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Explosion Destroys Silicone Plant in Waukegan, Illinois; Mayor Sam Cunningham of Waukegan, Illinois, Interviewed about Silicone Plant Explosion; Airplane Skids Off Runway into the St. Johns River in Florida; Fighting Breaks Out between Israel and Gaza; President Trump Tweets Response to North Korea's Launching of Short-Range Missiles; Venezuelan Diplomat to Meet with Russian Counterpart; President Trump Comments on Phone Conversation with Russian President Putin on Venezuela; Man Imprisoned for Terrorist Plot to Attack New York Subway to be Released; New CNN Series Explores Livings Styles Around the World. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired May 4, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:05] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin with this breaking news right now, a search and rescue operation is on hold in Waukegan, Illinois, after a massive explosion at a silicone plant. At least one person was found dead and two other people still missing. The search has been called off for now due to dangerous conditions.
Meanwhile, four people are hospitalized with injuries. The blast, we are told, could be felt for miles, shaking the ground as far as Wisconsin. Brynn Gingras is following the story for us. So what do you know?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is just a waiting period right now, Fred. It's so sad for the families of two people that are still missing in that wreckage. We know from authorities that the body of one person has been pulled from that wreckage earlier today. A total of nine employees were working last night inside that building when this blast occurred. It happened at AB Specialty Silicones. They manufacture specialty silicone chemicals. And reports are that the blast just rocked that entire neighborhood. It could be felt for miles and miles away. You can see, it leveled that building, and the ground was shaking according to reports, $1 million in damages.
Four people did go to the hospital with differing injuries, but, again, the main focus right now is finding the two people that are reportedly still inside that building. And as you said, it's on hold right now, that search, because the building is not stable enough for authorities to get in there. They have to bring in special equipment. They think they know the area that they need to focus on, but they just can't do that just as of yet. So you can imagine the families of those two workers who are missing, them just having to wait it out, as it is right now.
And the big thing here, Fred, until they can get in there and get through all the wreckage, they won't know what caused the blast at, again, 9:30 last night, until they can do more investigating, and that hasn't happened yet.
WHITFIELD: Brynn Gingras, thank you very much.
Joining me right now on the phone, Waukegan's Mayor Sam Cunningham. Mayor Cunningham, thanks so much for being with us, and of course our condolences are going out to the family members of those lost and injured. So what can you tell me about how this happened?
MAYOR SAM CUNNINGHAM, WAUKEGAN, IL: Well, first of all, I want it thank you for having us, and making sure we get the correct information out, not only to Waukegan residents but the surrounding communities about how this happened. How this went is still kind of unknown at this time. I can kind of tell you from a time standard, roughly 9:30, 9:45, there was a blast that was heard between a 15 to 20 mile radius north of us, to Racine, Wisconsin, all the way south of us, to near Evanston and west to Wauconda, up to our state line.
That blast brought in Waukegan Fire Department, which then accelerated this to what we call a mutual aid box, which brought in roughly another 100 firefighters, 30 agencies, to the scene. The great part about this though, that none of them, none of the first responders were not injured trying to fight this enormous battle. This blast was so massive that it affected roughly 10 to 15 surrounding businesses, and in this quarter here, in this industrial quarter here.
So as you said earlier, we have right now, it was three individuals that were unaccounted for. Obviously, today, we recovered one, and we're still in the midst of searching for the others. And I'm going to say a rescue, trying to rescue the other two.
WHITFIELD: You want to be hopeful. So Mr. Mayor, what do you, do you know what was produced at that silicone plant? And what were the potential factors of this explosion?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, I can say this to you. I don't have all of those details, but what I can do is say that the Illinois EPA was on hand last night and again this morning to confirm the water quality and the air quality is OK. That we do know for certain.
What else we know for certain is that we had to suspend any rescue or recovery efforts because of the condition of the building. But what they're doing right now is bringing in a fencing unit to kind of quarantine everything in.
[14:05:03] Once that unit is up and in place, we are bringing heavy duty equipment to remove some of the particles of the building that are dangerous so we can then assume the rescue or recovery efforts.
