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Tropical Storm Florence Pushes through the Carolinas; Hong Kong Issues Highest Level Warning for Typhoon Mangkhut; Manafort Pleads Guilty, Will Cooperate with Probe; London Mayor Calls for New Brexit Vote; The Red Sea's Resilient Coral. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired September 16, 2018 - 04:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Deadly floodwaters are rising and some three-quarters of a million customers are without power as tropical storm Florence slowly turns along the U.S. East Coast.

And Typhoon Mangkhut batters Hong Kong with heavy rains and wind gusts. We'll take you there live for the latest.

Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. Thank you so much for being with us. And this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: Two major storms continue to taunt two parts of the world. On the U.S. East Coast, massive flooding from tropical storm Florence and officials warn that it is just starting.

And on the other side of the globe, Typhoon Mangkhut is bringing heavy rain and wind to Hong Kong after pummeling the Philippines on Saturday.

We begin this hour with the remnants of Hurricane Florence, which is now a tropical storm and is expected to weaken further as it gradually moves west. That's the good news. But the danger is far from over. At least 13 have now died due to this storm. More than 700,000 are without electricity.

And a long section of Interstate 95, the primary north-south highway on the U.S. East Coast from Florida to Maine, has been shut down to flooding and accidents. That's the portion there where the storm was hitting.

Flooding and high water rescues are going to be the focus in the coming weeks. Florence is dumping enormous amounts of rain as it moves inland and all that water is pushing rivers to record levels.

It is just about 4:00 in the morning in Wilmington, North Carolina. Volunteers have been called again to help rescue people trapped by those floodwaters. This video shows the United Cajun Navy which just started another mission to potentially save lives.

Todd Terrell is the president of that group, which has already rescued more than 100 people. He joins us on the phone from Wilmington.

Todd, we're sure you're quite weary and tired from all the hard work you're doing. We appreciate you being up early to speak to us.

What can you tell us about the major threats that remain?

TODD TERRELL, UNITED CAJUN NAVY: Right now, we're rescuing people in an area that hasn't flooded yet. They're just starting to flood. So it's basically the runoff of the water that happened in the last few days as well as the rain occurring right now.

Right now the shelter we have for our volunteers is in Wilmington. We're having to bring people who are flooded into our shelters because there's nowhere else to bring them. We're taking care of them in our own shelter.

ALLEN: That shows the extent of this problem. I was about to ask you how many people could be in peril or be threatened who haven't seen floodwaters yet?

TERRELL: Well, we have 147 people in our shelter right now. And it's really not a shelter. It's basically just a staging area for our volunteers. So we have 147 in here right now. It's 4:00 in the morning. We have our guys still working very hard. The weather is very, very bad right now.

And we're looking at bringing another 300 to 500 people before daylight in here. I'm not sure what we're going to do with them.

ALLEN: Oh, my goodness, that's quite an issue. We hope you get the support from anyone in that area. I cannot imagine.

How are they finding them?

Where are they finding them?

TERRELL: We're finding them in subdivisions and some areas that have never flooded before. These are people that have been here 30, 40, 50 years and they say the water, they've never even had a possible threat of water coming in their house. So I think it's unprecedented rainfall. It's basically people that have never flooded before.

ALLEN: What's the specific region where you're finding this?

TERRELL: A couple of subdivisions due south of the city of Wilmington itself. The problem is it's dark and we're not sure how widespread this is. I do know that up until about 3 o'clock this evening, there was no threat of any flooding around anywhere around here.

We have been told for about three days that there was going to be flooding in this area but just not this bad.

ALLEN: How are they going about their work in the dark? How do you find people?

Are they yelling out for people?

Is there any communication with any of these people?

TERRELL: Well, first of all, you know, being from Louisiana, we have a lot of boats, airboats and stuff that have night vision. We have airboats when we go fishing and stuff so we have the capability to --


TERRELL: -- rescue these people at night because we have the equipment.

