classroom soon, the CDC has new guidance on how to reopen safely. Coming up, why the agency isn't recommending mandatory vaccines.

And a coronavirus emergency with the Olympic Games just days away.

How are organizers, the residents and the athletes responding?

Well, we'll go live to Tokyo in a moment. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: The U.S. is experiencing a surge of new coronavirus cases and it's posing a danger to unvaccinated Americans. For the first time since May, the country has recorded 20,000 new cases for several days in a row.

Health experts fear cases may keep trending higher, because fewer than half of Americans are fully vaccinated. The biggest clusters of unvaccinated people in the U.S. are in the Southeast and Midwest. But not exclusively. Los Angeles County is reporting exponential growth in cases, jumping 165 percent over the past week.

Now questions about the pandemic are looming large over U.S. schools as they prepare to reopen later this year. On Friday, the CDC released new guidelines, calling on schools to prioritize in-person learning.

While they are urging everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, the agency says decisions about a vaccine mandate should be left up to local officials. The president of New Hampshire's largest teachers' union says that's the right call.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A mandate I think -- and we believe -- is going just a little bit too far. New Hampshire right now has about 60 percent of its adult population vaccinated and about 65 percent have at least one dose.

If you put the vaccinations back with all the other mitigation procedures that we've been recommending and advocating for all along, hand washing, proper cleaning techniques, proper ventilation, mask wearing for those unvaccinated, at this point, we really don't feel that a mandate is actually in the best interest of New Hampshire educators or the parents right now for them to choose.

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BRUNHUBER: The agency is also encouraging schools to layer their safety precautions. That means social distancing and masks will likely still be a priority in many districts.

Still, CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen says vaccines are the most effective way to make sure schools can reopen safely.

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DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think, it's important for us to take a step back and talk about why it is that we get vaccinations in the first place.

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WEN: Because I think, somehow, there has been this understanding that vaccination is just about you.

And, yes, it's true; vaccination, of course, protects the individual very well against getting COVID-19 and getting severely ill.

But we also get vaccinated to protect people around us. So because we know that there is a risk of breakthrough infection, so even if you are vaccinated, you could still get infected. It is the safest thing that is there, is for everyone around you, even if you are vaccinated, to also be vaccinated as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: The Delta variant is also causing problems in other parts of the world, especially the Asia Pacific region. New cases are on the rise in several countries. And Russia just hit a new record number of deaths in a day.

Governments are instituting tighter restrictions and struggling to get enough people vaccinated. Michael Holmes takes a look.

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MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Lining up in Fiji for the vaccine, that spot in line all the more important after the prime minister announced the country's new "no jab, no job" policy. Public servants could be fired if they are not fully vaccinated it by November. And private sector employees face hefty fines for failing to comply.

Countries across Asia are cracking down to try to contain alarming outbreaks of the virus. Seoul, raising its prevention measures to level four, its highest level ever, just short of a full lockdown.

A top health official warning new cases could surpass 2,000 infections a day by the end of the month. The next two weeks of strict social distancing are meant to slow that spread.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I did not expect this massive outbreak, as it's already been a while since we started vaccinations. So I'm quite surprised by the sudden surge.

HOLMES (voice-over): Grocery stores in Bangkok crowded with shoppers over the weekend. New restrictions now in place there, too, including a curfew from 9 pm to 4 am, what some people say is too little, too late.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The government does everything so slow. If they really want to impose a lockdown, they should have done it a lot sooner.

HOLMES (voice-over): In hardhit Jakarta, many people more concerned with how to bury their dead rather than what shops are open. Ambulances line up to pick up free coffins, distributed by the government from the back of a van.

Free face masks also being distributed in Myanmar, as crowds push and scuffle to get the coveted supplies. New cases have shot up across the country in the past month, forcing stay-at-home orders in some major cities and townships and some hospitals to run out of beds.

Sydney, Australia, also under lockdown, officials there warning it could get worse before it gets better.

HOLMES (voice-over): The Delta variant moving faster than they can keep up with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think what we are seeing is chains of transmission. And we're having difficulty getting ahead of those chains.

HOLMES (voice-over): Getting ahead of this virus all the more difficult when so many places across Asia are already behind -- Michael Holmes, CNN.

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BRUNHUBER: In just a matter of hours, Tokyo will be under a new state of emergency due to a surging coronavirus outbreak. New infections are spreading with the Olympic Games less than two weeks away.

