Return to Transcripts main page


Moira Fire, Germany, France to Take Hundreds of Refugee Children; Huge Fire Erupts in Beirut Port, Weeks After Deadly Explosion; Portland Declares State of Emergency Due to Fires; Oregon Officials Say 500,000 People Forced to Leave Homes; Tensions Over U.K.'s Brexit Strategy; Ancient City in Mexico Reopens for Tourist; WWF Living Planet Reports On Its Findings; U.S. Still Tops in COVID Cases; India's COVID Cases Skyrocketed; Medical Experts Furious Over Trump's Statement; Vaccine Is Good, Shortcuts Isn't. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. And this CNN Newsroom.

Coming up here this hour, new coronavirus hotspots popping up around the world. France and India reporting a record number of cases. With college campuses in the U.S. seeing a major surge as well. We'll take you live to France and India at this hour.

Also, a majority of maskless followers turned out to rally for the U.S. president, as anger grows over Donald Trump's admission he knew the virus was deadly weeks before taking any action.

Also this hour, thousands flee Greece's largest migrant camp as a huge fire reduces it to embers.

And thank you again for joining us.

More than 28 million, that is what Johns Hopkins reports as the total number of coronavirus infections worldwide since this pandemic began. That is about seven times the population of Los Angeles. The U.S. remains the hardest hit country, with more than six million cases and almost 191,000 deaths.

And the new CDC projection says the death toll -- that's it there on the screen -- could grow by 25,000 in just the next three weeks. That is hard to fathom. However, the average number of new cases in the U.S. has been trending downward. Almost 35,000 new infections were reported on Thursday, and at least 870 deaths so far. The U.S. has had more death than any other country in the world.

Brazil has the second highest death toll in the world. On Thursday, authorities reported almost 1,000 more fatalities, and more than 40,000 new infections. And Israel has set a record for new cases for two days in a row. Now that nation may be returning to a countrywide general lockdown like the one it put in place in the early days of the pandemic.

Europe is struggling with the resurgence of new infections as well. France has just set a record with more than 9,800 confirmed cases in 24 hours. The government meets later today to discuss whether new restrictions should be imposed.

Let's bring in Jim Bittermann. He's live for us in southern France. And hello to you, Jim. And this must be a sobering day thinking about the fact that they may have to fall back yet again in France.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I think it came as something of a surprise. People who have been watching the numbers, probably they weren't too surprised by this. Over the last couple of weeks, the numbers have been growing every single day and now, as you said, last night, they come up with the new numbers of 9,800 new cases of coronavirus in one day.

The average over a week is 50,000. And that's enough to trigger this scientific committee, the concern that's being presented to them this morning, what -- they'll be talking about what kind of new restrictions they should be taking to combat what was kind of viewed here as a second wave.

The scientific committee had said basically that it's not up to them to take the decisions, the politicians will have to make the decision but they are going to make recommendations, and he said there going to be hard choices ahead. Natalie?

ALLEN: Yes, and with France being in this situation, are students returning to schools across the country right now?

BITTERMANN: Well, they are returning to schools. They are returning to schools. They are returning with masks. But one of the things the scientific committee is considering is a possibility of following recommendations from the World Health Organization that students as young as six years old should be required to wear a mask.

And in the schools where some of the things have gone in fact, there have been infections. There have been students who have been contaminated. Classes have been shut. In one -- two couple of cases there have been entire schools shut down. And the teachers themselves are not really happy about all this. The teachers union has been asking for better masks. They are saying that the disposable masks just aren't good enough. They want full surgical masks.

So, there's a lot of turmoil over the question of whether the students should be in school. They are trying to get the school back in session but at this point, it's not exactly a done deal. Natalie?


ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. We are seeing trouble in schools of course here in the United States, as they reopen as well. We'll wait and see what the country decides today. We'll talk with you again. Jim Bittermann in southern France. Jim, as always, thank you.


ALLEN: India has reported a global record for the highest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day.

For more about it, Vedika Sud is in New Delhi, live for us. Vedika, what can you tell us about this and what could be behind it?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN PRODUCER: Well, actually from here, Natalie, well, these are our grim figures that we are seeing really because it's the second day in a row that India is reporting a record number of new COVID-19 cases from across the world according to the Johns Hopkins University. It was over 95,000 yesterday and today it's over 96,500 new infections, staggering numbers indeed.

And this takes India's COVID-19 case low to over 4.56 million, which means that India remains the second highest when it comes to the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the world and third highest number of confirmed deaths across the world, with stand at over 76,200.

Now there are several reasons for the surge in cases, Natalie. One of them, of course, being the aggressive testing that is now taking place in India. The health ministry about three weeks ago made it very clear that they will be testing aggressively, because of which the government has now come out with figures that state that over 53 million samples have been tested to date.

