Return to Transcripts main page


New York Governor's Lawyers Fighting Allegations; Scientists Puzzled By U.K. COVID-19 Trend; Tokyo 2020 Summer Games In Final Hours; Sturgis Biker Rally Repeats Superspreader Event; U.N. Warns Of Potential Unparalleled "Catastrophe" In Afghanistan; Beirut Blast Anniversary; Protests Against Europe's Health Passes; California Wildfires; Devastating Fires In Athens, Greece; Inside Simone Biles' "Secret Gym". Aired 5-6a ET

Aired August 8, 2021 - 05:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hundreds of thousands of Americans are gathering in South Dakota and a surge of COVID-19 cases isn't going to stop them. The huge Sturgis rally ahead.

Dramatic scenes in Greece, where hundreds were forced to escape a fast-moving wildfire. We'll have details in a live report from Athens.

And a farewell to the games that almost weren't. We're live in Tokyo as it prepares for the Olympics closing ceremony.

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


BRUNHUBER: Throughout the pandemic, we have reported on a number of sad and troubling milestones. Well, today we have even more. Here in the U.S., the Delta variant is driving coronavirus case numbers to their highest levels since February.

According to Johns Hopkins University, we have 100,000 new cases per day. This comes as 50 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated. And Florida seems to be getting the worst of it.

The Sunshine State is reporting its highest number of weekly cases since the pandemic began and also has the highest number of hospitalizations yet. Yet Ron DeSantis is thumbing his nose and holding firm on rejecting mask mandates in schools.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I have young kids, my wife and I will not do the masks with the kids. We never have. I want to see my kids smiling. I want them having fun.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER: The surge in the Delta variant couldn't have come at a worse time since children all over the U.S. are returning to class. Earlier I spoke with infectious disease specialist Allison Messina about the measures and what advice she has for skeptical parents.


DR. ALLISON MESSINA, CHIEF, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, JOHNS HOPKINS ALL CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: If you think about it as an infectious disease doctor, you need to understand it is a contagious virus that does not play favorites. So the things that stop it is getting vaccinated if you can and wearing a mask.

So certainly, we are advocating that everybody who goes not only to school but any indoor space right now, whether you've been vaccinated or not, we're really recommending that everyone mask up for this variant, which is surprisingly contagious.

BRUNHUBER: We have seen plenty of resistance to that idea. You see these heated community and school board meetings and so on.

What would you tell parents who are skeptical, to try and convince them of what you are saying there?

MESSINA: I really think we need to stick to the science. The science is very clear, that masks make a difference. Vaccines make a difference. And, if you layer that approach, you really have the best shot of keeping healthy. So it comes back to looking at the science.

BRUNHUBER: You touched there on the key here, vaccinations. As you said earlier, Florida has been fairly lax. I think some 8 million people in Florida who were eligible for the vaccine haven't been fully vaccinated.

Of that number, I think the lowest vaccination rate of any group, is kids aged 12 to 19 so how do you go about reaching them or more importantly, their parents?

MESSINA: I think education is key. A lot of parents are hesitant about giving a new vaccine to their child. And as we know, even though this is a very contagious and very dangerous virus, it does tend to spare children the worst of its effects.

So if you are a parent, you say, well, maybe my kid won't get as sick, so why would I expose this person to this new vaccine?

That is understandable. But I think what parents need to understand is, at this point, you have two choices. It is so contagious, you are either choosing to vaccinate your child or the chance that they will get the actual virus is very high.

So you are really choosing between getting the virus and getting the vaccine. I think if you look at the risk/benefit of both, really, you will see that the vaccine is, by far, the safer option.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [05:05:00]

BRUNHUBER: So despite the Delta strain causing a massive surge nationwide, hundreds of thousands of bikers are gathering in Sturgis, South Dakota, for a motorcycle rally. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is there, where many are throwing caution to the wind.


ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Monday, South Dakota's governor will hop on a bike and participate in a charity ride. She is among an estimated 700,000 people who will show up to the world's largest motorcycle rally here in Sturgis. Longtime business owners, tell me thanks to the governor's support events like this can still go on during the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, more than a dozen of people just ask me to put their hands together like they are praying and oh, god, thank you so much for giving us a place to go and be halfway normal and get away from the hellhole our city became. And we like your governor, we love her.

BROADDUS: Do you think this event will be a superspreader?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's highly likely. You can see in the instances in other states, where there have been large gatherings; most recently, the Milwaukee Bucks, where they had 100,000 folks and you had some significant spread. We're talking 700,000 people. And I wouldn't be surprised if we have a superspreader event there.

