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Extreme Weather Causes Massive Europe Flooding; Biden Officials View COVID-19 Lab Leak Origin Theory as Credible; FBI Interviews Key Suspects in Haiti. Aired 12-12:15a ET

Aired July 17, 2021 - 00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Michael Holmes, we appreciate your company.

We begin in Western Europe, where large-scale rescue efforts are underway, after torrential rains triggered devastating floods in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The death toll has climbed to at least 125 people. Hundreds of others are still unaccounted for.

Bridges have been washed out, homes and businesses destroyed, thousands left homeless and entire villages washed away. Germany has sent 850 soldiers who helped with relief in its western states.

The sheer volume of water and the speed at which it came roaring into towns has stunned officials. Rescue crews in Germany have evacuated about 700 residents after a dam along a river broke Friday night.

And fears are growing that more dams across the region could soon follow. Have a look at this video from the city of Liege in eastern Belgium, after a week of torrential rain.


HOLMES (voice-over): And eyewitness captured a barge sinking in the flooded river. And in the Netherlands, Dutch officials have just ordered 10,000 residents to evacuate the city of Venlo, about 400 kilometers north of where these pictures were taken, where water is rising faster than expected.


HOLMES: CNN's Atika Shubert has more on these historic events.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets of Ahrweiler, Germany, soaked residents try to pick up the pieces, some just going through the motions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So many people are dead, and police are searching after them because it is a mess (ph) and it's horrible. We don't know how to handle it and how to get -- do anything.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Mara Mahmer (ph) tells us that she was helpless when her home began to flood, hiding out for hours as water continued to rise. But she knows she is lucky to be alive.

Across Western Europe, catastrophic flooding has left scores of people dead; many more are missing.

In Germany, helicopters pull survivors from swollen rivers and drop aid packages to those below. Rescuers are going door to door, looking for anyone who may be stranded, as the country suffers its worst loss of life in years.

Widespread power outages continue amid damage to critical infrastructure. Roads, bridges and entire communities are washed away.

SHUBERT: Here in Ahrweiler you can really see the destructive power of the flood. This is a tree that is currently parked on top of a bridge. There are all kinds of debris that is choking up the area here. You can still see, the water behind me moving at a pretty fast clip. It rose so quickly that people really did not have time to escape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

SHUBERT (voice-over): One resident showed us how quickly the water consumed his home, trapping him overnight until it receded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) in minutes. You climb from step to step.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Outsider of Germany, neighboring countries faced similar shock, similar scenes of devastation. In Belgium, the death toll is rising as a number of towns are submerged. Destruction continuing even after the rain has stopped.

Our reporter's interview with the town mayor ending abruptly when a home collapsed behind them. Soon after, frenzied residents tried to escape through the roof.

In the Netherlands, thousands fleeing after flooding broke through a dike, engulfing their homes with water, some trying to salvage what they can. Many left with only their life intact, others, tragically, did not even have that -- Atika Shubert, CNN, in Ahrweiler, Germany.



HOLMES: Both the United States and the United Kingdom have seen major spikes in coronavirus cases, numbers that haven't been seen since January. The U.K. reporting more than 50,000 new cases on Friday. And that is coming just days before England is set to lift all of its remaining social distancing restrictions.

Cases in the U.S. are rising in almost every single state. The country averaged more than 26,000 cases each day this week. But that is up 67 percent from last week.

The CDC warns that COVID vaccines might not protect immunocompromised people. Health officials say they should keep wearing masks and practice social distancing, but they are not telling them to get a booster shot, at least not yet.

Meanwhile, the CDC director says that there is one group that is fueling this rise in cases.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: There is a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.


HOLMES: The U.S. President, Joe Biden, has ordered the intelligence community to find out how the coronavirus pandemic came to be. Some senior officials are now giving more credibility to the theory that the virus could have accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab.

That is a complete turnaround from what Democrats were saying a year ago. Natasha Bertrand with the details.


NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We are learning that senior Biden administration officials now believe that the possibility that COVID-19 escaped from a lab is at least as possible as the theory that it originated in the wild, naturally, from animals.

This is a dramatic shift from just last year, when that theory, that it may have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, was treated as a conspiracy theory and unscientific.

But the president ordered an intelligence review into COVID's origins back in March. The intelligence community then came back in May, saying that they were split on the issue, on this question of whether it originated in a lab or in the wild.

He then ordered a redoubled effort into this question. And what we are learning now is that the intelligence community is really on the fence about where this originated has also led senior Biden administration officials to take that theory, that it escaped from a lab accidentally, very seriously.

Now it is important to note that this is not necessarily a theory that this was engineered as a bioweapon. This is not given credence within the Biden administration. What they believe is that this could have escaped from a lab as they were conducting research on bats. Therefore, it is also somewhat of a natural origin theory.

But right now, the two theories are being treated as very credible, both of them, and the administration emphasizes to us that they are reserving judgment until the intelligence community completes its review in about 40 days -- Natasha Bertrand, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Now the funeral for Haiti's assassinated leader has been set for next Friday. We have also learned that the FBI is in Haiti and has begun its own investigation. That's because some of the main suspects in the plot appear to have connections to Florida. We get more now from CNN's Matt Rivers, who is in Port-au-Prince.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We got some updates into the investigation into this assassination at a midday press conference here in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Among those who attended were acting prime minister Claude Joseph, as well as the chief of Haiti's national police force.

It was Joseph who offered his opinion on what he termed "a miscalculation" on the part of some of the people involved in this assassination.

He said, quote, "The killers thought that they could kill the president and force the rest of the government to flee."

He said, obviously, that hasn't happened, and the investigation goes on. That's where the chief of Haiti's national police force jumped in. He said that at this point more than 2 dozen police officers here on the island are being investigated in one way or another as a result of this assassination.

Among those police officers being investigated, we are told there are some officers who were actually at the presidential residence the night of the assassination.


RIVERS: Also, national police chief is saying that members of the FBI, that have come here from the United States to assist in this investigation, have had a chance to, at least preliminarily, question some suspects in this case.

We are also told that the funeral for president Jovenel Moise will take place not here in Port-au-Prince, in another part of the country, a northern part of the country, on the 23rd of this month.

It is expected that the first lady of Haiti, who was injured in that assassination of her husband and who has been recovering in a hospital in Miami, it is expected that she will come back to the island to attend that funeral -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


HOLMES: South Africa's president says that an additional 15,000 troops will be soon deployed after days of violence and looting. President Cyril Ramaphosa blamed, quote, "insurrection" for trying to undermine South African democracy and its economy.

He did not say, however, who he thought was behind all this. Despite the unrest, the president is urging South Africans not to overreact.


CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: I want to emphasize that there is no shortage of food or supplies in most parts of the country. And there is, therefore, no need to go on panic buying because doing so will only worsen the situation.


HOLMES: At least 212 people have died in the unrest over the last week.

Hard to miss message in Washington directed squarely at the Cuban government. On Friday somebody painted the words "Cuba Libre," or "free Cuba," in front of the Cuban embassy there. It's unclear who was behind all of that.

It comes after the island saw its largest antigovernment rallies in decades. The Cuban-born pop star Gloria Estefan also spoke out Friday, asking the United Nations to condemn Havana for suppressing the protests.

The Reuters News Agency is mourning the loss of one of its own. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Danish Siddiqui was killed while on assignment during clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces.

He was embedded with Afghan special forces when crossfire erupted. A senior Afghan officer was also killed. Siddiqui had been a photojournalist for Reuters since 2010. Here you see the footage he shot just days before he was killed on Friday.

In a statement on his killing, Reuters says it is urgently seeking more information and working with authorities in the region.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HolmesCNN. Meanwhile, stay tuned for "MARKETPLACE AFRICA." I'll see you a little later.