Another reason, of course, being the fragile public healthcare system that still exists in rural areas where about 70 percent of the India's population is. Also, through its press conferences you've seen the Indian government talk about continuously how the fatality rate still remain relatively low when compared to other countries and how high the recovery rate is.

Now, according to experts this has led to a bit of complacency amongst people who feel it's all right now to step out, some of them feel it's all right to step out to step out without masks and not maintain social distancing, which is a worry that was even something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday during a function through video commissioning did address.

He reached out to the people and he said that we should not be taking COVID-19 lightly at this point in time until a vaccine is ready. Social vaccine is the alternative -- alternative arrangement that should be in place, where people maintain social distancing, and of course, take all the precautions mentioned by the government of India.

So those raw numbers are really rising on a daily basis, 95,000 yesterday, 96,500 plus today. Let's just see what tomorrow holds. It's really a grim situation here, Natalie.

ALLEN: It certainly is. I'd like the term social vaccine. That makes sense. What people can do to help prevent this right now. Vedika Sud, thank you as always. SUD: Thank you.

ALLEN: Returning now to the United States where anger is growing at President Donald Trump. Health professionals are slamming him after he admitted he downplayed the virus during the early days of the pandemic.

CNN's Nick Watt has more about it.


WILLIAM HASELTINE, FORMER PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: How many people could have been saved out of 190,000 that have died? My guess is 180,000 of those?

CRAIG SPENCER, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH IN EMERGENCY MEDICINE, NEW YORK-PRESBYTERIAN/COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: I'm furious, because you want to talk about panic and wanting to reduce panic? I think of the panic of every single family I called on facetime to let them know their family member was dying or had died?

CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASES SPECIALIST & EPIDEMIOLOGIST, NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: This is medical malpractice, negligent homicide on a grand scale.

JONATHAN REINER, CARDIOLOGIST, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: This is stunning. He should resign. This is really stunning.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But the president still thinks or at least says he's been great.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If you look at our numbers compared to other countries, other parts of the world, it's been an amazing job that we've done.


WATT: OK, let's look at the numbers. Compare the U.S. to some other countries. Foreign Policy magazine just does that and ranks the U.S. very near the bottom. Just below Ethiopia, Russia, Hungary, and Indonesia. The magazine highlights the federal government's-limited use of facts and science.


TRUMP: You know, in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away, I hope that's true.


WATT: A new poll shows 62 percent of Americans are worried the FDA will rush approval of a vaccine due to political pressure. And a new study suggests the U.S. massively undercounted COVID-19 cases in the early days, confirming just over 720,000 cases by April 18th.

Researchers estimate there were really over 6.4 million by that point. Why? Because there wasn't enough testing. Still isn't. And the CDC's guidance still says if you have been at an unmasked gathering of more than 10 people but don't have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test, unless you are from a vulnerable population.


Something the administration's own testings czar contradicts.


BRETT GIROIR, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We do need to test asymptomatic people. There is -- there is no doubt about that, full stop.


WATT: Still, with the mixed messaging. Look at the president's slides this afternoon as we pass 40,000 cases on college campuses in every single state. As always, there are state to state differences in terms of spread, attitudes, and safety measures.

New York City doing great. Still, super cautious as they prep to reopen some indoor dining, with temperature checks at the door and a warning.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): If we get to 2 percent infection rate on a regular basis on that seven-day average, at that point we need to immediately reassess indoor dining.


WATT: In Missouri right now, more than 13 percent of tests are coming back positive. Still, the NFL season opener is tonight in Kansas City, with some fans in the stand.

So, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force is now telling anybody who might have let their guard down a little over the long Labor Day holiday weekend to get a test. That is now just a little bit harder here in Los Angeles County. You can see this is smoke from wildfires that have burned, three million acres in the state, as a result of the air quality L.A. County has now closed six COVID-19 testing sites.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.

ALLEN: Let's talk more about this with my Sterghios Moschos. He is and associate professor of molecular virology at Northumbria University in England joins me there now. Good morning to you, Sterghios. Good to see you. Thanks for coming on.


ALLEN: I'd like to start there with what's going on in the United States, that bombshell by the president. And we saw the medical community's reaction to it. And it just seems over and over again that the United States has been set by mixed messaging. And how do you view that it's affected this country's response or lack thereof?

MOSCHOS: As your previous reporter said the numbers speak by themselves. The outbreak sides and the United States is second only to India's. That's just especially a caseload. With regard to disruption, economic damage, change of lifestyle, you know, thousands and thousands of people, this is on top of the deaths that are a record high in the United States.

