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Crowds of Demonstrators Gather before Hong Kong March; Dozens Dead after Blast Hits Kabul Wedding; Leaked Documents Show U.K. Preparing for No Deal Brexit; Putin's Private Army; Trump's Support among Women Slips; Heat Wave Suspected of Killing Salmon. Aired 5-6a ET
Aired August 18, 2019 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A sea of protesters in Hong Kong. At 5:00 pm live, you're seeing the image there. The 11th straight weekend of demonstrations. CNN is live following this massive democracy rally.
Plus food shortages, gas stations running dry and blocked ports: these are just some of the problems that U.K. can face, according to a leaked government plan for a no-deal Brexit.
Also ahead this hour, melting glaciers and warming waters, we take a look at the impact of Earth's climate crisis playing out in Alaska.
We're live at CNN headquarters in ATL. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
HOWELL: 5:01 here on the U.S. East Coast. We're watching the streets of Hong Kong this hour, where thousands of pro-democracy protesters are on the move. Look right there at all of those umbrellas.
So many people on the streets, they're in the rain, braving the weather conditions and now headed out, marching toward the heart of the city, this is the 11th straight weekend of pro-democracy rallies. And it's a clear messages that these people are sending to city leaders that they're not backing down.
CNN is covering all angles of this protest. Our Will Ripley, Paula Hancocks and Ben Wedeman are all in Hong Kong.
Will, tell us what people are saying to you.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been an extraordinary scene here inside Victoria Park, which was the center, if you will, of this protest today. Organizers have been on the stage, we're starting to see through the crowd, the capacity estimated to be around 100,000. Organizers were hoping to get more than 100,000 people to come here because MTR stations surrounding Victoria Park were packed with people trying to get in.
The point was to force police to open up the surrounding roads outside of Victoria Park, because this is first weekend that the city of Hong Kong did not give a permit for a march from here in Causeway Bay, about two miles to the west, to central.
The protesters feel because so many people have turned out and many of them are just now going to kind of organically walk through the city, it's going to force police to shut down those roads and allow them to march.
What happens in the coming hours as all these people make their way towards central if the rain here in Hong Kong has to yet to be seen -- George.
HOWELL: Paula, tell us about where are you in this sea of people and tell us what people are telling you?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: George, we're just on one side of Victoria Park where Will Ripley was. And this was between one of the metro stations and the park, where people have been trying to get into the park.
But because it was so full there they have been at a logjam for a lot of hours now, torrential rainfall but everyone is standing their ground. But people are now starting to go to different areas of the city and that's really the issue here, the police gave permission for that rally in Victoria Park itself.
But there was no permission to march elsewhere, so once that filled to capacity, everyone else is in the side streets just jammed in, not really able to go anywhere. We have heard from police, they told people to look after themselves. Told motorists to stay alert. Because they have been blocked off to traffic because of the sheer amount of people that are there.
The chants that we are hearing, for 11 (sic) months now, calling for an independent investigation into the police activity over recent weeks. The people believe that there has been excessive force on the police behalf over the last couple of weeks, at least calling for that independent inquiry.
Coming to the police, they have realized this is also a battle for public opinion. So they've been publicly saying if they --
HANCOCKS: -- don't use violence, we won't use force, saying some of these protesters, a small contingent of them, are using violent, criminal behavior. But a majority of people, you can hear the passion in their chants -- George.
HOWELL: Paula Hancocks. Now let's bring in Ben Wedeman.
Ben, tell us what you're seeing. BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're seeing thousands of people heading west towards the center of the city. But interesting, some people are obviously sort of basically turning around and going back in the direction of Victoria Park, what we're not seeing so far is, A, a police presence or, B, any indication this is headed towards a kind of confrontation, which is significant in that normally -- I mean, I was here a week ago, last Sunday, and it did end in confrontations not just in this part of town but other parts of town.
