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Government Shutdown Could Happen Again; President Trump Says Wall Saves Lives; President Maduro Continues to Block Humanitarian Aid; Trump and O'Rourke hold dueling rallies; Battle Rages As ISIS Clings To Last Syrian Enclave; A Defiant Iran; Ending The Stigma Of Menstruation; Changing Climate. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 12, 2019 - 03:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: The fight to drive ISIS from its territory in Syria. In a CNN exclusive we go inside the battle for the terror group's last enclave.

Plus, another shutdown averted, maybe, days before their deadline, lawmakers say they have a deal in principle to keep the government running.

And ending the stigma attached to menstruation, a new document is showing how helping young girls deal with their periods can help keep them in school.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. And this is CNN Newsroom.

A vicious battle between ISIS and U.S.-backed forces has entered its fourth day in Syria. The terror group is fighting to keep its last Syrian enclave Baghouz Al-Fawqani. Just a few years ago, ISIS controlled a self-declared caliphate across large parts of Iraq and Syria. Today the would-be terrorist empire is a town on the Euphrates.

CNN's Ben Wedeman and his team have been on the front lines in eastern Syria, and here are some of their exclusive reports about Monday's ISIS counterattack.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have to leave our position now because the morning began with a heavy exchange of machine gunfire followed by loud explosions. We went up to the roof and started to take incoming rounds then some sort of explosive device landed just next to the building we were in.

Now we have to pull out because it appears that there's been a serious ISIS counterattack and we've seen some of the SDF troops pulling back as this goes on. Now some of the officers are urging them to go forward. But what ISIS fighters were doing were taking advantage of the early morning fog, which is often their tactic to try to make advances. And it appears indeed that they have. And that's why we have to move back.


CHURCH: And for more, Ben Wedeman joins me now live from eastern Syria. Very difficult situation there, Ben, for you and your team. And of course, U.S. forces. So, talk to us about what the situation is now. Where this battle is going.

WEDEMAN: We understand from officers at the front line is that the situation is stabilized somewhat that the Syrian democratic forces were re -- were able to retake the positions they lost to ISIS yesterday morning. It was very much touching to go because ISIS actually entered into an area, an area we'd actually been in. Just a few days before that and we're able to actually break out of the cordoned that the anti-ISIS forces had set up around the town.

But we understand they've been pushed back that preparations are being made to launch another major operation to try to actually bring this battle to an end because clearly the feeling is it's gone on long enough and it's time to finish the battle off.

The worry, of course, is not that it's going to take forever to take the town but the ongoing threat of ISIS despite what President Trump has said is going to be a problem in this part of Syria in many parts of Iraq. Because many of the fighters as the Islamic state is slowly been shrunk down to this tiny dot on the map.

Many of the fighters were able to escape to go to ground to blend in with the local population. Some of them have taken refuge in remote desert areas and in the mountains and therefore, yes, we are on the cusp of a victory against ISIS' geographical entity.

But Rosemary, as a terrorist insurgency it remains a serious threat, both here and in the Iraq. Rosemary?

CHURCH: And Ben, how surprised were U.S.- backed forces by the fierce resistance put up by ISIS militants.

[03:05:00] WEDEMAN: But they were expecting that they would take -- that ISIS would take advantage of the early morning mist which is often in here at this time of year in this part of the country. It can be quite misty in the morning and they take advantage of that.

They take advantage of the fact that coalition aircraft and drones have a much harder time seeing what the situation on the ground is and therefore it was not a complete surprise.

I think what was a surprise was the ferocity of the counterattack and we did see that the SDF fighters, the Arab tribal fighters, their commanders who had been fairly confident that after the first day, first full day of the operation on Saturday that perhaps the going would be easier than was expected.

But I think Sunday morning was a way to wake up call to the fact that despite that town Baghouz Al-Fawqani is under severe coalition airstrikes, as well as artillery and mortar bombardment that these hard-core battle experienced fighters that ISIS are still able to not only put up a fight, but also to counterattack and regain territory.

So, yes, I think it was a wake-up call that this is not going to be easy fight, Rosemary.

CHURCH: No, it is not going to be. Ben Wedeman reporting there with his exclusive report from eastern Syria. Many thanks to you. Just after 10 in the morning there. I appreciate it, Ben.