WHITFIELD: And Mr. Mayor, when you talk about the temporary suspension of efforts there because of dangerous situation, are we talking about the structure threatening to collapse? That's why larger equipment is being brought in? Can you be more specific about the potential dangers?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, and I do apologize for not being specific. But yes, as far as the structure of the building and making sure it does not collapse on those who are then, who are participating in that recovery, or rescue efforts. So yes, it is the structure of the building. The building just blew up and out, so we have parts of the building just everywhere. We need to bring in heavy duty equipment in to remove those visible pieces that are certainly, it looks like they can potentially fall down, unstable, those are unstable, and remove those first. And then the coroner would give an A-OK, let's start the rescue recovery effort.
WHITFIELD: Now, this plant is in an industrial park, is that correct? And what about the other businesses nearby? Any potential threats for them?
CUNNINGHAM: As far as -- to answer the first question, yes, it is an industrial park. As far as the other buildings in the nearby area, I'm going to give you an approximate, you're talking about 100 to 200 feet away, I tell you I personally have never been in the armed forces or in a warzone type of environment. What I've seen on television, of course, it looks like that here.
With that being said, you're talking one of our staple businesses in our community, American Outfitters, which produces apparel for a host of people throughout the Chicagoland region, its front floor windows were shattered. I walked through their building. Their potential operations, all of the lightings had fallen down. Some of their beams, some of the beams of the structure of the building had been moved. The building to the south of it, I think some of the foundation, about an inch and a half had moved from there. All of their ceiling tiles had come down. I went further west, garage doors, buildings, this was just a massive explosion that occurred in the city of Waukegan.
WHITFIELD: And producing these big concussions.
CUNNINGHAM: But we have had help from other surrounding agencies. We were able to mitigate as much damage and potentially save lives that probably would not have been if it wasn't for the efforts of everybody. And I want to say thank you to all of those 30 agencies, firefighters, and folks and families that go out to everyone.
But I want to send a special thank you to how the media really handled this. One, they gave out accurate information about what was going on, two, letting families know that, as soon as they get some good information, they will disseminate that out. And when you guys just played a major role in helping us out. So I want to say thank you for all of that, and with the recovery efforts that are going to proceed on, probably in the next half an hour, we'll try to do some updates for you. And for more detailed information, our Fire Marshal Lenzi or Fire Chief George Bridges, they can give you that information.
WHITFIELD: Mayor Sam Cunningham, thank you so much for your time. We're of course wishing you and everyone there, everyone directly involved, and all of your emergency response teams, the very best in this. We appreciate your efforts.
CUNNINGHAM: Thank you, ma'am. Thank you.
WHITFIELD: And we're also following this other breaking story. The NTSB now on the scene after a military chartered plane slid off a runway in Florida. What they're learning at this early stage of the investigation.
Plus, North Korea firing projectiles. What President Trump has to say, and how this new provocation could impact nuclear negotiations.
[14:13:31] WHITFIELD: And we're following breaking news out of Florida right now. The National Transportation Safety Board has a team on the ground in Jacksonville investigating how a Boeing 737 military charter flight skidded into a river moments after landing. The plane was traveling from Guantanamo Bay late Friday. When it landed, the jet skidded into the St. Johns River. There were only a few minor injuries among the 143 people on board. CNN Correspondent Rosa Flores joins me now from Jacksonville. So Rosa, what is the latest?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, the latest is that the NTSB is onsite. We're expecting a 4:00 p.m. press conference, where we are expecting to learn more. But normally, in incidents like this, the NTSB arrives and they assess the situation. They start gathering evidence. They not only look at and investigate the actual aircraft, they look at the record and the history of the pilots, of the crew, what they were up to in the last 72 hours. They also look at the environment, what was the weather like, that sort of thing.
We do know that there were thunderstorms and lightning at the time. It's unclear if those had an impact on this incident, but that would definitely be looked at.
Now from talking -- from passengers who have talked to CNN, we have learned of the dramatic moments of the landing of this plane. These passengers describe a hard landing, one passenger in particular saying that the aircraft felt like it was screeching and bouncing, and then finally making a crash stop on the water.
