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Deadly Storms Batter California; Trump Invited To Testify Before Grand Jury Next Week; Silicon Valley Bank Collapse; Biden Touts Jobs, Economy; Saudi Arabia And Iran Agree To End Years Of Hostilities; Alaska's Willow Oil Drilling Project; Mediterranean Migrant Crisis; Crew Returning From International Space Station. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 11, 2023 - 03:00   ET




LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world, I'm Laila Harrak.

Thousands of people ordered to evacuate their homes in California. As the storm battered state endures another round of heavy rain and flooding.

Donald Trump facing new legal woes. The former U.S. president now weighing whether to testify before a grand jury about his alleged role in a hush money scheme.

Plus a major step for the Middle East as Iran and Saudi Arabia strike a deal to restore diplomatic ties. The surprise agreement helped along by Beijing. We will break down what it all means.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Laila Harrak.

HARRAK: We start this hour in California, where residents are getting battered by more storms, the result of yet another atmospheric river. At least two people are dead and nearly 10,000 people are under evacuation orders. More than 40,000 homes and businesses currently without power.

According to, the central coast has been the hardest hit with creeks being turned into raging rivers and roads being swept apart. The highest level risk warning has been issued for the region.

And Governor Gavin Newsom's request for a presidential emergency declaration has been approved by President Biden. CNN's Nick Watt is in central California with more on how these storms are impacting residents.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Water everywhere causing chaos across central California. Some 25 million are under flood warnings. The Kern River usually runs at about 6 feet. It's up over 17. Snow is the issue up at altitude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a quick sec, where I lost control but I caught that back.

WATT (voice-over): In SoCal, they're rushing to rebuild some sort of road for 450 households. This is their only way out. Springville's Pleasant Valley Road now, anything bad. In my 40 years, never seen it like that. So the man who shot these images.

A major artery in Oakland closed at rush hour nearby a Peet's Coffee warehouse roof collapsed, killing one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A longtime employee beloved by everyone.

WATT (voice-over): Around 25 times the volume of water that flows in the Mississippi is flowing through the air and this is the 10th so called atmospheric river to hit California this winter. Low pressure from the north meets moist air near Hawaii, they call it a Pineapple Express. Sounds fun?

It's not. Essentially a fire hose aimed at the state usually famed for its sunshine.

Throw in a couple of other winter storms that dumped a couple of years' worth of snow on some upland areas and this is the result. Today's storm is a warm one. So along with all this rain, some of that snow is melting. The residents of Felton flooded in January once more told to evacuate. Here and elsewhere, yet more upheaval.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now we have to go home, pack our stuff and leave once again when we were just able to come back a couple of weeks ago.

WATT (voice-over): Good news, all the water this winter is significantly rolling back the years long drought suffered in the West. Bad news, yet another atmospheric river is forecast to hit this state early next week.

WATT: Some places in California have had more than a foot of rain dumped by just this system alone, in this little farming town about six inches so far and look at what has happened. And it's not over. Here, this town is not going to stop raining until the middle of next week -- Nick Watt, Watsonville, California.




HARRAK: A source tells CNN that former president Donald Trump plans to huddle with his legal team at Mar-a-Lago this weekend. After he was invited to appear next week before the grand jury investigating hush money allegedly paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

The source says the team will be weighing options and deciding whether Trump will actually appear. In the meantime, former Trump personal attorney, Michael Cohen, met with the Manhattan district attorney's office on Friday. He is set to meet with him on Monday.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is in Washington with more on the story.



JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In what would be a historic case, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg one step closer to bringing criminal charges against former president Donald Trump in a long-running investigation.

BRAGG: We're going to look at the facts and the law and let the investigation and justice and what justice requires will dictate how much time we take.

SCHNEIDER: Prosecutors are now giving Trump the chance to testify before a grand jury investigating his alleged role in that $130,000 hush money payout to adult film star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to cover up their alleged affair a decade early.

Since potential defendants in New York are required by law to be invited to appear in front of a grand jury, it all indicates a decision on whether to charge Trump could come soon.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: It's one thing to turn around and to lie on your untruth social. It's another thing to turn around and lie before a grand jury, which all I don't suspect that he is going to be coming.

SCHNEIDER: Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, meeting with prosecutors again Friday. He was sentenced to three years in prison in part for his role paying off Stormy Daniels and then getting reimbursed by the Trump Organization. That reimbursement would be at the heart of any case brought against Trump.