Well, with just four days to go before the U.S. government runs out of money, congressional negotiators have reached an agreement in principle to avoid another shutdown. Sources say it includes more than $1 billion for border fencing, but specifically prohibits a concrete wall. No word yet on whether the White House would agree to it.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump repeated his case for a border wall at a rally in El Paso, Texas Monday night.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins was there.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, President Trump held his first campaign rally of the year in El Paso on Monday night. And as he was coming on stage word got to the president that those congressional negotiators on Capitol Hill had reached a tentative deal to avoid a government shutdown when the government partially runs out of funding at the end of the week.

Now the president said he had not been fully briefed on the deal yet. But this is what he knew.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I was walking up to the stage. They said that progress is being made with this committee. Just so you know, we're building the wall anyway. They say that progress has been made.


COLLINS: Now that last line there from the president about building the wall anyway could be a key indication of where he is going to go next on this. Now we've been talking to White House officials who they say it's not clear whether or not the president would agree to this deal. They are just now looking at it assessing it and seeing what's in it.

And right now, they say that they are keeping their options open. One of those options that we've heard from White House officials in recent days could be that the president could sign whatever deal that congressional negotiators come to but still try to use federal funds to build additional barriers anyway. Since this deals that they've reached right now only has a little over a billion in it right now for barrier structures.

That's far less than what the president demanded back in December when he shut the government down which is $5.7 billion. So, the question now is, is this something that the president can agree to that he'll sign and then will he or will he not continue to try to use federal funding to continue to emerge and build additional funding, additional barriers on the southern border with.

Right now, we're waiting to see what the president's reaction will be.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, traveling with the president in El Paso.

CHURCH: Joining me now is Siraj Hashmi. He is a commentary writer and editor at the Washington Examiner. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So just days before another possible government shutdown it looks like that threat has been averted with the Democrats and Republicans reaching an agreement in principle.

Now the big question of course is, will a president agree to this deal, what you think?

HASHMI: Well, right now at this moment the devil will obviously be in the details. What we know so far is that it doesn't seem to really meet the expectations that President Trump has set forward, you know.

In the previous shutdown, he asked for an area north of 5.7 $5.6 billion in additional funding for the border wall. And he also wanted -- I mean, in the very first shutdown he wanted $25 million.

So, what we're seeing now from this new deal and this new agreement and I have -- I don't really have much of a sense that Trump will sign on to this. It's even farther cries from the 5.6 billion.

[03:10:57] CHURCH: Right. Yes, let's look at that. Because initially before lead by bipartisan negotiators refused to reveal any details on this deal, but now we're learning that it includes $1.375 billion for a physical barrier and a reduction of the number of ICE beds to 40,520.

So, both the House and Senate will need to get something to the president's desk before the government funding deadline on Friday. Is that doable. And when you look at these numbers does it look like a good compromise? And you don't think that the present will get behind this.

HASHMI: No. President Trump will not get behind this, you know. If it's $1.375 billion we don't know if this is additional funding to the $1.3 billion that they have already for border security and it's also for a, quote and quote, "physical barriers," it's not for a wall that we know off and also capping ICE beds from 49,000 down to 40,000. That's a roughly 17 percent reduction.

President Trump is going to sign onto ICE capping of bed because that's going to basically forced, you know, both Customs and Border Protection and ICE to basically go along with the catch and release policy, which possibly could arise crime but it could definitely increase the number of court cases that don't actually get settled in immigration court which is something that has been much of a thorn in the president side on this.

CHURCH: But this is the closest the two parties have gotten to at least getting some sort of deal. Now, both sides appeared to be fairly excited about Monday evening, didn't they -- that they'd reached this point. What would need to be the next move then to get the president on board?

HASHMI: Well, obviously, you are going to have to meet with President Trump first, and kind of get his feedback on this. I can imagine he is going to sign on to this. And we'll might actually be looking at another shutdown.

And you know, a bipartisan conference committee that was the original agreement that they add to the previous shutdown, the 35 says shutdown and that's something that President Trump said, OK. You have until this day to get it done.

Well, it just so happen to be past the deadline and its right now they have five days or so to basically get a deal done. And they are going to go back to the drawing board and get something that President Trump asked for, and it's actually kind of interesting that Congress would be like we're really proud of this deal, you know, this is really going to meet his expectations. It's not complete far cry from it.

CHURCH: Yes. They were very happy with themselves. I do want to ask another question before you go, because of course there is one topic Republicans and Democrats could agree on Monday. Members of both the parties denounce freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for what they called anti-Semitic comments.

She later issued a statement saying she unequivocally apologized. Will that be enough though to calm her critics?

