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Interview With Former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke; Republicans Block Health Care Bill For Veterans; Nancy Pelosi Expected to Visit Taiwan; California Fires; At Least 30 Killed in Kentucky Flooding. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Alisyn is off today.

We are beginning with the catastrophic deadly weather slamming both coasts. Dozens of people have been killed, thousands more have escaped or soon will have to leave. They're running from an explosive wildfire in the Pacific Northwest or the historic flooding in Eastern Kentucky.

Now, look at this video. This is from the town of Whitesburg. It shows a volunteer rescuing a 98-year-old grandmother. You see the people here, they're struggling to keep their heads above water. Kentucky's governor now says at least 35 people are known dead. Many more are missing.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): There are hundreds of unaccounted for people, minimum.

And we just -- we just don't have a firm grasp on that. I wish we did. There are a lot of reasons why it's nearly impossible. But I want to make sure that we're not given either false hope or faulty information.


BLACKWELL: And take a look at these faces, these brothers and sisters aged 2 to 8 dead. Family members say they were ripped from their parents' arms.

Witnesses say the waters were so powerful that in just seconds they swept away homes that had been standing for generations.

CNN just obtained new video from one flood victim in Knott County who says his family is trapped and can get -- cannot get out of that neighborhood.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roads are blocked off. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Survivors are pleading for some help after losing every tangible thing.


RANDY POLLY, FLOODING SURVIVOR: It is unbelievable. I took a chance to go up on a lot of the hollers.

People still has not even got out. We're five days in this. There's no Internet, there's no power. And a lot of places, they said we won't have water for months. People are bringing stuff in, but as fast as they bring it in, it just gets just spirited out.

We need help more than anything. I don't care if it's a pair of Fruit of the Looms. Babies need diapers. Babies need formula. We need everything that is possible to get here.


BLACKWELL: CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in Hazard, Kentucky.

It's been five days, Evan. More rain is in the forecast. Are the rescues still happening right now?


I will say right here in Perry County, where I am right now, one of the hardest-hit counties, it's a pretty day. We had rain this morning, rain throughout most of the morning. And now I'm looking at a blue sky. And it's hot out. The sun is out.

It gives people a chance to do some rescues, but there are some concerns that there will be more rain coming tonight. But, as you mentioned, the search-and-rescue operations are still under way here because of how many people got trapped in these floodwaters and got trapped just out of the blue from their homes.

I want to show you some new video that we just got in. This is from nearby Breathitt County, which is where Jackson, Kentucky, is. This is -- shows rescue operations from nearby Wolfe County here trying to help out, rescuing an 83-year-old woman. She and four others were trapped in an attic and had to break a window to reach out to the rescuers.

She was lifted up by that Black Hawk helicopter and hers -- so were her companions and taken to safety. Everybody is fine. One of the men in the group did suffer a broken collarbone. Those kinds of rescues are still having to be done all around this area. And also, as you mentioned, talking about that picture that we all now know so well of those four kids, it's also a recovery operation.

This is an area that is suffering -- that suffered an absolutely historic flood and is now suffering an even more historic, tragic recovery from that flood. There might be more water coming. There might be really strong heat coming. People still don't have power. They still don't have water. There has been some improvement.

But, as you heard that voice right before I came on, people here really, really need help. And some of the help that they still need is that basic rescue from houses they may still be trapped in -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Evan McMorris-Santoro for us there in Hazard, Kentucky.

Evan, thank you.

Let's bring it now on the phone Pastor Tim Reynolds of the First Baptist Church in Hazard.

Pastor, thank you for being with us.

Let's say here that Hazard is in Perry County. The governor says the flooding has killed three people there.

Pastor Reynolds, how bad is it where you are?

PASTOR TIM REYNOLDS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH: Well, in Perry County, we have actually been hit I believe in the northern part of the county the most.

But the surrounding counties, it seems to me -- and I haven't been to every place, of course -- that some of the surrounding counties, especially their downtown sections, got hit a lot worse than we did.

But, in Perry County, we do have a lot of destruction out away from Hazard, which is the county seat.