There may be a desire among the protest movement to sort of avoid scenes of violence, which have been exploited by Mainland China and their propaganda effort to portray the protest movement as some sort of illegitimate pop movement with what they call a black hand or a foreign hand directing it -- George.
HOWELL: Ben, you know, you speak about propaganda; look, on the other side there, in Shenzhen, we know that the paramilitary, the Chinese paramilitary, has been staging, doing drills. Video has come to light, showing exactly what could happen should China enter into Hong Kong with these protests.
This video, it's all about show of force, the protesters coming together by the thousands, the show of force.
This video, Ben, as well, speaks to show of force, too?
WEDEMAN: Yes, certainly subtlety is not in play when it comes to this video that has been widely distributed and run throughout Mainland China, it clearly indicates that these are the people's armed police. It's not the Chinese army along with some local police engaged in this riot drill.
What's significant, among other things, is that the police in this video are chanting in Cantonese, not Mandarin, the common language in Mainland China. It's a message this is what awaits you if these protests continue and perhaps get out of hand.
What's interesting is, over the last few days, the Hong Kong police have contradicted Carrie Lam, the chief executive, who warned that the situation in Hong Kong is getting out of control. The police are saying, no, it's not. They have the situation under control. They can handle the protest movement as it stands.
But certainly what we saw earlier this week at Hong Kong airport, which was closed down for two days, because of the protesters, that we're not far at any point from going around the bend, falling into the abyss, where Hong Kong will find itself indeed invaded or with a Chinese military intervention at this point -- George.
HOWELL: Ben, live for us in Hong Kong, along with our other correspondents covering this. We'll stay with you all as we continue to watch this movement there in Hong Kong
A story to tell you about in Afghanistan, where families are burying their dead after a suicide blast that targeted a wedding. This happened on Saturday. At least 63 people were killed there. More than 180 others were wounded.
CNN has learned that women and children were among the victims. The attack comes just days after the last round of U.S.-Taliban peace talks. A Taliban spokesperson has condemned the blast and says his group was not involved. CNN's David Culver is following the story.
What's the latest you're hearing about this attack that targeted a wedding?
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely devastating when you think about the circumstances here. What is supposed to be a joyful and festive celebration turned tragic. Afghanistan's president tweeting that this is a day of mourning. Some of the images you're about to see here, it shows that setting. The aftermath, really, they're heartbreaking. You can see --
CULVER: -- decorated tables left empty and meals unfinished. The interior ministry has said 63 people have lost their lives. Other 180-plus have been injured. Those numbers could go up.
All of this as witnesses there are coming to grip with this new round of violence they're seeing. We heard from one of the witness, who stumbled upon the aftermath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMAD HASAN, WITNESS (through translator): We were sitting in our home when a strong sound of the blast came up. We came to the site of the blast and I saw that many women and children were screaming and crying. Many martyrs and injured people were transferred by the ambulances and it was a really terrible situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CULVER: The Taliban saying they're not responsible for this, going a step further, saying they condemned these actions. But Afghanistan's president said Taliban bears some responsibility, in his opinion, and he says that's because he believes they support terror networks.
This comes 10 days after another devastating attack, it happened outside of a police station in Kabul, 14 people were killed in that attack, another 145 injured. The Taliban did claim responsibility for that attack.
And George, as you point out, all of this happening as the U.S. and the Taliban are hoping to come sort of agreement meaning some U.S. forces, 14,000 troops would withdraw. And the Taliban would agree to keeping Islamic State or Al Qaeda and other terror networks out of Afghanistan.
HOWELL: David, thank you for the reporting.
CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer spoke earlier about what happened in Afghanistan. He offered his thoughts about what it means for the potential exit for U.S. troops and peace talks taking place there. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it can't get any insurances (sic); the Taliban is a unified, movement the leadership cannot account for everybody and they cannot account for the Islamic State. That movement is apparently picking up support.
This latest attack on the wedding has all the hallmarks of an Islamic State attack. It was against a Shia wedding, so what I think we are going to see, it is like when we left Vietnam in 1975, we are going to see what will amount to a civil war and there is nothing we can do about it.