Secondly, a lot of it is we're getting called out over social media. We have an app called Patriot Emergency Response Team, PERT. People can actually go in through it and they can basically put out a 9-1-1 request for rescue. And that's what we've been getting them from.

But right now it's basically just word of mouth. We're just going door-to-door.

ALLEN: Well, your group is really amazing. Cajuns, for our international viewers, are from Louisiana. Have worked Hurricane Katrina, other disasters.

Todd, how would you compare what you're seeing now to some of the other disasters that you worked?

TERRELL: Well, this year is kind of a strange disaster because we knew there was going to be some areas that would flood. We came in before the storm had come in and kind of saw some areas that we thought were going to flood.

What's going on now is, we never thought there would be this much water coming this fast. This is about the strongest current I've ever seen in my life. We've seen water that was a foot deep that you couldn't walk across. So it's very, very swift water. For us it's a challenge, it's just a torrential current we're dealing with.

ALLEN: We wish you and your teams the very best.

As Todd was saying, they brought in dozens and dozens of people into their own staging ground and there could be hundreds more that they rescue without figuring out where you'll take those people.

You're doing such wonderful service for that region. We can't thank you enough. Thank you for talking with us, Todd.

TERRELL: Yes, ma'am, thank you for having us.

ALLEN: All the best today.

The town of Lumberton, North Carolina, is especially vulnerable to flooding. And Florence presents a huge challenge. Officials there say first responders have been rescuing people non-stop from the rising floodwaters, as Todd's group is apparently doing. We get more on this situation from CNN's Polo Sandoval.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we've been seeing today so far as the situation at the local river continues to worsen, is something disturbing similar to what I witnessed two years ago when Hurricane Matthew made for an extremely dangerous situation in this same area, where many people lost their homes.

We've been witnessing the Lumber River continue to rise, currently flowing at 17.5 feet. And it's still going up, expected to crest possibly tomorrow, still has at least 7 more feet to go, according to the current forecast. My colleagues and I spent today driving through the streets of Lumberton today.

And we reached a point when we just couldn't press forward anymore because of the danger. I can tell you, having covered these kinds of situations before, it's been a while. At least I can't remember the last time I saw water, floodwaters rise so quickly in neighborhoods and in businesses.

Some of the footage we're showing you is some of the places that we shot with our vehicle with some of the equipment we have in this especially fitted vehicle, to be able to drive to these conditions.

But eventually it did get simply too dangerous, so we turned back. And that is what authorities are recommending people do, is stay indoors. There's something that authorities have been noticing lately and that is people who have assumed that the worst is over, because there's no more high winds, so many of them deciding to leave shelters.

Authorities saying it is not a good idea. There are several rescues that have already happened here in Lumberton. Hundreds, in fact, according to authorities, and they will continue into the night as the Lumber River continues to rise.


ALLEN: Two reports right there about unprecedented flooding in this area.



ALLEN: It also could be one for the record books on the other side of world. Typhoon Mangkhut is bearing down on Hong Kong and has its eyes set on Southern China. We'll take you live to Hong Kong -- next.




ALLEN: Welcome back.

Typhoon Mangkhut has set its destructive path on mainland China. It is just off the coast of Hong Kong and is expected to make landfall in Southern China late Sunday night.

More than 100,000 people have been evacuated in Guangzhou City. Hong Kong is feeling the wrath as the eye of the storm passes by its southern edge. Fierce winds and heavy rains have torn off roofs --


ALLEN: -- snapped trees and downed power lines. It has weakened slightly since slamming into the Philippines on Saturday as a supertyphoon. Rescue efforts have ramped up there as authorities try to reach some of the hardest hit areas. Our Kristie Lu Stout is live for us outside in Hong Kong.

Hello, Kristie, you've been outside, being blown around for a few hours. Thank you and to you and your crew for hanging with us.

What are the conditions like now?

Any worse, any better?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: Typhoon Mangkhut is sweeping past Hong Kong. We're continuing to monitor and feeling the conditions out here. A little rain is falling, not as hard as it was before. There have been intermittent gale force winds or gusts of winds that have been clocked at around 100 kilometers an hour.

