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At Least 93 Dead, Hundreds Missing in Europe Flooding; Downpours Cause Flooding in Germany; Health Experts: Vaccine Disinformation is Killing Americans; Covid-19 Cases Surge in Tokyo with Olympics One Week Away; Trump: I Never Threatened or Spoke About a Coup; Gen. Milley Center Stage in Forthcoming Book; California on Track for Worst Fire Season Ever. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2021 - 04:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: The top U.S. health official issues a stern warning over vaccine misinformation as the White House turns up the heat on social media.

Plus, one week away from the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo and one of team USA's top stars is out due to coronavirus concerns.

And a once in a lifetime rain event causing deadly flash flooding across western Europe, a large scale rescue effort under way with hundreds of people missing.

And a warm welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Now first to Germany where the death toll has jumped to at least 81 in dangerous flash flooding in the western part of the country. In one district alone, 1,300 people are assumed missing. Some regions receiving more than a month's worth of rain in just 24 hours. At least 12 people have died in Belgium, meteorologists describing it as the heaviest rainfall in a century. CNN's Nina dos Santos is tracking developments live for us from London. I mean weeks and weeks of rain in 24 hours. What's been the impact of the floods?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Michael, well the impact as you see there is loss of life, severe devastation to a number of buildings, infrastructure is being blown up. That's why across one part of the three stricken regions of Germany, Rhineland- Palatinate also, North Rhine-Westphalia, which is by the way, the most populous region in Germany, and also now Seeoase Lychen (ph).

What we're seeing is some of the telephone lines having been cut off, many hundreds of thousands of people without power, indeed running water and basic supplies. It's a pretty dramatic situation and in one part of -- the stricken part of the country near the Ahr river which burst its banks. Authorities reckon that 1,300 people are currently noncontactable. They say they are assumed missing but really it appears as though it's just because they can't actually contact them at this point. Still scores of people are missing, scores of people in these stricken

buildings. And it's not just in Germany, it's also in Belgium, where you pointed out the death toll now stands at 12. The third biggest urban area the city of Liege, which is home to big international factories and a large population had to be evacuated.

Also in the Netherlands, tens of thousands of people in part of the city of Maastricht had to be evacuated, as well as weather forecasters and authorities become increasingly concerned overnight that the river Meuse would break its banks as well.

One of the big problems that essentially has happened here is that you've had a low pressure system that's been very slow moving during warm air that has hovered over these four countries and has caused a lot of rainfall in just a few that overwhelmed some of the biggest rivers in Europe. And Michael, these are very, very urban areas, lots of people live in these parts of these four countries Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and also Luxembourg -- Michael.

Yes, we have learned that German politicians and others are mentioning climate change in all of this too. Nina, thank you. Nina dos Santos in London.

Fewer people in the U.S. are lining up to get coronavirus shots these days. Public health experts say the culprit is disinformation, lies and distortions about vaccines often perpetrated in social media. And they warn it is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of life and death. Less than half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated according to the CDC. Data from the National Institutes of Health show that 99 percent of people who now have to be hospitalized with the virus or die did not get vaccinated. It seems pretty obvious, doesn't it, the message there.

The White House calling on social media companies to help stop disinformation before it spreads out of control. Here is the U.S. Surgeon General.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: My biggest worry is that we have the ability to save people's lives, to protection them from COVID-19. And we're not making full use of that opportunity. We're not bringing that lifesaving potential to people who otherwise have it. And one of the things that's standing in our way is misinformation.


Millions of people don't have access to accurate information right now because on social media platforms and other tech platforms, we're seeing the rampant spread of misinformation and it is costing people their lives.


HOLMES: And get this, some Republican lawmakers are attacking the White House for trying to crack down on anti-vaccine lies. They call it censorship. Senator Josh Hawley tweeting, quote: The Biden administration is using Facebook to impose its COVID-19 speech code.

Well Louisiana has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country with just 36 percent of the state fully vaccinated, well short of the 70 percent to 85 percent experts say is needed to create so-called herd immunity. A state health officer explains how they're trying to fight misinformation.


DR. JOSEPH KANTER, LOUISIANA STATE HEALTH OFFICER: But we will try and pitch and sing the perch right now. We work really hard to engage trusted messengers. And at this stage in the vaccine campaign, I think a lot of us need to be humbled enough, I need to be humble to know I am probably not the best messenger for everyone. The governor is probably not the best messenger for everyone. My department is not the best messenger. But somebody is a good messenger, a community member, musician, or a leader, a member of their church. So what we're trying to do is partner with organizations, find those trusted messengers and empower them with facts and resources to go talk to people and get their questions answered.