BROADDUS: You're worried about COVID or the Delta variant?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I got both my shots, I guess I'm OK.



BROADDUS: What about you?

Are you worried about COVID at all?


I got my shots. Not at all, no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Had it, fine, not concerned at all. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here.

BROADDUS: One rider told me, he still keeps a mask in his pocket. He said he didn't show up last year and he's still a little worried this year. The big concern among health officials is when participants step inside, for example, crowded bars or tattoo parlors.

That is where there is an increased risk for transmission -- Adrienne Broaddus, CNN, Sturgis, South Dakota. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: The last of this year's Olympic competitions are history and the closing ceremony is just under two hours away. A flurry of gold medals on the final day helped push Team USA to the top of the medal standings.



BRUNHUBER: These Olympic Games were held under the shadow of a global pandemic. But there were plenty of triumphs during these games to help the world feel a little closer.

In less than two hours, the closing ceremony will end the competition and will hand over the 2024 Summer Games to host, Paris. CNN's Blake Essig is standing by in Tokyo.

Blake, I know organizers are playing things close to the vest about the closing ceremony.

But what can you tell us about them?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kim. The sun is about to set on Tokyo 2020 with the closing ceremony set to start in less than an hour. Organizers have been rehearsing all day to take the final bow. In fact, they are still rehearsing inside the stadium, less than 50 minutes before the start of the closing ceremony.

For now we really don't know much about the closing ceremony. We do know the theme is The World We Share, the idea being, even if we can't be together, we can all share the moment and open the door the a brighter future.

When taking a step back to reflect on the past two weeks, there's no question that Tokyo 2020, now and for decades to come, will be defined by the global health crisis. Nothing was normal. Strict COVID-19 countermeasures were put in place that seemed to dampen the atmosphere that would typically accompany the Olympics.

The fierce opposition from the general public didn't help, either. While the mood has somewhat shifted since the start of competition, it hasn't come in the form of support for the Olympic Games but rather the athletes themselves and their competitions.

We saw a lot of wonderful moments during competition. Of course, winning can help change attitudes. Japan won 27 medals. That's 11 more than any other Olympics. But the health and safety concerns that led to the unpopularity of Tokyo 2020, it's the reality that, once the Olympic flame is extinguished, then the eyes of the world are no longer fixed on Tokyo.

It's the people that will be left to deal with the consequences. And while the prime minister said the Olympics has not resulted in an increases of COVID-19 infections, medical professionals warn as an indirect result of the Olympics increasing the flow of people -- if you take a look behind me, you can see that flow of people -- that the cases could actually triple here in Tokyo in the next two or three weeks -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. So you mentioned some of the obvious themes of the games so far.

But as they come to the close shortly, what else struck you about what you saw first-hand, as you have been covering this from start to finish?

What impressions will stick most with you?

ESSIG: You know, as a sports fan myself, to be able to watch the events and get a front row seat, the most expensive seats money can't buy, in a stadium essentially all by myself at times, has been a real surreal experience.

And getting to see the world-class athletes up close has been incredible. At the same time you feel saddened to know these games were supposed to be here for the people of Japan and they weren't able to witness these incredible athletic feats.

Just last night I had a chance to go to the USA-Japan baseball game, the final. Baseball just huge here in Japan. And knowing it was perhaps the most watched event in the entire Olympics, the stadium was completely empty.

We were right behind home plate, watching history right before our eyes. Again, an incredible experience but you wish, as a sports fan and human being, there were other people to share in that experience, to build up the buzz and excitement that makes the Olympics so special.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. It must have been surreal, as you say. Still so many great stories to come out of these games. Blake Essig in Tokyo for us. Thanks so much.

Lawyers for New York governor Andrew Cuomo are hitting back against sexual harassment allegations. They also say they aren't aware of any plans for the governor to resign as state lawmakers are poised to move forward with impeachment proceedings.


BRUNHUBER: CNN's Polo Sandoval has the latest on the investigation from Albany, New York.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, law enforcement here in Albany County, New York, addressing that criminal complaint that was filed on Thursday, laying out some serious allegations against New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

The sheriff here, Craig Apple, only saying that the allegations made are, quote, "sexual in nature." CNN speaking to the attorneys representing that complainant and do confirm she is the same woman referred to as Executive Assistant number 1 in the New York state attorney general's report that was released on Tuesday, laying out a series of allegations coming from at least 11 women, sexual harassment allegations.