Prosecutors could charge Trump with falsifying business records, for improperly recording his repayment to Cohen. That would be a misdemeanor. Prosecutors could also charge Trump with a felony for falsifying business records in connection with violating campaign finance laws. It could be a risky case to proceed with.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: If the prosecutor's plan is to rest their case on Michael Cohen, that's a big gamble.

SCHNEIDER: Though some argue it's straightforward.

AKERMAN: It's pretty simple. I mean, he paid money to keep her quiet. They took the money.


AKERMAN: They laundered it and hid it in the papers of the Trump Organization. And ultimately, it meant that the Trump Organization paid tax on something and filed an income tax return that was false.

In New York State law, no, that's a felony.

SCHNEIDER: Several key people have already testified before the grand jury, including former top White House aides Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks. Trump has repeatedly denied any affair with Stormy Daniels or any involvement in the payoff.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


SCHNEIDER: And a spokesman blasted the D.A.'s investigation saying, "The Manhattan district attorney's threat to indict President Trump is simply insane. For the past five years, the D.A.'s office has been on a witch hunt, investigating every aspect of President Trump's life. And they have come up empty at every turn and now this."

Trump has already said that he will not leave the race if he is indicted and legally he wouldn't have to since there is nothing barring presidential candidates from running if they're charged or even convicted.

But Trump, of course, would be the first former president ever indicted and this isn't the only case Trump is facing. He's also under investigation in Georgia for allegedly working to overturn the 2020 election.

And then the special counsel Jack Smith was investigating Trump for his role in January 6 and also Trump's handling of classified documents after he left office -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


HARRAK: All roads to the White House lead to Iowa. It's not surprise that Florida's governor showed up there on Friday for the first time. Ron DeSantis is widely expected to launch a bid for the Republican nomination in the coming months. And Iowa is a crucial place to test the waters.

Appearing before voters on Friday, DeSantis hit on popular conservative talking points. Have a listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They let criminals roam the streets. We do need a border wall. Probably wouldn't have happened with California's government or New York's government. I'm just saying. Come on Joe, let us get it done, we'll do it. We're not going to teach our kids to hate our country or to hate each other. We've done things like eliminate critical race theory from our K-12 schools. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRAK: Many conservatives have been looking at DeSantis as the new face of the Republican Party after the turmoil of Donald Trump. The governor seemed aware of this as a spoke about his own leadership in Florida. Here he is.


DESANTIS: We made very clear, people who work in the administration, you're not going to leaking. If you have any other agenda but doing the business of the people of Florida, pack your bags right now.

And we did that. And the one thing I can say, if you talk to Floridians, there is no drama in our administration. There is no powerless intrigue. They basically sit back and say, OK, what's the governor going to do next?

And we roll out and we execute.


HARRAK: It will be very interesting to hear what former president Trump has to say when he travels to Iowa on Monday.

Its collapse is now the second biggest financial failure in U.S. history. How tech start-up lender Silicon Valley Bank was swiftly shut down.

Plus, rail company Norfolk Southern faces intense scrutiny after three derailments in five weeks. We'll have the latest update.





HARRAK: The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank is the second largest financial failure in U.S. history and it took only 48 hours to unfold. The bank's downward spiral started when it announced it needed to raise billions to shore up its balance sheet.

That triggered a run on the bank on Thursday. The tech lenders stock price cratered. On Friday government regulators seized control after that bank failed to raise funds or secure a sale. U.S. officials are now trying to tamp down fears of other banks meeting a similar fate. Here's what a senior Treasury Department official told CNN exclusively.


WALLY ADEYEMO, U.S. DEPUTY TREASURY SECRETARY: Our regulators are paying attention to this financial institution. And when we think of the broader financial system, we are very confident in the ability and the resilience of the system.


HARRAK: And Fridays U.S. jobs report is also acting as a common factor; 311,000 positions were added in February, showing that hiring remains strong. CNN's Phil Mattingly has the view from the White House.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden and top White House officials were quick to tout the newest jobs report, 311,000 jobs, beating analysts' expectations and seemed to underscore a White House view that the economy is much stronger than even some White House economists expected it to be at this moment in time.

But also showing a level of durability amid continued high inflation and continued rapid increases in Federal Reserve rates. Now the president made very clear that the U.S. economy was in a very stable place. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And while we still have more to do and there may be setbacks along the, way inflation is now down 30 percent from what it was this summer. Gas prices are down more than $1.50 since their peak. At the same, time take home pay from workers has gone up.