CHURCH: Now in Tennessee where vaccination rates are below 40 percent, some medical professionals are calling for an investigation into the governor's handling of the pandemic. They are particularly upset that the state's top vaccine official was fired after she advocated for adolescents to get the COVID shots even without their parents' consent. Now the state has since stopped all vaccine outreach aimed at teenagers. This seems incredible. It does say that the information is still available if parents ask for it.

The health department releasing this statement, quote: There has been no disruption to the childhood immunization program or access to the COVID-19 vaccine while the department has evaluated annual marketing efforts intended for parents. The Tennessee department of health not only supports immunize Asians but continues to provide valuable information and access to parents who are seeking vaccinations for their children. Just no outreach.

Well, Los Angeles county is about to bring back its mask mandate regardless of vaccination stages. It goes into effect at 11:59 Saturday night. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are trending upwards there and in other parts of California as well. The L.A. County health officer says the alarming rise is due to the fast spreading delta variant and warns that more restrictions are, quote, on the table as things continue to get worse.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen spoke with Wolf Blitzer earlier about the public health threat in California and other parts of the U.S.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This delta variant is a game changer. You know, the positivity rate that they're seeing this L.A. County, it hasn't been this high since February and I think that we were all feeling pretty great through May, through June. And things have changed. The blame for a lot of that lays at the heart of the delta variant and the people who have refused to be vaccinated. They are propelling this spread.

You know, we can think back to sort of the happy days of mid-May when Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, said hey, people who are vaccinated, we're going to, you know, give a new guideline that they do not need to wear masks. But she also said that could change as the situation changes and that the situation may change in different parts of the country, that there are different conditions in different parts of the country. I think what we're seeing in L.A. County is that the situation changed and I wouldn't be surprised if other areas also decide to reinstate mask mandates.


HOLMES: Elizabeth Cohen there. Now President Biden says the U.S. is reviewing its Europe travel ban and should have an update in the coming days. He was questioned on the issue at a news conference alongside the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Travelers from the U.K. and 26 European Union countries have been banned since March 2020. Here is what he said.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We brought in the head of our COVID team because the Chancellor brought that subject up. It's in the process of being how soon we can lift the ban that's in process now and I'll be able to answer that question to you within the next several days what is likely to happen. I'm waiting to hear from our folks in our COVID team as to when that should be done.


HOLMES: Turning our attention to the Olympics now, and a setback for team USA basketball.


Starting point guard Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards will have to miss the Tokyo games. The NBA All-Star was placed in health and safety protocols on Wednesday. The team also announced their exhibition game later today against Australia has been canceled due to health and safety concerns. Team USA is set to have their first Olympic game on July 25th.

Meanwhile many Olympic athletes have already begun arriving in Tokyo, of course, with the biggest sporting event in the world now just a week away. The games are still a go of course despite COVID cases reaching a six month high in the Japanese capital. More protests are expected latest today. In fact is Olympic organizers visit Hiroshima. Now CNN's Will Ripley joins me live from Tokyo. Cases surging just a week before the games but they are primarily from locals, not the vaccinated foreigners entering the country, right? WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're seeing the highest case

numbers here in Tokyo, Michael, since January in terms of the daily case count and every day for nearly a month now they've been trending up. So it's certainly not good news. And this is happening despite the fact that Tokyo is now under its fourth COVID-19 state of emergency. Restaurants are closing early. They're forbidden from serving alcohol, people are discouraged from gathering in large groups and told only to take public transportation if they can.

And yet you have well over 1,300 cases reported on Thursday. Whereas just a handful of positive COVID cases reported amongst the 10,000 or more athletes and officials who have already arrived, foreigners including journalists who've arrived here in Tokyo for the games.

We did have a report of another withdrawal as a result of these bubble Olympics. You mentioned the Australian basketball team. A women's basketball player says she's been having panic and anxiety attacks about the thought of these spartan existences, that athletes have to lead, where they can't give each other a high five, have to wear a mask at all times. They're not supposed to cheer or shout during competitions. And she said the thought of kind of playing in an empty echoey venue without family and friends to support her was too much so she decided to pull out.

We also have had a handful of players test positive including a Nigerian player who tested positive and is now in hotel quarantine. But the bigger cases, the clusters that are close to athletes are actually hotel staff, including the Brazilian judo members. There were eight staff members at their hotel who tested positive before they even arrived. They had no contact -- these hotel staff didn't have any contact with the athletes. But if anybody on and athletes plane test positive, then the whole team has to go into isolation. So the rules here are very stringent for the foreigners coming in. We've taken seven or eight COVID tests ourselves and are still under quarantine with very limited and only prewritten approval for travel to Olympic venues for stories -- Michael.