[14:15:07] This passenger saying that it is unclear to them at that point in time, because remember, this was at night, it was dark, there was lightning, it was raining, it was unclear if they were on a river or on the ocean. This passenger describing exiting the aircraft, being on the wing, and then finally, finally getting on a life raft and being taken to safety.
We understand that 21 people were transported to the hospital. Other people were, they received medical services here, on base. But preliminary reports, we learned, is that this plane skidded off the runway, and then landed on this body of water. But now that the NTSB is on-site, we understand that their preliminary report is expected in about two weeks, so we should learn more there. And Fred, just from being in this community in the past hour or so, I
can tell you that the St. Johns River is a very busy body of water. There's a race going on right now with 90 boats. And from talking to these individuals, these boaters, after they learned that everybody on board, the 136 passengers and seven crew were fine, now their concern is for this body of water, because they boat on here all the time. They're concern is environmental, ecological. Will their body of water be OK? They're concerned about possible fuel leaks and such because the plane is still in the water. Fred?
WHITFIELD: All right, keep us posted as you learn more information, Rosa Flores, thank you so much, in Jacksonville.
Also breaking, two men are missing, after a helicopter crash in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The Coast Guard says the two-seat helicopter went down early this afternoon, just off Kent Island, Maryland. We're told the emergency call came from a brother of one of the men who was boating in the vicinity and saw it happen. A dive team is currently searching the water. The NTSB, FAA, and several local agencies are also assisting. The cause of the crash unknown.
Still ahead, two dead after a rocket barrage targeting Israel. Hundreds launched over the last several hours. A live report from Jerusalem coming up.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back. We're following breaking news out of Israel. Officials there say more than 200 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Israel, injuring two Israelis. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says two people died including a baby after Israel retaliated with air strikes. Oren Liebermann is near the Gaza border. Oren, what can you tell us right now?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, the latest is that number has risen to three Palestinians killed in Israel. The air strikes according to the ministry of health, a one-year-old baby girl and her mother, that the latest information from the ministry of health as the escalation we saw start some 12 hours ago continues.
We've seen a number of barrages of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the course of the last 15 to 20 minutes or so, so any hopes that this would end with sundown have faded as the escalation, the fighting continue across the Israel/Gaza border. Israel, the military to this point says more than 200 rockets have been filed from Gaza to Israel. Many of the shorter-range rockets that hit the Gaza periphery near where we're standing now, but some have been more powerful, going 20, 25 miles into Israel, indicating a larger, more powerful rocket with a bigger range.
According to the Israel military and hospitals we've spoken to, two Israelis have been wounded from shrapnel. Israel has carried out dozens of air strikes throughout the day, hitting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad military targets, including the Israeli military said a short time ago, a building that they say was where Hamas's general security services were based as well as their military intelligence services. That indicates that Israeli has stepped up its targets, it is hitting larger targets, not the usual military posts we're used to seeing.
All of this, this fighting that we're seeing throughout the course of the day shatters what had been a relative calm over the last few weeks. Yes, there had been some heating up some tension here and there, including lately, but nothing like what has happened here and what started on Friday afternoon.
That started as there were the usual Gaza protests, weekly protests along the border fence that we've seen over the course of the last year. But during that the Israeli military says a Palestinian sniper wounded two Israeli soldiers. The Israel response against the Hamas military post killed two members of Hamas's military wing. That all yesterday. Hamas vowed to respond, as well as other militant factions inside of Gaza, and that response came this morning when more than 50 rockets were fired within an hour. That has led us to this point.
Fredricka, the assessment is that neither Israel and Hamas are interested in a larger operation, and Israel hasn't mobilized ground forces, and yet the situation remains tense. In the past it has been Egypt and the U.N. stepping in to try to moderate some sort of return to a ceasefire. We'll see if that happens over the course of the next hour or hours, or we'll see if this fighting continues into tomorrow.
WHITFIELD: Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.
South Korean analysts are still trying to determine what short-range projectiles were launched from North Korea's eastern shore overnight, and whether it included any missiles. Japan says the objects fell short of its territorial waters. President Trump reacted earlier, tweeting in part, Kim Jong-un knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me.