MATTINGLY: This doesn't mean that everything is in a great place. I think when you talk to White House officials, while they don't publicly comment on anything the Federal Reserve is doing, those increases do draw very real concerns from Democrats around Washington about what this could mean for what has been a rapid recovery in the labor market over the course of the president's two-plus years in office.

The reality is, the Federal Reserve, if it continues to rapidly increase rates.


MATTINGLY: And certainly very positive jobs numbers are only going to accelerate that effort, that it could torpedo much of what the president has put into place in the labor market, in the broader economy on a macro scale over the course of the last two years.

It is a balancing act. There's no question about that. But as officials talk about looking for a Goldilocks type jobs report, not too hot, not too cold, somewhere right in the middle, it probably exceeded that a little bit in this month's report.

However, as one White House official told me, certainly better than the alternative and the alternative being losses of jobs or a dramatically poor economy heading into the months ahead -- Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.


HARRAK: In Alabama, cleanup efforts are underway after another Norfolk Southern trail (sic) derailed there earlier this week. The company says at least 37 cars, mostly carrying mixed freight, crashed on Thursday. No hazardous materials were leaked.

It's the third derailment involving Norfolk Southern in five weeks, putting the company under the microscope. CNN's Brian Todd reports from Washington.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): The derailment of a Norfolk southern train in Alabama occurred just as the railroad's CEO was defending the railroad's record at a Senate hearing.

More than 30 cars jumped the tracks in Alabama. At least two of them Norfolk Southern said were carrying what they called residue hazardous materials.

CONNOR SPIELMAKER, NORFOLK SOUTHERN SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER: Which means it previously carried a hazardous material as described by the DOT. Those were residue car because they do not have a load in them.

TODD: There were no injuries and Norfolk Southern says no hazardous material was leaked. But it came on the heels of two other derailments which caused concern.

On March 4th, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Springfield, Ohio, knocking out power in the area, 28 cars came off the tracks. Four of them carried residue of a diesel exhaust fluid and an additive used in wastewater treatment. Investigators determined that nothing spilled.

But Norfolk Southern found loose wheels could've caused the derailment. And according to a memo from the Association of American Railroads obtained by CNN, railroad officials believe there are nearly 700 rail cars across the U.S. with a similar loose-wheel flaw.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The idea of a manufacturing flaw is all too common.

TODD: That's a slightly different problem from the one which may have caused the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in early February, an issue called wheel bearing overheat.

Surveillance video shows sparks coming from that train and that the engineers started to slow the train dramatically after they saw the first signs of wheel bearing overheat. What exactly is that?

GOELZ: There are bearings inside the axles of each of the wheel sets. And they need to be lubricated, they need to be maintained. And if the temperatures start to go up above a certain level, the engineer is required to stop the train.

TODD: Norfolk Southern claims it spends $1 billion a year on maintenance, new tracks and repairs. But experts say the broader problem and not just with Norfolk Southern is that the railroad industry, for decades, has resisted new, tougher regulations on safety, because it would cost too much to implement.

And one expert says Congress is also to blame.

SARAH FEINBERG, FORMER ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION: We'd be safer if Congress would stop watering down regulations, if the industry didn't fight every single common sense safety regulation tooth and nail.

TODD: Former NTSB official Peter Goelz says he doesn't think there's an increased risk of a catastrophic multi-casualty rail accident in the near future.

But he says the industry does have to step up safety measures, like putting more detectors along railways that measure hazardous materials, and better isolating those hazardous materials on the trains themselves -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HARRAK: Now to the Americans killed in Mexico. Take a look at new video now CNN has obtained.


HARRAK (voice-over): It was taken by one of the four Americans who were kidnapped. CNN geolocated it and it shows them driving in the north of Matamoros just after they crossed into the country. It confirms that they were heading to a doctor there for a medical procedure.

The FBI has set up a digital tipline for their investigation. Mexican authorities have arrested six people in connection with the kidnappings.

The mother of one of the survivors saying that the arrests need to continue, quote, "until they get them all." The bodies of the two Americans killed are now in the U.S. and the two surviving victims are receiving hospital care.

Two Middle East rivals agree to restore ties. Latest on the deal between Iran and Saudi and how it's expected it to shake up the region.

Plus, a new oil drilling project in the Arctic could get a green light from the Biden administration within days.