Sheriff Apple saying this is basically the start of what is likely to be a long criminal investigation, in which they will be speaking to multiple witnesses, including the woman he describes as a victim.

And also not ruling out the possibility that they may have to speak to the subject of this investigation, which is governor Andrew Cuomo. The sheriff also saying, because the chief executive is the subject of this investigation, does not mean they will be delaying or rushing this case in any way.


SHERIFF CRAIG APPLE, ALBANY COUNTY, NEW YORK: We had a female victim come forward, which had to be the hardest thing she has ever done in her life, and make an allegation of criminal conduct against the governor.

I have a young lady that came in who's alleging that she was victimized. And we are going to do everything in our powers to help her.


SANDOVAL: We should remind our viewers that, according to that attorney general's report, Executive Assistant number 1 claimed that the governor actually reached under her blouse and grabbed her breasts in November, really some of the most serious allegations that have come forward.

The sheriff said, should it lead them to charges, they could potentially be misdemeanor charges the governor may face. But they have not reached that point. As for the governor, he continues to deny all of these allegations.

But it speaks to the latest troubles he faces, including now multiple lawmakers in Albany County, that could potentially be calling up these articles for impeachment in the coming weeks -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Albany, New York.


BRUNHUBER: Afghanistan is sending in elite commandos to retake a city mostly lost to the Taliban. We'll share what we are learning about the battle for Kunduz coming up.

Plus, a year of coping with grief and heartbreaking loss. Survivors demanding justice on the anniversary of the deadly Beirut port explosion. We will share their stories after the break. Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: Afghanistan may have lost two provincial capitals to the Taliban just in one day. A local officials say the city of Sar-e Pol has been mostly overrun. And hours ago we learned from an official, most of Kunduz has fallen to the militants. Afghanistan's defense ministry says elite commandos were in Kunduz to retake territory.

If both cities are lost, it would mean the Taliban now control four provincial capitals. CNN's Clarissa Ward filed this report earlier from Kabul.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly unraveling, which is why you saw the U.S. embassy come out and urge all Americans to leave the country.

This comes on the heels of the Taliban taking control of two provincial capitals. This is a big deal. They are the first but by no means, unfortunately probably the last. At least three other cities are under imminent threat.

We spoke to ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the helped the hospital in Kandahar, who said that in the first six months of this year alone, they saw more than 2,300 weapon-wounded patients.

That's more than double the amount that they saw in the first six months of last year. We also heard from the new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan. She warned that if the international community does not act soon, Afghanistan could be a potential catastrophe with few if any parallels this century.


BRUNHUBER: Lebanon has just marked one year since the deadly explosion at Beirut's port. With the official probe stalled and no one held accountable yet, people are keeping the pressure on the government, demanding justice for the blast. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from Beirut.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Nurse Pamela Zaynoun (ph) was on the phone with her mother. At 8 minutes past 6:00 in the evening, Beirut's nightmare began.

Pamela, in the ward for premature babies, didn't hesitate.

PAMELA ZAYNOUN (PH), NURSE: I was very focused to save the babies.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): With three babies in her arms, she worked walk for an hour ad a half to find an incubator. While Pamela was walking, the injured flocked to her severely damaged hospital, the St. George, where the explosion had killed four nurses.

On that awful evening, more than 6,000 people were wounded, more than 200 killed. A city that, over the decades, has been through wars, car bombs and terrorism had never seen anything on this scale.

A year later, and most of the rubble has been cleared; some of the damage has been repaired, yet deep scars remain.

ZAYNOUN (PH): I know a lot of my colleagues, they are still on medications, they are still having a very hard time sleeping or eating. And they still are remembering what happened. So it's really tough.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Paul and Tracy Naggear lost their 3 year old daughter, Alexandra (ph), in the blast. Like many here, they blame the disaster on Lebanon's political elite.

TRACY NAGGEAR, MOTHER OF BLAST VICTIM: Last year after the blast, we decided to leave, which is a normal decision, you know. They killed our daughter, they almost killed us, they destroyed our house.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): They are still here. Paul was recently elected to the Order of Engineers and has become a vocal advocate for change and accountability -- accountability, that until now, remains elusive.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Elias Maloof (ph) lost his 32 year old son, George, who is in the port when the blast happened. He regularly joins vigils with other relatives of the dead, demanding justice.

"Every day, his mother cries and cries," Elias (ph) tells me.

She asks, "Why doesn't George come over for coffee?

"Why doesn't he come over for the weekend?"

