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THE SITUATION ROOM
ISIS Captures Key Air Base in Syria; Jihadists in Syria Free American Hostage; U.S. Weighs Attacking ISIS in Syria; Thousands Attend Michael Brown Funeral; Huge Explosion in Gaza
Aired August 25, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, stunning ISIS victory. Waving flags, the brutal jihadist group celebrates the capture of a key Syrian military base and tightens its grip over much of the region.
Air strikes in Syria -- will the ISIS onslaught and the murder of an American lead the U.S. to step up its military involvement?
I'll ask the Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's standing by live this hour.
And cry for justice -- emotions run deep as thousands gather for the funeral of slain Missouri teenager, Michael Brown We're going live to Ferguson.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following two major stories this hour. Thousands gathering for an emotional final farewell to Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen shot dead by a police officer. We'll go live to Ferguson, Missouri for full coverage. That's coming up.
But first, ISIS insurgents score another stunning victory, this time in Syria. The brutal jihadist group is now celebrating its seizure of a Syrian air base which only days ago was operating against the rebels. And now, ISIS has basically taken control of the northern province of Raqqah and holds a vast stretch of territory in both Syria and Iraq. U.S. air power has slowed the ISIS advance in Iraq, but after the beheading of an American hostage by ISIS, the Obama administration is weighing strikes in Syria.
Our correspondents and guests are standing by with full coverage of both of these stories.
Let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, the question is, just how much of a threat does ISIS have to be?
What would trigger U.S. air strikes?
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STARR (voice-over): Fighters parade through Raqqah in Northern Syria after ISIS takes over an air base from Bashar Al-Assad's regime, consolidating its grip across the region. Officially, the White House is still thinking about getting more involved.
JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has not made a decision to pursue any sort of military action in Syria.
STARR: Also, unclear, how much the president's top military adviser, General Martin Dempsey, supports immediate U.S. military action. Dempsey has advocated going after ISIS in Syria when it presents a direct threat to the U.S. homeland. But he has kept the door open.
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria?
The answer is no. We -- that will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially, at this point, a nonexistent border.
STARR: A spokesman confirmed Dempsey is preparing options to address ISIS, both in Iraq and Syria, with a variety of military tools, including air strikes.
But before bombs fall, the U.S. has to get fresh intelligence.
COL. PETER MANSOUR (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The reconnaissance assets that we will employ over Syria will be looking for a variety of things, equipment parks, training centers, encampments, the sorts of facilities and buildings where ISIS, perhaps, have a -- has its governing facilities.
STARR: If President Obama orders air strikes, the goal, one U.S. official says, will be to disrupt ISIS' power grab.
MANSOUR: Well, air strikes are very effective at blunting the momentum of an armed force that's on the offensive. It doesn't take too many people around you getting blown up to make you not want to get out into the open.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STARR: But air strikes alone, of course, have never really defeated an enemy on the battlefield, even ground forces these days, highly problematic.
What General Dempsey continues to point out is political progress will be needed inside both Iraq and Syria...
BLITZER: I know they don't like to talk about hypotheticals, but you and I well know that officials at the Pentagon, a wide range of officials, they're going through all sorts of contingency planning right now, depending on what the president orders them to do, right? STARR: Oh, absolutely, Wolf, planning, it is no secret, around the Pentagon. Planning is in full motion. They are prepared to offer President Obama any number of a range of options.
But the military option seems to center largely around air strikes.
But first, again, they are going to have to fly drones or reconnaissance flights over Northern Syria. They need to get, for the first time, an up-close look, where are the ISIS positions in Northern Syria, where are the ISIS troops, where are ISIS training camps?
That's what they want to go after. They want to put ISIS on its heels and make ISIS at least believe, for the moment, that they do not have a safe haven and they cannot operate untouched -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Air power might not necessarily completely defeat ISIS, but they could punish ISIS pretty severely, as we've seen in Iraq right now.
All right, Barbara, thanks very much.
Just days after the savage murder of American Jim Foley by ISIS, another American has been released by Islamist rebels in Syria. The journalist and author Peter Theo Curtis was held for almost two years by the al-Nusra Front. That's an al Qaeda offshoot.
Let's get details from our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, who's joining us from London.
What's the very latest, Nick, on this front?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know from the family that they say they thank the U.S. and Qatari governments for assisting in negotiations to secure the release of their son. They also thank private individuals, say they don't think any money was paid, but they don't know all the details.