HASHMI: Well, if you look at her actual apology, you know, she still, she said that she unequivocally apologized, but in the same statement made a remark about foreign lobbying and domestic lobbying with respect to AIPAC as well as the fossil fuel industry and the NRA.

So, it seems like she's kind of holding on to this idea that lobbying has far more influence that it does in Congress. And it's going to be tough for her to get over this hump because she has made it almost her entire position to focus on boycott the investment and sanctions of Israel, and her previous comments with respect to Israel hypnotizing the world. She hasn't been able to escape that.

And if she happens to seek higher office whether it'd be the Senate down the line or even president down the line, well she can't serve -- or she can't seek the presidency because she wasn't born in the United States. But if she wants to have a higher profile she really -- she has to have a more forceful denial -- or not forceful denial but a more forceful apology and really recognize that she messed up here.

And if it weren't for Democrats calling her out I doubt she would have ever apologize for those comments.

CHURCH: Right. Siraj Hashmi, thank you so much for your analysis. I appreciate it.

HASHMI: Thank you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: And on Monday night, Donald Trump doubled down on his notion that crime in El Paso plummeted once the border wall there went up. The city's mayor and FBI crime statistics say otherwise.

Ed Lavandera went to the border for a reality check.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Maynard Haddad doesn't mince words when it comes to Present Trump and his hometown. He owns H&H Carwash Cafe. The only place in El Paso where the customers are always wrong even a president.

Why do you think Trump is saying the things about El Paso that he's saying?

MAYNARD HADDAD, OWNER, H&H CAR WASH: Because he didn't know what the hell he is talking about.

LAVANDERA: Maynard's cafe opened in 1958. You can get a car was and chile rellenos while you wait. And while we waited, Haddad told us he voted for Trump and didn't hold back his thoughts on the rest.

You've never felt unsafe here?

[03:14:59] HADDAD: Hell, no.

LAVANDERA: He keeps repeating that El Paso used to be this horribly dangerous place.

HADDAD: Well, then he needs to go to school.

LAVANDERA: President Trump has falsely claimed El Paso wall along the Rio Grande dramatically change this border town.


TRUMP: The border city of El Paso, Texas used to have extremely high rates of violent crime. A wall was put up it went from one of the most dangerous cities in the country to one of the safest cities in the country over night.


LAVANDERA: That's just not true. El Paso has never been one of the most dangerous places in America. Crime statistics show violent crime was dropping for many years before the wall was built in 2008, and crime actually jumped a little after the wall built.

You don't feel like the president is trashing El Paso?


LAVANDERA: But some El Paso Republicans like Adolpho Telles say Trump is still right about what a border wall can do to cut down crime and threats.

TELLES: If you are living in a house and you know that there are illegal people wandering around your house at two o'clock in the morning, is that a serious crime from your perspective? People just get quite when you put it that way.

LAVANDERA: Silvestre Reyes is a former Democratic congressman of El Paso and spent nearly 30 years as the top border patrol agent along the stretch of the border. He remembers when a simple chain link fence was the border wall.

It was ineffectually referred to as the tortilla curtain. Reyes says there's enough order wall already in place. And he says the president is lying to make the case for more.

When you hear the president say El Paso is used to be one of the most dangerous cities in the country before the wall.

REYES: He's -- this is my home. And he's characterized El Paso as kind of Wild West and a violent crime ridden area until the fence went up and that's totally false.

LAVANDERA: Maynard Haddad will be paying close attention from his car wash and he left us with one last warning for President Trump.

If President Trump comes here if he's kind of saying that we know is wrong --

HADDAD: Right.

LAVANDERA: How is that going to go over this --


HADDAD: Not real smart. Not real smart. He better go back to where he belongs.

CHURCH: And that was Ed Lavandera reporting.

While Donald Trump was making his case for the border, former El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke was making his case against it. He held his own rally just down the road from Mr. Trump's. O'Rourke says his hometown is safe, not because of walls but in spite of walls.


FMR. REP. BETO O'ROURKE, (D) TEXAS: A president who describes Mexican immigrants as rapist and criminals.


BETO O'ROURKE: We have the chance to tell him and the country immigrants commit crimes including violent crimes at a lower rate than do Americans who were born in this country.

El Paso has been the safest city in the United States of America, not in spite of the fact that we're a city of immigrants but because we are a city of immigrants.


CHURCH: Now O'Rourke has been mentioned as a potential competitor to Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. So far O'Rourke has avoided the question when asked.

Well, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy but Maria Butina says she is no Russian spy. More from her first interview ever just ahead.