It's -- it is what it is, we are where we are, the question is how do we get out where we are right now. We can't roll back time. We need to focus on moving forward and assuring that the second wave that is coming, Israel this morning announced that it will actually initiate a lockdown for a two-week period minimum, a national-wide lockdown for a two-week period.

The second wave is coming, we need to actually make sure this time around this is the short as possible but as effective as possible. And we need to make clear the messaging to people who believe in conspiracy theories who don't understand what COVID is, they get over it. Perhaps even a firsthand picture of what it means in terms of damaged people immediately, but also long term.

This is not just a risk of death virus. This is a risk of disability virus. This is a risk of a lifetime damage potentially of heart disease, lungs, kidneys, even potentially the brain. And this state is now emerging, scientists don't know if this is a permanent set of damage that even mild cases receive. So, we need really, really must not let these damages now or in decades to come.

ALLEN: Absolutely. And we know that Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying that the decision to pause AstraZeneca's vaccine trial because of a potential adverse effect in one volunteer, shows the safety monitoring system is working. Do you agree there?

MOSCHOS: Totally. I think the fact that the heads of the pharmaceutical companies joined together in saying that if there is the slightest inkling for the safety allowed, we need to make sure that we respond appropriately is now becoming manifest and it explains why there is absolutely no need to push for a rapid release of the vaccine.

There is an absolutely to the exactly the opposite, exactly the opposite. We have a very strong anti-vaccination movement in the United States and worldwide. Which will take any kind of oversight, that is (Inaudible) on the development of this vaccine as further and they will multiply the impact of this globally, causing an enormous amount of damage not only with COVID, but every other possible disease that is covered by vaccine.

[03:14:58] So, we need to take the steps directly and we, the individuals, the people need to protect our families, our friends, our colleagues, our communities, simply by just keeping that distance, washing their hands, wearing those masks and just being safe and be reasonable about this.

It's not -- we're not removing any -- nobody wants to remove anybody's freedom. I put on my three-year child a face mask because I want to keep him and his peers safe in kindergarten. So please, people, just be reasonable about this.

ALLEN: Absolutely. Now is the time. And we mentioned that there are questions about whether the FDA in the U.S. could rush a vaccine. There is some political pressure, President Trump would like one before the election, that's eight weeks.

But on Thursday, senior FDA officials wrote an op-ed in the USA Today to assure the public they are following the science and will make an unbiased evaluation of the evidence when it's time for FDA approval. How vital at this time, when there is pressure for a vaccine, that public trust in such institutions like the FDA not be corporatized or doubted?

MOSCHOS: I think it will be quite an interesting situation to follow because for the FDA to approve a vaccine, a company needs to make a submission requesting of the approval. You can't force a company to have their vaccine approved.

So, unless (Inaudible) and any other of this organizations appropriates a vaccine that is had funded and they pushes it forward for approval, then I can't see the large pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline or whoever is working on this area, actually requesting an approval of a vaccine that is not proven to be safest yet.

So, it will be something to watch very carefully, consider very carefully, the consequences of outcomes and decisions that are taken up of political of them.

ALLEN: We always appreciate your expertise on all this. Sterghios Moschos for us, thank you.

MOSCHOS: You're very welcome.

ALLEN: We'll see you again at some point.

President Trump admits misleading the country about the deadly nature of the coronavirus, now he's telling supporters, his handling of the crisis is like that of Roosevelt and Churchill during World War II. More about that, as we push on here. You are watching CNN Newsroom.


ALLEN: U.S. President Trump is now comparing his handling of the coronavirus pandemic to that of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill during World War II. Listen to what he told a crowd of supporters on Thursday in Michigan.


TRUMP: America will prevail over the China virus, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. That's it.



TRUMP: We are doing very well. As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on. That's what I did. When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London, and speak. And he always spoke with calmness. He said, we have to show calmness. No, we did it the right way, and we've done a job like nobody.


ALLEN: Few people wore masks at the rally and social distancing was nonexistent. This comes just one day after on the record interviews by the president, revealed that he knew back in February that the coronavirus was both highly contagious and deadlier than the flu.

Yet, he admits in those same interviews with journalist Bob Woodward to intentionally downplaying the health threat, because he said he doesn't want to cause panic.

Some of Woodward's taped interviews with the president were released ahead of his new book on the Trump presidency, unlike anonymous sources that can't be dismissed as fake, it is the president himself admitting on tape he misled the country about this pandemic.

As the White House grapples with the fallout from those revelations, the president now blames Woodward. We get more on all of this from CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: One day after bombshell recordings reveal the president intentionally downplayed the COVID-19 threat, Mr. Trump is claiming it was all about keeping Americans from panicking.


TRUMP: I didn't lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can't be panicked. I don't want to jump up and down and start screaming death, death.


ACOSTA: The president is even trying to shift the blame to the journalist with the Trump tapes, Bob Woodward.