But it's not only the family that are overjoyed to see the release, it's also a man called Matt Schrier, who was, for a number of months, Peter Theo Curtis' cell mate. A very complex relationship they had, but part of it involved an escape plan. And that involved Theo pushing Matt up to a window in the cell to escape.
Matt got through, but he couldn't pull Theo out.
Matt described to me, though, earlier, exactly what it was they went through together in that cell.
MATTHEW SCHRIER, PHOTOJOURNALIST: They kept like competing to break me. Like, the low level guys kept trying to do it. They all wanted to be the one to make me say I'm a CIA agent.
WALSH (voice-over): Eventually, he broke.
SCHRIER: Say you're a CIA agent or I will hit you very hard.
And then I sat there. And I was just like, they're just going to torture me until I say it. You're being tortured by a maniac. You're going to say what they want you to say sooner or later. So I just chose sooner rather than later, because it was a lot less painful.
WALSH: Locked up together in six different prisons, Matt says he and the other American didn't get along, but had to to plan their escape. One cell had a window up high, with a flimsy wire grill which they could fit through. But if caught, they could be killed. Matt says the other American, who we haven't been able to speak to, was hard to convince.
SCHRIER: She's like you're endangering my life. I was like, I'm trying to save your life.
WALSH: Eventually, he was persuaded. They needed each other to push up to the window and squeeze through.
SCHRIER: The third day, we went. I took apart the screen, pushed the sand bags aside and then I got stuck around my waist. So I had to reach in. I unbuckled my pants. As soon as I unbuckled my pants, I shot right out.
WALSH: But it wasn't as easy for the other American, who we're not naming for his safety.
SCHRIER: He wasn't fitting. And I was just like take off your shirt. Get in there. I was like, get in there. And I'm pulling him and I'm pulling him as hard as I could. You know, I couldn't run away and leave him there, you know what I mean?
We were both Americans. We were in this together. We weren't making any headway and we were making too much noise and the windows were open and the lights were above me and the sun was coming up.
WALSH (on camera): And you must have known then you had to leave him?
SCHRIER: Yes. Yes, it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. And I didn't just leave him, I said -- I was like -- I was like you're not fitting.
WALSH: What's his face look like to you when he was talking?
SCHRIER: He was scared. I was like, I've got to go.
He only said once, he's like, come back. And I was like I can't come back. I was like, I'll get help. I'll get help. And he was just like, he said, all right, go.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
WALSH: Now, Matt really wracked by guilt over that difficult decision. When I spoke to him yesterday and we talked about Peter Theo Curtis' release, he was in tears and he put out a statement, he e-mailed it to me, saying, look, you know, this is the happiest day of my life, finally having closure from that complicated episode in his life, the toughest he's been through.
We understand Peter Theo Curtis obviously passed across to U.S. officials, across the Israeli-Syrian border, an odd choice for that hand over. He may be headed back to the U.S. now, could still be getting checkups inside of Israel.
But for Matt and for Peter's family, and for Peter himself, finally a piece of good news about kidnaps in Syria -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. It's a fascinating development. The Qataris clearly, as you know, Nick, they played a significant role in getting Peter Theo Curtis released. And then he was released, as you point out, over the Golan Heights, from Syria through the Golan Heights into the Israel. We were told he was someplace in Tel Aviv. We don't know where he is, but I assume he's getting medical attention before he flies back to the United States.
Is that your understanding?
WALSH: That's most likely what is occurring. I think they want to keep his whereabouts, obviously, reasonably discreet, because of the state of mind you imagine he would be in.
But you mentioned the choice of handover, so strange. Kidnapped in Northern Syria two years ago, held for a long time in Aleppo. And then this incredibly bizarre journey around regime-held Damascus, through some volatile areas, Hezbollah, radical rebels in the path, to be handed over to Israel.
A very interesting development -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. There must be more to this story than we know. And let's see if we can find out.
Nick Paton Walsh, thanks very much.
Did the United States have a role in the Al-Nusra group's release of this American hostage? Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's the Pentagon press secretary.
What's the answer? Did the U.S. have a role in the release of this American?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, not really -- I don't really have any information specifically on his release, Wolf. As you know, though, as a matter of policy, we don't pay ransom for hostages that were taken captive by terrorists.
BLITZER: And did you discourage the Qataris from paying ransom to release this American?
