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Amidst Health Concerns, Pope Francis and King Charles Celebrate Easter; Easter Mass at St. Peter's Basilica Presided Over by Pope Francis; Later Today, King Charles Scheduled to Attend an Easter Service; 2024 U.S. Elections; Video of Biden Being Hog-Tied on a Vehicle Posted by Trump; Voters in Turkey Casting Ballots in the Country's Nationwide Municipal Elections; Israel-Hamas War; On Sunday, Cairo Resumes Discussions on Ceasefire; This Week, 400 Tons of Relief Supplies Being Transported to Gaza; Protesters Against Netanyahu Demand the Release of Captives; Strikes on Ukraine's Energy System; Bucha's Somber Anniversary; Russia's War on Ukraine; Belgium Grants Ukraine's F-16 Program $108M; As Electricity Infrastructure is Impacted, Zelenskyy Appeals for Air Defenses; Baltimore Port's Reopening May Take Weeks, According to Governor; Families File a Lawsuit to Maintain Historic Atlanta Cemetery; U.S. Measles Outbreaks; UConn and Alabama Progress to Men's NCAA Final Four; Iowa and LSU Will Rematch in Elite Eight Showdown; Profits for Confectioners Being Negatively Impacted by Cocoa Costs. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired March 31, 2024 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada, and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is "CNN Newsroom".

Easter celebrations at the Vatican as Christians around the world mark the religious holiday. What we know about the Pope's Easter message set to begin any moment.

Plus, the White House responds to a controversial post on Donald Trump's Truth Social account that critics warn encourages violence. What it shows and what the Trump campaign has to say about it.

And talks aimed at a ceasefire and hostage deal could resume today in Egypt as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu faces even more protests over his handling of the crisis.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Atlanta, this is "CNN Newsroom with Kim Brunhuber".

BRUNHUBER: As Christians around the world mark Easter Sunday, two church leaders are observing the holiday with public concerns over their health. So right now, Pope Francis is seated at the altar, presiding over the start of Easter Mass at the Vatican. Even as the 87-year-old pontiff canceled engagements over the past months and years while recovering from what has been variously described as colds, bronchitis and the flu. And later today he's expected to deliver the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing from the main balcony at the Vatican.

Now, King Charles, head of the Church of England, is also battling health issues. The 75-year-old British monarch was recently diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer. Buckingham Palace said he would attend the traditional Easter Sunday church service at Windsor Castle with his wife, Queen Camilla.

So, in a moment, we'll hear from Max Foster, who's on his way to Windsor, England. But first, we're joined by CNN Vatican Correspondent Christopher Lamb. So, Christopher, obviously plenty of concern about the Pope's health. Take us through what we know about how he's doing and his message that he's delivering today.

CHRISTOPHER LAMB, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kim. As you can see, the pope has been and is celebrating the Easter Sunday mass in St. Peter's Square, attended by thousands of pilgrims from Rome and across the world. As you said, there have been concerns about his health. He's battled bouts of ill health over the winter months, cold, bronchitis, et cetera.

But the Pope has shown a determination to be part of all the liturgies so far, apart from on Good Friday evening where he pulled out at the last minute from the Good Friday stations of the cross event at Rome's coliseum and that was due to what the Vatican said, a desire to preserve his health.

Now, the Easter Sunday Mass, the Pope is presiding at the moment is, in fact, the fifth liturgy that he will have presided at since Thursday. So, it does underline that this is a very intense schedule, of services for any Pope, let alone an 87-year-old who has had health difficulties.

Now, Francis's messages over these days have been ones of service, of humility, of a church that goes out to the world. He's underlined that repeatedly. He's also mentioned the cruelty and madness of war. And we expect when he gives his Urbi et Orbi blessing, his traditional Easter Sunday message, that he will address conflicts around the globe.

But I think on Easter Sunday, what Francis will be trying to underline is that the message of Easter of hope, of new life, that that is something that can be applied to a world where there are increasing conflicts and instability and wars. And so, he'll try and apply that message of Easter to the contemporary context. Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much. Christopher Lamb, appreciate that.

