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At Least 35 People Killed as Fires Rage on West Coast; Blazes Burning Across Large Parts of California; Trump Holds Indoor Rally Flouting COVID Restrictions; Many Trump Rally Attendees Refuse to Wear Masks; Trump Shrinks Biden's Lead in Recent Polling; Pfizer Could Know If Vaccine Works By End of October; Israel Approves Second Lockdown as Cases Surge; England Tightens Restrictions, Caps Gatherings at Six. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:00]

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, tens of thousands of firefighters are battling to save large parts of the U.S. West Coast. But as massive fires rage on, some fear it won't be enough.

Plus, no social distancing and no regrets. The President holds an indoor rally for the first time in months. Why his supporters say they're sticking by him.

And as coronavirus cases soar, some countries are bringing in tough new restrictions. We're live in London and Jerusalem.

Good to have you with us. Well, on land and in the air, more than 30,000 firefighters and support personnel are doing everything they can as wildfires rage across the U.S. West Coast. But fires are fighting back. They are obliterating small towns and tearing through millions of acres in what could be America's worst wildfire season yet. At least 35 people across California, Oregon and Washington have been killed.

And it's not just rural areas feeling the heat. Seattle's iconic space needle has been smothered in a thick haze. Other major cities are also being blanketed in dangerous smoke. All of this comes as President Trump is set to visit California. In the past he has called climate change a hoax. Well, today he will get another chance to see its very real and destructive impact. For more, CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Southern California where tensions are high, and resources stretched.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The foothills northeast of Los Angeles, Arcadia. This is the Bobcat fire. It's burned 33,000 acres. If you look behind me, they're trying to douse these flames right now with water dropped from helicopters. The air is so bad. Not only is it unhealthy beyond belief, polluted up and down the coast, but they can't fly the retardant dropping planes or the super scoopers from Canada that can drop huge volumes of water and then go ahead and reload with water let's say a reservoir or the ocean or river.

So, they are going to make a stand right here because this is the most important flank of the Bobcat fire and they're also asking for some mandatory evacuations in these neighborhoods and here's why. We want to be able to move fire equipment especially engines up and down the streets and neighbors seem to understand this.

They are obviously not under the mandatory evacuation order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, and I understand why they do that. They just don't want people in the way when the power goes off or when they have to shut off the gas. You know, you don't really want to be at your house anyways.

VERCAMMEN: But on these western wildfires, 30,000 firefighters spread out to battle these blazes. And normally they have quite a few more firefighters on each of these lines. But there's so many of these fires burning at once. Some hundred major fires right that they say the system is just taxed. They just have to spread things out. Marshall their resources carefully and do the best they can.

So, right now here in the foothills of Los Angeles this fire have been burning for more than a week, residents say in some ways they feel helpless but they're grateful for the job that the firefighters are doing to keep this out of their neighborhoods.

Reporting from Arcadia, I'm Paul Vercammen, now back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Thank you for that. Well, at least ten of the deaths from these fires have come from Oregon. The head of the state's emergency management office spoke earlier about how weather can help and hurt firefighting at the same time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW PHELPS, DIRECTOR, OREGON OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Weather's cooperated in terms of temperature. We've seen lower temperatures and we've seen higher humidifies which all aides in the firefighting effort. However, that temperature has meant the smoke is lingering making it much more difficult for us to get the aircraft off the ground to have an ariel firefight which is what we need to be effective to fully contain these fires.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Clackamas County in Oregon has been among the state's worst hit areas. But the sheriff there says the change in weather is a good thing especially in helping residents escape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHERIFF CRAIG ROBERT, CLACKAMAS COUNTY, OREGON: The weather has been in our benefit and for the first time we've really changing some of the evacuation areas that we originally.

[04:05:00]

As you probably heard, we're looking at 170,000 acres that have been burned in our county and really over 100,000 people that were on the edge of being evacuated or in some form notified that we need them to leave. When it came down to it, there was really about 52,000 people that we need to evacuate. And I would say we're really positive in looking at the weather conditions and some of the fire conditions that are improving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Well, Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is watching the fire conditions for us and he's also keeping an eye on tropical storm Sally in the Gulf of Mexico. Good to see you, Pedram. So, let's start with the fires because mother nature may help a little here with some rain on the way. What are you seeing?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, some rain certainly going to be in the forecast. And just kind of highlighting how dry it's been across this region, Rosemary, indicated by the water vapor satellite imagery. It shows you moisture content in the mid and upper levels of the atmosphere. Look for browns and charcoal colors to indicate excessively dry air. And then the green contours indicating moisture. You'll notice, a lot of moisture parked just offshore. That is fantastic news moving forward.