KIRBY: Well, again, I'm really not at liberty to go into the details here regarding Mr. Curtis' release. I mean we're obviously happy he's back with his family.
But, again, our policy hasn't changed. BLITZER: And can you tell us anything, this bizarre transfer from Syria through the Golan Heights to the United Nations and then into Israel?
We believe he was someplace in Tel Aviv. He may have been gone by now, but someplace in Tel Aviv, at the U.S. Embassy maybe?
KIRBY: I don't know. Honestly, I don't, Wolf. I'm not sure about his specific whereabouts right now.
BLITZER: Why was he released, do you believe, and Foley, the other American, was executed in that brutal fashion by ISIS?
Al-Nusra is a terrorist organization...
BLITZER: -- deemed a terrorist organization by the United States government. ISIS is a terrorist organization, correct, deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. government?
Why do you think one American was executed, another American was freed?
KIRBY: That's a difficult question to answer. And the only ones that know the answer to that are the folks in each of those terrorist groups.
I mean, look, it doesn't -- I can't explain why they did one or the other. But these are both very dangerous groups. They are terrorist organizations, certainly inimical to our interests not only in the region, but around the world.
And, obviously, they continue to want to get American captives.
BLITZER: You saw -- I don't know if you saw, but I assume you saw the story in "The Sunday Times" suggesting that the White House, the president of the United States, dawdled, if you will...
BLITZER: -- for 30 days, didn't organize that -- that search operation, that rescue operation for Foley. And by the time it was approved, it was too late, it failed. If they had done it 30 days earlier, as originally recommended, according to this one reporter, it might have worked.
Is there any truth to that?
KIRBY: I've seen nothing at all to indicate that, Wolf, at all. In fact, the final decision, without getting into too many details, the final decision to launch it was -- and could only have been made just prior to it. But the team -- the teams that -- that participated in it, there was a lot of planning that went into that, weeks of planning that went into that. And they had been authorized to begin that planning in effort. I'd also that say sometimes you have to worry about the weather and the climate. And sometimes the decision to make -- to launch operations like this really do depend on the weather conditions at the time.
So what I can tell you is the -- the time between the order to go and the time that they actually conducted the mission was very, very short.
But there was plenty of planning and prep before that moment.
BLITZER: As there should be.
BLITZER: A decision like that, just like the killing of bin Laden, that's a decision the commander-in-chief makes?
BLITZER: All right.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by.
There's a lot more we have to discuss.
Rear Admiral Kirby is going to be with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, is the U.S. about to expand its air campaign against ISIS into Syria?
Much more with the Pentagon press secretary coming up.
And a cry for justice -- family, friends, politicians and celebrities remember the slain teenager, Michael Brown. But many are also looking to the future. We're going live to Ferguson.
BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story. A week after announcing the murder of an American hostage, ISIS is celebrating the capture of a key Syrian military base expanding its hold on a vast stretch of territory.
The Obama administration is now weighing -- weighing the possibility of expanding its air strikes from Iraq into Syria, as well.
We're back with Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
Where does that stand right now? The air strikes so far are pretty successful against ISIS targets in northern Iraq. Are they about to expand against ISIS targets in Syria?
KIRBY: Well, we Won't get ahead of operations, obviously, that haven't been conducted, Wolf. But what I'll tell you is, you're right. We have had some success on a tactical level against ISIL targets in Iraq. And they are principally done to either, for humanitarian purposes, or to help protect U.S. personnel facilities and to enable the Iraqi security forces to go after these guys.
We understand that this is a regional issue and that they, ISIL, enjoys free reign across what is really not even -- of course, they do.
BLITZER: That's really their headquarters.
KIRBY: That's right. And we know they resource themselves from there, they train there. They equip there. We know we've got to take a regional approach. But there's been no decisions to expand the level or the intensity of air strikes against ISIL right now.
BLITZER: But it's fair to say it's being considered. There's contingency planning underway at the Pentagon.
KIRBY: We are a planning organization, Wolf. We plan for all manner of contingencies and operations. I know that the military tool here is one that is continually being evaluated for utility across the region.
But I think, you know, Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey both said last week that the military solution is not going to be enough. In order to get at a threat like ISIL, you've got to -- it's got to be diplomatic. It's got to be economic. It's got to be political.
What the real answer here long-term is stable governance in Syria and in Iraq to address the needs of people so that they don't feel like they have to fall victim to these terrorists.