HARRAK: Critics and supporters are both speaking out. Details just ahead. (MUSIC PLAYING)



HARRAK: Welcome back to our viewers all around the world, I'm Laila Harrak. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

A historic agreement is changing the geopolitics of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Iran are restoring diplomatic ties after a deal brokered by China. The bitter rivals will also reestablish trade and security pacts.


HARRAK: Nada Bashir is following developments for us in Istanbul.

Good to see you. Put this in perspective for us, if you will.

Why is this significant?

NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laila, this is significant. It has been a seven year riff. Saudi Arabia severed ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed the kingdom's embassy in Tehran following the execution of a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia.

And it has taken multiple efforts to bring both nations to some sort of settlement. We have seen efforts back in 2021 and 2022 led by both Iraq and Oman to try to bring together some sort of reconciliation without success.

This is the first time that we have seen this level of progress when it comes to bringing the two together in terms of repairing the diplomatic relations but this agreement this deal is so much more than just a reconciliation of diplomatic relations and diplomatic cooperation.

As you mentioned there, they both have now agreed on security cooperation as well. This is a deal which was arranged and coordinated back in 2001. And they are taking steps now to activate this deal. That will include efforts such as cooperating on counterterrorism, on drug trafficking and money laundering.

But also there will be cooperation now between the two nations when it comes to trade and technology. This will be hugely significant particularly for Iran, which is finding itself increasingly isolated from the international community both in response to its human rights abuses against protesters in the country, as we've seen since the death of Mahsa Amini.

And also its failure to adhere to its international commitments when it comes to the now frozen efforts to revive the Iranian nuclear deal.

HARRAK: What does this mean for regional security? BASHIR: Well, look, we only have to look at the implications of the seven year rift to see how significant this will be. The rift the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the last seven years have seen tensions in the Gulf mounting increasingly.

We've seen oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and even in the UAE being attacked by actors in groups that have been backed by Iran,, namely the Houthi rebels. We have seen the deepening of conflicts in the region including in Syria and in Yemen, where since 2015 Iran and Saudi Arabia have backed opposing sides.

We've seen those reiterated calls from Saudi Arabia to establish a more permanent cease-fire more permanent peace in Yemen so this will certainly go some ways to pushing those talks forward with Iran and with others involved in the conflict.

This will be a significant thing. We've heard from the foreign minister of Iran, speaking on the regional significance of this deal, saying this is a positive step forward not only for Iran and Saudi Arabia but, in his words, for the entire region and for the Muslim world.

He also said that Iran is now actively seeking to repair those diplomatic ties with its other regional neighbors so we are going to see, it looks like, further steps by Iran on the diplomatic front on a more regional scale.

HARRAK: Nada Bashir reporting, thank you so much.


HARRAK: Joining me now, Steven A. Cook is a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Steven, thank you so much for joining us. There is so much to unpack here. Diplomatic restoration of ties seem to have come out of nowhere.

Or were there already quietly efforts underway to defuse the tensions between Tehran and Riyadh?

STEVEN A. COOK, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, there had been conversations going on under the auspices of the Iraqis, of all people, as well as the Chinese.

And the United States has also from time to time encouraged dialogue as a way of deescalating tension in the region. But in fact people were surprised by this announcement earlier today. There was no expectation of it.

In fact, when everybody in the East Coast went to sleep last night, the buzz is that there was perhaps going to be a breakthrough between Israelis and Saudis, not Iranians and Saudis.

HARRAK: So what does this tell you about U.S.-Saudi ties, this announcement? As you just said, it comes hot on the heels of reports that the

kingdom was trying to get some very ambitious security guarantees from the U.S. in return for potentially normalizing ties with Israel.

So what's behind today's move?

How is this being viewed in Washington?

COOK: Well, I think people are looking at it quite cautiously. The spokesperson for the National Security Council reminded journalists that the Iranians have a long history of not fulfilling their promises.

I think there is a cautious skepticism in Washington, although people welcome the idea of de-escalation in the Gulf. But I think there is a more interesting aspect, that the United States wasn't directly involved in the plan to restore relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. But it was actually the work of Chinese diplomacy.


COOK: I think this reflects somewhat of a shift in which the Saudis clearly believe that this century is a Chinese one and it is also, I think, to some extent a poke in the eye of the Biden administration, which the Saudi government has difficult relations.

HARRAK: Could the U.S. have brokered this detente?