And a lot of this gradually shifts close to the coastline here. It doesn't bring in a blockbuster storm system but certainly going to bring in the first shot of rainfall for the first time in about three weeks in this region. Especially for the state of Oregon where they can see some decent amount of rain out this.

And if we look at this historically speaking, about a half an inch of rainfall is what it takes to stop the spread of fires. You've got to get up to about 2 inches to extinguish them. Of course, this year, of course were having a significantly larger outbreak of fires, so a lot more rainfall is going to be required. And that is not what is in the forecast. But it is enough here to not only improve the air quality conditions but also give the firefighters at least a brief period of upper hands here.

And you'll notice, the air quality conditions at this hour still to the very unhealthy to the hazardous category. On the left side of your screen you've got the state of California on an average September day as seen from about 22,000 miles up, which is where our weather satellites are located.

And you'll notice on the right side where September 12th, 2020 looked like from space. So really an incredible perspective. And of course, you kind of compare air qualities for an area well known for air quality. They do China. Since right now, about 119 air quality and that switches into the sensitive groups, category. And then you'll notice in Seattle into the very unhealthy category at 216.

Now along the Gulf Coast -- guess what -- another storm system, another potential hurricane within the next 24 hours. This is tropical storm Sally and the ingredients in place here for this storm system, not only to strengthen, possibly to a strong category 1. That's not the major concern with this storm. It is what it's forecast to do or not do, which is really just slow down and not move over the next 24 hours.

So, as it approaches land on Monday night into Tuesday morning, this system can essentially slow down to a rate where you can walk past it is being that walking speed pace for about a 24 to 36 hour period in southern Louisiana, portions of Mississippi and eventually into over the states of Alabama and Georgia. That could on the coast bring as much as 15 to 20 inches of rainfall, Rosemary. For which is really an incredible amount for any tropical system. And in fact, a lot of the stronger storms brings less rainfall. Because they typically move along rather quickly. This one is going to be a slow mover and going to be a major problem this week.

CHURCH: Yes, absolutely. It's a pity we can't take that rain and take it to the west. But that's how it all turns out. Pedram Javaheri, many thanks for bringing us up to date on that.

Well, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to thousands of supporters indoors Sunday for the first time in nearly three months. The campaign rally outside Las Vegas, Nevada, violated state coronavirus restrictions on large gatherings as well as the guidelines from the President's own task force. CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, for weeks now we have heard the President continue to downplay the threat of the coronavirus. He has insisted that the country is rounding the turn as it relates to the pandemic in the United States despite the fact that we have heard Dr. Anthony Fauci and others public health experts make very clear that that is not the case.

Now despite that, the President not only in his rhetoric but also in his actions is continuing to downplay the threat of this virus. The President has been holding rallies with thousands of people packed in together, most of them not wearing masks. And here just outside of Las Vegas, the President is having his first indoor campaign rally since June when the President had that campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Of course, we know what happened there. The President had the rally and we saw cases in Oklahoma rise after the fact. The President's supporters though at this rally telling me that they do not have any concerns for their safety and calling into question the science behind masks.

The President though says wearing the mask is patriotic. Why don't you listen to him?

[04:10:00]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because that's my right to choose. I worked in health care for 25 years. I'm telling you, that's not doing a thing for ya, it's not.

DIAMOND: You think the President is wrong on that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't care what his opinion is, I am saying I am entitled to mine. If I thought I was a risk, I'm not going to be here. I'm not an idiot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a sensationalist. I think people who are forced to wear are sensationalist. Since I'm a freeman, I can do what I want. I'm not going to let a government tell me what to do.

DIAMOND: And that was the view echoed by so many of the president's supporters that we spoke with before the President's rally. And then all these folks attending the rally, most of them not wearing masks.

The Trump campaign offered this explanation for why they felt it was appropriate to hold this rally indoors despite the ongoing pandemic. This is from the Trump campaign's communications director, Tim Murtaugh.

He says, if you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the President of the United States.

But what Tim Murtaugh is missing there, is the fact that casinos here in Las Vegas and in Nevada in general, they require people to wear masks. Not the case at the President's rally just outside Las Vegas.

Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Henderson, Nevada.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: For more on this, let's bring in Natasha Lindstaedt. She is a professor of government at the University of Essex. Good to have you with us.

NATASHA LINDSTAEDT, PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: So here we are again, the president holding an indoor rally requiring no masks, or social distancing, but this time we know he admitted to author and journalist Bb Woodward that he deliberately downplayed the risk of the coronavirus and was aware back in late January and February that it is very contagious and more deadly than the flu.

So how much more culpable does this make the president, and what's the likely political fallout of all of this? LINDSTAEDT: I think that's one of the things that I found most astounding. Was that, he understood the science and he seemed to believe the science if you heard the phone call that he had with Bob Woodward. But, instead, he decided to outright lie to the American public. In the phone call, he said this is much worse than the flu and it's airborne. This thing is going to be really deadly.

And yet, publicly -- and now he claims he is trying to exercise calm -- publicly, he stated that this is just going to disappear, that this is just like the flu and it's going to magically go away by the spring. He knew it was airborne, he could've advised people to wear mask. He could have procured protective equipment. He could have created some sort of coherent national plan to try to fight off this virus, which he knew was going to be a pandemic like the 1918 flu.

But instead, he decided to tell his voters, his supporters, that this is nothing, don't worry about it. And in fact, seem to be flaunting the fact that he wasn't wearing a mask. Almost encouraging his supporters to not wear a mask. And so, we are seeing that the fallout it should be, that more of the public starts to feel that he has misled them.

But the question on what's going on with independent voters, with people who are undecided in the middle. We have the Democrats that are more resolved than ever that his presidency is catastrophic. We have his own supporters that aren't budging. The polls aren't really moving much. But we have this group in the middle that we haven't been able to capture much. And it's going to be interesting to see --

CHURCH: All right. Well, you mentioned the polls, because let's look at those. Because a New York Times/Sienna College poll shows Joe Biden leading Donald Trump in key states, in Minnesota, particularly, he is ahead 50 to 41 percent. And a CBS News poll shows exactly the same lead.

What is your reaction to these and other polls and how reliable are they at this juncture?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, what we are seeing is that Biden is ahead in most of the swing states that he needs to win. There are two swing states that are very close though. North Carolina is very close, and Florida is very close. And the problem for Biden is in this recent poll that has been taken in Florida, it's really, really tightening, and it's basically a toss-up.

Trump cannot win unless he wins Florida. It is an absolute must win for him. And we're seeing big shifts in the demographics. Now we see that Biden is doing better among voters that are over 65, but he is doing a lot worse than Clinton did in 2016 among younger voters, and among Hispanic voters.

Clinton won Hispanic voters 62 to 35 percent and won by double digits with younger voters. We're seeing that these races are virtually tied with all of these demographics.

CHURCH: Right. As you mentioned, President Trump needs to win the state of Florida to get a second term.

[04:15:00]

But now we learned that former New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will spend at least $100 million of his own money to help Joe Biden win Florida. How big an impact could that potentially have, do you think?

LINDSTAEDT: Well, it's really hard to say. Because the one thing that they need to be able to do is try to get in particular Hispanic voters to vote for Biden. That's been a demographic that Biden hasn't done that well on, and in fact Bernie Sanders had mentioned that that's something that Biden needs to work on.

So, they are going to have to tailor their ads to understand the needs of the Hispanic voter. Why have they shifted so much from 62 to 35 percent for a Democrat to now almost neck and neck for Biden and Trump? That's something they are going to have to understand and they are going to have to tailor these ads to understand what the Hispanic voter wants.

They are also going to have to really target older voters who have been shifting towards Biden. So that's a good thing, but they are going to need more older voters to want to support Biden as well.

CHURCH: Yes, of course they are going to have to do that quickly because people are starting to vote early very soon. So, Natasha Lindstaedt, many thanks to you bringing us some analysis there. I appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Still to come, a new surge in coronavirus cases is prompting some countries to reinstate restrictions and be we will go live to London and Jerusalem to get more details. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:20:00]

CHURCH: Coronavirus cases are spiking again. The World Health Organization is reporting a record single day increase in COVID-19 infections worldwide. With more than 300,000 cases in the last 24 hours.

Meantime, as the world waits for a COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer's CEO says there is a good chance the company will know if its vaccine works by the end of October. CNN's Alexandra Field has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the race for a vaccine, the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, is now saying there is quite a good chance that the company could know by the end of October whether its vaccine works. Now that isn't to say that the vaccine would be immediately available, it would still have to go through the approval and licensing process. But Pfizer is making hundreds of thousands of doses just like other pharmaceutical companies in the event they do end up getting approval. Then they could start to try to quickly distribute the doses.