The port blast is just one catastrophe visited upon Lebanon, which, in the last two years, has seen unrest, political paralysis, financial and economic collapse and the COVID pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of this and the explosion happened, was full of rubble.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Hani (ph) and Kiana (ph) have come back to their old flat overlooking the port.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) most of the injuries were on his right side and he crashed through like this. So that's why (INAUDIBLE).

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Both were wounded by flying glass, scarred and traumatized. Hani (ph) and Kiana (ph) are leaving Lebanon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we would see an immediate future, then we wouldn't leave.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Lebanon's future is dark. The jarring images of a year ago seared into the memories of everyone who lived through it. The nightmare isn't over -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


BRUNHUBER: Opponents speak loud and clear against the so-called COVID green pass in Italy.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Next, protesters take to the streets as vaccinations become a must to go to many public places.



BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Plus, scenes of destruction as the Dixie fire rages out of control in California. We'll look at the progress fire crews are making -- just ahead. Stay with us.






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

Let's return to our top story. The Delta variant is driving U.S. coronavirus case numbers to their highest levels since February. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. seven-day average is more than 100,000 new cases per day.

This comes as over 50 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated. Despite the rise in cases nationwide, some 700,000 bikers are gathering in Sturgis, South Dakota, for an annual motorcycle rally. A controversial decision to hold the rally last year was linked to at least 649 new COVID cases following the event.

Well, as the daily caseload grows in the U.S., anger is growing in Italy over its new COVID green pass. That is essentially a proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test. On Friday, the government made it mandatory to go to many public places. It is now becoming a red line for some opponents. Barbie Nadeau joins us from Rome.

We have seen similar protests in France. Let's start there. This is the fourth weekend of protests. It looks like these were the biggest so far.

What can you tell us about them?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A quarter million people on the streets, all across France over the weekend. There were some arrests but not the sort of violence we have seen in weekends past.

People in France are concerned about their civil liberties. They feel these green passes, health passes, are one step closer to an overall vaccine mandate. They feel it is unfair and should be the choice of the people.

But looking at the images, most of those people we assume haven't been vaccinated and almost none of them were wearing masks. So there is concerns France faces its fourth wave. They are looking at a case of 20,000 new infections a day there.

These protests are concerning to the health authorities there as they try to get past the worst of it and not go back to where they were last fall.

BRUNHUBER: Going back to Italy where you are, protests there as well. Some demonstrators using very controversial and disturbing imagery to try to make their point.

NADEAU: That's right. The protests in Italy have been a fraction of the size of those in France. Those who have been out have been protesting in very disturbing ways. In Milan, a number of protesters were wearing the Star of David badge that said, I'm not vaccinated. That is a reference to the Holocaust victims, of course.

Here in Italy, as of Friday, if you want to go inside a restaurant, you have to show you have been vaccinated or a negative COVID test, if you want to go to a museum, a theater, sporting event.

Restaurant owners have been compliant for the most part but some are really concerned that they're the ones that have to sort of police this and be the bad guy to ask people for their pass, make sure it matches their ID.

That puts them in a position of authority they don't feel they have. Some restaurants are happy to have anybody back after a lot of lockdowns after months and months of bad business. It is really moving forward.

The government in Italy thinks this is the only way to stem the cases and not to end up like we are here in Italy, cases are around 6,000 new infections a day. That is a number they feel they can handle. The deaths are down, hospitalizations are down. It's just trying not to succumb to another fourth wave here in Italy as well -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Barbie Nadeau, thanks.

In Britain, experts have been trying to wrap their heads around a puzzling coronavirus trend. They expected the number of cases to skyrocket after England scrapped most COVID-19 restrictions last month but instead the seven-day average declined. The question is why.

Earlier, I asked Oksana Pyzik from University College London to answer that question.


OKSANA PYZIK, GLOBAL HEALTH EXPERT, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON: We do know this is a real decline because there are -- the trend usually follows that there are fewer hospitalizations. That appears to be so.

But we also know that there has been, particularly over the summer period, a -- in the U.K., certainly a lack of incentive to get tested in the first place because we don't have the same support systems in place for those who are self-employed, like in other countries. So that has always been a challenge from the start.


PYZIK: And during the holiday period, there was also concerns that perhaps people were avoiding coming forward because of the implication on their holiday plans, particularly of mild cases.

But also what we have seen in the U.K. is, although we have had our Freedom Day and legal requirements for certain behaviors have now been dropped, we have also had many businesses and other -- our health secretary Sajid Javid has come forward and say that indoor places, where it is crowded, on the tube, et cetera, people will be wearing masks.