The Hong Kong Observatory reported some gusts as strong as 230 to 240 kilometers per hour which brings about the threat of storm surge. There's peak storm surge at Victoria Harbor and in the outlying and low lying areas of Hong Kong, including the fishing villages of Taiyo, a lot of concern about that community as well as in other communities in the south of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is no stranger to typhoons. We experience this every season. But Mangkhut is different. At its peak it was the most powerful storm of the year. We've got a big wind gust coming through now. The most powerful storm of the year. It's believed to be one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Hong Kong since they started recording typhoon activity in the territory in 1946.

But authorities here have been prepared, holding emergency meetings since Wednesday early this week. This road is normally a very busy highway in Hong Kong, very few cars here. But police cars, ambulances coming through. First responders answering to cries of help that are out there.

There has been some debris flying around. We're watching closely the cranes overhead. It is a sky-high city, a lot of skyscrapers, a lot of dangerous scaffolding. We're watching out for that debris.

And reports of flooding in certain areas of Hong Kong as well as partial building collapses. So the threat is still there. Especially this is a rainmaker. There's going to be more rain. That means the additional dangers of rising floodwaters and landslides, that is also going to be posing a risk to residents in Hong Kong and throughout the region.

ALLEN: Kristie, I want to ask you the quick question. This has been called the strongest storm on the Earth, the biggest storm this year. You've seen a lot of storms yourself living in Hong Kong for a good while.

How do you measure this to others in the past?

Can you?

STOUT: Just looking at the wind speeds that have been clocked with this storm and what I felt earlier in this day, this is definitely a big storm that should be taken seriously. It also should be noted that Hong Kong is always well prepared for storms like this. There are always alerts sent out, broadcast through television, through social media, through radio.

Residents and corporations, they (INAUDIBLE) now. A lot of concern about other areas including Macau where there were fatalities from a typhoon last year. We have to investigate to find out what happened in that special administrative region as well.

ALLEN: Take care, Kristie, we appreciate it. Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

The Philippine government is trying to determine how many people died from this storm. While they're doing that, aid agencies are scrambling to reach victims and assess the amount of damage the typhoon caused.

James Reynolds is a storm chaser. He's in the Philippines right now following the storm. James is joining us now on the line.

Thank you, James, for that. We know you're busy trying to assess the damage.

What have you seen as far as damage driving around the impacted areas?

JAMES REYNOLDS, STORM CHASER: I drove from the extreme northeastern coastline of the Philippines down to the main regional hub, a journey of about 100 kilometers. Along the entire way, I saw heavily damaged buildings, power poles snapped in half, power lines crossing the roads and a lot of people just beginning the long and arduous cleanup process.

The Tuguegarao airport appears to have become a regional hub for the military and search and rescue operations as well as other aid and (INAUDIBLE) for the Philippine government.

ALLEN: Well, you mentioned search and rescue; just 24 hours ago they were still having difficulty knowing where to go.

So is the relief work working, has enough help arrived?

REYNOLDS: Today is really the first day that people have been able to get out and start not only the cleanup process but the assistance and the help.


REYNOLDS: Even though the storm was moving away from the Philippines yesterday, the tail end of it, (INAUDIBLE) the sheer size of the typhoon, it's still hammering large portions of the Philippines. So right now it's (INAUDIBLE).

ALLEN: James, one more question for you. I want to ask you, is communication still difficult there?

REYNOLDS: Yes, it is. I only managed to get mobile phone reception once I got to Tuguegarao. But all the outlying areas, it's just a communications blackout right now. It goes without saying that the electricity is out as well. So that's certainly hampering people getting in touch with loved ones and (INAUDIBLE) the situation.

ALLEN: James Reynolds, we appreciate you bringing us the latest that you're experiencing. Appreciate it a lot. Thank you.

CARE Philippines is helping assess the damage in the Philippines. Its country director, David Gazashvili, joins me now from Manila.

David, thank you so much for taking the time. We know you're quite busy.