When you take the troops down to 9,000, how much control -- we are already losing control over the country, U.S. troops and NATO. We're going to have a lot less. They are going to be confined to barracks and they're only going to be able to watch the chaos.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Again the perspective of CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer.
Now to the capital of Bangladesh, a scene of utter devastation, a large fire that ripped through a slum on Friday night, leaving about 2,000 people homeless. The flames destroyed about 80 percent of that area, according to officials.
All that was left afterward, a field of ash and debris that you see here and many dazed residents. Officials say the victims will get new, permanent housing.
Still ahead, fears of a no-deal Brexit are growing. A hard border in Ireland is just one of many concerns being discussed. We'll tell you what else the U.K. government is preparing for.
Plus, a Russian private army conducting training exercises in Africa. How Putin's reach is expanding across three continents. Stand by.
HOWELL: In the U.K., an unprecedented leak of government documents has come to light and it shows a contingency plan in the event of a no-deal Brexit. According to "Sunday Times," officials are preparing for potential shortages of food, fuel and medicine throughout the United Kingdom.
They're also expecting traffic jams at Britain's ports, which could last up to, get this, three months. And they predict that a hard border is likely to return in Ireland.
Britain's opposition leader is moving ahead with his plan to stop a no-deal Brexit and avoid those potential scenarios. He says he'll call for a no-confidence vote on the prime minister, Boris Johnson. CNN's Isa Soares has more on that continuing Brexit battle.
ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: In theory, all Boris Johnson has to do is wait and let the clock tick down. The 31st of October is enshrined in law as the day the U.K. leaves the European Union, deal or no-deal.
But in reality, there are a number of potential roadblocks opponents of no-deal may use to try and hold things up and peace return to this building in three weeks.
One of their first actions could be to call a vote of no confidence in the government, something Johnson will likely lose, given his parliamentary majority is down to just one. After that, well, this is when things get really murky, uncharted legal waters and no one really knows how it would work.
What we do know is the Prime Minister will have 14 days to respond, in which time the country could be swept along in four possible directions. He could call an election, leaving the British people to decide which course to steer.
Alternatively, the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, could be given a chance to actually captain the ship in trying to form a government and he has already said he would call a second referendum on Brexit.
It's also possible a unity government could be formed, led by someone other than Jeremy Corbyn, but they could try and sink Brexit altogether.
A fourth possibility, if Johnson loses a no-confidence vote, is that he simply refuses to step down and that means it could leave Britain adrift in a constitutional crisis and this is where the Queen comes in.
The Labour Party's John McDonnell says that if Johnson refuses to step aside, he will put Corbyn in a taxi straight to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen is normally tucked away, trying to stay out of the politics. Some have said in this sort of constitutional crisis, it would fall upon her to act.
Back in Parliament, MPs have a couple of other things they could try to avoid a no-deal Brexit. They could force Prime Minister Johnson back to Brussels to ask for an extension, although the E.U. has already refused to rework the deal. Or they could create a law to revoke Article 50, the very law which began this Brexit process.
All of this requires opposition and rebel politicians to be very organized and coordinated, something they aren't exactly known for around here. And if they fail to unite, no-deal looks inevitable -- Isa Soares, CNN, London.
HOWELL: Isa laid out the different possibilities here.
Let's get some perspective with Kate Andrews, an associate director at the Institute of --
HOWELL: -- Economic Affairs, joining us from our London bureau.
KATE ANDREWS, INSTITUTE OF ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Thank you, George.
HOWELL: Given the information from this leaked dossier, it does paint a picture of some serious problems that people should expect should a no-deal Brexit happen, it makes it clear as well, these are not worst case possibilities, these are hard and plain facts.
And as the document lays these scenarios out, how big of an impact would it have on day-to-day life for people?
ANDREWS: It makes for very frightening reading indeed if you take it to be, as you say, fact and not another element of fearmongering. There is some debate as to whether these are the realistic likelihood and whether or not these are worst-case scenarios.