I think that behavior didn't all of a sudden switch off, where people dropped masks altogether and just threw caution to the wind.

I think in this instance there still has been that behavior element being encouraged, again, in restaurants and in other environments, where -- especially if you ride public transport, that's still a requirement by TFL, by our transport body, even if the government has a separate view.

So I think a lot of these local restrictions continue to have a profound effect. But we are also looking at the vaccine wall holding firm. And I think that's the key thing, is to ensure that that continues and we target the hesitant groups as much as possible to prevent future variants.


BRUNHUBER: Our thanks to Oksana Pyzik for that analysis.

Still ahead, it's a race against the clock as crews battle the massive Dixie Fire blazing through California. We'll look at the conditions they're facing after the break. Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: California's largest wildfire is growing even bigger as crews struggle to get the flames under control. The Dixie fire has burned to nearly 700 square miles so far.


BRUNHUBER: That is more than twice the size of New York City. Right now the fire is just 21 percent contained.

So this was the scene near Greenville after flames burned much of the town to the ground. At least three people are still unaccounted for.


BRUNHUBER: Serena Baker, public information officer for the Dixie Fire east zone joins me by phone. She is at the command post in Quincy, California.

Thanks so much for joining us. I want to get an update on the fire and the efforts to keep it away from the more populated areas.

SERENA BAKER, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, DIXIE FIRE EAST ZONE: Sure. So the fire only grew by 1,000 acres today, which, when you're looking at the third largest wildfire in California here, is quite impressive and really a testament to the efforts of the firefighting crews.

We're at 447,723 acres with 21 percent containment. We have slightly more than 5,000 personnel assigned to this fire. The thing that has really helped us in the last couple of days is we have had a weather inversion and that has, while it has created smoky conditions, it has also brought cooler temperatures, higher humidity and also much calmer winds. And that has really helped limit the fire growth.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. That's great news. The pictures that we're showing now are Greenville. When you walk through areas like that, when an entire town is burned off the map, it looks like scenes from a war-torn country, bombed into rubble and ashes.

It must be crushing, as a fire service, in the briefings with the community to say we tried our best but there is nothing more we could have done.

BAKER: You know, the power of Mother Nature is just -- it's awe inspiring. And you are right, to stand where, just hours ago, a house stood. You know and it's very challenging because, you know, our wildland firefighters want to try to do the very best they can for the communities that we serve.

But I think that's also a prime example of why we so strongly encourage people, please, heed those evacuation orders and warnings.

BRUNHUBER: And just looking at the bigger picture here, what I'm hearing these days from firefighters is that fighting fires -- I mean, these fires, these massive fires don't have the same behavior they used to have, even 10 years ago. They're bigger, more intense. What are you hearing from the front lines about the conditions that

firefighters are facing now and how a hard job is basically getting harder?

BAKER: Right. When I first started in the federal government, my boss told me you will never meet a harder working federal employee than someone who is a wildland firefighter.

If you can imagine swinging a Pulaski, which is basically huge blade, and you are scraping, you know, cutting hand lines, scraping all the soil off, all the vegetation off, you're down to bare mineral ground, that's what you need in order to try to create that fire break, to try to, you know, fuel break to try to break that fire from going across.

So it is very challenging work. You know, I've talked to a lot of our hot shot crews and our hand crews and they say that the camaraderie of the team environment and really feeling like the work that they do matters and makes a difference to the American people is really what inspires them to do such challenging work.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. It's amazing work they do. Good luck to you and your crews.

BAKER: Thank you, Kim. Stay safe.


BRUNHUBER: Wildfires are raging through Greece, displacing thousands of people across the country. The Coast Guard had to rescue 1,400 residents on the island of Evia on Friday. They were forced to flee their homes and escape to the beach, the only safe place.

A major fire is still burning on the island. Officials say firefighters are waging a massive battle to put it out. And fires in Athens have caused massive devastation. Elinda Labropoulou joins me now from a town just outside the city.

They have been trying to contain these fires for six days now.

Have they managed to make much progress?


ELINDA LABROPOULOU, JOURNALIST: They have managed to make progress in Athens, where the fires have basically put out. But as you can see, the infrastructure networks have suffered massively. And dozens of homes have been destroyed.

We did have a little bit of time to go and walk around these areas and talk to the people here. And they really are devastated. Let's take a listen.


LABROPOULOU (voice-over): It was another long night for firefighters in Greece. Exhausted figures moving like shadows in the darkness, battling a wall of orange flames, trying to save the houses in this neighborhood in an Athens suburb.