BLITZER: Now let's say the president decides to go ahead and launch some air strikes in Syria. Before you do that, you really need some reconnaissance, some reconnaissance flights to find out where the targets are, to get the precise information. Have you authorized reconnaissance flights at least as of now?
KIRBY: We don't talk about reconnaissance and intelligence matters. But in general, when you are thinking about conducting operations like that, you certainly want to get as much of a view on the ground as you can. You want as much situational awareness as you can. Again, I won't speculate.
BLITZER: But just as a practical matter, you can get a lot of information from satellite reconnaissance, but in a situation like this, you get a lot better reconnaissance from planes or drones flying overhead.
KIRBY: Satellites can provide you good visibility, but it's -- closer you always want closer eyes on target if you can get it.
BLITZER: How much coordination would you need, if any, with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad if you're going to launch air strikes in Syrian territory? KIRBY: Well, yes, not getting into hypothetical operations, there's
no intention to -- to coordinate with Syrian authorities.
BLITZER: Well, they have a good anti-aircraft missile system. They've got a lot of sophisticated planes, anti-aircraft missiles. U.S. warplanes going into Syria, they could face some problems if you don't coordinate with the regime.
KIRBY: Well, again, there's no plans right now to -- to have in-depth discussions with the Assad regime on what we may or may not do inside Syria. What I can tell you is that the Assad regime, what they can do is to stop the degradations on their people and step down and remove the...
BLITZER: They're not doing that. For three years, the slaughter has gone on and on. They're not about to step down voluntarily. They need to happen, but it's not happening. In Iraq, at least you have some allies. What's left of the Iraqi military, they're helping a little bit.
KIRBY: That's right.
BLITZER: Certainly, the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters, they're helping the U.S. on the ground.
KIRBY: That's right.
BLITZER: But the free Syrian army, can they merely -- these are the opponents of Bashar al Assad's regime, the opponents of ISIS. Can they really do the job that the Iraqi allies, in effect, are doing?
KIRBY: They're not as well-equipped or trained as the Iraqi armed forces or Peshmerga right now. But one of the things that Secretary Hagel is looking at is a train-and-equip program. We've asked for money for fiscal year '15 to have a train-and-equip program for a moderate Syrian opposition. And we continue to want to develop that capability.
BLITZER: Has anything gone to them yet, any sophisticated military equipment or training for all practical purposes?
KIRBY: We are supporting a moderate Syrian opposition. We don't detail all the ways in which that support is happening
BLITZER: But they're badly outnumbered by ISIS and the Syrian military of Bashar al-Assad.
KIRBY: There's a lot of challenges inside Syria, sir.
BLITZER: So the president has got to make some tough decisions. John Kirby, the rear admiral, the Pentagon press secretary, thanks very much for coming in.
KIRBY: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Don't leave yet. The ISIS killer of American James Foley makes a stunning appearance in a new political ad. The mass jihadist appears briefly for only a couple of seconds in a campaign ad by New Mexico's Republican nominee for Senate, Allen Weh, the underdog challenger to first-term Democratic Senator Tom Udall. The ad seeks to connect the murder to what it portrays as a rudderless foreign policy, mismanaged by Democrats.
Coming up, an emotional day at Michael Brown's funeral. There are new cries for action. We're going live to Ferguson for the very latest.
And a powerful earthquake hits northern California. We have new warnings of a strong and possibly damaging aftershock. Stay with us. You you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Emotions are high in Ferguson, Missouri, today as the community mourns the life of Michael Brown at his funeral. Thousands of people turned out to remember the unarmed teen shot and killed by police, including politicians, celebrities, even a handful of White House aides. Many took the occasion to issue a call for social change with sharp words for police and looters alike.
CNN's Don Lemon was at the funeral. He's joining us now live.
So Don, how did it go?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It went pretty well, Wolf. You know, it has been two weeks for -- of violence, two weeks of protests, two weeks of calls for justice, but two weeks since Michael Brown lost his life. And finally today, his family laid him to rest.
LEMON (voice-over): Thousands gathered to remember the life of 18- year-old Michael Brown. Inside the friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, celebrities, civil rights leaders and family members mourned together.
REV. CHARLES EWING, MICHAEL BROWN'S UNCLE: Michael Brown's blood is crying from the ground. Crying for vengeance. Crying for justice. There is a cry being made from the ground. Not just from Michael Brown but for the Trayvon Martins, for those children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, for the Columbine massacre, for the black on black crime.