CHURCH: Yes, that is incredible isn't it? Will, good to see you there. Will Ripley in Tokyo for us.

Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere and like many other impoverished countries, it has yet to begin a vaccination program. On Wednesday Haiti finally received its first shipment, a half million doses of the Moderna vaccine, part of the Biden administration's plan to help poor countries get vaccinated. The U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince says the U.S. is also providing more than $3 million in financial aid and equipment to support the inoculation effort.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back, those wildfires that keep devouring homes in the western United States and evacuees wondering when the danger will be over or if this is the new normal.

And Donald Trump pushes pack about scandalous claims about his presidency revealed in an upcoming book. All that and more when we come back. (04:15:00)


HOLMES: Top U.S. House Republican Kevin McCarthy says he had a productive meeting with former President Donald Trump. They spoke Thursday at Trump's golf club in Bedminster in New Jersey. McCarthy considering which Republicans to appoint to a Congressional committee that will investigate the Capitol insurrection.

In the latest statement, McCarthy said, quote, we had a productive conversation regarding House Republicans fundraising, upcoming special elections and the latest work being carried out to target vulnerable Democrats.

No mention of the insurrection. McCarthy also said he appreciated Trump's commitment to help House Republicans defeat Democrats and take back the House in 2022.

Donald Trump meanwhile lashing out against Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley and statements attributed to him in an upcoming book. The former president calling the claims so ridiculous and says he never threatened or spoke to anyone about a coup after he lost the 2020 election. The book by two Pulitzer prize winning journalists recounts a number of conversations Milley had with colleagues about disputes involving Trump. CNN's Brian Todd with the details.



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In those tense days just after last year's election, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley was fearful that then President Trump and his allies might try to stage a coup to stay in power. That's according to a new book by "Washington Post" reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, who write that Milley and other members of the Joint Chiefs discussed a plan to resign one by one rather than carry out orders from Trump. General Milley told his deputies that they may try, but they're not going to f***ing succeed, the authors write. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI, we're the guys with the guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crushing, crushing amounts of pressure and it became clear to a lot of people that the president might not step aside.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET) FORMER ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: He was placed in an extremely stressful and difficult situation without a whole lot of people that he can talk to on getting advice on how to take action.

TODD (voice-over): Following his own instincts was something Mark Milley appeared ready to do from an early age. According to a 2019 "New York Times" profile of him, Milley's father who fought with the Marines at Iwo Jima in World War II did not want his son to go into the military and even got one of Mark's brothers to sabotage his visit to West Point. Mark Milley instead went to Princeton, lettered in hockey for two years in the late 70s. He went on to study at Columbia and MIT as well.

HERTLING: An intellectual. He's intellectually a very, very bright dude.

TODD (voice-over): Over four decades in the military, Milley served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, came under fire several times, commanded high profile units with the Tenth Mountain Division and 101st Airborne.

HERTLING: He has been, let's see, in almost every deployment since the late '80s. All of those are really tough jobs where you not only have to be tactically and operationally proficient, but you also have to be a pretty damn good leader. And be able to have that emotional intelligence to feel the room.

TODD (voice-over): Instincts that would be tested in the summer of last year when Milley dressed in fatigues walked with Trump to Trump's infamous a photo-op at a church after racial justice protestors had been violently cleared out of Lafayette Square. Milley took heavy criticism and later apologized.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.

TODD: General Milley and the Defense Department did not comment specifically for our story regarding the accounts in the book of his fears of a Trump coup, a defense official close to the general told CNN that he won't publicly address the issues raised in the book but the official also did not dispute them. Former President Trump issued a scathing statement on Milley. Trump not only denying ever speaking about a coup, but also calling Milley, a better politician than a general trying to curry favor with the radical left.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: U.S. representative Joyce Beatty and several others were arrested by capitol police during a voting rights demonstration on Thursday. Beatty is an Ohio Democrat and the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She was participating in a small rally calling for passage of the "For The People Act," a sweeping election bill Democrats hope will counter Republican efforts to curb voting rights. After a warning to clear the area from officers in the Senate office building, Beatty and a few others were arrested.

Now the desperate effort to search for victims in the Surfside condo collapse continues, but officials warn that time is working against them. Rescue crews have recovered 97 bodies from the rubble and as of Thursday evening 92 have been identified and their families notified. The mayor of Miami-Dade County says that the process of making identifications obviously becomes more difficult with time and that they are relying heavily on the work of the medical examiner's office to identify human remains.