Has your organization been able to gauge the scope of the disaster?

DAVID GAZASHVILI, CARE PHILIPPINES: Yes, good morning, everybody. Good afternoon. CARE has deployed assessment teams and some relief items on the ground prior to the typhoon.

According to the most reports we see from our teams as well as other sources, the typhoon has caused landslides and damage to the buildings and homes as well as intermittent loss of power.

We also understand there is significant damage to crops of rice and corn. Our team reports that 90 percent of unharvested rice and corn has been lost so far. According to the National Disaster Risk Management Council in the Philippines, over 250,000 people are affected by the storm.

And there are more than 1,400 villages, 323 cities and 30 provinces affected all together. Out of that number, about 100,000 people are staying in evacuation centers for a temporary stay.

ALLEN: So we can understand a wide scope of damage.

What about the people there, David?

Any information on those that are hurt or those who have died from this storm?

We've seen the numbers fluctuate somewhat.

GAZASHVILI: The government confirmed 25 casualties because of the typhoon. Our team -- of course, this information is still being collected. Our team has not been able to reach all of the areas because some areas are still impassable.

Our team has reported that some people died. They reported that somebody was blown away with the shelter altogether. We don't know the exact number yesterday because the information, as I said, is still being collected and not all villages and areas have been assessed so far.

There are still flood watches in place in some areas of the Philippines and also there was flood watches in Manila as well. There was significant rain in Manila and there was flood watch on some rivers so far, passing through Manila. They have been flooded.

ALLEN: What do people who have been impacted right now need?

Are they able to get the help?

GAZASHVILI: Our teams report that the most immediate needs are food, obviously, as well as some clothes, some water. Even though people are in evacuation centers, we understand some evacuation centers were affected as well.

For instance, there was a school our team visited yesterday and the school was flooded as well. Many people, most people probably lost their belongings. Immediately, it's food, water and some clothes.

But in the long run, our experience shows that people will need assistance in rebuilding their houses but, most importantly, rebuilding their livelihoods, because many of them lost their crops and assets.

There was a similar storm in 2016 in this area and, based on the storm, the impact was on the homes and the livelihoods. And CARE and other organizations provided assistance in helping with shelter and the livelihood recovery.

ALLEN: Thank you for what you do. I do remember that storm and its impact. Now it looks like you're looking at the same thing with this one. We appreciate your -- --


ALLEN: -- time and your group's efforts. David Gazashvili with CARE Philippines, thank you so much.

GAZASHVILI: Thank you.

(WEATHER REPORT) ALLEN: Still ahead, the storm that just won't quit. We'll have the latest on Florence still dumping rain and causing a huge mess in the southeastern United States. And we'll have other news from around the world.





ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers in the U.S. And around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen with our top stories at this hour.


ALLEN: And tropical storm Florence is expected to weaken and move out of the Carolinas later Sunday.

This slow motion disaster is far from over. You can see why. Already it has claimed at least 13 lives. There's extensive damage all up and down the coast that will take weeks to clean up and repair.

Utility crews have been working around the clock since Florence made landfall as a category 1 hurricane. Right now more than 1,000 customers -- still -- I don't think that number is correct -- we'll get the correct number. But there are thousands without electricity.

As many residents in the storm zone are discovering, dangerous floodwaters can pop up very quickly with little warning. Emergency evacuation may be their only salvation. CNN's Ed Lavandera has this report from Jacksonville, North Carolina.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're along Highway 258 in a neighborhood just north of Jacksonville, North Carolina. This is an area where, throughout the course of the day, about 30 people had to be rescued from their homes by Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead. All of this because there's a river that runs through the city here or into the city called New River. The water from that river spilling into many neighborhoods.

We've spent the day in this one particular neighborhood where residents told us around 7 o'clock in the morning, they noticed the floodwaters started creeping into the neighborhood. It didn't take long for several dozen homes to be under three to four feet of water.