TRUMP: Certainly, if he thought that was a bad statement, he would have reported it because he thinks that, you know, you don't want to have anybody that is going to suffer medically because of some fact.

If Bob Woodward thought what I said was bad, then he should have immediately, right after I said it, gone out to the authorities so they can prepare and let them know, but he didn't think it was bad, and he said he didn't think it was bad. He actually said he didn't think it was bad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob Woodward is not the president.

TRUMP: The only that --


ACOSTA: Democrats aren't buying it, with Joe Biden tweeting, Donald Trump said he didn't want to tell the truth and create a panic, so he did nothing and created a disaster.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: He hid the facts and refused to take the threat seriously, leaving the entire country exposed and unprepared. He didn't want to cause a panic. Why? Because of the stock market?


ACOSTA: The president has used the panic excuse before, way back in March.


ACOSTA: What do you say to Americans who believe that you got this wrong?

TRUMP: And I do want them to stay calm, and we are doing a great job. If you could ask a normal question, the statements I made are, I want to keep the country calm, I don't panic in the country. I could cause panic, much better than even you.


ACOSTA: But here's the problem, in February the president warned Woodward the virus was deadly, but not the public.


TRUMP: It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch, you know, the touch you don't have to touch things, right, but the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so, that's a very tricky one, that's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your, you know, even your strenuous flu's. This is more deadly.


ACOSTA: Even with the Trumps admissions caught on tape --


TRUMP: I wanted to -- I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.


TRUMP: Because I don't want to create a panic.


ACOSTA: Top administration officials are trying to tell the public don't believe your own ears.


MICHAEL PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I actually didn't sense the president was downplaying anything. We were giving the American people the facts as we knew them, as we learned them, every step of the way.


ACOSTA: Woodward book has GOP senators running for cover with Iowa's Joni Ernst telling CNN, I haven't read it. I haven't seen it, so give me a chance to take a look. And John Cornyn of Texas praising Mr. Trump, saying, he's done as good job as you can under the circumstances.

But there are other pressing questions for the president raised in the Woodward book, as to why Mr. Trump thought it was a good idea to tell the author about what sounds like a top-secret nuclear weapon system.


TRUMP: I have built a nuclear -- a weapon. I have built a weapon system, a weapon system that nobody has ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven't even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There is nobody -- what we have this incredible.


ACOSTA: And during this rally in Michigan the president and his campaign team were violating his administration's own coronavirus guidelines as they packed in thousands of supporters who weren't practicing social distancing, and many were not wearing masks.

Jim Acosta, CNN, at the Saginaw Airport in Michigan.

[03:24:56] ALLEN: John Bolton has been critical of President Trump's leadership after he was ousted as national security adviser one year ago. Bolton spoke earlier with our Chris Cuomo and said, Mr. Trump only views the pandemic as it may impact his chances for reelection. Here he is.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, this is a very serious political problem for the president, which is what he understands it to be. It's not a matter of truth or falsity here for him. This is an existential threat to his reelection which I think explains the vehemence of his response to it.

And I think it's just absolutely striking how clear he is on these tapes to Woodward of his appreciation for how dangerous the coronavirus was, compared to what he was saying publicly at the time, what his senior advisers, and cabinet officials were saying at the time. There's no way you can reconcile those things.

And that, coming out of his own mouth I think -- I think this could be nearly the point where the campaign ends.


ALLEN: Bolton also said it was President Trump's nature to resist listening to negative information that he doesn't want to hear especially if it might have an adverse effect on the economy and jeopardize Trump's reelection.

We turn to other news now. Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are set to begin Saturday in Qatar. If successful, it could mark a turning point in Afghanistan's tortured history.

The U.S. plans to cut American forces in the country by half, and pull out completely by next April under a deal signed with the Taliban in February. But there are conditions to that pull out. And U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo is on his way to Qatar to support the peace process.

And speaking with reporters, Pompeo acknowledged ongoing bloodshed including a deadly roadside bomb in Kabul on Wednesday.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There are a series of commitments that the Taliban have made, and we have every expectation that they will follow through on them. Our commitment to reduce our forces to zero is conditioned on them executing their obligations under the agreement. So very clear about their responsibilities with respect to terrorist activity taking place in Afghanistan that is plotting against external -- external operate -- plotting external operations.

It's very clear that the violence levels have to come down to acceptable levels. Look, we saw just yesterday, maybe the day before, there were plenty of spoilers out there. There are people who don't want this to go forth. They want America mired in this place. They don't want peace in Afghanistan. Most afghan people want that.


ALLEN: We'll be following Pompeo's trip here to Qatar.

Deadly wildfires continue to rage across the western U.S. Next, I talk with a California fire management expert who is rethinking what can be done to prevent these infernos.



NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN Newsroom, live from Atlanta, I'm Natalie Allen. Germany and France have agreed to take in some 400, unaccompanied refugee children, after a devastating fire at a refugee camp in Greece. The fire destroyed the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, the largest camp in that country, leaving thousands of refugees without any shelter. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, says she hopes other European countries also will take in refugees.

Let's talk about it with CNN's Melissa Bell. She is live for us, on Lesbos there. And hello to you, Melissa. I know that you have been talking with some of the people who have been affected by this, and I can't imagine what they are going through.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been a difficult few days for so many of them, Natalie, 13,000 people who live here and what was Europe's largest migrant camp. Let me just show you what's left of it after that first devastating fire on Tuesday. Then, other fires on Wednesday and by Thursday, just outside.

Now, as we came in here this morning, Natalie, we saw the migrants who had been gathered around the camp, on its outskirts since the fires, making their way down towards the sea. They had heard, they told us, that the ship was arriving to house them temporarily, at least.

Now, authorities have confirmed to CNN that the ship has now docked. But on the western side of the island, still, for the migrants we spoke to this morning, and had been speaking to these last few days, any hope is better than none.


BELL: By Thursday night, fires were still being lit and put out. But on the outskirts of Moria, the only emergency that now matters is the humanitarian one. Thousands of refugees still surrounded by police, but now without any refuge at all. It is miles and miles of human misery stretched out along these roads, around what was the Moria migrant camp.

Have a look over here, you can see families doing what they can to try and find shelter, and keep themselves warm because the evenings get quite cool here, even though the days are pretty hot. You can see that people here, these women were told to queue because food would be brought. A truck then arrives and everyone rushed down trying to get at something.

For many, this was the first sign of help they have had since the fire on Tuesday night deprive them of what little they owned. As they fled, major videos as their shelters went up in smoke. These images were shot by two teenage sisters, Mariam and Mahtab, who with their family are now living among the dead.

MAHTAB, AFGHAN MIGRANT: We lost everything, like clothes and medicine, my medicine's mother.

BELL: Like the others here, they tell us that they do not believe that the migrants were responsible for the fire, even as Greek authorities say it was lit my migrants angry with the COVID-19 related restrictions.

MARIAM, AFGHAN MIGRANT: I know it was the (inaudible), because the second time I saw that, the Greek people on the motorcycle, that they are coming and they are around the camp and they do that, they said the refugee do that, but it is not true because refugee cannot do this.

BELL: An estimated 13,000 people had been living in Moria. Those who knew the camp say conditions inside were appalling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was here in 2018 as well 2019, and I thought at that time that it couldn't really get much worse, and here, now in 2020, I was wrong. It's worse and the children, as well, we are talking about children who potentially have never known anything but war, and now their futures are once again, being ripped away from them.

BELL: For now, it is their very immediate future that is of most concern. In Moria, they had food and water. Here in the cemetery, they have nothing at all.


BELL: Now we do have more information this morning, Natalie, about the faith of some of those migrants. Those 406 unaccompanied children that we knew had already left Lesbos to be taken to (inaudible). They will be rehoused, they will be brought to France and Germany. This has been announced by the French and German governments. But let's be clear, they are the very lucky few.

The remaining, more than 12,000 migrants who lived here in Moira, will be staying on Lesbos. That has been confirmed to CNN by the Director of the migration minister's office, who said that the Greek government simply wouldn't be blackmailed by what he called, a burn and go attempt. It gives you an idea of the tone here in Greece with regards to these migrants.


So, the rest of those, more than 12,000 migrants will be staying on this island, and that is something they were extremely worried about, that they simply be rehoused on this island, but in another camp. Something also the locals will be extremely angry about, Natalie.

ALLEN: What a terrible, terrible situation. That backdrop behind you, well, it says a lot. It's just terrible. All right. Thank you so much for your reporting, Melissa, we appreciate it.

A huge fire broke out in Beirut's port on Thursday, creating a massive plume of smoke, and waves and waves of panic. Because it was just last month, an explosion in the same port killed almost 200 people. Now, anger is growing as many ask how this could happen again.

CNN's Arwa Damon reports.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No one knew what was happening, as the smoke darkened the skies. And the fire burned through what was left of Beirut's port. Just a few days ago, four tons of ammonium nitrate were found in the port. All they could think was, another blast is coming. Flee.

I live some 500 meters from this fire (inaudible) says. I had to take my wife and children out of Beirut because of this. Since they are still living in fear after what happened before.

It's been barely a month since the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut's port. Ripping through swaths of the city, taking lives, and shredding homes.

We saw the same thing happening again, Andre Murabes (ph) says. We are definitely scared, and people are freaking out.