COOK: That's the thing. United States could not have brokered this because it doesn't speak with the Iranians. The negotiations to restart the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal, were all held one step removed.

There were interlocutors between the United States and Iran. So there's no real dialogue there. And the advantage that the Chinese had is that they pursue a policy of strict neutrality. They want to see two of their major oil producers de-escalate tensions in the Gulf.

HARRAK: What do you make of China's role here?

You just spoke about it a little bit.

Is this part of a bigger scheme, of Beijing's ambitions to exert global influence?

Or is it the result of U.S. pivoting away from the region?

COOK: Actually, I think it's a combination of those things. Certainly China is a globally ambitious country. But I think when you boil it down to the fact that China has significant economic interest in both Saudi Arabia and Iran, two major suppliers of Chinese oil, the Chinese government needs to make sure that that huge economy runs.

And deescalating between those two countries is really, really important. But it is an important diplomatic breakthrough for the Chinese as well as for the Iranians and the Saudis although it doesn't strike me that it is a geopolitical earthquake.

There's not going to be an Iranian-Saudi alignment and I don't subscribe to the idea that the Chinese are trying to supplant the United States in the Middle East. They just don't want to take on that kind of burden that the United States has taken on over many years to be the provider of security and stability in the region.

HARRAK: Time will tell if this will stick.

For Israel, arguably the U.S.' most important ally in the region, what do these developments mean?

COOK: Well, any step to bring the Iranians in from the cold is something that is going to worry the Israelis. They can't be terribly happy right now with the Saudis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it a principal aim of his government, is to secure a peace agreement with the Saudis.

And here the Saudis are announcing that they will, in two months' time if all goes well, reestablish diplomatic relations with Israel's arch enemy in the region.

All that being said I don't think it really changes much on the Israel-U.S. front or the Israel-Saudi Arabia front. Israelis have proven their willingness to go alone in the region alone if necessary, to go after the Iranians in a rather aggressive way and they've been successful doing it.

HARRAK: Steven A. Cook, thank you so much for weighing in, great to have you.

COOK: My pleasure.


HARRAK: A highly controversial oil drilling operation in Alaska could get federal approval as early as next week, although the White House insists no final decision has been made.

Known as Willow, the project is being sought by ConocoPhillips oil company inside a vast area of Alaska's North Slope. As CNN's Rene Marsh explains, Willow has evoked strong emotions both for and against.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, the only way this project can be stopped is --

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On TikTok and Instagram, calls for President Biden to stop Willow Project, an urgent calls that's gone viral to block a controversial a controversial Alaska oil drilling project.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please help stop Willow. MARSH: The videos racking up tens of millions of views, spurring more than a million letters to the White House and more than 3 million signatures to a petition.

ELISE JOSHI, GENZ FOR CHANGE: In order to stop Willow, people need to know about Willow.

MARSH: Twenty-year-old Elise Joshi is a senior at the University of California/Berkeley is one of the social media activists.

JOSHI: It will not just impact Alaska. It will not just impact this country. It will not impact the world but the amount of carbon emissions that it will emit, we will see an increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters.

MARSH: ConocoPhillips, Willow Project would be located in northwest Alaska on the National Petroleum Reserve, federal land roughly the size of Indiana. The project would tap as much as 600 million barrels of oil but it would take years for it to make it to market.

It's messy politics for President Biden pitting his climate promises against the desire to produce energy at home and lower gas prices.


MARSH: The project would release as much planet warming carbon emissions per year as adding 2 million gas powered cars to the road annually.

That's according to a government estimate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lose of taste and smell, dizziness.

MARSH: Siqiniq Maupin's family lives near the proposed site and she recently traveled to Washington to protest outside the White House against the Willow Project, despite its economic benefits.

SIQINIQ MAUPIN, SOVEREIGN INUPIAT FOR A LIVING ARCTIC: We've been held in an economic health situation. We chose our health, our children's health, our way of life or being able to have plumbing and infrastructure and running water.

MARSH: Nagruk Harcharek's family has also lived in the region for generations. He supports the project. His non-profit represents 2 dozen native communities, corporations and local governments who say the project would be an economic boon and help the U.S. wean off foreign oil.

NAGRUK HARCHAREK, THE VOICE OF THE ARCTIC INUPIAT: The economics a project like this would bring into the region mainly to the North Slope Borough in the form of taxes to help provide and maintain first world conditions.