Obviously on a third night of rainfall here in Jacksonville and along the North Carolina coast, many people huddled in their homes, going to bed once again wondering about what it is they're going to be waking up to. We interviewed several families that say they never expected this

neighborhood to be threatened by floodwaters. It's withstood heavy downpours from tropical storms and major hurricanes in the past. They thought they would be high and dry here.

Nonetheless, we saw several families loading their cars, packing up as many belongings as they could and heading to higher ground here to avoid these floodwaters.

The good news is, here as night fell, it started to recede a little bit. But it is again raining and many people expect that this river won't fully crest for another couple of days. They won't really feel for certain they're out of danger until that happens.

That anxiety and the tension of what exactly the damage this storm is bringing to this part of North Carolina is still sinking in. Many people coming to terms with what it is they're going to be dealing with in the weeks ahead -- Ed Lavandera, CNN, Jacksonville, North Carolina.


ALLEN: U.S. President Donald Trump has been briefed on the situation in the Carolinas. The White House released this photo of the president on the phone getting an update while Vice President Mike Pence looked on. The White House says Mr. Trump is likely to tour some of the affected areas this week.

A trip to the Carolinas would be a welcome distraction for the president.


ALLEN: His former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has already been convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion, has now pleaded guilty to other charges in a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office.

Mr. Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court has also hit an possible snag. An anonymous woman claims Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were in high school. Kavanaugh denies that allegation.

And President Trump continues to insist that 3,000 people did not die in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria one year ago. He tweeted the new death toll was cooked up to make him look bad.

Let's talk about the recent developments with the president with political analyst Peter Matthews, joining us from Los Angeles where he teaches political science at Cypress College.

Peter, we always appreciate you taking the time to be with us. Nice to see you.


ALLEN: Let's get started with midterm elections that could swing Congress in the Democrats' favor. But the president now has approval ratings at the lowest point in the last six months and many inside Washington say this vote will be a referendum on the president.

What are your thoughts on that?

MATTHEWS: I think it's on the right track. The president's popularity rating has a lot to do with whether or not his party can retain seats in the midterm election. He's already going against the headwind. Normally speaking, when a president is in office for two years, his party loses seats.

And on top of that, his popularity is so low, it's in the 30 percent range, approval rating and popularity, it will be a real drag on many Republican candidates running for office.

In fact, next door to my house, my district, is Dana Rohrabacher, who's a Republican, who's been there for decades. His seat is in danger now. He's about 3 points behind the Democratic challenger. That's part of the Democratic blue wave that people are looking for, saving the country from this disaster.

ALLEN: On the other side, the economy is humming along. Remember when James Carville said during the Clinton campaign, it's the economy, stupid. Unemployment is very low and the president's base is extremely loyal.

How do you think that may factor in?

MATTHEWS: Well, the base is loyal but it's not large enough to put them over the top necessarily, although in the midterm elections that could be a possibility. Also the economy that's humming along, it's mostly humming for the top half of the population.

Many of those jobs were brought back and actually they were kept here under the promises of trade wars, are really causing also other jobs to be lost. When he puts tariffs on steel and aluminum, for example, then other jobs in the industry of making mobile homes are lost.

And so thousands of jobs have been gained and lost. It's kind of a wash. And many of the new jobs brought in are low paying jobs. While the economy is humming along for the top part of the country and the stock market is doing well, what about Main Street America?

That has to be looked at very carefully, including Trump's own voters in mainstream America and the rural areas, too.

ALLEN: This past week, Mr. Trump's former campaign manager entering that plea deal with prosecutors in the Russia investigation. His spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said this about that.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated."

How do they know that, though, Peter?

They're brushing it off but how worrisome could Manafort be to President Trump?

MATTHEWS: I think probably the most worrisome of any of these people who've been charges and some of them been convicted. Michael Cohen has become a cooperating in the investigation with Mueller and Mr. Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization started to cooperate now.

And now comes Manafort, and he's the big enchilada. He was the campaign chairman for three months when Trump was turned around from a challenger who didn't have much of a chance into a winning candidate within reach of the presidency.