Officials have taken the unprecedented step of banning spectators at the vast majority of events. They are waiting to decide on whether to allow fans at the Paralympics, in August. Selina Wang is live in Tokyo for us.

Selina, what's the latest there?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kim, I think there is a lot of frustration here. This is going to be the fourth state of emergency since the pandemic began. Instead of the usual Olympic spirit, instead, Tokyo is going to be under a state of emergency. Restaurants are once again banned from serving alcohol.

And people are urged to stay at home, with spectators banned from 97 percent of Olympic events. So certainly, not the usual excitement that you would see leading up to the Olympics. Those stands are largely going to be empty. It's going to be an extraordinary sight to see.

People are concerned here about the spread of COVID-19 in Japan. Cases once again surging here in Tokyo. The prime minister warning about the further spread of the Delta variant.

There have been several demonstrations held in Tokyo and around Japan in recent days. And I attended one a few days ago and was speaking to both protesters and residents and they are anxious leading up to these games.

And for the protesters, especially, a lot of anger, Kim, directed at the International Olympic Committee as those officials start to arrive. They see that organization as plowing ahead with these games for their own profit, at the expense of the Japanese public's health.

A big concern for medical experts, even though officials say the majority of Olympic participants are going to be vaccinated, is the low vaccination rate, Kim, here in Japan.

[04:25:00]

WANG: Still, less than 20 percent of the population here has been fully vaccinated. A lot of residents I speak to are frustrated that they still have not been able to get a vaccine, while Olympic participants are being prioritized.

With the games just days away now, Kim, it's still unclear if we are going to see that public sentiment here turn, once those games begin.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much, Selina Wang, in Tokyo. Appreciate it.

The questions Europeans are having to deal with now, whether and how to reopen.

COVID-19 cases are picking up, again and the last thing the continent wants right now is another outbreak. Cyril Vanier is in London for us.

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CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A rise in coronavirus infections, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, is forcing European countries to face uncomfortable choices as they open up.

The Netherlands U-turned on Saturday, reimposing restrictions on nightclubs and restaurants, just two weeks after society mostly reopened. Clubs shut down again as the government found that nightlife was driving the infections.

And while the Dutch closed their nightclubs, the French just opened theirs on Friday. Virtually all restrictions have now been lifted in France. But the president is expected to address the nation on Monday. And with infections starting to creep back up, the French president is speculating that new measures could be on the table.

E.U. countries are racing to immunize their population; 44 percent of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated. And good news: the E.U. is no longer experiencing delivery shortfalls. The European Union has now supplied member states with enough doses to fully immunize 70 percent of the adult population.

So now it's all about getting shots into arms as fast as possible -- Cyril Vanier, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: Australia is reporting its first COVID-19 death since April. A woman from Sydney, who was in her 90s, died on Saturday. That brings the country's total reported deaths to 911. Sydney is currently under lockdown until at least July 16th because of an uptick in cases.

All right. Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, Lionel Messi wins his first major title with Argentina. We will have the highlights of their thrilling match against Brazil.

Plus, another football clash looms ahead in London, as England and Italy prepare to fight for the Euro 2020 title. We will go live to the British capital for a preview of Sunday's big match. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

10 Downing Street has dropped any hint of English reserve over the soccer craze that's gripping the country, as its national team prepares to face Italy in the Euro 2020 finals. Prime minister Boris Johnson showed off the English flag on Saturday at his suitably decorated official residence.

He and Queen Elizabeth also sent letters of support to the English squad. Now Sunday's match at Wembley is a huge deal for both teams but maybe a little more so for England. And that's because it's been 55 years since they've reached the finals of any major tournament.

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BRUNHUBER: Argentina is celebrating a big win in the Copa America championship. They beat their bitter rivals, Brazil, 1-0 Saturday at Rio de Janeiro. And this is the first Lionel Messi has won with his international team. CNN Brasil's Everton Souza has more.

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EVERTON SOUZA, CNN BRASIL CORRESPONDENT: It's being 29 days since the kickoff of Copa America. Despite all the doubts and questions about Brazil's ability to host the tournament, it happened successfully.

[04:35:00]

SOUZA: The final at Maracana stadium took place with few supporters, only 10 percent of Maracana's capacity; 7,000 spectators were allowed by Rio de Janeiro officials to watch. The first title incurred by Lionel Messi with Argentina.