The trauma from that is still all too fresh. The anger at the government's incompetence too raw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a disaster. It is our (BEEP) politicians, they are doing. No, no, let me show the truth, because this is the truth. We are working here in Beirut every day, to help people. Where is the government?

DAMON: This area, just a short distance from the site of the deadly explosion in August, should have been secured. This should not be happening. How did cooking oil and tires go up in flames? We don't know what caused this fire. Just like we don't know what caused the initial fire that led to the ammonium nitrate's detonation back in August. And this, this just adds to the deep despair among the population here. A choking reminder of all they have suffered. Still, so incomprehensible.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


ALLEN: A firestorm of flames is sweeping across millions of acres on America's West Coast in an unprecedented outbreak of wildfires. Oregon's largest city, Portland is under a state of emergency at this hour. The city's mayor says fires are raging across more than 36,000 square kilometers of the state and Portland is under an extreme threat. The order closes all the city's parks and enable workers to move homeless residents to safer locations.

Dozens of fires continue to rage out of control across the western U.S., and firefighters from across the U.S. are on the lines, setting backfires, and dropping retardant. As of Thursday, these fires have blackened more than 18,000 square kilometers, and killed at least 15 people in California, Oregon, and Washington.

A filmmaker, who witnessed California's largest fire told CNN that it was terrifying. The thing is a beast. And consider for a moment what this actually means. As the fires advance, more than 10 percent of Oregon's population, a half million people, are fleeing their homes right now.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is on the front lines in Clackamas County to update us on the desperate firefight.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is an incredibly dangerous situation across the state of Oregon, we are in Clackamas County right now, Oregon's third most populous county. Where a lot of the area has been affected by the fires. This specific location is sort of this safety staging areas for the fire crews to be able to stay safe as they figure out the plan for where to go next, which area to target next.

But I can tell you that the residential areas around here are under a mandatory level three evacuation order. That means get out, don't risk your life. This is a very agriculture area. There's a lot of farms with animals, so some folks are choosing to say back, to try protect their homes and save their animals.

But again, officials are warning people not to take any chances, and to get out while they can. Now we heard from the Governor, Kate Brown, she said that 900,000 acres have burned so far in the past 72 hours. That number likely to rise. Just to give you some context, 500,000 acres burned on average in an entire year.


So, this is a historic, unprecedented fire event. The Governor predicting loss of life, loss of structures. The weather conditions that we've had so far with various heavy winds and incredibly dry conditions have made it difficult to begin to contain the fires.

Up until now, the focus has been on evacuating people and trying to protect structures, but officials are hoping for the weather conditions to change over the next few days, so that they will be able to begin to start the process of containing the fires.

This is devastating to the state of Oregon. The resources here spreading incredibly thin. The governor requesting help from the defense department as well as the army corps of engineers, the National Guard has been activated as well.

We know that a team is flying from Utah to help the firefighters here, because not only this state, but neighboring Washington, as well as California, battling its own fires as well.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Clackamas County, Oregon.


ALLEN: Yes. Let's talk about California now. Because my next guest have some strong opinions on how this can be turned around. Joining me from California, Craig Thomas, is the Director of the fire restoration group. I really appreciate your time, thanks for coming on.


ALLEN: First step, well, there's been tremendous loss of property as we just heard, tragic loss of life in these massive fires, now extending beyond California. You're group, and you're certainly not alone in your belief, is that the fire policy in California is causing this problem. That it is misguided. Talk about that.

THOMAS: Well, it is a national problem. And you know, our culture has either adjusted or ignored fires were all in this ecosystem to our peril. And in California, you know, we live in one of five or six of the most naturally fire prone landscapes on earth. And yet, we have been waging war against fire for almost a century and a half.

And you know, I spent, in my career of 30 years, reading a lot of fire science and trying to take that information and help educate people and policy makers, about what these experts are saying. And they're basically saying, we have to restore good fire at large landscape scales. And the tragic thing is they've been saying that for 30 years. Now, we are seeing the results of that now of really not taking us anywhere near as seriously as we should have.

ALLEN: So, talk about what they need to do. So, fires, for California, as you say, is a natural process. It is going to happen. I think you said fire in California is like rain. It's kind of the same thing, it happens so often. But there needs to be fire suppression. How, and when, did the policy begin in the state? To see what we are seeing now, where there is just so much fire, it is beyond comprehension?

THOMAS: It is an annual fortune is spend in the billions, with a b, fighting the process. And yet, we are still dropping pennies in a tin can when it comes to actually doing the pre-suppression work, the restoration work, to help prevent these events from happening. And you know pretty much, you know, in the world that I work in, everybody knows this.