Now, CNN is also covering the British royal family's Easter plans today as King Charles ramps up his public appearances in the midst of his cancer treatment. Max Foster joins us now over the phone. So, Max, it's the King's most significant public appearance since his diagnosis. Will this be seen as an encouraging sign, do you think, about his health? MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it is. I think, you know, King Charles has been out of public facing engagements, so it's going to be interesting to see who's there, whether there are any members of the public there.


I've been told by a source that it's a slimmed down service. This is a traditional service where the king is there not just as head of state, but as head of the church of England. A very significant moment. And I'm told that he wants to be there to express, you know, his position in the church, but also as head of state, but he's still in action.

He's very frustrated. He wants to be able to do public facing engagements, but his doctors have said he can't. So, we're not exactly sure which members of the royal family will be there. But we've been invited. World cameras have been invited. And it's really showing that he is still there. Able to do his job and is meeting people still because he's been having lots of meetings, but not only around people that he feels comfortable. His doctors feel he's comfortable around, effectively.

So, it's going to be interesting seeing who is there, who he's able to speak to, members of the church. He's undergoing cancer treatment, obviously, so his doctors are very careful about who he can interact with. But I think it's going to be quite a significant moment for people, and they've publicized this event quite widely.

So, it's very much, you know, the monarchy is there. Obviously, the Princess of Wales is undergoing treatment as well. So, this is showing that the monarchy is still present, still part of people's lives, and still very much, you know, at the top table when it comes to his key positions. So, you know, he's been holding meetings with military, for example, as head of the armed forces, and this is very much him showing he's still running the church effectively.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Many questions still to be answered and we'll find out those answers in the next hour or so. Max Foster, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is facing criticism after he posted on social media a controversial video showing an image of President Joe Biden tied up in the back of a pickup truck. Biden's campaign has condemned the post, saying Trump is inciting political violence. CNN's Steve Contorno has more.


STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Former President Donald Trump, once again, drawing accusations that he is encouraging violence against a political opponent, this time for a social media post involving President Joe Biden. In this video that Trump posted to Truth Social on Friday, it shows two trucks driving on Long Island, decked out in pro-Trump decals and flags, and this image of President Joe Biden hog- tied on the back of a truck. Trump posted that video to his social media site Truth Social on Friday. On Saturday, his campaign defended it, telling CNN in a statement, "That picture was on the back of a pickup truck that was traveling down the highway. Democrats and crazed lunatics have not only called for despicable violence against President Trump and his family, they are actually weaponizing the justice system against him."

The Biden campaign, meanwhile, wasted little time responding to this. They told CNN in a statement, "This image from Donald Trump is the type of crap you post when you're calling for a bloodbath or when you tell the proud boys to stand back and stand by. Trump is regularly inciting political violence and it's time people take him seriously, just ask the Capitol Police officers who were attacked protecting our democracy on January 6th."

These kinds of violent images are commonplace among some Trump supporters, and you can find them often at his rallies, certainly online, and yes, even on the back of vehicles. But it is still striking to see them coming from a former president and someone who is seeking the White House once again.

Of course, this has become commonplace for Trump going all the way back to his 2016 campaign for president and through this week when he has repeatedly attacked one of the judges who is overseeing his case in New York.

Steve Contorno, CNN, St. Petersburg, Florida.


BRUNHUBER: Voters in Turkey are going to the polls today, casting ballots in the country's nationwide municipal elections. Now, the election will determine who will lead Istanbul and other major cities. The vote's seen as a referendum on President Erdogan's popularity after two decades in power. He's looking for his party to reclaim control of the city of Istanbul, as his major rival, Ekrem Imamoglu, works to expand the power of the opposition five years after defeating Erdogan's AK Party in Istanbul and Ankara.

Our Scott McLean joins me now from Istanbul. So, Scott, take us through exactly where you are and what's at stake here.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Kim. Yes, it seems like Turkey's in -- been in perpetual election mode, it's because it has been. There was last year's presidential race and the presidential runoff. Today is local elections.