And a Louisiana town about to be swallowed by the sea. Why this could be a preview of what is yet to come but on a much bigger more terrifying scale.


CHURCH: Venezuela's opposition leader is calling for more mass protests as the country prepares to mock youth day. Juan Guaido wants President Nicolas Maduro to step down, and for the ministry to allow aid convoys into the country.

Guaido tweeted video of himself Monday, saying his team has delivered its first shipment of vitamins and nutritional supplements. He did not say where the aid came from or who received it. Guaido says 300,000 people could die if more supplies are not allowed in certain. He says blocking the aid is a crime against humanity.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is touring Eastern Europe part of a push to reconnect with allies in the region and counter the growing influence of Russia and China. His first stop was Hungary where he urged officials to avoid products from Chinese telecom giant Huawei, suggesting they could be used for espionage. And he warned that Russia wants to erode freedom in the region.


MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We must not let Putin drive wedges between friends and NATO. Hungarians know all too well from their history that an authoritarian Russia will never be a friend to the freedom and sovereignty of smaller nations.

Russia is not the only power that wants to erode freedom in this region. I raise with Peter today the dangers of allowing China to gain a ridge head in Hungary. And we talked openly about how we might work together on that issue.

There is an experience of states in Asia-Pacific region that shows that Beijing's handshakes sometimes come with string, strings that will leave Hungary indebted both economically and politically.

You know, the differences that Russia and China are authoritarian powers who do not share our joint aspirations of freedom.


CHURCH: Pompeo's next stops will be in Slovakia and Poland. Well she has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for acting as a

Russian agent. But Maria Butina says she is no spy.

CNN's Brian Todd has the details.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the first time the allege Russian spy and gun advocate Maria Butina is speaking out and firing back, saying if she had really been a Russian agent, she would've been the worst one imaginable.


MARIA BUTINA, RUSSIAN: I would be invisible Russian spy, you would never know see in public. I mean, I would be the most unseen person on earth.


TODD: Instead, the 30-year-old who pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to being unlawful, unregistered agent for a foreign government says she was unfairly accused of trading sex to get political access.


BUTINA: For the last 40 days, me being called a whore. It's very hard.


TODD: Prosecutors later retracted that accusation, blaming it on a misinterpretation of her text messages. But government layers did imply in court papers they believed she was using her boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson to further her objectives.

Erickson seen here singing Beauty and the Beast in the recording studio recently was indicted on unrelated charges of money laundering and wire fraud. His lawyer says his full story hasn't yet come out.

Butina is speaking out in a series of exclusive interviews with James Bamford, author of several books on intelligence who wrote an article on her in the new edition of the New Republic magazine.

In audio clips of those interviews which Bamford shared with CNN, Butina talked of being surprised by federal agents when they raided her apartment last year a couple of months before her arrest.


[03:24:59] BUTINA: I just cleaned my apartment. And I was baking bread. They told me, "FBI, search warrant." So I opened the door. They just walked in so I was pushed back.


TODD: In the interviews which were conducted before and after her arrest, Butina emphatically denies she was a spy. Bamford notes that she was never charged with espionage, the lesser charge she pleaded to included admitting she tried to infiltrate Republican political circles and influence U.S. relations with Russia through her inroads with the National Rifle Association and other groups.

But Butina has claimed she did that, simply to improve U.S.-Russian relations and because she wanted to expand gun rights in Russia. Bamford sides with Butina, saying he doesn't believe she did anything covert.

As for the prosecutors claim that Butina worked at the direction of Aleksandr Torshin, a Russian banker with ties to Vladimir Putin.


JAMES BAMFORD, INTERVIEWED BUTINA FOR THE NEW REPUBLIC: The fact show that she was not a spy that she was never paid, never directed by the Russian government, she didn't work for Torshin. Torshin couldn't tell her what to do. He can't fire her. He couldn't reassign her. He couldn't demote her.


TODD: But prosecutors say Butina did update Torshin on her efforts to meet influential Republicans. Former intelligence officers tell CNN they don't believe Butina was a trained spy on the Russian government payroll, but they say that doesn't mean she wasn't cultivated by the Russians to give them sensitive information.


ERIC O'NEILL, NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGIST, CARBON BLACK: The FBI conducted a pretty airtight investigation, we have serious e-mails between her and her Russian handler. We have Twitter communications. They got her phone records and many of those e-mails point to her as a Russian intelligence operative.