Without him, Trump would not be the president right now. Manafort knows a lot because he worked for pro-Russian candidates in the Ukraine and he took a lot of money from sources in that part of the world and also he knows people in Russia who are business people and oligarchs, some who apparently, according to Mueller and his team, says there has been communication going on there.

Don't forget Manafort was at the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. and others. So this is a lot of very shady appearances here. We have to wait and see how the evidence turns out in the end.

ALLEN: We also saw his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, facing a new allegation of sexual assault.

How likely is it that this could delay or derail his confirmation?

MATTHEWS: That's may be the nail in the coffin. There are two senators, particularly two women senators, one from Maine and one from Alaska, Murkowski and Senator Collins from Maine.

They're being targeted quite a bit by those who are concerned that Kavanaugh would be retrograde in many ways, not just on labor and the environment but also for women's issues, especially the issue of choice on abortion. The Maine senator is being targeted. There's a whole group raising money for a possible opponent to her re-election bid --


MATTHEWS: -- in 2020 if she votes for Kavanaugh. And they've put it out there. So they're holding her feet to the fire to a vote against Kavanaugh for the fear that he will be the vote that actually end up nullifying Roe v. Wade, which will be very serious for American women especially.

ALLEN: There's much to watch that's going on in D.C. for sure and we appreciate your insight. Peter Matthews, thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

ALLEN: Coming up here, protests in Russia. Why a new round of demonstrations could undermine president Vladimir Putin. We'll tell you what it's about when we come back.




ALLEN: London's mayor is calling for a brand new Brexit vote. Sadiq Khan says the government is failing to make a divorce agreement with the E.U. that would benefit Britons. He said British citizens should be able to have a fresh say.

All this comes, as prime minister Theresa May is facing speculation over her political future. Because of criticism of how she has handled Brexit but Ms. May says that is the wrong thing to focus on.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: But actually, this is where I get a little irritated. This is not -- this debate is not about my future. This debate is about the future of the people of the U.K. and the future of the United Kingdom.

That's what I'm focused on and that's what I think we should all be focused on, is ensuring that we get that good deal for the European Union, which is good for the people in the U.K., wherever they live in the U.K. That's what is important for us and that's what I'm focusing on. It's the future of people in the U.K. that matters.


ALLEN: Despite this, the U.K. Brexit secretary says the government is closing in on solutions to issues with the E.U.

More protests are set for Russia where rallies against pension reform --


ALLEN: -- are expected in St. Petersburg. This after protests across the country last weekend. People are furious at proposals to raise the retirement age. A monitoring group says more than 1,000 people were detained. These images appear to show police grabbing a child and a pensioner.

CNN's Matthew Chance takes a closer look at why people are so upset.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 59, these should have been Evgeny Pankov's last few months of work after a lifetime of back breaking labor in the construction industry.

"I really feel my age," he complains. "My joints hurt, especially in the morning."

But Evgeny's dream of taking it easy has now been shattered. The Russian government's decision to raise pension ages from 60 to 65 for men means his retirement has to be pushed back, particularly galling in a country where average male life expectancy is just 67.

"I'm not just upset, I'm outraged. Now I'll be forced to work even longer, depriving my loved ones, my grandchildren of my attention."

CHANCE: Evgeny is just one of the millions of Russians who have been adversely affected by these controversial pension reforms. In fact, the issue has united young and old in opposition across the country, raising concerns in the Kremlin that the plight of ordinary workers could actually undermine the popularity of the country's president.

CHANCE (voice-over): Amid nationwide protests and plunging approval ratings, Vladimir Putin made a televised address to soften the reforms specifically for women but also to insist that they must go ahead.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Under no terms, if we hesitate now, it could threaten stability in society and enhance national security.

CHANCE (voice-over): It's not going down well with those affected most.

CHANCE: If the government says and Putin says that they have no choice, they don't have enough money to pay the pensions unless they reform the system, do you understand that?

Do you believe the government when they tell you that?