The supporters invited by Conmebol maintained a safe distance from each other. Brazil accepted hosting Copa America after the refusal of Colombia and Argentina. A last-minute decision, taking only 12 days before the competition is started. The tournament was joined by 10 South American nations during an

ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Brazil. During the tournament, more than 28,000 COVID tests were made and 179 people tested positive for COVID. It represents less than 1 percent. All samples were brought to be analyzed at lab. Until now, no results were released -- Everton Souza, CNN, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: Australia's Ashleigh Barty won her first Wimbledon title on Saturday. The World number 1 defeated Karolina Pliskova in three sets. Barty is the first Aussie woman to win the Wimbledon singles title in more than 40 years. This is her second grand slam title. She won the French Open in 2019.

And several hours from now, the men's final gets underway when Novak Djokovic takes on Italy's Matteo Berrettini. If Djokovic wins it, it will be his 20th grand slam singles title and that would tie him for the most all time, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Berrettini is seeking his first major win.

Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, Confederate statues are finally coming down in Charlottesville, Virginia. But they're not the only ones. The non-Confederate monuments removed on Saturday, we will show you that, ahead.

Plus, recovery work continues at the collapsed condo in Surfside, Florida. We'll get the latest, next.

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BRUNHUBER: The official death toll at the collapsed condo in Surfside, Florida, has increased as more bodies were recovered on Saturday. The grim job is moving at a faster pace after the demolition of the remaining tower. CNN's Natasha Chen has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Sunday, the remaining members of the Israeli rescue team will leave the building collapse site. On Saturday evening, local leaders thanked them, along with other first responders, at a ceremony at a church a few blocks away from here.

Then, they walked to the Seaview hotel to meet with family members of victims. It's been an emotional couple weeks, with search teams finding not only people but their belongings, signs of the lives lived there -- children's toys, passports, photo albums, among the rubble.

Meanwhile, families are still eagerly awaiting news about their loved ones; 86 people are now confirmed dead, 43 people potentially still unaccounted for. Pablo Rodriguez, whose mother and grandmother were missing after the collapse, tweeted on Saturday that they had been identified.

He said, quote, "Last night was the first night since this nightmare started that I was able to get a little bit of sleep. The thought they suffered was weighing on me heavily. And confirmation that they did not was a relief. It was the best bad news I could receive in this situation. Only hope I had."

Also, among the victims was the sister of the first lady of Paraguay, her husband and one of their children. On Saturday, their 23-year-old nanny was also identified among the victims.

The Paraguayan Ministry of External Relations tweeted the Paraguayan president, Mario Abdo Benitez, arrived in the U.S. on Friday and will stay in Florida until Tuesday -- Natasha Chen, CNN, Surfside, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: A little more than six months after the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a violent mob of Trump supporters, the final section of security fencing, added after the insurrection, has been removed.

There are now concerns about how the campus will be protected going forward and if Capitol Police will have the resources they need. They are having staffing and recruitment issues. And the House and Senate have yet to agree on a funding package.

A symbol at the heart of white supremacist violence has been taken down in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Saturday, statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were trucked away and banished to storage.

Almost four years ago, white nationalists commandeered the debate over the city's effort to remove the Lee statue. Their "Unite the Right" rally turned violent and deadly, as neo-Nazis fought with counterprotesters. CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro reports from Charlottesville.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three hours on a Saturday morning Charlottesville has wanted for years. A monument to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson on its way to storage.

The notorious statue of General Robert E. Lee which overlooked the park that held the deadly "Unite the Right" rally also hoisted away.

ZYAHNA BRYANT, STUDENT ACTIVIST: It's only a moment for people who aren't affected.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): For Zyahna Bryant, who kicked off the effort to remove these statues with a petition drive back in 2016 when she was in 9th grade, it was the end of an effort that brought the world to her doorstep. MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Looking back to that horrible day in August 2017 when people were on this very park where we are right now, fighting over these statues, someone eventually died, at a moment like that did you think we'd ever see a day like today when the statues actually came down?

BRYANT: No, I wasn't going to believe it until I saw it. So when it was finally lifted off of its pedestal today, that's when I was able to have my moment and fully processed that it was happening.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Bryant convinced Charlottesville, the outside the city took longer. In early 2017 the city council voted to remove the monuments but groups who defend the Confederate legacy took Charlottesville to court. They succeeded in getting the removal delayed.