BLACKWELL: Did your church take on any damage at all in the flood?

REYNOLDS: Amazingly, no, we did not. We're about 40 foot from the river.


But this was small streams that flash flooded. And we have got a flood control dam that has certainly kept that off of us.

BLACKWELL: I know that you are offering help. How are you helping, and not just your community, but those who are coming in from outside of Perry County to help?

REYNOLDS: What we have been doing, this week, we had a team man from Oklahoma that -- they're known as the Gideon Rescue Company. And they were here with search-and-rescue dogs and cadaver dogs.

And they're also doing some mud-outs with this. We're in homes. And it's just mission critical that we get some of this mud out of their homes before the mold start sitting up and the homes are just not usable.


Evan just mentioned that power has been interrupted, water services out. Do you have water, power where you are?

REYNOLDS: We have water at our church and in most of the downtown section, I believe, but it seems like most of the outlying communities do not, is what my understanding is.

BLACKWELL: Are members of your church, have they lost their homes, lost their cars? What do you know about what they have suffered over these last five days?

REYNOLDS: Most of our members live close to the church and close to town. And, like I say, we didn't get a direct hit like so many other communities did. Our members said, some of them are out helping and serving in many other areas, helping at the shelters and just helping hand out food and do things to that effect.

And, like I say, we're doing mud-outs. That's probably the top of our list right now.

BLACKWELL: Looking at these pictures, buildings tossed onto their sides, as I said at the top of the show, buildings that have stood for generations just swept away, how long will it take this community physically -- I know, emotionally, it may take even longer, but physically to recover from this?


I worked with disaster relief out in Mayfield this past spring. And, there, it was -- it was just total devastation. And I compare it to what we're going through right now. It's the total devastation with six inches of mud on top. It is just -- which makes it that much more difficult to do, and especially when we don't have -- we don't have water.

So what we're trying to do is round up some 250 gallon water tanks and submersible pumps to use with pressure washers, and so we can go into these homes and clean them out.


And more rain is on the way.


BLACKWELL: Pastor, I thank you for your time. I also thank you for the work you're doing for your community.

REYNOLDS: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Tim Reynolds of First Baptist Church there in Hazard, Kentucky.

And for more information about how you can help the Kentucky flood victims, go to

Let's turn out of these deadly wildfires. Satellite footage for you now shows the explosive growth of the McKinney Fire. This is now California's largest fire of 2022. So far, it's burned more than 55,000 acres, killed two people.

CNN national correspondent Camila Bernal is in San Francisco.

So let's talk about containment. Have firefighters been able to contain any of the McKinney Fire?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Unfortunately, no, Victor, zero percent containment.

We saw that fire growing by about 3,000 acres, and yet containment is still the same, nothing. So there is so much work to be done when it comes to the McKinney Fire. And, look, conditions today, they're not great.

The forecast calls for a lot of lightning and thunderstorms. And what the National Weather Service says is that these thunderstorms, what they do is spread the fire, instead of putting it out. So it is not just bad in terms of the fire and the conditions. But it's also really dangerous for these firefighters, because what happens is that the winds pick up and they change the directions of the flames really quickly.

So a lot of these firefighters, they don't even know where the flames are coming from. And that's the danger here not just for firefighters, but for everyone living in this area. It's why authorities say that people need to listen to the warnings when there are evacuation orders.

We already know two people have died as a result of this fire. They were found in a burned car that was on a driveway. They didn't give us a lot of information in terms of who they were, but you realize the dangers. Thousands are under these evacuation orders. And they're telling people, be ready, have your stuff packed if you live in the area, because you may have to leave at a moment's notice.

And I think what's also really important to point out when it comes to this fire and the other fires that firefighters across California are battling at the moment is that this is all fueled by the drought. There is a lot of dry fuel everywhere in California. And so what happens is that the flames spread really quickly. And that's why you're getting more than 55,000 acres burned and zero percent containment -- Victor.


BLACKWELL: Camila Bernal for us there in San Francisco, thank you.