TODD: Still James Bamford says he believes the prosecution of Maria Butina was unfair and motivated by politics and the desire for publicity. We reached out to the prosecutor's office for response to that, a spokesman for the prosecutor said because the case is still pending and Butina is awaiting sentencing. They could not comment.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

CHURCH: ISIS could soon be defeated in its last Syrian enclave. President Trump wants to declare a victory, but his top Middle East commander warns the terror group is still a threat. We hear from General Joseph Votel, that is coming up.

The Islamic Revolution in Iran toppled a shah and shattered once close relations with the United States. And 40 years later, there is no indication from Iranian leaders top suggest those relations will improve. The view from Tehran when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. This is CNN Newsroom. I'm Rosemary Church.

I want to check the headlines for you this hour.


Congressional negotiators have reach an agreement in principal to avoid another U.S. government shutdown. Sources say it includes more than a billion dollars for border fencing, but specifically prohibits a concrete wall. No word yet on if the White House is on board. Government funding runs out on Friday if there is no deal.

The border wall was front and center at dueling rallies in the U.S. border town of El Paso, Texas. President Trump made his pitch to have taxpayers put the bill for a border wall. Meanwhile a former El Paso Congressman told the crowd just down the road that the El Paso is a safe city not because of the wall but in spite of it.

U.S. backed forces are lock in a fierce battle with ISIS and the terror group's last Syrian enclave. This exclusive footage shows some of the fighting around Baghuz Al-Fawqani. One woman who fled the town says food is running low and ISIS is using human shields.

Lastly, top U.S. commander in the Middle East prepares to step down. He is warning ISIS will remain a threat. Central Command's General Joseph Votel stopped in Cairo on his farewell tour. CNN's Barbara Starr has more on what he says about ISIS and leaving U.S. troops in Syria.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump very much wants to declare in the coming days that ISIS has been pushed out of all the areas in Syria it once controlled. This will happen as soon as that last fighting is done in ISIS' last stronghold in the southern part of the country.

But here tonight in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, sounded a much more strategic long-term view about his concerns about what ISIS is still capable of.

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It's important objective for us to take that away from them, but it doesn't mean the end of the organization. We are going to have to continue to put military pressure on them. The Syrian Democratic Forces as well and we will help them.

STARR: General Votel, of course, is not contradicting the president, but he does point out it's easier to put pressure on ISIS if you're right there on the ground.

VOTEL: It's always easier when you are there on the ground. But in this case, our president has made a decision and we're going to execute that.

STARR: And General Votel note that the initial campaign against ISIS began with strikes from bases inside Iraq. So, working remotely can work out.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Cairo.


CHURCH: Iran is mocking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Thousands marched through the streets of Tehran, Monday, to commemorate the 1979 overthrow of the U.S. backed Shah of Iran. The celebrations come in an especially tense time. Relations between the U.S. and Iran are the worst they've been in years.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, a show of defiance against the U.S. during Iran's celebration of 40 years of the Islamic Revolution. Many saying they're not impressed by what President Trump says is his tough stance against Tehran. Trump is a stupid and crazy man, as Iranian Navy SEAL-er's says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United States policy is doomed to be exploded, to be collapsed.

PLEITGEN: Many in the crowd mocking the U.S. One children stand even had what appeared to be a Bugs Bunny type figure in death to America chants. Iran's Islamic Revolution culminated with Ayatollah Khomeini returning from exile in 1979. On February 11th of that year, the U.S.-backed Shah was officially overthrown.

Iranian students later overrun the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, holding more than 50 Americans hostage for 444 days. U.S. Iranian relations never recover. Speaking exclusively to CNN, the head of Iran's elite Revolutionary guard corps ripped into Washington.

The Americans and other big powers know that conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran would fail, he says. So, they've started a soft war, a cultural, political and economic war against us, and our people had understood that. They're resisting and they're prepared.

The Trump administration scrapped the Iran nuclear deal last year and has since hit Iran with crippling economic sanctions. The White House saying Tehran is destabilizing the Middle East with its ballistic missile program. Iran says its missiles are for self-defense, the country's president vowing to continue the development.

We have not asked and we will not ask for permission from anyone to develop our missile capabilities and we will build a wide range of missiles that include ground to air, air to air, land to sea, and ground to ground, he says. [03:35:09] Forty years after the Islamic revolution, Iran is arguably one of the strongest nations in the Middle East but also want an economic turmoil as sanctions continue to take their toll.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


CHURCH: A refugee football jailed in Thailand is back home in Australia. Hakeem al-Araibi got a hero's welcome Monday. He was arrested in Bangkok last November on his honeymoon. It was because of an extradition request from his native Bahrain. Al-Araibi is a critic of Bahrain's government and says he faced torture if returned.