With me now is Nic Robertson in London. So Kim Jong-un met with Vladimir Putin barely a week ago, and now he is launching projectiles. So that can't be a coincidence.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I don't think it can. And if you listen to the way the Pentagon describes the Friday phone call between President Putin and President Trump, they characterize it as Putin telling Trump that North Korea is diligently abiding by and fulfilling its obligations, and it's up to the other parties to do that. And the other parties here are quite clear what Russia is saying, is the other party is the United States, and is telling the United States that they need to give sanctions relief to North Korea.
What Putin is doing is parroting what Kim Jong-un has been saying, which is the United States is putting too much pressure on me, they've got to change this. He's given a deadline for the end of the year for this to change.
[14:25:03] He says the relationship and security and peace on the Korean Peninsula depends upon the future attitude of the United States. So this meeting that Kim Jong-un had with Vladimir Putin has really given Kim Jong-un perhaps a sense here that there are others around him that support him, and that he can play on the divisions between the United States and Russia and China as well. And by whatever these projectiles were, he knew that this was going to be a message that would be heard in Washington, but he also kind of feels here that perhaps Russia's got his back on this, a little bit. Not entirely, a little bit. So perhaps that is part of the equation here, this destabilizing that Kim Jong-un is now undertaking.
WHITFIELD: And then I wonder, Nic, from your point of view, does the way in which President Trump has tweeted about, does that only embolden Kim Jong-un? It certainly doesn't threaten him when the president says you're still my guy, we're still friends, so to speak.
ROBERTSON: It reinforces the message to Kim Jong-un that President Trump has got skin in the game. And President Trump has an election coming up. And President Trump doesn't want to be seen to be wrongfooted or outsmarted by Kim Jong-un. So perhaps he calculates that President Trump, like many U.S. presidents going into an election cycle, is not going to want to do something on the international stage that could have a backlash against him.
So perhaps Kim Jong-un calculates he has a bit more latitude here to put a bit more pressure on President Trump, because if President Trump goes back to the sort of language that he was using back in January, 2018, I've got a bigger, more effective nuclear button than you have, that was his message to Kim Jong-un, and Kim Jong-un then fires off some big missiles, then you get back into that rhetoric and the war of words, and one is a dotard and the other -- let's not go down that road, but we know what happened. And that's not a good position for President Trump to be seen on the key issues that we know he wants to deliver on the key things he said he would deliver on. He's made a big deal out of his relationship with Kim Jong-un, so he doesn't need that to go sour publicly, or if he does, he needs good cover for it.
WHITFIELD: Nic Robertson in London, thank you very much.
Coming up, ready to fight, Venezuela Nicolas Maduro promises to defend his country from any U.S. intervention. This as other Venezuelan officials prepare for meetings with Russia. More right after this.
[14:31:25] WHITFIELD: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is calling on the military to be ready to defend Venezuela in case U.S. forces attack. Today, Maduro accused the U.S. of trying to reconquer South America, saying, quoting now, "They have their eyes on Venezuela's riches," end quote. Venezuela's opposition leader, Juan Guaido, is vowing to take his protest back to the country's military bases, and says the death of protesters will not be in vain.
Meanwhile, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, will meet with Venezuela's foreign minister in Moscow tomorrow. The talks will take place ahead of an anticipated meeting between Lavrov and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland. Here is what President Trump had to say earlier about his conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin on Venezuela. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a very good talk with president Putin, probably over an hour, and we talked about many things. Venezuela was one of the topics, and he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he would like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.
And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now, people are starving. They have no water. They have no food. This is, Mr. Prime Minister, one of the richest countries 20 years ago, and now they don't have food and they don't have water for their people. So we want to help on a humanitarian basis. And I thought it was a very positive conversation I had with President Putin on Venezuela.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Joining me right now from Washington is Fernando Cutz. He has previously served as the senior adviser to former National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. Good to see you.
FERNANDO CUTZ, EX SENIOR ADVISER TO THE FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you very much for having me.
WHITFIELD: All right, so what is your thought about, or what are your thoughts about what is happening right now? You've got the foreign ministers of both Venezuela and Russia meeting. You've got the U.S. secretary of state soon to be meeting with the foreign minister of Russia, and a centerpiece is still Venezuela.