The reason I think it's in dispute, some of the figures from Operation Yellow Hammer, were also on the front page of the BBC news website about a week ago, showing issues around trade disruptions at port and the traffic there were slightly improving, based on measures taken by the U.K. and France, those figures were put in this leaked document.
A week ago, it was said to be the worst case scenario planning. So I think there's some legitimate back and forth there. Generally speaking it's hard to find any Brexiteer saying that no deal is the best for U.K. The real worry is that the Irish border seem to be up for dispute, the possibility of a hard border. The U.K. has been very clear no circumstance where a hard border would be erected in Ireland.
So is this coming from the E.U. or elsewhere?
That remains to be seen.
HOWELL: Let's talk more about that, the possibility of eliminating the backstop, what that would mean for the border of Republic of Ireland, for goods like food and medicine shipped into the U.K. and these major delays at border crossings.
Do you think that information makes a big impact as people consider what it will be like to be in the U.K. after a no-deal Brexit?
ANDREWS: One of the major questions is whether or not the information leaked today is taking into account unilateral action that the U.K. could take. There's been talk around the medicine, the U.K. would unilaterally reduce tariffs and tackle regulatory powers in order to make sure medicine from the E.U. into the U.K. wouldn't be affected.
The E.U. may not be reciprocate. It's not clear if Operation Yellow Hammer has taken that into account. If the U.K. and E.U. decide they want mutually recognized standards and agree that it's better for a few goods to be smuggled across the border than to have actually have a hard border in Ireland, you know, they could come to that mutual recognition and not implement the bureaucracy they feel.
Boris Johnson is set to speak to Angela Merkel in Germany and Emmanuel Macron in France. France has said they want to be as helpful as possible with ports like Calais and Dover. So we can't really assume good faith, unfortunately, this Brexit process has taken over three years. The U.K. was supposed to exit on March 29th.
But cooperation from the U.K. and the E.U. hasn't been there every step of the way. It's hard to say, no, it's going to be fine. I think the reading is quite sobering and people are concerned about a no-deal Brexit. We can't say for certain that all of that information will come to fruition, because we don't know what they'll do to mitigate those problems.
HOWELL: Kate Andrews, we appreciate the perspective. We'll just have to see where this goes from here. Thank you.
ANDREWS: Thank you.
HOWELL: The 2020 election here in the United States, it's more than a year away but the campaigning, well, it's already underway. Coming up, what the U.S. president Donald Trump is doing to sway women voters.
Plus a CNN exclusive: the Russian president Vladimir Putin's private army training soldiers to get access to diamonds in central Africa.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For Russia, this is a straightforward bargain. They provide the weapons and the training and in return they get access to the country's natural resources and, in the process, hope to reassert themselves as a major player in this region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Welcome back to viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.
HOWELL: Earlier this week, we brought you a CNN exclusive report exposing a secret private army doing the bidding of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. CNN has learned the reach of this shadowy fighting force that's called Wagner, it's apparently led by a Putin ally --
HOWELL: -- linked to U.S. election interference and is expanding into three different continents. More on that exclusive reporting and how the Kremlin's fears about our investigation became evident as a CNN crew was followed all the way to Africa. Here's CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward.
WARD (voice-over): This is boot camp for recruits to a new army in the war-torn Central African Republic. The troops are being taught in Russian. Weapons are Russian, too. It's taken months to get access to this camp and officially this is a U.N. approved training center (ph).
But the Russian instructors wouldn't talk to us or even be identified because they are not actually soldiers; they are mercenaries sponsored by a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin. They are the sharp end of an ambitious drive into Africa, stoking fears in Washington of Russian expansionism.
Valery Zakharov is the man in charge here, a former military intelligence officer, he is now the security adviser to the Central African Republic's president.