He also has asylum in Australia where he plays for a Melbourne Club. Under mounting international pressure, Bahrain dropped its request and Thailand set him free.

Well, in some parts of the world, a girl's period can mean the end of her education. Now, an Oscar nominated documentary aims to help change that and end the stigma of menstruation. You will hear from the film's director and producer. That's next.

Plus, a dramatic look at the largest forest fire to hit New Zealand in decades. We will assess the damage so far and get the latest updates on efforts to contain it. Back in just a moment.


CHURCH: A period should end of sentence, not a girl's education. That's the motto of a nonprofit called the Pan Project founded by high school students in Los Angeles who wanted to end the stigma of menstruation in other parts of the world. And their work has helped young women in India do just that.

Many girls in a village outside Delhi have been forced to miss classes or leave school all together because they couldn't get clean pads to use when they had their periods, often leading to health problems. But when a sanitary pad machine was installed in their village. The women not only fought that stigma, they began to create and market their own pads, giving them financial security and independence. They named their brand Fly because they want women to soar.

Their story is featured in a documentary called, "Period, End of Sentence," which is up for an Oscar at this month Academy Awards.

[03:40:04] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



CHURCH: And thanks for being with us, director and producer, Rayka Zehtabchi, and Oakwood high school student, Mason Maxam. And congratulations to you both on the Academy Award nomination for your short documentary, "Period, End of Sentence," well done. RAYKA ZEHTABCHI, DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, PERIOD, END OF SENTENCE:

Thank you so much, we are so happy to be here.


CHURCH: So Mason, I want to start with you and just find out how you and your fellow students became aware of the challenges these young Indian girls face and how did you come up with this idea of a machine that makes sanitary pads for girls and women?

MAXAM: I actually joined this project in seventh grade, so that was almost three and half years ago. But my teacher, Melissa Burton, actually attended the Commission on the Status of Women at the U.N. and she discovered this issue at a conference that they held. She went to the U.N. with a group of students, including her daughter, Helling Yanser (ph), and they found out about the issue and from there they decided to make a documentary.

After that, we worked on fundraising for the documentary and we hosted two kick starters and also did bake sales and use the funds to raise the money. And so, with that grassroots fundraising, we were able to fund the documentary, which then we found Rayka. So that's led us to where we are right today.

CHURCH: It is extraordinary, I mean your achievement is unbelievable and of course these statistics are shocking. In developing countries like India between 25 percent and 57 percent of adolescent girls miss school or drop out because of their periods. And if girls receive seven full years of education, they will marry an average of four years later and have 2.2 fewer children. If they attend only one additional year of secondary school, their lifetime wages could increase by up to 20 percent, raising their country's GDP by billions of dollars. So, if India enrolled just 1 percent more girls in school, their GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.

So, Rayka, the economic incentive for India and other developing nations to keep girls in school is evidence in these numbers, but mostly just don't seem compelled to take advantage of women schools. Why is that do you think?

ZEHTABCHI: Right. Well, basically what we discovered when we were there shooting the film is that it's a really a deeply rooted cultural taboo. It's something that's been buried for so long. I think that the biggest issue here is that women are not talking about their periods. Wives are not talking to their husbands. Mothers are not talking to their daughters.

So, I think, naturally when you ignore something that's so natural, all of these myths sort of arise around it and that's what we're really seeing here is really an understanding of what the women's role is in Indian culture in particular.

CHURCH: You're right. And Mason, how has this pad machine change the lives of these women and girls in this particular rural Indian village? MAXAM: Not only has it allowed women to actually have their first jobs, but it's also worked on destigmatizing periods and opening the conversation, which previously had not existed.

So I think that the pad machine has so many different benefits that we haven't been able to see until fairly recently. I know that even between the two times that Rayka went to and from India. The differences around the conversation were drastic and the way that women and girls were talking about it had changed tremendously.

They originally had to tell the men of the village that the machine was a Huggies type of machine. But now they are able to have an open conversation with the men in the village and actually tell them what they're doing and what they're spending their time doing.

CHURCH: Extraordinary, and Rayka, as the director and producer of this documentary, why did you decide this was a project you need to work on when the students came to you?