The California governor is sending firefighting resources from his state to Oregon to battle America's biggest actively burning wildfire. The Bootleg fire has already scorched more than 227,000 acres of a national forest and is affecting California's electricity supply. It is just one of some 70 large fires burning across 12 states. Sara Sidner shows us how one California community is coping with the unrelenting danger.



SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the second time in just eight months Kathy Catron's hometown has lost more than a dozen homes to wildfire.

CATRON: It sounded like a freight train coming down the mountain. The flames are coming at you, the smoke rolls over you, and all of a sudden it's dark. All you see is this big, huge orange wall of flames all around my home, everywhere in front of you, everywhere you look.

SIDNER (voice-over): Catron is the volunteer fire chief of this town of about 600 residents. She is often the first one to call residents to tell them their home is gone.

KELLY GROSS, DOYLE RESIDENT: I'm still kind of numb. I mean, after losing everything I worked for, and everything all these years. It's gone and everybody says, oh, it's so replaceable and stuff. Well, no, a lot of it isn't.

SIDNER (voice-over): Saturday, Kelly Gross lost one of the 16 homes burned in Doyle. Everyone thought the danger was over. But on Monday the fire came roaring back, devouring more homes. Chief Catron and several residents were angry that air drops from state and federal agencies didn't come earlier.

CATRON: We were like the lone ranger. Because a lot of the engines weren't where they should have been and weren't down there, you know, maybe. And I was, at that point, I was ready to say, I can't do this anymore.


SIDNER (voice-over): Apocalyptic fire scenes are appearing more and more across the West. So far this year 67 large fires across 12 states have burned an area nearly five times the size of New York City.

CAPT. DENNIS SMITH, CAL FIRE: The frequency of fires has skyrocketed.

SIDNER (voice-over): Cal Fire Captain Dennis Smith has spent 25 years battling some of the biggest blazes in the state of California. SMITH: We used to get some what you would call career fires, maybe once every few years. And we're seeing career fires, 100,000-plus acres, is a common occurrence every year now.

SIDNER (voice-over): It's the new normal.

SMITH: The resources are spread through the state as we're burning from the Oregon border down to Mexico.

SIDNER (voice-over): California is on track to have an even more devastating fire season than 2020 which was the worst on record with 4.1 million acres charred.

CHRIS TRINDADE, DEPUTY CHIEF CAL FIRE: Being from California, I'm sure you hear this fire season will be the worst fire season, right? Every year we hear that.

SIDNER (voice-over): Which means the grueling work must go on for longer in days of 100-plus temperatures in some places. And once the big flames are smothered, days of intricate work begin on hidden hot spots. There is one goal in mind. Save lives and then property.

SIDNER: Are you proud -- you look around this entire house and it's charred 360 around this house. But the house, perfect.

SMITH: Yeah, the house is still standing.

SIDNER (voice-over): But 250 miles away in Doyle, the local fire volunteers are devastated. And residents are worried they're at the beginning of what used to be the start of fire season.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Doyle, California.


HOLMES: And let's bring in Derek Van Dam to talk more about this. You know obviously, worrying, obviously climate change is in the discussion as well.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, it's really interesting to hear Sara Sidner's interview with that woman just about how the resources weren't available to help combat the fire in the timely manner that she would have expected.

Well the national alert level, the alert fire level, is actually at its highest level, level five meaning that there are so many active large wildfires burning out of control over the western U.S. that there is at least 80 percent of the resources available going towards those fires. So they may not as we go forward in the season have enough resources to combat all the fires that they anticipate with the above average season.

Let's talk about the Bootleg fire. That was also mentioned as well, this is in central Oregon. And what you're looking at here is a pyrocumulonimbus cloud. This is a cloud -- basically a smoke cloud that builds up from the inferno that is ignited on the ground. And what it does is it reaches the troposphere and eventually into the stratosphere and it creates this almost anvil-like shape. And that is the classic cumulonimbus shape. That's what you would see with a thunderstorm but this time it's because of the up drafts from the very intense wildfire.

Now, there are 71 active large wildfires and this is on the backdrop of our ongoing drought. With the new drought numbers coming in 95 percent of the western U.S. still under drought conditions. Including the Bootleg fire with over 225,000 acres burned and over a 7 percent containment.

Michael, you've got to see this. We have bad air quality moving in across the northern half of the country as the Bootleg fire and other fires continue to emit and billow out this smoke degrading our air quality. Back to you.

HOLMES: Yes, having a national affect. Derek, thanks so much. Derek Van Dam there for us.

Now Cubans taking to the streets in the largest anti-government protest in decades and now its government is taking extra political pressure from Washington. We'll have that after the break.

And also new video of suspected assassins in Haiti just hours after they allegedly going down the country's president. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM we'll be back.