VALERY ZAKHAROV, SECURITY ADVISER TO CAR PRESIDENT (through translator): Russia is returning to Africa, we were already present in many countries during the time of the Soviet Union and Russia is coming back to the same position. We still have connections and we are trying to reestablish them.
WARD (voice-over): That's not the only reason they're here. The Central African Republic is rich in natural resources, gold and diamonds, and the Russians want them. We're on our way to one of seven sites where a Russian company has been given exploration rights.
WARD: One of the challenges of trying to nail down exactly what the Russians are doing here is that, once you get outside the capital, this is still a very dangerous and chaotic country. Just last year, three Russian journalists were actually ambushed and killed while working on a story about Russian mercenaries.
WARD (voice-over): The drive is bruising and long, along rutted tracks to a tiny village of straw huts. And then we have to cross a river, on this hand-pulled ferry. Local teenager Rodriguez agrees to show us where the Russians have been active. It's another bumpy ride through the Bush; the last part of the journey is on foot.
We asked the workers if they have seen any Russians.
WARD: (Speaking French).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking French).
WARD: So he's saying that earlier this year there were a lot of Russians here looking for diamonds.
WARD (voice-over): Rodriguez says the Russians now employ hundreds of workers on artisanal mines like this across the area. In the pit, a group of teenagers pan through the sand in the search for a precious fragment. Whatever they find, they say must be handed over to the Russians' agent.
WARD: It's interesting; these guys are saying that the Russians who visited this spot actually came from the training camp at Berengo that we visited. It's pretty clear they're doing more than just training troops here.
WARD (voice-over): CNN has learned that the mining exploration rights have been given to a company called Lobaye Invest. Lobaye is part of a sprawling business empire owned by this man, Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch close to the Russian president Vladimir Putin. He's been sanctioned by the U.S. for meddling in the 2016 election.
A CNN investigation based on hundreds of documents has established that Prigozhin's companies are also providing the mercenary muscle. He is believed to be the man behind Wagner, Russia's most notorious private military contractor.
On a return to town from the mines, we noticed we are being followed. We tried to approach but the car drives off. We catch a glimpse of four white males. All but one hide their faces from our camera. There is no license plate.
The police confirmed later to us that they are Russians. Near our hotel, we spot the vehicle again. They tried to get closer but the men drive off.
WARD: We're back at our hotel now but a little bit shaken up because that car full of Russians has been following us for quite some time and we don't know why and we don't know what they want.
WARD (voice-over): Mindful of the murder of the journalists last year, we leave town the next day.
Back in the capital Bangui, Russia's growing influence is impossible --
WARD (voice-over): -- to escape, on the streets and even on the airwaves. Radio Lengo Songo features African music and lessons in Russian. No surprise, perhaps, that it is funded by Prigozhin company Lobaye Invest. The manager tells us the station wants to deepen cooperation between the two nations. And in a country where education and entertainment are in short
supply, it seems that plenty of people are listening. American officials say they are greatly concerned by Russia's actions here and that they undermine security.
But with the U.S. shrinking its footprint across Africa and with minimal official Kremlin involvement, Putin has little to lose.
WARD: For Russia, this is a straightforward bargain. They provide the weapons and the training and in return they get access to the country's natural resources and, in the process, hope to reassert themselves as a major player in this region.
WARD (voice-over): It's a campaign for hearts and minds and hard power. Russia is moving quickly to be a step ahead of its rivals -- Clarissa Ward, CNN, the Central African Republic.
HOWELL: Outstanding reporting by our Clarissa Ward, Clarissa, thank you.
The U.S. president may have a problem with a critical voting bloc: women. After the break we're hear from some on their take on Donald Trump.
HOWELL: The U.S. president is eyeing the state of Minnesota for his re-election bid. But to flip the battleground state, he'll have to win over a key demographic: suburban women. As our Martin Savidge reports, that's proving to be a difficult task.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump has his sights on winning Minnesota in 2020.
TRUMP: This is supposed to be a Democrat state. I don't think so.