Let me just set the scene for you. I actually want to show you out the window because the view is absolutely stunning. So, we are in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. You can see across the Golden Horn there to the historic Sultanahmet district. And this district that we are in is actually the same one where the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself was born and grew up. And so, this is one of the polling stations. You can see people coming to cast their ballots. They have -- we have seen a pretty steady stream of people here. There are several inside this school. And people are getting three ballots, quite long ones when they come here. The blue one, a gold one, and a white one. And then a stamp, where they'll stamp their preferred candidate with the word evet or yes in Turkish. Obviously, they'll go behind the partition to vote and then they'll stuff them inside this box inside the envelope.

And because there's so much paper, it seems like it may be a bit of a struggle to get all, in the case of this polling booth, more than 300 votes inside the box. That white ballot is the one that everyone is paying attention to. This is the one that will determine the mayor of Istanbul.

And so, this -- a lot of people around Turkey and really around the world will have eyes on that race because the man running, the incumbent mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, is widely seen as one of the few, maybe the only people, who could be strong enough and popular enough to take on President Erdogan in the next presidential election. And so, that is why Erdogan and his party have put a lot of effort into trying to prevent his re-election in this city.

And it also comes at a time, Kim, when the election or when the economy is really sputtering, you have sky high inflation, you have interest rates that are hitting 50 percent. And so, a lot of people that we met on the campaign trail are voting on those issues.

In the next presidential race, it's important to note that President Erdogan isn't technically allowed to run again, though there's plenty of commentators who suggest that there's enough loopholes for him to find that could allow him to run again. And there is also an issue facing the current mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, and that's criminal charges for insulting public officials that stem from actually the last time he won office in 2019, a race that was heavily contested, run and then rerun.

They're not so much of an issue in this particular race, but of course, when the dust settles on this, they could come back to bite him later on. But for now, all the focus is on the actual voting, poll -- the polling stations will close in a couple hours from now. Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Interesting. All right. Thanks so much, Scott McLean, in Istanbul. Appreciate that.

Egyptian state media is reporting that ceasefire and hostage talks involving Israel and Hamas are due to resume in Cairo today. The last round of talks took place in Doha earlier this month. On Saturday, foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan, and France met in Cairo. The three discussed finding a way to end the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.


SAMEH SHOUKRY, EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): All the countries in the international community bear the responsibility for these events, for the humanitarian situation, and for keeping the principles on which there's international consensus.

AYMAN SAFADI, JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): What stops providing food and medicine to Gaza? It's a political decision for an extremist government who decided to use starvation as a weapon. We can deal with the famine that Gaza's people are facing in a very short time. What's needed is that Israel opens the land crossing for aid to enter.


BRUNHUBER: Nearly 400 tons of much needed humanitarian aid is expected to arrive in northern Gaza this week, organized by World Central Kitchen. The delivery will provide some relief for desperate Gazans who have been struggling to find food, but the U.N. says Israeli authorities are making it harder to get aid through those -- to those who need it.

Officials say, Israel denied 30 percent of humanitarian aid missions proposed for northern Gaza in March, and another 10 percent that were delegated for southern Gaza. Those missions included food distributions, along with fuel, emergency medical supplies, and much needed clean water. Aid groups warn that Gaza is on the verge of an all-out famine within the next few months.


CROWD: (Speaking in a foreign language).


BRUNHUBER: In Tel Aviv, Saturday, thousands of protesters were on the streets They chanted, bring them home now. Demanding that all hostages in Gaza be released and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be removed from office. Police say, a large number of protesters set fires and blocked roads. Officers used water cannons on some of them. 16 people were arrested. Protest organizers say that next weekend they plan to protest outside the Knesset in Jerusalem.

Ukraine takes a pounding from Russian strikes on its energy system. Now, a top energy company reveals just how much damage it suffered from recent attacks.



ILLIA PONOMARENKO, AUTHOR, "I WILL SHOW YOU HOW IT WAS" AND FREELANCE DEFENSE REPORTER, CO-FOUNDER OF KYIV INDEPENDENT: Unfortunately, this war for the Kremlin, for Moscow, Russian leadership was always about eliminating Ukraine as a nation and also as a notion.



BRUNHUBER: Ukraine marks two years since the liberation of the town of Bucha and the discovery of gruesome atrocities during Russia's occupation. We'll talk to a journalist who went there right after Russian troops pulled out. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: Belgium is setting aside more money to help Ukraine keep its future fleet of advanced fighter jets up and running. Brussels has approved more than $100 million to help maintain and support the F-16s that Ukraine expects to eventually get from allies. Three NATO countries have pledged to supply those jets after Ukrainian pilots finish their training in Europe and the U.S.