As the race for a vaccine continues, we are seeing universities across the country trying to stem the spread of COVID in the absence of a vaccine. At Ohio State University we're learning that they've already canceled spring break for next year. That in an effort to keep the community together and to reduce the possibility of travel-related exposure.

And at Michigan State University, recommendation now for students to quarantine in order to stop an outbreak on campus. The university has reported more than 300 cases of COVID-19 since August 24th.

In New York, Alexandra Field, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Meanwhile, some countries are reintroducing restrictions to battle a new wave of COVID-19 cases. In England, only six people will be allowed to gather socially from today down from 30 earlier.

And Israel will begin its second lockdown on Friday. CNN is covering this story from all angles. Scott McLean is live from London and Oren Liebermann joins us from Jerusalem. Good to see you both. So, Scott, let's start with you. What is the latest on the newest restriction to reduce social gatherings to just six people?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Rosemary. So, the party here in the U.K. is definitely over. The British Health Secretary last week had blamed Brits who weren't following the rules for this on spiking infections. So, we'll have to wait and see whether they actually follow the new rules that are going to come into place.

This summer the government's focus has really been on getting the economy restarted. The Prime Minister even urging employers to send their employees back into the office. But the numbers are pretty striking. Health officials here believe that the U.K. is about a few weeks behind France and Spain in terms of the development of the virus, and the future is not pretty. There they are seeing their rising case counts starting to translate also into rising deaths and hospitalizations which they really haven't seen in the U.K. because so many young people have been infected.

Though experts are warning that the virus is starting to creep into older, more vulnerable parts of the population, hence the need for action. So, beginning today, across England new rules will come into effect which limit the maximum number of people allowed at a social gathering, indoors or out from 30 -- under the old rules -- down to just six people now.

The Prime Minister confessed last week that the old rules were too complicated, too confusing for people to follow, let alone for police to actually enforce them. There were limits on people previously. The number of households that allowed to gather inside. There were separate limits on the number of people rather than households allowed to gather outside and there were whole dizzying arrays of exceptions to both of those.

Now the hope -- the government's hope is that the simplicity here will make it more likely that people will actually follow the rules. But they are also hoping or they're also promising, I should say, that enforcement will be stepped up -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, as you say, we shall see if they follow it, the rules. And Oren, let's go to you know. As Israel prepares to lock down for a second time on Friday, how is that being received and why are they choosing a lockdown over enforcing mask wearing?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was determined by the government that a lockdown was necessary because of how bad the coronavirus spike was here. Record numbers last week, 4,217 on Thursday was the record and that marked three straight days more than 4,000 cases. One of the highest rates per capita in the world.

It's because of those numbers as well as steadily rising numbers of serious cases and cases on ventilators that Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that a second general lockdown was in order. Perhaps the first country in the world to impose a general lockdown.

[04:25:00]

And this will look like the first lockdown in April during the first wave of infections. Citizens will be required to stay within 500 meters of their homes. Schools will be close, as well as restaurants except for takeout and delivery. Leisure venues, entertainment venues will be closed. And there will be restrictions on gatherings. A maximum of 20 people outdoors, a maximum of 10 people indoors.

How long will this last? Well, until the numbers come down, the first phase will last at least three weeks. And then we'll see how it goes from there based on the infection rate. And then there will be a phase 2 with a slight easing of restrictions. And at least as of the plan right now a phase 3 as Israel tries to get these numbers under control.

This doesn't mean it was a unanimous cabinet decision. In fact, the housing minister, who was the health minister at the time of the first wave of infections, resigned from the government over a general lockdown. Specifically, because it was over the holidays. The high holidays which generally has large family in religious gatherings and could have easily been a trigger point for another wave of infections. Another surge on top of the spike we're already seeing.

How fast will these numbers come down? That of course, remains to be seen and it remains to be seen how closely the restrictions are followed to try to get that number under control -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Every country trying to figure out what to do. Oren Lieberman and Scott McLean, many thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

And still to come this hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Their bodies so stripped of fat that every move is agony. Hard to believe but these are the lucky ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Heart break day after day after the devastating cost of lost aid hits Yemen harder than ever before. Next, we will bring you CNN's exclusive report inside a child malnutrition clinic.

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