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Cops and Bystanders Save Mom and Baby; Dixie Fire Burns at Least 192,000 Acres; End of U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq; American Simmers Make Splash at Olympics. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired July 26, 2021 - 09:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got it. I got it. I got the baby. I got the baby.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We got it. We got it.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Our Brynn Gingras is covering the story.

Brynn, how -- are the mother and the baby OK this morning?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes -- yes, they are doing OK. They are still in the hospital, Poppy. But I know, as a mother, and -- like myself, that video just makes your heart sink. But, yes, they are doing OK.

Let me back up a little bit to explain what happened here.

What we've learned from the Yonkers Police Department is those two officers were just grabbing breakfast nearby in a building. They actually felt the impact of that crash, when that car went into the barbershop. They ran out of where they were and into the barbershop and they were told, there's a baby, there's a baby. But they couldn't hear a baby. They couldn't see a baby. They even asked the mother, is she pregnant, because they couldn't quite understand what was going on in that moment.

They said the mother was actually in shock and she finally came to and explained that her baby was underneath the car. And they just reacted so quickly with the help of bystanders, lifting the car because they couldn't get underneath.

I want you to hear from the officers themselves who were on "NEW DAY" this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OFFICER PAUL SAMOYEDNY, YONKERS OFFICER WHO HELPED RESCUE INFANT FROM BENEATH CRASHED CAR: I was just glad we were able to react. As a father of four kids, it was really -- intensified the situation for me when I saw the baby under there and the arms moving and not able to move any other direction away from the car.

OFFICER ROCCO FUSCO, YONKERS OFFICER WHO HELPED RESCUE INFANT FROM BENEATH CRASHED CAR: I think the both of us, in our careers, have experienced some horrific scenes. I'm sure most of the bystanders and the people in the community haven't. But they -- there was absolutely no hesitation. Everybody there did something to help. It was -- it was unbelievable. The credit really goes to them, and the mom for holding on to that baby for dear life.


GINGRAS: What heroes as they even give credit to others, right, Poppy.

The man on the right, the officer, Paul Samoyedny, he's been with the department for 15 years. And the officer on the left, Officer Fusco, has been with the department for 18 years.

That mother, she is -- had a femur fracture. The baby, just eight months old, in the hospital with a skull fracture and burns to the back and the foot. But, again, they are expected to be OK. And the officers actually say they might be released from the hospital later this week.

Now, as for the driver of the car, officers believe he was intoxicated. He was arrested on that, as well as driving with a suspended license and vehicular assault. And we expect him to be in court soon. So we'll keep an eye on what happens with this case. But incredible video and so glad to hear that they're doing OK.

HARLOW: So glad to hear and what amazing bystanders also.


HARLOW: You know, coming together. You hear it when you watch the raw video, to gather around that car, with the officers, and lift it up to get the baby out.

Do we know anything about those bystanders?

GINGRAS: We don't. We're still looking to talk to anybody who was involved in this just because it was such a heroic story.


GINGRAS: But we have -- we don't even know the names of -- of the mother and the child. But, again, we'll stay on top of this.

But, yes, just incredible that they actually had to lift the car. Couldn't even just get under to help that little eight-month-old.

HARLOW: Right. GINGRAS: But, yes, so glad to hear everyone's all right.

HARLOW: Brynn, thank you for the reporting.

GINGRAS: Right (ph).

HARLOW: Happening right now, at least 86 large wildfires are burning across the country. They have charred nearly 1.5 million acres. It's more than seven and a half times the size of New York City. In California, the so-called Dixie Fire has torched nearly 200,000 acres. Flames threatening more than 10,000 buildings there. Dozens have already been destroyed.

CNN's Camila Bernal is near the Dixie Fire in Chico, California.

Camila, good morning to you.

What kind of progress are the firefighters making there?


So already many of them leaving for the day. As you can see here behind me, this is the incident command center. And already they are telling us that they're working these 24-hour shifts to do anything they can to make progress.

As you mentioned, 21 percent containment. But already about 200,000 acres burnt. And the problem for today is that there are going to be challenging conditions. We're told that these pyrocumulus clouds are likely going to be over the fires. And these are these gigantic clouds that we've been seeing. And what that means is that there is a higher potential for spot fires and a higher potential for rapid growth in these fires. So there is some concern of this fire continuing to expand.

We are being told that they're doing anything they can to save homes and property but already about 16 structures have been destroyed. About 10,000 more are at risk. So, really, we're going to continue to see these firefighters working 24/7 to do -- or to try to do anything they can to save as many people and as many homes as possible.



HARLOW: Camila, the Bootleg Fire, which we were talking a lot about last week in Oregon, is the country's largest burning wildfire. I think it's now 400,000 acres burned. When we spoke to one of the experts on the ground there last week, they said they were turning the corner, making some progress. Has that continued or has it gotten worse?