Meanwhile, President Zelenskyy is pleading for more air defenses after Russia ramped up its strikes on Ukraine's power grid. The country's largest private energy company says, five of its six power plants have been severely damaged in recent weeks, and 80 percent of its generating capacity is now offline.

Joining me now is Illia Ponomarenko, a freelance defense reporter and co-founder of the Kyiv Independent. He's also the author of the memoir, "I Will Show You How It Was."


So first, I just want to reflect on this date, the anniversary of the recapture of Bucha where you are after 33 days of brutal occupation. It must be a poignant day. Your thoughts on this anniversary and how the town has become a symbol of Russia's oppression but also of Ukrainian resistance.

PONOMARENKO: Yes, indeed. It really hurts for any Ukrainian living in, you know, Kyiv area to see that Bucha, a nice, very quiet suburb just outside Kiev in general, has become the international symbol of mass graves, of executions, of bodies of the dead lying in the streets and also in mass graves. It really hurts. It's really one of the biggest horrors to see what has become of -- to Bucha --

BRUNHUBER: Yes. When you --

PONOMARENKO: -- two years ago.

BRUNHUBER: -- when you arrived there, in your book, you described the feeling, as if the evil that was done there still reigned over the town. But you also wrote, time will absorb all the horror and grief into oblivion, as it did with so many wars and battles that had visited this land before. So, where is the city now in that process now? Does the pain, the evil that was done there still resonate?

PONOMARENKO: I would say that -- you know, I was in a really dark mood when we first entered Bucha for the liberation with the police forces. I joined with the police forces. And indeed, there was this smell and really dark atmosphere of what had happened to there. It was really hard psychologically to see. And along with myself, many journalists, including foreigners, they have this feeling that Bucha is cursed forever because of this crime. You know, there will always be this thing that pressures upon this name and upon this city. But I must say that immediately following the liberation, that was springtime, a beautiful spring, I must say. Gradually, life came back, you know, all these activities, you know, lots of houses being rebuilt. Lots of local malls, for instance, building rebuilt and, you know, given a new life.

So, I would say that, you know, within even months of that, you know, life in the -- you know, life prevailing was really something to see, something to sense. But I must say that life prevailed, and ever since then, you know, lots of people even want to move Bucha because it's a symbolic place, but it's also a place for victory. It's a place where life came back and, you know, Ukrainian military come back to liberate all those people that were still under occupation, but also a place of hope and the prevailing life, which is what I love about Bucha.

BRUNHUBER: You wrote, I saw the whole nation, everything my generation loved and cared for standing just a step away from annihilation. Is that still in the back of your mind as a possibility if Ukraine doesn't get the aid it needs after all your president said that Ukraine may have to cede territory and retreat if it doesn't get the U.S. aid that it so desperately needs?

PONOMARENKO: Yes, I'm afraid it's still on the plate even though we spent two years in fierce resistance, you know, praising the military, helping the military. And we have achieved a lot, but you know, this life is tricky. This whole world is extremely complicated, especially when it comes to, you know, facing an aggressive nation of -- and one of the most brutal war machines in human history with so much resources.

Unfortunately, this war for the Kremlin, for Moscow, Russian leadership was always about eliminating Ukraine as a nation, and also as a notion, as an idea of independent Ukraine, a country on its own with its own identity, language, everything that comes to this.

Initially, they were trying to talk somewhat sweet and somewhat not too radical, just like, you know, we're not taking Ukraine under occupation. We're not enforcing anything on anyone. But right now, it's a very normal and general thing that, you know, they openly say that Ukraine is not a country anymore. They refer to Ukraine as the former Ukraine, so called former Ukraine. They say it out and clear that Ukraine is to be obliterated, erased from the political map. And the very notion of being a Ukrainian and having a-- an independent nation of Ukrainians is absolutely unacceptable for Russia for time being and for the future.