ZEHTABCHI: Well, how can you not be inspired by the work that these incredible young women are doing. And I just graduate from USC film school right when I was approached to direct the documentary. And so, I was very close in age with these girls, and definitely, I thought there was a connection between me and the girls in Los Angeles, as well as the women in India.

[03:45:00] It felt very actionable and I think we are really seeing the results of that now. There's really been a real time shift and in these women and men's behavior is in and thinking around menstruation.

CHURCH: Yes, and of course, you know, were saying this happen in this small rural village. So, Mason, I did want to ask you, could this pad machine be reproduced and sent to women, and girls, and other countries where access to pads is also a challenge.

MAXAM: Yes. So this documentary is really a byproduct of the nonprofit that Oakwood students have started and that many people who worked on the film are actually on the board of. So with this nonprofit, we do hope to put pad machines and in other surrounding villages and have put some in surrounding villages. Also, with the help of Action India, our partner organization, we were able to put different pad machines in different villages.

I think it's also important to mention that this isn't a problem not just faces girls in developing countries. It also faces girls and women in our own country in the United States. So I think that the pad machine and destigmatizing menstruation in general is something that can benefit women and girls all over the world.

CHURCH: Yes. Very good point. And Rayka, your documentary screened across the United States at Film Festivals in 2018 and now it has been nominated for the Academy Awards. How does that makes you feel and what impact do you expect to have on helping girl's right across the globe? ZEHTABCHI: Well, we first made this film because we want to spread awareness about this issue and I think having the Academy Awards being on the world stage has really given us an opportunity to share this message with the world.

And I think, you know, also seeing the group of young women behind it is the most important thing to really prove that, hey, we can be talking about her periods loud and proud. You know, this all started in a classroom and it's possible if we can do it anybody can. I think it's really a group effort here.

CHURCH: Yes. And just to finally, of course, this issue has gained attention around the world with the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, telling wedding guest to send sanitary pads to girls in India rather than give her gifts when she married Prince Harry.

Mason, what did you think of that gesture and will other influences like her around the world get on board with this, do you think?

MAXAM: I think that it's really amazing that the conversation has opened up to people all over the world, especially people with large amounts of influence, like Meghan Markle. So, I think that any influence or any person in a position of authority or position in society where their voice means so, so much, it's really important to speak out about this issue and I'm proud to see that so many people have and I can't wait to see more people do the same thing.

CHURCH: I absolutely agree with you. I congratulate both of you. I think this is an incredible breakthrough. Rayka Zehtabchi and Mason Maxam, thank you to both of you for joining us.

ZEHTABCHI: Thank you so much.

MAXAM: Thank you.

CHURCH: Such an inspiration there. Next here on CNN Newsroom, the Louisiana town packing up a moving 40 miles in land, because of rising sea levels. We will have the details for you after this short break. Stay with us.


[03:49:57] CHURCH: A dramatic scene on New Zealand South Island, crews are still working to contain the massive Pigeon Valley fire near the city of Nelson. A state of emergency is in effect. The Bush fire has already burned through more than 2200 hectares and once believed to be the country's worst forest fire since 1955.

So, let's get more on all of this from our Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. Pedram, what are you learning now?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Rosemary, you know, initially, it was believe that some teenagers potentially spark this flames about a week ago and at this point it looks a like the tension now shifting to some machinery that was in the area, some agricultural equipment that potentially sparked the flames that led to this, an incredible fire as you mentioned, over 2,000 hectares consumed and firefighters saying, this is an event that can -- we can be talking about through the month of March as it could be a long drawn out process before conditions begin to really improve across this region.

We're in the heart of the dry season and the heart of summer and we are coming off of one of the hottest years ever observed. Of course, we know, globally that is the case, but New Zealand also experiencing its fourth hottest year on record in 2018. And in fact, the top four hottest years on record, they've all occurred in the past six years across the country of New Zealand.

So, the perspective of such year with the worst fire in six decades, as Rosemary mentioned, some 3,000 people evacuated. In fact, in the past 24 hours, officials allowed about 500 people to go back within the Pigeon Valley community there to try to get anything they can out of their properties because they might not be able to make their way back towards this region for quite some time.

And we know now the firefighter numbers have increased to about 200 firefighters, some 12,000 volunteers really speaks volumes about the folks here in New Zealand working together to try to do anything they can to stop the flames from spreading further. But some 23 helicopters, three airplanes, four drones that are equip with infrared equipment there to be able to detect hotspots on the ground, all of them working together.