LEMON: After weeks of violent protests, mourners urged to work for justice.
BERNARD EWING, MICHAEL BROWN'S UNCLE: I was going to read a poem and I'm not going to do it. Because I would be lying if I said I'm still have anger in my heart. Got to vote. Keep our dollars in our pockets. We've got to look out for each other.
LEMON: For the mother, Lesley McSpadden, joined by the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Sean Bell, all three now members of an exclusive group of mothers mourning the loss of their sons, who in their deaths became household names, sparked debate and changed the national discourse.
CAL BROWN, STEPMOTHER OF MICHAEL BROWN: His death is not in vain. And I just want to say to Mike-Mike that I love you and I wish I could hold you and kiss you.
LEMON: Speaking from his own experience of losing his son, one clergyman appealed to audiences beyond the church for their support in the investigation, for which all hope will lead to justice.
BISHOP EDWIN BASS, CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST: Please don't exacerbate the almost unbearable pain of this family. It is imperative that we resist the temptation to retaliate by looting and rioting in our own neighborhoods. The destruction of property in Ferguson only gives bad pictures to the world.
LEMON: About 5,000 people showed up, if not more. Those who couldn't get in just stood outside, so that they could be a part of it.
But the interesting thing is, is that they may have laid their son to rest today, but this is really the beginning for the Brown family. When all the cameras and attention goes away, they're going to have to deal with not having their son, their loved one anymore.
BLITZER: And, Don, it's been quiet, I take it, throughout today so far. What do we anticipate as we get into the evening?
LEMON: That's a very good question everyone is asking. To be quite honest with you, we don't know. We're going to be here to see. But I think it's going to be peaceful.
The family -- you heard the father yesterday calling for a quiet protest, a peaceful protest, a day of quiet, so let's hope that happens as we watch it over the next couple of hours, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the fear that outside agitators, as some people are calling them, could come in and disrupt the situation, how significant of a fear is that?
LEMON: It's a big fear. And it is significant because that happened in large part over the protests over the last couple weeks.
If you look at the records of those who were arrested, many of them were not from this part of town. Some of them were from out of state and they were part of so-called anarchist groups. That's a significant fear and one that, you know, as we are here in the command center, those who are stationed here will be watching tonight.
BLITZER: All right, Don Lemon reporting for us, doing an excellent job.
By the way, you can catch a lot more of Don's reporting from Ferguson later tonight. He will have a full report at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, "CNN TONIGHT," later today. Check that out 10:00 p.m. Eastern.
Let's get some more from Ferguson. Joining us is John Gaskin of the NAACP.
John, thanks very much for joining us.
You were there at the funeral. There was a call for change. Specifically, what change do you hope to see?
JOHN GASKIN, NAACP BOARD MEMBER: Well, we certainly hope to see change in the way that our police departments function. We certainly want to see change in how police officers are interacting with citizens within neighborhoods, because what we have began to see is simply unacceptable.
But the message that we have been trying to send really across the country is, there's a Ferguson near everybody. There are Michael Browns all over the country. They just haven't been publicized. And so we have got to take a stand, which people have began to do. And there's got to be a change.
And I believe there's got to be a healing process. And today's funeral was certainly the start of that.
BLITZER: But, politically speaking, how possible is it to see this kind of change develop?
GASKIN: I think it's very much still possible. The NAACP along with other coalitions here on the ground have launched massive voter registration, which we continue, which we want to make sure that stays persistent, all the way up until the November midterm election.
And that's going to be key. You have got a lot of very angry people here that are beginning to really be educated on how people like Bob McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney here in the area, get in office and how they continue to stay in office.
With that kind of rage and that kind of anger, you have got people that want to see some action and want to do something tangible about that. You probably heard some of the footage from the funeral. Many leaders called upon people to get out and vote and get involved in their community.
I believe tomorrow night if I'm correct is the Ferguson City Council meeting. It's my understanding that quite a few people from the community will be at that meeting demanding some answers from the day- to-day functions of the city.
BLITZER: So they're going to get more politically active.
You have seen the protests. They have certainly shined some light on poor local police practices. There was that Saint Ann police lieutenant who was threatening protesters. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My hands are up, bro. My hands are up.
(CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hands up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As you know, he was suspended. Another police officer we first saw when he was pushing on Don Lemon on the street, this video surfaced of a 2012 speech he gave making anti-Obama, misogynistic, homophobic comments. He also said this about killing. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SGT. MAJ. DAN PAGE, SAINT LOUIS COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT: I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, but I'm also a killer. I have killed a lot.
And if I need to, I will kill a whole bunch more. If you don't want to be killed, don't show up in front of me. It's that simple. I have no qualms with it. God did not raise me to be a coward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Two different police officers in those two different clips. The second police officer, as you know, was put on administrative leave by the Saint Louis County police.
How do you eliminate from your perspective, John, the cultural problem within the ranks of local police?
GASKIN: Well, there's got to be some accountability in-house.
Our -- my real big concern is that officer that was using that kind of language that has those kinds you have personal views, my question is, where are his colleagues that are allowing him to continue to serve on the police force? They're not saying -- I haven't seen anyone from within come forward and that's a major concern.
BLITZER: John Gaskin from the NAACP, we will continue our conversations in the days ahead. Thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, we're going to have much more coverage of the events in Ferguson, including new information about the investigation into Michael Brown's shooting.
Also, after a devastating earthquake causes fires and destruction in California, we have a new warning about aftershocks.
BLITZER: We're monitoring the situation in Ferguson, but, first, there's an urgent story I want to update you on, California reeling after a strong earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area.
And there are fears of more damage as aftershocks continue to rattle the area and the so-called big one looms in the distance.
CNN's Kyung Lah is on the scene for us in Napa with the very latest.
Kyung, we see some damage behind you. What's it like over there?
KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you drive around any part of this historic downtown, you see buildings, especially some of the older brick ones, in a state like this.
This is one of the worst ones in town that we have seen. And you can see all these bricks that are lying on the ground, on the sidewalk, covering it. This is an area where the owner tells us normally there already picnic tables, there are people outside enjoying wine.
And look straight up. That's where they came from. That's the force of the earthquake, a 6.1 earthquake. It was able to simply shatter those bricks and they came falling below. We actually spoke with someone who was in the building directly adjacent to us. He explains what it was like to be inside and what it was like as he watched these bricks falling as he escaped the building. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAH: So these buildings were all moving?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moving at least like definitely seven, eight feet from the top.
When you look at it from the top, it's seven, eight feet. I saw the asphalt. It was moving like waves. Something was like underground just waving, you know? And it was just like five to eight seconds more and I was out here. And I stopped. I was waiting for my friend.
After, there was a big roar sound, some kind of sound like a storm sound, and maybe it was like another five seconds, and right after, it stopped completely. I thought everything's coming down. And I didn't know what to do. And, suddenly, all the dust cloud came up. Lights turned off. I got dust all over my head and my eyes and was itching.
And we noticed that part of the walls was falling already, and a portion of the roof as well. I was so thankful to God that I'm alive because, for a moment, I said, I told myself, I told I'm not going to be able to make it. So I was so lucky. I was so lucky.
Just be careful and don't cut your feet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAH: You can see that this room has -- that room had a number of broken wine bottles. People were so terrified. You could hear it in that man's voice. They were so terrified that some people did not want to sleep indoors.
Now, that's not the general population here, but that is something that we have heard from people. A lot of life has come back to normal here. Many of the businesses are open. Almost everyone has power. All the water is back on. But, Wolf, the cleanup will be extensive. This building, as well as
48 others, have been what's called red-tagged, which means that they are not safe to enter -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And they're still afraid of aftershocks as well. They could continue for several days, if not a few weeks.
Kyung Lah, thanks very much.
So, the damages from the earthquake are expected to top $1 billion, with one official warning that local resources are already exhausted.
Let's get some more now.
Joining us is the chair of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, Mark Luce.
Mark, thanks very much for joining us.
How many homes in your are still being inspected right now? Is it safe if you're still having aftershocks?
MARK LUCE, CHAIR, NAPA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: Well, the city is moving from the center of town outward. So I would say probably still in the hundreds that are being inspected. But I think the major damage has been looked at already.
BLITZER: And what are the experts telling you about aftershocks?
LUCE: The good news is that the highest probability was in the first 24 hours, and so that's passed. So we're relatively hopeful that we have seen the worst of it so far for this quake and this area.
BLITZER: Let's hope.
How severe have the injuries been?
LUCE: We've been really fortunate. Just like your previous story. There are a lot of stories of people who had near misses who count themselves very thankful that they weren't hurt more. But we've had no fatalities related to the earthquake. About 190 or so lacerations and the like. Only I think about 15 or so were actually admitted to the hospital. So we count ourselves very fortunate.