And we are still, you know, really in this conundrum of 150 years, really, when the European Americans arrived into California. They came across the culture that had been living here for thousands of years, in a much more nurturing attitude, in terms of what their culture was. How they applied, and worked, and lived with fire, and dependent on fire.

And the Europeans showed up with a very different mindset. So, this is an old story that goes way back in terms of the attitudes we've showed up with. And that's been changing over the last 30 to 50 years, as more and more research has being focusing on fire as a natural process, and it is like rainfall. We are absolutely dependent on it.

When you see anywhere in the west and you look at these landscapes the vegetation and the things we appreciate, the beauty we see are strongly tied to fire regimes. And that means, fire burning in certain intensities, certain times of the year, at certain scales. That generally isn't equilibrium with the landscape that it is burning in. and what we see here is a very uncharacteristic fire intensities. Because we have removed fire from the system, for so long, and basically thought it like a war.

And now we have 40 million people living here. So, when I talk about we need to restore fire, I'm not suggesting we let towns burned down. We are going to need suppression, because of the landscape slam ability and the number of people who live here and the amount of fire that humans start, besides the lightning burst that we are living with this year.


You know, so that -- it's a complicated thing. But the focus needs to shift and so protect people, protect homes, but we need a stand-alone fire restoration workforce and the funding and staffing and capacity to work on these landscapes, to apply a fire back in and maintain the resilience that we can build back.

ALLEN: yes, I want to ask you about that. And is there a chance for change, we only have a little bit time left. My last question for you, the Governor and the U.S. Foreign Service chief signed a memorandum saying that the state needs to burn more, that they need to stand with restoring resilient and diverse ecosystem. Is that a signal that the policy can change?

THOMAS: It is a signal that policy can change. We need to see the workforce and the logistical support for those people, and the respect for what they do, and the education and training they need. That all has to show up, along with the words.

ALLEN: All right. We appreciate your time and you're helping us understand it. Craig Thomas, thank you so much.

THOMAS: Thank you for having me on.

ALLEN: The West Coast weather is playing a big role in these fires, meteorologist Derek Van Dam, joins us now with perspective on that. Derek, we certainly know the heat has a lot to do with this.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and the dry conditions, lack of rain fall, low relative humidity, all factors here, of course the wind as well. But we want to talk about the air quality that is happening over the western U.S. We know about fires, we know they are extensive, we will get to the details on that in just a moment.

But look at the satellite imagery. We broaden out, there is the Pacific Northwest, here is California. Almost that milky looking cloud cover that is all smoke. Most of it is drifted along the coast or just off of the coast into the Pacific Ocean. And guess what, the winds are now going to move from offshore to onshore. So, that's going to bring in a component of that cloud or that blob of smoke, for a lack of a better term, inland.

Once again, in my entire career, I've never seen entire states with a poor air quality index. So, Washington and Oregon, look out you have got a difficult next 48 hours. And let me explain why this is so challenging. Because the size of smoke particles, we are talking about less than a micron in size. So, significantly smaller than a size of the diameter of a human hair, which is about 60 microns. It can penetrate deep within into our lungs.

So, people with upper respiratory problems, the elderly, people with heart conditions, even the extremely young had the potential to experience very hazardous air quality. In fact we've plotted a couple of the quality of the air at specific location, up and down the entire West Coast.

It is ranging from very unhealthy to hazardous over the next day or so. The wind component again shifting from offshore to onshore, so, it's going to long for that smoke that's drifted across the Pacific Ocean to move back in those specifically into the Pacific Northwest.

A lot of the smoke is going to get lofted high into the upper levels of the atmosphere, you picked up by the jet stream and move eastward. So, we are going to see some of those milky hazy sunsets perhaps across the Great Lakes and into the East Coast by the end of this week. We have a hundred active large fires over the western U.S., the majority of them in the state of California, Oregon and Washington.

By the way, in California we have our largest, our third largest and our fourth largest in terms of acreage ever recorded in the entire state of California's history burning right now. Now on Oregon. We also have two larger fires that of course had prompted over 500,000 evacuations. People fleeing from their homes and fear that at any moment in time these flames could wipeout their home.

Now, I want to end a little bit of bright note, because Natalie, there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel that is an atmospheric river, we like to see those pointed at the northwest. The potential for rain exists, but we have to wait until Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

ALLEN: OK. Can't come soon enough. Derek, thank you, I appreciate it.

VAN DAM: Right.

ALLEN: It's amazing what people are going through their. The rode to Brexit, well, it's always been a bumpy one but has the British government just hit another road block? I will speak with Max Foster in London about the next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: the future of Brexit talks could be in jeopardy over Britain's plan to override parts of the withdrawal agreement. The European Union has threatened the U.K. with legal action, while Germany's ambassador to the country has called the deterioration of talks, fast, and profound.