Desperate residents throwing buckets of water at the intruding flames. But they still burn. The light of day brings little relief. It's just easier to see the extent of the damage. A question many people are waking up to, what, if anything, can be salvaged?

Local resident Nikos Defteraios shows us what is left of his home, the place his family has lived in for generations, now reduced to twisted metal and shattered bricks.

NIKOS DEFTERAIOS (PH), LOCAL RESIDENT (through translator): We are looking at 30 years work. My parents, I got the house from them, for 30 years work here. They had also taken the house from my grandmother.

How will I be able to rebuild what was there, when?

LABROPOULOU (voice-over): His loss shared by countless other homeowners across Athens -- and businesses. The Greek government says it plans to reimburse people affected by the fires but right now it's just trying to save lives.

LABROPOULOU: Until some days ago, this was a popular Athens tavern. Now it's just one of dozens destroyed buildings, a result of the huge fire that burned in the north suburbs of Athens.

Greek authorities are trying to put out the flames but the destruction here is really immense. Local residents have told us that at least three-quarters of their homes have been destroyed.

LABROPOULOU (voice-over): Much of the forests around Athens have been destroyed. Officials say climate change contributed to the high temperatures and dry conditions that turned areas into tinderboxes.

The Greek prime minister said the land will be reforested. But for Nikos, the charred landscape of his beloved city represents an even bigger disaster.

DEFTERAIOS (through translator): We are talking about the lands of Athens. This area is a living land for Athens. Right now the flames are burning them. It doesn't matter where it happens, people live. We all take our oxygen from here.

LABROPOULOU (voice-over): In his community, there are some small signs of perseverance amid the wreckage. Volunteers pick up dogs lost in the fires. Utility crews work to fix damaged power lines. But it's a long way forward before these streets ever feel like home again.


BRUNHUBER: And this will be very much the case on the island of Evia as well. We understand more people are evacuating their homes, as the fire keeps picking up pace and is expected to probably reach the coast in the next hours -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: We'll be watching that story for sure. Elinda Labropoulou in Greece, thanks so much. The Olympic flame will soon be extinguished in Tokyo. We'll give you

an update on the final medal tallies of the Olympics ahead of the closing ceremony. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: You're looking at live pictures of Tokyo where the Olympics will soon officially come to an end. The closing ceremony will begin just over an hour from now. The U.S. is ending the games on top of the medal board, winning the most gold medals and the most medals overall.

Next is China and host Japan has the third largest gold haul. One of those U.S. golds broke a decades-old track and field record. Sprinter Allyson Felix won her 11th career medal in the women's 4x400 meter relay event Saturday and that makes her the most decorated American track star in Olympics history.


BRUNHUBER: When U.S. gymnast Simone Biles decided to sit out a good portion of the Olympic Games, she turned to a secret gymnasium to straighten out the disorienting condition she called the twisties. CNN's Will Ripley gives us a tour of the facility she used.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the first time that international television cameras have been allowed inside the Ogawa gymnastics arena. Since Simone Biles revealed that she came here to train in secret after pulling out of Olympic competition because of mental health issues.

These are the uneven bars that she posted on Instagram where she was training for hours and hours on end to try to get over this condition that gymnasts called the twisties, that disconnect between their mind and their body.


RIPLEY: After Simone had to pull out, the coaches here about an hour outside of Tokyo got a call from Team U.S., who said they needed to find a place where Simone could train away from the media, cameras, scrutiny. And so she came here.

You were on the floor with Simone.

What was she like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): She was trying to do things that she wasn't able to do. She was really trying to figure out what was wrong.

RIPLEY: How did Simone before the Olympics compare to the Simone you saw training here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): She was very different. She looked like she was suffering. I was hoping I could do something to help her.

RIPLEY: Simone even left this thank you message, on the whiteboard. She thanked the university on Twitter, saying she will be forever thankful for the chance to come here and try to get her skills back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Working with Team USA and helping get Simone back on her feet, even if we were even a small part of that, I think it was a big success.

RIPLEY: Simone was training on this balance beam right here and she realized this was the only event she was going to be able to compete in because there was no twisting movement involved.

So she spent hours inside this gymnastics arena, trying to perfect her balance beam routine as best she could so she could make her return to the Olympics and win the bronze medal for Team U.S. -- Will Ripley, outside Tokyo.


BRUNHUBER: Well, that wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "NEW DAY" is ahead. For the rest of the world, it's "CONNECTING AFRICA."