CUTZ: Absolutely. Venezuela is a critical component of the U.S. foreign policy right now. There's no doubt about it. Our hemisphere has trended in a way, in the last few years, that has become more pro- U.S. than we've seen it in decades, to be frank. And so we really have this coalition that's built up.
And yet, there is this one outlier. There's a couple of others, but really Venezuela is the big one, and it's an outlier that has shifted in the other direction, but done so at a significant cost to its people. And so when we see that kind of humanitarian disaster on the ground, when we see the lack of food, the lack of medicine, the lack of shelter, ability to survive on the ground, there's a real desire, and we see it as an opportunity, given that the hemisphere is so aligned, to try to do something for the people.
WHITFIELD: But who will have the greatest advantage here? Is it the U.S. and this opposition leader who are going in one direction, and then you have got Maduro, I guess the incumbent, or I'm not sure what to call him at this point, because he believes he was elected president, and you have got Russia wielding their own kind of influence.
CUTZ: It is very tricky, unfortunately. It's a messy geopolitical situation. We do have the Russians and Maduro on one side, along with the Cubans. And Maduro claims the power right now. He has the power, if you give him the security apparatus as the power structure. The security apparatus, the military is still mostly loyal to him. That much is clear.
[14:35:05] However, if you follow the people, then you would say Guaido has the power. The vast majority of folks in Venezuela, Venezuelans, are supportive of Maduro. In fact, there is independent polling that is being done right now, that's been done right now and has recently released, that is saying that 68 percent of Venezuelans support Guaido and not Maduro. So there is hard data to back that up, and you see that in the streets and you know that's the case.
And then of course, there is the geopolitical situation outside of the country, and that's where the United States and 52 other countries are paired up against Russia and Cuba. Now, ultimately, though, this is a Venezuelan crisis and it's going to have to be resolved by the people of Venezuela.
WHITFIELD: Do you really see that ultimately it will be the Venezuelan military that makes the decision, because it's who it's supports who will continue to wield power, right?
CUTZ: That's absolutely right. Ultimately, the Venezuelan military is who everybody is playing to right now. If they sway towards Guaido, then it is game over for Maduro. Either he flees or he is tried by his own people for the crimes he's committed. If the military stays loyal to Maduro, then it is going to be very, very hard for Guaido to take the power that he claims is legitimately his.
WHITFIELD: Do you see U.S. forces or even Russian forces also wielding some influence?
CUTZ: Well, sure, if the Russians get more involved than they are right now, they currently have 100 troops on the ground. And that's mainly symbolic, you are not doing a whole lot with 100 troops there. But it is giving them some skin in the game. And the Russians have figured out a very good way of irking the western world, the United States and many other, right? You look at Georgia, you look at Ukraine, you look at Venezuela now, Syria, they will send some troops, and that complicates the factors for us, because we're responsible actors and we don't want to get into a war.
The United States has not sent any troops in. But of course if the United States keeps the war rattling as well that has been coming out recently Ambassador Bolton, that will raise the tension even more, and ultimately make this a trickier situation.
WHITFIELD: All right, Fernando Cutz, thank you so much.
CUTZ: Thank you for having me.
WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.
[14:41:16] WHITFIELD: It has been 10 years since a suspected terrorist plotted to blow up New York City's subway, and next week he will be set free. On Thursday, a judge ruled that Najibullah Zazi would effectively serve no more prison time after prosecutors cited his extraordinary cooperation with U.S. investigators. Here is CNN's Athena Jones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Najibullah Zazi, who once plotted to bomb the New York subway system, could walk free within days.
WILLIAM STAMPUR, ZAZI'S ATTORNEY: He will hopefully be released in a short period of time. The reality is that the light at the end of the tunnel is extremely bright for him.
JONES: A federal judge in Brooklyn sentencing the convicted terrorist to 10 years for three counts connected to the terror plot. For Zazi, who has been in prison since his 2009 arrest, and was facing a life sentence, that amounts to time served.