Max Foster is outside London covering this. Max, it's hard to believe. Here we go again. Could Brexit talks be on the line?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's complex as ever as well, Natalie. What you got here is different sets of negotiation leading up to the end of the year, all related to Britain's exit from the European Union. They are all intertwined. The thing that's really causing problems, right now, is this move that the government made in the last few days, which is looking at the withdrawal agreement. It was all agreed, it was in a treaty, it was signed by law, and the government has gone back on that.

And it's going to add an amendment to this part of the deal, which refers to the way it gets serves to move over the northern Irish border. What that would do would effectively break international law and the government accepts that, and the E.U. side has reacted pretty harshly to this. Saying they will take the U.K. to court, even other politicians around the world, including the United States, have been pretty shocked by the fact that the U.K. would actually break a treaty.

Because it would undermine trust, of course, in any negotiations in future. But the British government is insisting they have to have control of that border with Northern Ireland. That border with the E.U., effectively. The bigger problem for the government right now is that many (inaudible) Conservative (inaudible), grandees of Boris Johnson's Party are saying they are going to block this bill because they don't believe in principle a government should be doing these sort of thing.

So, it's a huge problem for the British government, and potentially for the E.U. as well. And it does mean that we could potentially be heading towards this hard Brexit, as people call it at the end of the year, where there is no deal with the E.U. Meanwhile, trade talks do continue between the E.U. and the U.K. They are really limping on in the hope that there could be some wider resolution to the issue I was talking about earlier on.

But at the moment its deadlock and the government in the U.K. isn't moving and the onus really is on them right now to try to unlock this according to the E.U. Natalie.

ALLEN: As if COVID wasn't stress enough for the citizens, now this. All right. Max Foster for us. Max, thank you. We will be watching it.

It had lasted centuries through wars, invasions, and hordes of tourists, but it was the coronavirus pandemic that shut down this ancient city. CNN is there, as one of Mexico's most sacred sites now reopens to the public. That is next.



ALLEN: Mexico continues to be one of the country's hardest hit by the pandemic. The Mexican health ministry, on Thursday, reporting almost 5,000 new cases, and more than 550 deaths. That brings its total number of confirmed cases to more than 650,000. And with almost 70,000 deaths, it has the world's fourth highest number of fatalities. But in an effort to restart its devastated tourist industry, Mexico on Thursday reopen a majestic ancient city to visitors.

CNN's Matt Rivers takes us to the Pyramid of the Sun.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Throughout it's more than 2,000 near existence, centuries of wars, gods, empires, colonizers, tourist, something new this week at the ancient city of Teotihuacan, northeast of Mexico City. Masks, temperature checks, and sanitizer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. The measures they are taking.

RIVERS: One of Mexico's cultural touchstones reopen to the public Thursday, after a COVID-19 base closure in March. Among the new rules, capacity kept at 3,000 visitors per day with safe distancing. Tourist Karla Hernandez says, we are still not in the 100 percent, but in open air it's doable to go out and enjoy a bit.

But this reopening is about more than just giving tourist something to do, it's also a sign that Mexico is trying to jumpstart its tourism sector. Consider that in 2018, nearly 9 percent of Mexico's overall GDP came as a result of activity in the tourism industry.

And industry that has been decimated as of late that the Mexico City and (inaudible) Airports the country's busiest. July international arrivals where down by 90, and 84 percent respectively. The IMF says Mexico's GDP might fall more than 10 percent this year. There's hope that reopening might bring tourists which might bring relief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But right now is a good opportunity to start moving on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is why, you know, people are distancing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, stay safe.

RIVERS: Ben, John, Roberto are Americans on a Mexican road trip, their first vacation during the pandemic.

Is it weird for you to kind of be out doing things again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Definitely, just to see people again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's definitely not the same. RIVERS: If it were the same they could climb the fabled steps to the

top of the pyramid of the sun where it said climbers receives special energy. But Mexico has more than 650,000 coronavirus cases and counting, safe distance and slim stairs don't match, so they are closed. Any spiritual enlightenment these days will have to come on the ground.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico.


ALLEN: The World Wildlife Fund is raising the alarm about the decimation of animals across our planet. Its living planet report 2020, looked at more than 4,000 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians between 1970 and 2016, and how they are being wiped out. Researchers found that a shocking average of 68 percent of animals disappeared during that time.

And in Latin America and the Caribbean, it was a whopping 94 percent. It says this level of decimation hasn't happen for millions of years. And it puts the blame squarely on us. Human activities, including ecosystem destruction. It says it's threatening 1 million species.

That's how we end this hour, that's the way it is, I'm Natalie Allen, please follow me on Twitter or Instagram. I write a lot about the environment and please stay with me another hour of CNN Newsroom, it's just ahead. Our top stories, right after this.