BERNAL: It has continued. It's now at around 46 percent containment. But the worry there is also the rapid expansion of this fire.

I just spoke to a firefighter here who told me he spent seven days in southern Oregon at the Bootleg Fire and was doing these 24-hour shifts. He's now at this fire. And so, overall, we're seeing about 400,000 acres burned in Oregon. The concern there is that it could continue to grow, even though there is some progress on containment.

Governor Kay Brown telling CNN that the focus there should be on prevention. She says that the Biden administration has been helping with these fires, but that the focus, what they want to do is work on getting these fires prevented before they even start.

And when you're talking about the entire country, it's about 86 large wildfires, about 1.5 million acres, 22,000 brave men and women that are fighting these fires, and the work is just not done.


HARLOW: Camila, thank you, to you and your team on the ground reporting there, very much.

Well, at least seven people are dead and several more critically injured after a sandstorm caused a multi-vehicle pile-up. This is the crash that happened on Interstate 15, which is just southwest of Salt Lake City.

CNN meteorologists says a strong thunderstorm was a catalyst for what became a sandstorm, causing winds of over 50 miles an hour. Officials did not specify how many people were injured but noted there could be more fatalities, sadly.

Well, a key meeting is set to take place today between President Biden and Iraq's prime minister. At the center of these talks, the role of the U.S. military on the ground in Iraq. It is changing. We'll tell you how, and the significance, ahead.



HARLOW: A really significant meeting ahead today at the White House. President Biden will meet with Iraq's prime minister this afternoon to map out the future of U.S. forces in Iraq. The two leaders are expected to announce an agreement formally ending the combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year.

Let's talk about what this actually means on the ground. Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon joins us and our White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond.

And, Jeremy, let me just begin with you and what's going to happen in a few hours, because this is, you know, more than 18 years after U.S. troops were first sent into Iraq. The role changes for those, what, 2,500 troops or so, but does not mean they're leaving, is that right?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. What we're expecting today as President Biden meets in the Oval Office with the Iraqi prime minister is for the two leaders to make an agreement and to sign a joint communique laying out that those 2,500 U.S. troops who are currently in Iraq will shift to a strictly training and advisory role by the end of the year.

This will be, of course, a significant, formal shift in the role of those U.S. troops. Although, of course, for years now they have not been involved in offensive combat operations, say for some special operations missions, which generally are not publicized.

But this is, of course, a significant shift for the U.S.s role in the region. It comes as the U.S. is also in the final stages of ending its combat operations in Afghanistan as well. And this will be a political boon as well to the Iraqi prime minister, who has been under public pressure to end the U.S. combat mission in his country as well.

So this also follows a series of meetings. Last week there were senior Iraqi commanders who were at the Pentagon, mapping out exactly how this will happen. And you will see more cabinet-level meetings this week between U.S. and Iraqi officials as well. So this meeting between the president and the Iraqi prime minister is not the only thing here.

Also notable, there will be discussions about other issues, including the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. set to deliver half a million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Iraq.

HARLOW: And, Arwa, to you. Of course this all follows the Iraqi parliament last year demanding U.S. troops leave after that U.S. air strike that took out Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The Iranians want the U.S. totally out. What does the prime minister of Iraq want in terms of the U.S. presence there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Poppy, Iraq has always been in this extraordinarily difficult position, stuck between the U.S. on the one hand and Iran on the other. And following the killing of Qasem Soleimani, you had a number of the most powerful Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq demanding an exit of all U.S. forces.

However, one only needs to look at Iraq's history to perhaps gain a bit of an understanding as to why a U.S. presence, no matter what you're going to call it, is potentially quite crucial to the country moving forward.

We all remember the end of 2011 when the then Obama administration ended up withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq and that ended up effectively helping lay out the groundwork for the re-emergence of what was then the Islamic State of Iraq, that then, of course, grew and morphed into ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.


Additionally, the U.S. presence, again no matter what form it's in, does act, to a certain degree, as a counterweight to Iran's influence. What the Iraqi government has been trying to do for years, and many would argue unsuccessfully, is try to balance these two foes because it needs the U.S., it needs the training mission, it needs the assets that an American presence on the ground in Iraq is going to bring, whether it's intelligence assets or other assets. And at the same time, it needs to sort of try to move towards having a more healthy and productive relationship with Iran, one that is much more focused on economics and, you know, joint interests as opposed to Iran trying to continue to entrench its tentacles within Iraqi politics and also within the Iraqi security arena.

Look, Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militias are extraordinarily powerful in Iraq right now. Some would argue even more powerful than the U.S.- trained Iraqi security force at this stage. And their status continues to be very tenuous. Yes, they have been wrapped into ostensibly the Iraqi security apparatus, but many of them do operate on the outside of it. There have been a number of ongoing attacks, indirect fire attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq.