EVGENY PANKOV, RUSSIAN WORKER (through translator): No, I do not believe it. Comparing the incomes of high ranked officials, they have simply unimaginable salaries. I do not believe that there is no money. It's a lie.

CHANCE (voice-over): For many Russians, the pension issue has further undefined their trust in the Kremlin and its leader.


ALLEN: CNN's Matthew Chance from Russia. The protests have been called for by supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. But even traditional backers of President Putin are angry.


ALLEN (voice-over): Next here, we take you underwater to explore why these coral reefs are not only surviving but thriving in an era when many are suffering from climate change.





(MUSIC PLAYING) ALLEN: Going to focus now on our environment. Coral reefs are one of

nature's great wonders but we are losing many to climate change. But in the Red Sea, coral reefs are actually thriving, at least for now. Our Oren Liebermann takes us on a dive to find out why.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the shallow waters of the Red Sea, this coral reef defies expectations. Some of the world's most diverse ecosystems, coral reefs, are in peril.

AMATZIA GENIN, MARINE ECOLOGIST, INTERUNIVERSITY INSTITUTE: Reefs are deteriorating all over the world. They're going down in cover, they die.

There's a catastrophe for coral reefs in the world everywhere, they bleach, except here.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Bleaching leaves the reefs extremely vulnerable, overcome by waters perhaps too warm for corals to survive. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, seen here, has experienced mass bleaching.

GENIN: The Gulf of Aqaba has never been exposed to bleaching. There is no bleaching here although the water is warming up.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): I had the privilege of diving along these corals to see a Marine world thriving, its majesty on full display. Researchers say thousands of years ago, the ancestors of the corals growing here, had to come through the southern Red Sea where the waters are far warmer.

Through natural selection, the corals that survived the journey were accustomed to warm, salty water. In the relatively cooler waters of the Gulf of Aqaba, the corals blossom. The water here is heating up just like the rest of the world, a consequence of climate change, but it hasn't affected the corals.

And researchers say it won't for another 100 years.

LIEBERMANN: So, you have here both the current condition of the Red Sea and then what it might look like in 10 years, 20 years and beyond.

MAOZ FINE, RESEARCHER, INTERUNIVERSITY INSTITUTE: Exactly. So, this is what we're trying to understand, how the beautiful reefs that we see right now are likely to change if at all and the future conditions in the Red Sea. And from our worldwide reefs, we know that the situation right now is not that good.

However, in the Red Sea it's still looking pretty good for reefs of the area. This may very well be the last reef refuge in terms of the present conditions.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): This Red Sea simulator tests different temperature and acidity levels in the water. The corals are brought to the tanks and placed under varying conditions. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, this is many, many individual animals living together as one. So, each individual --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- here on the screen is one animal, one mouth of the animal.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Then they're examined under a microscope to see how they react. The lessons help scientists and governments protect the reef that can't defend itself. Development, pollution and more monitored and controlled with the reef's survival in mind.

LIEBERMANN: Here in Eilat, we're standing within a few miles of four different countries. We're standing in Israel. That's Egypt behind me, Jordan in front of me; you can see Saudi Arabia across the sea here. But the reef doesn't recognize international borders. Its future, its survival depends upon international cooperation to protect the corals.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Below sea level politics rarely gets in the way of cooperation between neighboring countries. The reef may be growing, but it's still fragile and part of a much larger ecosystem near the booming resort towns of the Gulf of Aqaba.

DROR ZUREL, ISRAELI MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: It's an ecosystem that grew as a reef next to a complete desert. Basically, there's not supposed to be artificial life. There's not supposed to be a lot of development. We are allowing the development of a lot. It has to be very slow.

LIEBERMANN: Eilat's reef is only four kilometers long, a tiny fraction of the 2,000 kilometers of reef along the Red Sea. Perhaps because it's so small, Israel treats it as a national treasure, one that's far too valuable to let go -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Eilat.


ALLEN: Such beautiful video there, right?

Thank you for watching this hour. I'm Natalie Allen. I'll be right back with another hour of CNN NEWSROOM and our top stories.