It's a very general normal policy that's all activists, all people's -- all people sympathize in Ukraine. All people who were involved in the military, helping the military, and that's a very huge percentage of Ukrainian population anywhere, including, you know, in eastern and southern regions.


They are subject to infiltration. They are subject to imprisonment. They are subject to possibly, very possibly executions, which is exactly what we see as we get back to places like Bucha. This is what happened is men with territorial defense force were executed and buried in mass graves. And this also happens in other cities under occupation.

So, when people say that just, you know, give Russia some percentage of its territory and it will be over. It will not. It's just not the way it's not that simple. So, yes.

BRUNHUBER: We'll have to leave it there. Illia Ponomarenko, thank you so much for speaking to us. Really appreciate it.

PONOMARENKO: Thank you. Thank you.

BRUNHUBER: I'm Kim Brunhuber, you're watching "CNN Newsroom". For those of you watching us here in the U.S. and Canada, we'll have more of today's headlines in just a moment. For those of you watching overseas, "Call to Earth" is up next.


BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States and Canada. I'm Kim Brunhuber, this is "CNN Newsroom".

Two noted world and church leaders are observing the Easter holiday with public concerns over their health. Pope Francis is presiding over Easter Mass at St. Peter's Square, even as the 87-year-old pontiff canceled engagements recently. ?For more than a year, his health issues have included colds, bronchitis, and the flu, and he has been hospitalized.


At the Vatican today, he has been seated at the altar, but rose to his feet for readings and to bless people with holy water.

And the head of the Church of England, King Charles, is also battling health issues. The 75-year-old British monarch was recently diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer. He's expected to attend the traditional Easter Sunday church service at Windsor Castle with his wife Queen Camilla.

Here in the U.S., Republicans are lashing out at President Joe Biden for proclaiming Easter Sunday as the Transgender Day of Visibility, though the two days only coincided this year by chance. Held every year on March 31st, the Transgender Day of Visibility is a day of awareness to celebrate the success of transgender and gender non- conforming people.

Meanwhile, Former President Donald Trump is facing a backlash for posting this controversial video on his social media website, Truth Social, featuring the image of President Biden tied up in the back of a pickup truck. Biden's campaign has slammed the post saying, "Trump is regularly inciting political violence."

CNN's Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein says, Trump's move to post that video, featuring that image of President Biden tied up, is yet another instance of the former president using dark and violent imagery in his campaign messaging. Here he is.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST AND SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Many institutions in American life are hesitant about fully grappling with something we have not faced in our political history, which was the, you know, the leader of one of our -- the undisputed leader of one of our two parties regularly, routinely, and seemingly as part of his strategy, encouraging political violence.

When he says he's going to pardon the January 6th rioters and he calls them patriots and hostages, he is sending a very clear signal. When he tweets what he has about the various judges and law enforcement officials. Involved in his cases. He is sending a very clear signal. And as we know from January 6th, this does not all just, you know, dissipate into the air. There are people who will hear this in a very specific way.

All of this is a reminder to voters that there is a lot that comes with Donald Trump. And at this point in the campaign, there are a lot of voters who are kind of looking at him and his presidency and saying things didn't cost as much when he was president, but this is a reminder that that is not all you get. If you get -- even if you do get that at all, with Trump, you also get a routinization of threats of violence that we have not seen before in American history in which no institution, I think, is grappling with fully.


BRUNHUBER: Planning for the huge cleanup operation at the site of the Baltimore Bridge disaster is gradually ramping up, but officials caution that reopening the port could take weeks. CNN's Gloria Pazmino has the latest details.


GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're learning more about the first critical steps officials here will be taking in what is certain to be a long recovery process. They are expecting that they will be able to lift every part of the north side of the bridge that remains. That is going to be a critical step because they are trying to reopen a part of the channel so that boats and ship traffic can begin to start flowing once again, at least around the wreckage of the dally, which is going to take a much longer time to be removed from where it's been sitting since the bridge collapsed earlier this week.

The governor has made it clear that this is going to be a multifaceted and complicated, dangerous operation that they have to go detail by detail to make sure that they can get it exactly right. There are several pieces of heavy equipment that have arrived in the area to help in that process. And there is more than 1,000 engineers spread out across the entire country looking at the wreckage, trying to come up with the best plan to start lifting those heavy pieces of metal that are resting on top of the boat in order to begin the cleanup process. All of thus -- all of this is going to be essential to make sure that divers can get back into the water and help search for the recovery of the bodies that have yet to be found. We spoke with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier trying to understand just how this process is going to play out. Take a listen.