The unusual reprieve coming after what the judge said was Zazi's unprecedented cooperation with investigators. Zazi, who learned to make bombs while at an Al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, met with investigators more than 100 times after pleading guilty to the bombing plot in 2010. He reviewed hundreds of photographs, testified in multiple trials, and provided critical intelligence and unique insight regarding Al Qaeda and its members.
Prosecutors say his assistance came in the face of substantial potential danger in the form of retaliation by Al Qaeda. "I tried my best to correct my horrific mistake by cooperating with the government," Zazi told the court during his sentencing Thursday, adding he is not the same person he was when he was arrested. "I find it almost hard to imagine what I was involved in in 2008 and 2009."
In a letter to Judge Raymond Dearie, the 33-year-old Afghan native writes about his path to extremism and his change of heart in prison. Around late 2006, Zazi met two men who introduced him to the teachings of the now deceased Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. Zazi watched hundreds of lectures, and was seduced by what he called the leader's twisted and corrupted teaching of the Koran.
He thought he would be doomed forever in the afterlife if he didn't wage jihad against America to protect Islam. Zazi earned his GED while in prison and gained a new understanding of the Koran, which he says changed his perspective. He now disavows terrorist ideology. It is a real redemption story, says CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: He came to understand that is not the message of Islam, not the message in the Koran. In fact, the message is the exact opposite of that, and that is what changed for him, and that is why all this useful intelligence came into the United States which no doubt has saved lives.
WHITFIELD: Zazi will become the third accused terrorist to be released in New York. Zarein Ahmedzay, a Zazi associate who pled guilty in connection to the plot, was released in December, and American al Qaeda recruit Bryant Neal Vinas who once pitched terrorist leaders on plans to bomb the Long Island railroad and a Walmart store, was released in 2017.
JONES: It's unclear what the terms of Zazi's release will be, including what level of supervision he will face. It's also unclear how concerned Zazi is about his own safety and what sort of arrangements may have been made to deal with those potential concerns. In his letter to the judge, Zazi said he would continue to assist law enforcement in an way he can.
Athena Jones, CNN, New York.
WHITFIELD: And much more straight ahead in the Newsroom, but first here is this week's turning point.
JESSICA COX, PILOT: I had numerous flight instructors and contributors in my training to figure this out, to figure out how can you fly an airplane with your feet.
We are in good shape.
I was certified by the FAA to fly in 2008. In preparation for flying, there is the critical thing of being able to reach the yoke with my right foot, also having my left foot there for controlling the throttle, and then also be able to reach the radio controls.
[14:45:07] I was born without both my arms. To this day, the doctors don't know why. At the age of five, I was introduced to prosthetic arms, so I actually didn't like the prosthetics from the beginning because I could do things better and more efficiently with my feet.
I wanted so much to be normal, and I was told too often that I couldn't do something or that I was handicapped, which I absolutely resented the word "handicap." Other than being a pilot, I'm a certified scuba diver, I've learned how to surf, I am a cyclist. I love to swim.
I am married. And we met through Tae kwon do. I am a third-degree black belt in Tae kwon do.
When I climb ladders I use my chin and my shoulder.
I have traveled as a speaker now to 23 countries. I've had role models and leaders, and because I've had that, now it is my responsibility to do the same for the next generation.
WHITFIELD: Dr. Sanjay Gupta is on a new mission in his CNN original series, "Chasing Life," journeying across the world to find the secrets to living better for the mind, body, and soul.
[14:50:04] And this week, he is headed to Norway to find out why a country that spends three months a year in freezing cold and complete darkness is also one of the happiest in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That first hike, it felt amazing. I can actually do it. My body can actually do more than I think that it can do. It was a really great feeling, really, like I'm on top of the world kind of feeling.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So Marianne (ph), what are you thinking right now when you look at this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think peace. Peace of mind. It's just spectacular.
GUPTA: You've gone through a lot in your life. And you've tried lots of different things to heal yourself. How did this place help heal you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel humble. It's little me against nature. But at the same time, I feel like I can achieve something.