RICHARD SPENCER, WHITE NATIONALIST: We are a people. We will not be replaced.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Then white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other groups joined the cause.

On August 2017, a woman was killed and several other people injured as white supremacists and other far-right groups fought with counter protesters at a rally about the statues. That made the monuments a national cause and the driver of a dark moment in recent American political history.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Very fine people on both sides.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): That created a national movement.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No president, sitting president, has ever said anything like that. And I realized that things weren't going to change very much with this president.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): But in Charlottesville the statues still stood. The removal is still tied up in court.

[04:45:00]

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The city council voted to shroud them in black just days after the August protest.

In October 2017, a judge ruled again that they couldn't remove the statues. And in 2018 a judge ordered that those coverings be removed.

But Charlottesville never changed its mind. The city kept fighting in court. This April, the Virginia supreme court ruled in its favor. Then came Saturday.

MAYOR NIKUYAH WALKER, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA: What happened, we have the ability to remove the statues today. It has stood for 104 years and it doesn't need to stay a moment longer.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The end of a long and bloody battle for one city grappling with how to tell our nation's story.

BRYANT: There's a lot of work left to do but I'm trying to find a way as a Black woman who has been on the forefront of this issue to celebrate the small wins, as they come. And that is important and I think this work is long and hard. It's not the end, it's not the beginning but it is a win.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Evan McMorris-Santoro, CNN, Charlottesville, Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: Lee and Jackson weren't the only statues to come down in Charlottesville. The city council also voted to remove a monument to American explorers Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Native American guide, Sacagawea.

A man charged with illegal voting in Texas is reportedly out of jail. The nonprofit Bail Project says it put up the money to have Hervis Rogers released after bail was set at $100,000. Rogers was arrested on Wednesday.

He spoke to CNN in 2020 about waiting for six hours to vote in the Democratic primary. Authorities say he also voted in 2018. Now all that would be fine, except Texas says Rogers was on parole after burglary charges in the '80s and '90s. And that would make his votes illegal under state law.

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up Rogers' case. The ACLU says laws shouldn't intimidate people from voting and it will push back on efforts to restrict voting rights.

The western U.S. is sweating through a historic heat wave. When we come back, the dangers and when we can expect a break in the temperatures. We'll bring you that, next. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: Well, it's often extremely hot in Death Valley, California, as the name implies but not this hot. It hit 130 degrees on Friday, the hottest of the year so far and inching ever so close to the all- time record of 134 degrees.

Hot temperatures are forecast to continue throughout the weekend as another record-breaking heat wave sweeps across the western U.S. Right now, tens of millions of Americans in the West are under heat alerts, including residents of Las Vegas. That's where CNN's Camila Bernal is braving the temperatures for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It feels like you are walking in an oven. That's how some tourists described it this afternoon. And that's because here, in Las Vegas, we could tie or break the highest temperature ever recorded here of 117 degrees.

The National Weather Service telling people not to gamble with these dangerous conditions. And a lot of the locals here, they know how to handle this heat. But some of the tourists who are here for the fight, a concert or for a celebration, they don't always know how to handle the heat.

I talked to some of them earlier and here's what they told me.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Going back to Jersey and (INAUDIBLE) our cold weather. We were expecting 90 or 95. But when we look at the weather, it's 104, 115. So and now we went out early so that we can roam around. Except it's 9:00, it's all burning. It's like hell here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty much just outside to take these pictures and then go in between casinos. But we're going to stay hydrated with margaritas and IPAs.

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BERNAL: And it is always fun here in Las Vegas but it is dangerous. These temperatures are only making the drought in the western part of the United States even worse. Water levels are at low levels in many of the reservoirs.

When you are talking about fire, it has increased fire danger. And electricity, both here and in California, officials asking people to conserve power because, imagine being in this heat without power. Well, that's what they're hoping to avoid -- Camila Bernal, CNN, Las Vegas.

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BRUNHUBER: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, are celebrating a record-setting anniversary. The couple marked 75 years of wedding bliss in their hometown of Plains, Georgia, on Saturday, surrounded by friends and family.

Carter thanked his wife for staying by his side through the years. The Carters are the longest married president and first lady in American history. Congratulations to them.

I'm Kim Brunhuber at CNN Center in Atlanta. We will have the latest on an historic mission to the edge of space when CNN NEWSROOM continues in a moment. Please do stay with us.