SCOTT A. SPELLMAN, COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: That vessel looks small from where we're standing here on the shore. That vessel weighs on the order of 95,000 tons. The bridge span that's behind us that -- the one I mentioned we're going to sever, that piece weighs 5,000 tons alone. So that's a lot of downward pressure on that vessel already.

The -- so you're correct. We have one of the largest cranes here on the eastern seaboard, it arrived 23 -- 11:00 p.m. two nights ago. And so, you imagine we're going to have to cut those steel sections into much smaller components to lift them out safely and efficiently.


?And so, you imagine we're going to have to cut those steel sections into much smaller components to lift them out safely and efficiently.

PAZMINO: So, safety is certainly the first priority. The governor making it clear that he is committed to making sure that divers get back into the water as soon as it is safe for them to do so. So, the recovery mission can continue. There are four families that are waiting to hear and waiting to see if the bodies of their loved ones will be recovered. It's the last thing that they're hoping they can get so that they can hopefully get some closure after this tragedy. Local officials here said that they are committed to making sure that happens.

In Baltimore, Maryland, Gloria Pazmino, CNN.


BRUNHUBER: A historic cemetery in an upscale part of Atlanta is the center of a legal battle. Graves dating back to slavery are so overgrown, descendants of people buried there can't even visit. Now, there's a fight over who should maintain these neglected barrel plots. CNN's Rafael Romo visited the cemetery.


AUDREY COLLINS, DESCENDANT AND PLAINTIFF: This was clear, and you -- it was -- you could walk up the hills.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At first sight this looks like a forest but look closer and you'll see the rocks here are engraved.

COLLINS: You can see a tombstone right there, look.

ROMO (voice-over): This one-acre plot of land is smack in the heart of Buckhead, an upscale community in Atlanta. ROMO: Can you tell us how many members of your family we're buried here.

RHONDA JACKSON, DESCENDANT AND PLAINTIFF: My grandmother, my grandfather, I have a baby brother, two great Grandmothers, uncles and aunts.

ROMO (voice-over): Piney Grove Cemetery, a historic African American graveyard that traces its roots to the 19th century is now at the center of a legal battle between sisters Rhonda Jackson and Audrey Collins, descendants of people buried here and the Bluffs Atlantic Homeowners Association, which now owns this land.

COLLINS: We cleared all of this. All this was clean a few years ago.

ROMO (voice-over): In a lawsuit filed in January, the sisters claimed the HOA has failed to clean and maintain the cemetery, but also has interfered with plaintiffs' rights under Georgia law to care for and maintain the cemetery. But the HOA claims the cemetery was abandoned before it acquired the land. And until recently, no one took responsibility for maintaining it.

KATHRYN WHITLOCK, BLUFFS AT LENOX ATTORNEY: The plaintiffs themselves had been to the cemetery when they were children and had not been back in years. And when they got back, it was overgrown, and it was difficult to find grave markers and boundaries.

ROMO: The fake vegetation here has made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the surviving relatives of the people buried here to visit their graves. But we were able to get to the top of the hill, and this is what we found. This is the grave of Joshua Thomas, buried in 1987. He happens to be the grandfather of the two sisters who filed the lawsuit.

ROMO (voice-over): According to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation at Piney Grove, there are over 300 burials, some of which are believed to be burials for enslaved individuals and other people who came from thriving African American communities that were displaced over several decades.

WRIGHT MITCHELL, PRESIDENT AND CEO, GEORGIA TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION: That's been going on since, you know, emancipation. Where, you know, African American communities are displaced through a measure of different tactics.

ROMO (voice-over): For the last few years, the sisters and a small group of supporters have been fighting a losing battle against the vegetation that is so thick they can no longer reach their grandmother's grave.