And by the way, it is the largest aerial assault on any fire in forest fire history there in New Zealand as well. But we know rainfall is, of course, what is necessary to help improve the conditions. And climatologically, about 13 millimeters is what it takes is on average to stop the spread of wildfires and about 50 millimeters is what it takes to extinguish.

I mean, of course, in the heart of the summer season and the dry season and of course, seeing a system come in is really all you hope for and fortunately that's in the forecast. You look through Thursday, there is storm system on the horizon, but really has kind of double edge sword perspective to this because it comes in with windy weather and warmer weather in advanced of this.

So conditions could actually go downhill a little bit before they improve, but higher humidity is expected later into the week and also cooler temperatures are expected. And in fact, if anything does fall out of this system coming in from the south that would come in with -- Thursday morning there for some showers.

So, there is the area of interest rate there in the northern portion of the South Island, that's where we think some showers are possible, but Rosemary, as we often talk about anytime these storms come in, there's always a risk for some of these downdraft with the storm, with this powerful winds ahead of them, which could lead to some spreading further spreading of the wild fire there. So, that's why fire officials are concerned, this could be a long drawn out event in this part of the world.

CHURCH: Yes. Thank you so much for keeping a very close eye on that, Pedram. I appreciate it.

JAVAHERI: Thanks, Rosemary.

CHURCH: What had been the coastline of the U.S. State of Louisiana is slowly moving in land disappearing meter by meter, because sea levels are rising. In fact 98 percent of one coastal town is already completely under water. This drowning of Louisiana is happening faster than expected, a dramatic example of what might happen on a much larger scale in the not-too-distant future.

Here's CNN's Bill Weir.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When these kids are old enough to start families, their hometown will be underwater.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my grandma's house.

WEIR: Their great, great, great grandparents settled here. They're in a Trail of Tears. And for first hundred years, they farmed this land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just raised that exact house above, right?

WEIR: But in the last 30 years, they had raised their homes a few feet to stay dry. And then a few feet more, until before and after satellite pictures prove what they've already knew, 98 percent of the Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana has disappeared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I always talk about water is our life and our death. Once we weren't able to farm anymore that the waters, the shrimp, the oysters, the crabs that sustain our people now is killing us. It's killing us.

WEIR: Every hour of everyday a piece of Louisiana, about the size of a football field slips into the sea, every hour, every day. It started when America tamed, locked, indict the mighty Mississippi, choking off the natural flow of mud that built this land. But these days as it sinks, polar ice melts, seas rise, big storms, just keep s coming.

[03:55:05] TOR TORNQVIST, CHAIRMAN, EARTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE TULANE UNIVERSITY: There has been a lot of change in just the last, say, five years.

WEIR: And those who study the drowning of Louisiana say it is happening faster than anyone ever predicted.

TORNQVIST: What maybe five years ago was the worst case scenario is now drowning what we might call a fairly likely scenario.

WEIR: That's terrifying.

TORNQVIST: It is terrifying and it basically means that climate changes here in full force.

WEIR: So, Isle de Jean Charles won a first of its kind federal grant, $48 million to move them about 40 miles north. The state recently closed on 500 acres of old sugarcane fields.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to have, baseball fields, fishing ponds, wetlands, homes along the back.

WEIR: But before they can even break ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'd like just have a tribal meeting today.

WEIR: They are getting a harsh lesson in just how hard it is to convince Americans to uproot and retreat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anybody else is probably not moving.

WEIR: Really.


WEIR: Half of the 40 families who live here say they will never leave while others still aren't convinced it's the right move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This so-called climate change thing.

WEIR: You put it in quotes.


WEIR: So called.


WEIR: But Isle de Jean Charles is just a tiny sample of how expensive and difficult the future will be. According to one estimate from United Nations between 50 and 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by the year 2050 and most of those are the planet's most vulnerable, fisherman and farmers who live on the edge.

And if it this hard moving a village, imagine moving a Miami or New Orleans. Do you have children?

TORNQVIST: I have an eight year-old daughter.

WEIR: Do you think she will ever be able to, say, take a 30 year mortgage in New Orleans.

TORNQVIST: I don't know. I don't know, that's this -- I wouldn't bet my money on it. Let's put it that way.

WEIR: But he says it is not too late to stop burning the carbon that is cranking up the global thermostat. Not too late to stop worst case pay in. The battle depend more on human nature than Mother Nature and as people argue, the seas rise every hour of every day.

Bill Weir, CNN, isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana.


CHURCH: Serving warning there, and thanks for your company. I'm Rosemary Church, the news continues next with our Max Foster in London. Have a great day.