MARSH: Meantime, the Arctic is warming four times faster than anywhere else on the planet due to climate change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We cannot keep drilling for new fossil fuels if we want to address climate change.

MARSH: We expect a decision from the Biden administration as soon as next week and as for the proposed Willow project, they tell CNN it will create good union jobs. And the project has undergone a comprehensive regulatory process for nearly five years with extensive public input -- Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


HARRAK: We will be right back with more news after this break.





HARRAK: Italy has launched more than a dozen rescue operations to save hundreds of migrants off its coast. The Italian Coast Guard says they safely rescued a boat with 500 people on board just hours ago and escorted it to shore.

It also says that the Italian navy was called in to assist with the rescue operations to reach more than 1,000 people on boats and sea. The latest influx of migrants comes in nearly two weeks after more than 70 migrants were killed when a boat broke up off the coast of Calabria.

Let's go to CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau, who joins me live now from Rome.

Barbie, what more can you tell us?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing more on these operations going on right now. There are about 1,800 migrants and refugees caught up in these rescue operations.

The Italian Coast Guard, as you mentioned, had to call in for backup from the navy to try to rescue some of these people bringing these boats into a safety. This is a highly unusual for boats to be off the coast of Calabria, highly unusual for this many people to be on these large boats at this time of the year.

HARRAK: Why is there such an impact uptick in arrivals?

NADEAU: Yes, that is the big question right now. There have been about as of Thursday 17,600 and some arrivals this year so far. That's almost four times more than last year, than a year before at this time.

Usually these boats don't come across the Mediterranean this time of year. They usually come when the weather is a little bit better. It's still winter seas out there. One of the things they're looking at are who are on these boats? We are hearing a lot of people from Afghanistan are at least the latest arrivals. A lot people from the Ivory Coast are also on the boat. Some of them coming from Turkiye, some of them coming from Libya.

Authorities are trying to make sure that no one dies as they bring them to safety. Now the terrible incident on February 26, when that boat broke up off of Calabria, the death toll now 73 after they pulled a body of what they think was a 5-year-old little boy from the water yesterday, Laila.

HARRAK: Tragic situation indeed, Barbie Nadeau, in, Rome thank you so much.


HARRAK: Western military know-how could fall into the hands of Iran, thanks to the war in Ukraine. That's according to four U.S. officials who spoke with CNN. They say Russia is sending Iran some of the U.S. and NATO weapons it seized in Ukraine. They include the Javelin anti- tank missiles, which you see here, and the Stinger anticraft systems.

Officials are concerned Tehran may reverse engineer those weapons as they did with other military technologies in the past.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is seeing a shift in Russia's strategy in the fight for Bakhmut. Kyiv says Russian army troops are starting to replace Wagner mercenaries, who have been leading the charge for months.

The reason could be a public feud between Wagner's boss and Russia's top military brass.

Still ahead, the seemingly unstoppable American skier, Mikaela Shiffrin, could break a world record on Saturday. Details when CNN NEWSROOM continues.





HARRAK: The International Space Station is a bit less crowded right now. NASA SpaceX Dragon capsule undocked from the ISS a short time ago with four crew members who had been orbiting the Earth since last October.

Taking their place is a new crew who arrived at the space station last weekend. Splashdown off the Florida coast is expected late Saturday night local time.

And a remarkable achievement by U.S. skiing legend Mikaela Shiffrin. The Colorado resident won her 86th World Cup race on Friday, equaling the overall record set by the Swede Ingemar Stenmark 34 years ago. If Shiffrin wins her slalom on Saturday, she will surpass Stenmark and

that would cap a remarkable season for the 27-year old American. She competed in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing but did not win a single medal in five races.


HARRAK: And finally, a TV reporter in Wisconsin loves her job. But that is nothing compared to how much she loves, as in really loves snow.


ELAINE ROJAS-CASTILLO, WTMG REPORTER: I've been waiting all morning to do this, I'm going to sit right here and I am going to make a snow angel. So you guys have fun covering this snow from in there and I'll just be over here, making an angel and having --

HARRAK (voice-over): WTMJ (sic) reporter Elaine Rojas-Castillo had been a bit down over the wintry weather in Racine, Wisconsin. Ten inches of snow had fallen at Lockwood Park. It brought out the kid in her, saying, I'm having a blast here.


HARRAK: Good for her. That wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Laila Harrak. Kim Brunhuber picks up coverage after the break. Do stay with us.