COLLINS: It's too treacherous, you know, going up that hill. I'm 71 years old, almost 72, with a bad hip. I guess I get emotional because on the very first cleanup, I promised my grandma, when we cleaned her grave, I said, I promise you, this is not going to happen again. We're going to make sure that you are treated with respect. ROMO: After the first hearing on the case held in February, both parties made an agreement that, among other things, gives the sisters access to the cemetery, which had been a problem before. The agreement also allows the plaintiffs to take measures to clear vegetation, including the use of goats which was a source of disagreement in the past.

Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


BRUNHUBER: Coming up, measles cases are surging in the U.S., putting very young children at risk of serious, sometimes deadly complications. That's next. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: The United States is experiencing several outbreaks of measles, a highly contagious disease that can be prevented by a vaccine. As of Thursday, the CDC has registered 97 cases. They say they have seen more cases in the past three months than in all of 2023. More than half of this year's cases have occurred in children younger than five years old, and 54 measles patients have been hospitalized.

The CDC says, the surge in measles cases comes from people bringing measles into the U.S. from abroad and from failing vaccination -- falling vaccination rates inside the U.S. Health officials warn that children are at serious risk of complications from measles, including pneumonia, encephalitis and deadly respiratory and neurological symptoms.

Dr. Scott Miscovich is the founder and president of Premier Medical Group Hawaii and he joins me now from Oahu. Thanks so much for being here with us, Doctor. So, measles, I mean, such a contagious disease. Put this increase in cases into perspective for us. How bad is what we're seeing right now?

DR. SCOTT MISCOVICH, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, PREMIER MEDICAL GROUP HAWAII: Oh, and hello, Kim. It's good to be with you again here. This is very significant because, you know, we have just lived through a pandemic and people understand how respiratory pandemics have changed the world. And people need to understand that measles is the most contagious respiratory virus we have now currently in history.

It is spread through little droplets that actually remain in the air and can remain there for a long period of time. So, we now know that the measles outbreak is due to the decrease in vaccinations, as you've alluded to, and that's only getting worse. So, this is quite serious, and we may just be at the tip of an iceberg of many other infectious diseases similar to this.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, I want to drill down on that because, as you say, I mean, measles is just one disease, but the problem is, we're seeing a decline in the number, specifically of school aged kids getting vaccinated across the country. I just want to show our viewers a map here. So, we're looking at this map. It shows the states that had declining vaccination rates for children between 2019 and 2023. So, those in orange or red 41 and all. So, is this a direct result of vaccine hesitancy that came about after the COVID vaccine mandates, do you think?


DR. MISCOVICH: I think it goes much deeper than that. There -- there's two sides of what we talk about. You know, yes, we have -- always had vaccine hesitant patients that we'll see in the offices. And, you know, we as physicians, we'll sit there and we'll try to discuss with them the science, and a lot of times we were able to convince them.

But I'm going to use the term that I think people know there's that other side, which are the true anti-vaxxers. These are the people who are vehemently fighting the concept of vaccines. And now these people are being given the microphone. They grabbed the microphone during COVID, like physicians who tried to say things that were different than the science. A lot of them lost their licenses.

But now -- for example, we have a presidential candidate that is running basically on the whole premise that vaccines are not good for society. And there are many other organizations that are standing up along with social media and really producing just false information. So, we're in a different era right now.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, but not just, I mean, you know, the candidate you're referring to, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. But I mean, it's --


BRUNHUBER: -- you know, many states, red states, particularly like Florida are making things like vaccine exemptions easier with their public health policies.

DR. MISCOVICH: Yes. And, you know, Kim, you're bringing up really what is something that probably started to become so obvious during our COVID pandemic. And that is, you know, I've studied and been involved with public health my entire career, and it's so disparaging to see that it is now becoming political. Public health has been ruled by politics.

And you bring up the issue where we had a vaccine outbreak in Florida, and actually, the director of the Department of Health went totally contrary to the science and talking about how long children should stay out. And now they're arguing with Florida or with Illinois, who's a blue state. And so, we're seeing policy that is coming both on the red and blue side.

And if you look at a Pew research study, it basically showed that since this is started, the drop in the parents that are coming from the red states is down to 57 percent that will consent to school age vaccinations. That's from -- in the '80s. That's really concerning that this will allow these types of these and others.