GUPTA: I could see why you would never get used to this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
GUPTA: And you shouldn't get used to this. Some things in life and nature should always feel awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
WHITFIELD: That seems so nice. Joining us right now, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, host of "Chasing Life. I can relate to that because I like snow skiing, just that one with nature, and it's cold but it's beautiful, and it's stagnant, but then also vibrant.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think one of the things I really learned in making this series, we think of being outside and being in nature as sort of these luxuries of life, and in a way, they are for many people. But the idea that that's how we humans evolved, spent most of our time outside, and someone like Marianne (ph) who had depression, she tried everything, anti- depressants, various medications, some worked, some didn't, some worked for a little while. And then suddenly she finds nature. And it becomes one of the most therapeutic things for her.
It is not going to work for anyone. And I don't want to overstate it, but look at these other countries who take fewer meds for depression, fewer meds for pain, all these things, what are they doing to help them, and that's one of them. WHITFIELD: In Japan, the whole tree, walking through the forest
GUPTA: That's right. That was a show, yes.
WHITFIELD: I've been loving your series, actually. I'm religiously watching it. But there was something --
GUPTA: It was chemicals that actually trees emit. It helps protect them from stress. We have receptors for those in our bodies as well. And we breathe them in, as human beings are supposed to, and it can protect us from stress as well.
WHITFIELD: So this is a very cold place. I mean this is not, I guess, what one would envision as being happy. You think you're bundled up all the time, and you're enduring the elements, that that wouldn't evoke happiness. What is it about this place?
GUPTA: I'll tell you two things, and we talked to a lot of happiness researchers and people who studied this, and when you get north of the Arctic Circle, obviously you have periods of total darkness. Not all of Norway, but the northern part, and what they sort of said came down to this, this idea of not despite the elements but because of the elements, people in Norway are happy, because they have to overcome some sort of challenge on a regular basis.
GUPTA: They're hardier, but this idea that if you overcome a challenge, your capacity for happiness comes way up here. Even if it comes down, as we all do, we have these ebbs and flows, go live on the beach the rest of your life, you may have a baseline level of happiness, but if you define happiness as having these moments of exquisite happiness, not just a sort of a happy life, then a place like Norway gives you the example of why that works.
WHITFIELD: Is there like a common routine, or a common experience that many of them endure?
GUPTA: Yes, they do. And that's another thing. Norway, many of the Scandinavian countries, very early adopters of technology. One of the things they do, they have this ritual in Norway called koselig (ph), which basically means nice, cozy place, and many people will just turn off their devices, go off the grid, be by a fire, and be with family, people they love, in a cozy atmosphere for a period of time. It sounds great, right? But it's part of your culture there.
WHITFIELD: You are raised that way.
GUPTA: The bosses encourage it. That's what everyone does. So it is not something, again, it's just a nice luxury to have, it becomes engrained in the culture, and they get nice periods of relief from stress.
WHITFIELD: I'm learning something from each episode, and try to pluck a little something. That one I'm going to have to work on to get workplaces to embrace that, and families to embrace that, because I like that idea.
GUPTA: Me, too.
WHITFIELD: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, always good to see you.
GUPTA: You got it, thank you.
WHITFIELD: And be sure to watch "Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta," tonight 9:00 eastern only on CNN.
[14:58:30] WHITFIELD: Top stories right now, record flooding along the Mississippi River is taking its toll on nearby communities. In Davenport, Iowa, water levels are the highest they have been in 157 years. This weekend, much of the city remains under water. And there could be more rain on the way next week. Meantime, more than 40 million Americans still face severe weather threats today, with large systems moving through the southern plains and the southeast.
A Church of Scientology cruise ship is now back in its home port of Curacao after one of the crew members tested positive for measles. The Freewinds ship had been under quarantine in St. Lucia. St. Lucia's health officials said they provided 100 doses of the measles vaccine to people on the ship, but the ordeal is not over as doctors in Curacao will now need to further evaluate the nearly 300 people on board.
The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby will get under way in just a few hours. This year's race is expected to be wide open after the favorite was scratched due to a respiratory disease. Weather may also play a role in the derby as rain moves through the Louisville area today. The first leg of the triple crown of horse racing is affectionately called the most exciting two minutes in sports.
Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The news continues with Ana Cabrera right now.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. You're live in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.
If President Trump is frustrated by news North Korea is back to its --