CNN meteorologist Tom Sater is following the extreme conditions in the Weather Center.

So we got flooding and fires, also the heat.


BLACKWELL: It's all across the country, Tom. SATER: It's all across the entire Northern Hemisphere, Victor. I mean, we're seeing the same conditions with this, climate change elements, from drought, strong evidence, heavy rain events and the heat waves, and, of course, with the fires.

We're seeing it in China. We're seeing it across Europe. We're seeing it in North America. So far this year, 5.7 million acres have been scorched, 10-year average, just over 3.5 million, so, many, many more, yes.

And, as Camila mentioned, we are looking at the possibility of some lightning, but zero percent containment for the McKinney Fire. There's another large fire in Idaho, the Moose Fire, over 50,000 acres. We have got fires in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alaska too.

When you get a little bit closer and you see where these red flag alerts are, here's the rain now. Yes, firefighters would like the rain, but they don't want the wind shift. Obviously, they don't want the lightning. When you look at the heat, which is playing a major role here, it is shifting inland now.

Look at some of the records from yesterday, 107 in Ontario, Oregon. A lot of these record triple digits go back to just 2018, a sign of this climate change. Seattle, unbelievable, records go back, Victor, to 1894. Never before have they had six consecutive days at 90 or higher. The warnings continue to be inland and the heat is going to build.

Look at next week as it moves across the entire Lower 48. The rainfall, though, is a big concern. The watch is in effect from parts of Kentucky, better chance tonight into tomorrow morning. Take a look at this. One round moves in, unfortunately, in the middle of the night at 4:00 in the morning and we do it again tomorrow afternoon with the strong damaging winds for the thousands of search and recovery teams and the volunteers there.

Then the heat, Victor, moves in starting tomorrow.

BLACKWELL: It keeps coming.

Tom Sater for us. Tom, thank you.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to visit Taiwan, despite warnings from China. The message that China's military sent with this video they just released.

Plus, new protests on Capitol Hill after Republicans blocked a bill that would help service members who suffer from exposure to toxic burn pits. We have details of the next steps ahead.



BLACKWELL: Moments ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken address reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to visit Taiwan, despite ongoing threats from China. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is very much precedent, in the sense that previous speakers have visited Taiwan. Many members of Congress go to Taiwan, including this year.

And so if the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing.

We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation.


BLACKWELL: Speaker Pelosi is in Singapore right now. And she would be the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

Now, today, Chinese, officials said their military will not sit by idly if it feels its sovereignty and territorial integrity is threatened.

CNN's national security correspondent, Kylie Atwood, joins me now.

So, Kylie, lay out the significance of both the visit, but also China's reaction thus far.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, as you said, there, Victor Pelosi would be the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit the island in 25 years.

So, that in and of itself, is significant. It's sending a message that U.S. government officials in a bipartisan sense are supportive of Taiwan and Taiwan's democracy. And for Speaker Pelosi, this has been part of her entire career, She actually visited Tiananmen Square in 1991 to support the protesters there.

So she has been very vocal, out front on supporting Taiwan democracy and protesters in China and crackdowns on human rights in China, been opposed to those. So this is a continuation of that. We should note that China has been very clear in saying that they will respond and they will respond quite forcefully if she goes ahead with this visit.

We don't know exactly what that is going to look like. But what we have heard from the secretary of state just now and from the National Security Council this morning is that the U.S. government is essentially saying, look, we know that this is something that could happen.

They aren't confirming that Pelosi is taking this trip, as we have reported is expected to happen. But what they're saying is that this is not abnormal, other lawmakers have visited, and, if China responds, that is essentially their decision to do so. But they don't want China to escalate, because the fear is that they could do something in the airspace perhaps that could interfere with Pelosi's visit. And then there could be the possibility of miscalculation. And that is

the greatest fear here. But what we're looking at is the Biden administration saying that this is Pelosi's decision to make. We know that President Biden has cited that there are concerns within the U.S. military about this trip, but he himself, according to our sources within the administration, has not told Pelosi that she cannot go on this trip.