I don't think so. I don't think so. They have a very big surprise coming, don't you think?
Very big surprise.
SAVIDGE: The reason he's so focused is because he barely lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and because Minnesota is home to Squad member Representative Ilhan Omar, who Trump has repeatedly attacked. In order to win, Trump needs a strong showing from his base and to hold on to his support in the suburbs with voters like Kelly Meyers.
(on camera): Who would you vote for again in 2020?
KELLY MEYERS, MINNESOTA VOTER: Still Donald Trump.
SAVIDGE: No misgivings, no doubts.
SAVIDGE: No change of mind?
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Amber Griffin says she still supports Trump despite his hateful speech and tweets against people of color.
(on camera): You heard the terrible things that he said?
AMBER GRIFFIN, MINNESOTA VOTER: Yes. I think he's just probably ignorant and he says whatever -- he's a product of his environment, how he was raised.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Neither woman blames the president for the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton or for a lack of swift gun control leadership in the aftermath.
Yet, political experts say there are signs Trump's appeal to suburban women voters in Minnesota is shifting, based on the 2018 midterms.
LARRY JACOBS, HUMPHREY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: We certainly saw some of the cracks in support among Republican, swing voters, or even some Republican women voters coming over to the Democrats because of dissatisfaction with Donald Trump. The clearest sign of that was in state House races and in congressional races.
SAVIDGE: Polling suggests Trump's struggles in the suburbs aren't just limited to Minnesota. A "Washington Post"/ABC poll found the president's approval rating with suburban men was 51 percent. But among suburban women, it was much lower at 37 percent. I talked to several women Trump voters here who have grown tired of the Twitter rants and images of children separated from their parents at the border and ICE raids and who worry about the economy. They aren't sure if they'll vote for the president again. All declined an interview.
(on camera): When it comes to talking about a political change of heart, many of the women who I spoke to just aren't comfortable about going on camera in front of a national audience.
(voice-over): I had just about given up when I met Mary Joe Anderson. She gladly voted for Trump in 2016 and still likes many of his policies, but she can't bear to see families separated and has grown increasingly bothered by his bitter battles without reason. MARY JOE ANDERSON, MINNESOTA VOTER: He opens his mouth and says
things and has to retract them. I don't like that. I think you should know what you're going to say and say it the proper way.
SAVIDGE: She's not certain she'll vote for him again.
ANDERSON: Oh, no. No, no, I'm going to look at everything. But there's too many running on the other side, so I'm not looking now. I'd rather wait.
SAVIDGE: She says other women are having second thoughts, suggesting, for Trump's re-election hopes in Minnesota and beyond, there's trouble in the suburbs -- Martin Savidge, CNN, Minneapolis.
HOWELL: A heartbreaking sight in the Alaskan wilderness, healthy wild salmon are dying in huge numbers. Scientists say there's only one rational explanation. We'll explain what that is. Stand by.
HOWELL: All you can say is wow. Two kayakers in Alaska, they're lucky to have survived as ice from a glacier collapsed in front of them. They heard the cracking just before but suddenly chunks of ice and water were flying all around them.
Pieces of ice can split off from glaciers. It happens all the time. But it usually has -- happened at a very unusual time, one of the hottest times. Anchorage, Alaska, hit an all-time of 90 degrees Fahrenheit in July, 32 degrees Celsius.
The Alaska heat wave also took a toll on wildlife. Scientists believe warmer water killed large numbers of salmon as they swam upriver to spawn. Salmon populations could decline if too many mature adults die before they reproduce, which would be devastating for both people and other animals that depend upon the fish.
Joining us to talk more about this is Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, a fishery scientist and the director of the Yukon River Intertribal Fish Commission.
Good to have you with us.
STEPHANIE QUINN-DAVIDSON, YUKON RIVER INTERTRIBAL FISH COMMISSION: Thanks. Happy to be here.
HOWELL: You took a group of scientists on an expedition along Alaska's Koyukuk River at the end of July. This was after locals alerted you that hundreds of salmons were dead on the riverbank.