BLITZER: Very fortunate indeed. How much of an economic hit has been going on now the past 24, 48 hours in Napa per se, in the Napa area, specifically the wineries? I'm sure that they were impacted and many of them are now closed.
LUCE: Probably most all of them are open, actually. Many of them have been impacted. We're doing that assessment now. We don't have numbers for people. I've seen a lot in the news. I don't know where they got them. We're still talking to people gathering what the impacts have been. But I'd like to tell everyone that the wineries for the most part are open. There's a handful of them that had been more severely impacted but most are open for business. BLITZER: What about the gas lines? How much of a problem do you have
as far as gas lines? Because those can cause fires.
LUCE: Our local utility PG&E has just been remarkable in getting out here and servicing the area, getting power back on, checking out homes for gas leaks. So we're all very aware of what the hazards are and I think we're progressing in a safe and efficient manner. So we should be up -- most people have power and gas already.
BLITZER: Well, let's hope for the best.
Mark Luce, the Napa County supervisor. Thanks very much, Mark, for joining us.
LUCE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, more of what's going on in Ferguson on this important day. We have new information about the investigation and I'll speak with a lawyer for the family of Michael Brown.
And Human Rights Watch calls on Hamas to stop the executions of Palestinians accused of helping Israel as the rocket fire, the air strikes, they continue, we're going live to Gaza.
BLITZER: We'll have much more from Ferguson, Missouri, coming up right at the top of the hour. But first there's breaking news out of the Middle East. We're getting word of a big explosion. Another one in Gaza.
Let's go to CNN's Ian Lee. He's in Gaza City for us.
Ian, I understand just moments ago you heard a huge explosion. Tell us what you heard and saw.
IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. It wasn't just one explosion. It was several explosions. Take a look at this video.
That was a 15-story building that was hit. We're told that over 100 apartments are in that building. Numerous families. They did have two warning strikes by the Israelis beforehand people evacuated that building. That was followed up by two missile strikes.
People then went back into the building looking for anyone who was injured and to get some of their possessions. A third strike hit and we're getting reports that there have been numerous casualties, Wolf, as well as many people are going to find themselves homeless again tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This is, what, the second high-rise building that the Israelis blew up effectively within air strike in the last couple of days? The other one, the other day the Israelis said that they had evidence that there was some sort of Hamas command center, command and control center inside. Have the Israelis said anything about this new building?
LEE: No, they haven't. And we are waiting for a response from the Israelis. We usually get one fairly quickly.
You're right. Israelis said that a building just a couple of days ago that was completely leveled, a 14-story building that was holding a Hamas command and control center. Hamas denies that, saying it was just another residential building. But the result was some pretty dramatic video, a building being collapsed and more people being put out going to these U.N. shelters.
BLITZER: We know Hamas has been getting some severe criticism from human rights groups for the summary execution of Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel. What's the latest on that?
LEE: Well, Human Rights Watch has released the statement harshly condemning Hamas for executing these collaborators that Hamas says is helping Israel. Twenty-five people, according to Human Rights Watch, have been killed so far. They're expecting that number to grow as this war continues. They're saying that these people aren't given fair due process. They're condemning the whole -- that.
Well, you might wonder why these people are helping the Israelis. These are Palestinians betraying their countrymen allegedly. Well, there's the obvious money. But talking to Hamas, they say a lot of these people are blackmailed into helping Israel and that's what basically the majority of them, that's what happens. Now Hamas has said that any of these people who want to turn themselves in, they're more than welcome, that they will show them mercy. But as this war continues, it's likely that these killings will also continue.
Human Rights Watch also came out and condemned Israel as well, saying that -- condemning them for not allowing them or Amnesty International into the Gaza Strip to monitor the situation here. They say that they should be allowed in, especially as these organizations are saying that war crimes are being committed. They want to investigate.
But, yes, as this war continues, they there are likely going to be more of these killings. We have been to some of these sites, we've seen these areas, and this has sent a strong message to the people of Gaza -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ian Lee in Gaza City for us. Be careful over there, Ian, thanks very much.
Coming up, we're going back to Ferguson, Missouri, as the community mourns at Michael Brown's funeral.
And British officials say they're close to identifying this man. We're going to take you inside the investigation to find James Foley's killer.