BRUNHUBER: So, I mean, things are obviously going in the wrong direction here with so much misinformation in social media and pushed by some politicians, as we said. So, what can be done to turn this around, do you think?

DR. MISCOVICH: Well, we have to -- first it gets back to being one on one when you have a medical provider and a physician with a patient. We need to enforce the science. And then it comes back to other family members talking that do understand the value of vaccines, talking to their family and sharing. Then it comes to public health to re-educate the public and re-educate about the safety.

The measles vaccine is so safe. It's so effective. It's been along for so long. And we need to try to take the microphone out of the hands of some of these people that don't have the background or a degree or the education to say it. We need to call these people out. But the vaccines are safe, especially the measles and the MMR vaccine.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Wrestling that microphone away from those voices, easier said than done. But a worthy cause. Dr. Scott Miscovich, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

DR. MISCOVICH: Thank you, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. We'll be right back. Please do stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: College basketball's top seeded UConn and Alabama are on their way to the men's final four. Defending national champion UConn blew out Illinois, 77-52. The Huskies going on a 30 to zero run after a close first half. The team's head coach says, his players were performing at a, "Special level."

Meanwhile, the Alabama Crimson Tide is heading to its first ever final four appearance after defeating number six Clemson, 89-82. The two other teams in the final four will be decided later today.

Meanwhile, it seems Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes are unstoppable. Top seeded Iowa is forging ahead into the women's elite eight after they soundly beat number five Colorado 89 to 68. Clark finished the showdown with a game high 29 points and received a rousing ovation from the crowd there.

Now, the Hawkeyes will face number three LSU in a rematch of last year's NCAA national championship game. Clark says the team is excited to play the Tigers on Monday after their loss last year.

Well, a beloved tradition over this holiday weekend is receiving chocolate Easter bunnies, except this year, those cute little confections are a bit pricier as the cost of cocoa soars. Retailers are doing their best to keep increases from taking a bite out of their profits. Ivan Rodriguez explains. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IVAN RODRIGUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For chocolatiers, the last several months have been nonstop.

JOCELYN DUBUKE, CHEF AND OWNER OF JARDI CHOCOLATES: You get Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, a little bit of break, Easter and now things kind of slow down a little bit.

RODRIGUEZ (voice-over): Jocelyn Dubuke is the owner and chef of Jardi Chocolates. She's tasked with making chocolate confections of different flavors, shapes and colors. But this year, since the price of cocoa has gotten significantly more expensive, she's rethinking the kind of treats she makes and how she makes them. Like this marshmallow chocolate bunny.

DUBUKE: It's a chocolate cookie with a vanilla bean marshmallow and then it's covered in milk chocolate.


So, for the, you know, 30 grams that you're getting, only 18 grams of that is chocolate, which means it's a much lower ingredient cost for me, much lower labor for me as well, which means that I can pass along those lower costs.

RODRIGUEZ (voice-over): In January of 2023, Dubuke was paying $13.50 a kilo for chocolate. This week, she's paid $15.71 a kilo.

DUBUKE: So, that's a 16 percent increase. The white chocolate, like I said, has gone up 35 percent in less than a year.

RODRIGUEZ (voice-over): And with no end in sight for when prices could normalize, Dubuke will have to continue finding creative ways to create delicious chocolate while keeping her business afloat.

RODRIGUEZ: It's an uncomfortable situation sometimes for chocolatiers. Chef Dubuke told us that at times, consumers feel like they're the only ones seeing the price increases, especially at a time when everything feels like it's getting more expensive. But she says she's lucky her customers have been understanding.

Ivan Rodriguez, CNN, Atlanta.


BRUNHUBER: All right. I want to show you live pictures of Easter Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Pope Francis presiding over the service just days after cancelling his participation in Good Friday events. Vatican's calling it a bit to preserve his health ahead of other holy week events.

Vatican officials say, the 87-year-old pontiff has been recovering over the past months and years from what's been described as bouts of colds, bronchitis and the flu. And then later today, he'll deliver the Urbi et Orbi blessing from the main balcony at the Vatican. Please stay with us. We'll have live coverage of the Eastern mass at St. Peter's Basilica during the next hour. I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back with more "CNN Newsroom" in just a moment. Please do stay with us.