BLACKWELL: Kylie Atwood for us.

Thank you, Kylie.

Let's bring in now Gary Locke, the former U.S. ambassador to China.

Mr. Ambassador, good to have you back.

Let's start here with the basic fundamental question. Do you think it's a good idea for Speaker Pelosi to go to Taiwan?

GARY LOCKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Well, first of all, it's good to be on the program.


It is a decision of Speaker Pelosi. And, certainly, it's not going to help bring the two sides closer together and may make rapprochement and the healing of relations much more difficult. But, nonetheless, this is an independent decision by Speaker Pelosi.

She's long had a record of expressing concern and support for human rights throughout the world, whether it's in Hong Kong, democracy movement, protesting human rights violations within China, and she is an independent person.

The Chinese, however, always look at all the actions of the U.S. government as one. They don't understand that the legislative branch, the Congress is an independent branch of the U.S. government, and that the president, the office of the president, whether Democrat or Republican, does not control, does not dictate to the members of Congress.


Let me ask you about the video that was released by the Chinese officials about the military. We have got it here showing weapons, some fighting tactics in this propaganda video, also tagged with the message, a portion of it says that it will stand by and ready for the fighting command, bury all incoming enemies.

First, do you have concerns about Speaker Pelosi's physical safety while visiting Taiwan?

LOCKE: No, I'm not concerned about that.

But as the previous reporter indicated, there's always the potential for miscalculation, someone making a foolish decision or reacting without all the information and doing something that's not even authorized by the higher-ups in the military or the political establishment of China.

Certainly, China will show muscle at some point, whether it's immediately after or even during the visit.


BLACKWELL: And what could that look like? What do you expect during the visit, real-time reaction from China?

LOCKE: Well, they may just increase the showing of airplanes flying around close to Taiwan airspace. They may move ships in and out in the area, and have a lot of footage of those types of military exercises to demonstrate to the world that they are standing up to the United States.

It doesn't matter whether Speaker Pelosi's Visit is one hour or one day. They are -- but they have also said that they would respond if they were threatened. And there's nothing in Speaker Pelosi's visit that would in -- any way should be viewed as a military or political threat to Beijing.


I wonder if you think -- and we have had foreign policy analysts and experts on who say that China is watching very closely, not only the U.S., but the global reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- if this visit makes a Chinese invasion of Taiwan any more likely or more likely to happen sooner than it would have otherwise.

LOCKE: No, I don't think we should equate this -- in any way say that this visit could escalate the timetable by which China might take military action against Taiwan.

They, of course, view Taiwan as a breakaway province. They feel that, historically, Taiwan has always been a must-be part of China. But they're going to bide their time, because they know that any type of military conflict with Taiwan would be disastrous.

There would be a millions of lives lost and the economy and the cities devastated, like we have seen in the pictures of what's happened with the Russian action against Ukraine, because China -- the mainland, China, also depends on the economy of Taiwan and the investment by Taiwanese companies and individuals into the mainland.

So it would be a -- they would be hurting themselves if they were to take military action against Taiwan.

BLACKWELL: Former Ambassador to China Gary Locke, always good to have you, sir. Thank you.

LOCKE: My pleasure.

BLACKWELL: Another vote is expected this week on a bill that would help veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits, and some Republican senators are still concerned about the details.

I will talk to someone who would directly benefit from the legislation. That's up next.



BLACKWELL: Veterans are protesting at the Capitol, urging Congress to pass the PACT Act.

This is a multibillion-dollar bill to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during their service. And there was strong bipartisan support for the bill in June. But a procedural vote failed last week when dozens of Republican senators reversed course and voted against the legislation.

CNN's Melanie Zanona joins us now.

Melanie, what's the fight about? Where does it stand now?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: So, at issue is how the spending in the bill is accounted for.

Republicans want the spending to come out of discretionary spending, instead of mandatory spending, which essentially means that Congress would have to approve this health care funding for veterans every single year, instead of having it on autopilot.

But it's important to remember that this bill has had that mandatory spending provision all along. And Republicans have supported this bill in previous votes.