QUINN-DAVIDSON: Yes, we started in a small village on the Koyukuk River in Hughes. We landed there and then we boated 200 miles downriver to another small village, Huslia. And almost immediately after we got on the river and started boating down, we started to see dead salmon floating in the water and washed up on the banks.
Along that stretch of about 200 miles, we counted over 800 dead salmon that had not yet spawned and every time we stopped on the beach when we saw larger groups of --
QUINN-DAVIDSON: -- salmon that were dead there, we counted far more than what we had expected.
HOWELL: Clearly this is an indicator of a much bigger problem.
How important are these fish to the surrounding communities and how will this impact them?
QUINN-DAVIDSON: Yes, absolutely, these salmon are vital to the small communities out in rural Alaska, many of our communities out in rural Alaska don't have grocery stores. Or those that do, the groceries are expensive.
And really the people living out there, they depend on these fish and the resources in this river to sustain their families through the winter. Thankfully, this die-off, to our knowledge, it didn't have an impact on people's ability to harvest enough salmon this year.
But it's definitely a concern for future years if we're not getting enough salmon to spawn and keep this run continuing in future years.
HOWELL: I touched on this a moment ago, indicative of a much bigger problem, tell us more about what you believe is behind all of this.
QUINN-DAVIDSON: Yes, when we stopped and examined these salmon, we looked for sign of disease, infections, parasites anything they might have indicated that these salmons were sick. We saw nothing of the sort. These were healthy salmon. They died and washed up on shore and hadn't spawned, had beautiful eggs inside of them, weren't even close to spawning.
And really what we think happened is it was an extreme heat event that caused stress to these salmon. The die-off coincided with record- setting temperatures in Alaska. On the Koyukuk River alone, in these villages, I looked at the weather history, and the temperatures for about a week in early July were 20 degrees higher than average.
And so you can imagine that really warmed up the water and caused a lot of stress for these salmon. I think they simply ran out of gas before they could get to their spawning grounds, which is a real tragedy.
HOWELL: Stephanie, you took a few images of bear footprints. Salmon one of the top food sources for bears.
How much of an impact will this have on surrounding wildlife?
QUINN-DAVIDSON: It's really hard to understand what impact this die- off event will have on the surrounding ecosystem just because we don't have a grasp on how many salmon died in this event.
It's one thing we put in our files and if we start to see things change in ecosystems in terms of numbers of bears or health of them or other animals that depend on this resource, it's something that we can go back and say, OK, this event maybe was having more of an impact that we originally thought.
But I'm hopeful that this ecosystem is resilient enough to bounce back from any small impacts this might have had on the surrounding area.
HOWELL: As a scientist and a final message, what would you say -- what would you want to tell the world about what's happening in Alaska when it comes to the issue of global warming?
QUINN-DAVIDSON: Yes, I think this was very eye-opening for me. And I have just been telling people that climate change is here in Alaska. We feel it when we're out hiking, we feel when we're feeling so hot. We see it when it's happening, what it's doing to our local communities, they're experiencing more erosion.
And now because of it, our salmon are dying. And you know, I think this is just an indicator of perhaps what's more to come for Alaska and I find that quite alarming.
HOWELL: Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, we appreciate your time. Thank you.
QUINN-DAVIDSON: Thank you so much.
HOWELL: Climate change is one of the challenges facing our planet, clearly one of the oceans' problems that we're seeing playing out but pollution is another. Since April, veterinarians in Thailand have been trying to save this orphaned baby dugong. But she passed away on Saturday.
An autopsy showed small pieces of plastic clogging her intestines that caused an infection and inflamed lungs. Dugongs are among the 19 animals protected by Thailand, which is one of 10 southeast Asian countries that adopted a joint declaration to combat marine debris in the oceans.
That is the reality and the state of things. Thank you for being with us for NEWSROOM this hour. I'm George Howell in Atlanta. The news continues here on CNN right after the break.