And so, again, the prime minister, right now, is trying to walk this very delicate tightrope as to how Iran and these Iranian-backed militias are going to react to this shift in, you know, U.S. military operation, whether they'll buy the fact that, you know, it's advise and assist. These aren't combat troops.

HARLOW: Right.

DAMON: That, we're going to have to wait and see.

HARLOW: Absolutely. But it points to the significance of what's about to happen at the White House today.

Arwa Damon reporting on the ground in Istanbul, thank you, Jeremy Diamond, at the White House, we appreciate it.

A top general says the U.S. will continue air strikes in support of Afghan forces even after troops withdrawal from the ground. And Afghanistan violence, as you know, has escalated across the country since U.S.-led forces began. This final withdrawal, civilian casualties reached record numbers in May and June. More than 2,400 Afghans killed or injured in those months. U.S. Central Command says the troop withdrawal is now more than 95 percent complete, but there were still two air strikes last week.


GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND: So we will continue to support the Afghan forces, even after that 31 August date. It will generally be from over the horizon. And that will be -- that will be a significant change. And then it will be time for the -- for Afghan forces to fight and carry on the battle themselves. We spent a lot of time training them. Now is their moment. Now is the time for that very stern test that I noted earlier they're going to face.


HARLOW: Take a look at this because what this shows you is the spread of Taliban-controlled areas in Afghanistan. They are in red. The military says the Taliban has failed to capture any of the 34 provincial capitals yet but has surrounded half of them in an attempt to isolate key cities.

Again, this is just a progression of Taliban control in Afghanistan, getting redder and redder since just a few months ago.

Meantime, Team USA swimming off to a record start, as the gymnastics and basketball teams come out of the gates stumbling. We're live in Tokyo, next.



HARLOW: Team USA swimming make a splash, pun very intended, in Tokyo. Off to a great start at the Olympics so far. But not as good as it could have been.

Coy Wire in Tokyo with this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Coy.


Yes, Katie Ledecky --

HARLOW: Good evening.

WIRE: Yes, good evening here.

Katie Ledecky is the most dominant female swimmer of all time already potentially winning five golds at these games, but she was stunned by Ariarne Titmus in the 400 meter freestyle. And the significance of this moment, Poppy, summed up by this reaction. Australia coach looking like he won the gold medal. Titmus ran the second fastest time ever behind only Ledecky's world record.

Now, Ledecky told me afterwards, I'm already mentally on to the next race. And I could sense that this loss lit a fire under her. Her best events, the 800 and 1,500 meter freestyles are yet to come.

Now, imagine you've been dreaming, training, sacrificing your entire life to make it to the Olympics. You're at the start of the triathlon. The gun goes off. You dive into Tokyo Bay and a media boat veers right in front of you. It blocked half the field, almost hit some of the swimmers and some of the field had to be picked up by jet skis bringing athletes back to the dock to start over.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. It was the first false start in Olympic triathlon history. But a boat couldn't hold down American Kevin McDowell. Not after all he's been through. The Illinois native got cancer, Hodgkin's Lymphoma, ten years ago and now can you believe that he just pulled off the best American triathlon finish ever at the Olympics. Sixth place with a time of just over an hour and 45 minutes.

I interviewed Kevin this morning and he said that there were times during chemo, Poppy, where he just thought that he was going to give up on his dreams.



KEVIN MCDOWELL, FINISHED 6TH IN MEN'S TRIATHLON: During the battle with cancer, it was almost -- that was almost the easy part for me. It was more the return after because I came back and said, oh, I'm going to get back right away to sport and be fine. Now, I beat cancer, I can take on anything. I about walked away from the sport. But people in my back corner said just hold on one more time and go because I almost made Rio but missed it. So it was extra special to make it here and then also to have a performance like today.



WIRE: All right, finally, is this an Olympic medal ceremony or a middle school class photo. Japan's 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya winning historic gold in the first ever women's skateboarding competition. Another 13-year-old and a 16-year-old joined her on the podium, Poppy. Got to be the youngest total age of any Olympic podium ever. The International Olympic Committee said they wanted to bring new sports to bring youthful audience to the Olympics. It's bringing youthful competitors as well.

HARLOW: I love that so much. I -- I have a three-year-old who wants to skateboard and he's not very good at it, as you can imagine. So I'm going to have to re-watch the highlights with him.

Coy, thank you.

WIRE: Maybe in about 10 years he'll be an Olympian.

HARLOW: That would be great. Thank you.

Well, several states are reporting incredibly high transmission rates for COVID-19. In nearly every county among them is the state of Louisiana. One of the top health officials from the state will join us straight ahead.