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Extreme Flooding Hits Central China; 2022 Winter Olympics to Proceed in Beijing; India COVID-19 Deaths 10X Higher than Official Count; Lawmakers Debating French President Emmanuel Macron's New COVID-19 Health Pass; Billionaire Space Race; Allegations against Russian Wagner Mercenaries for Torture and Murder; Siberian Wildfires. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired July 21, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BECKY ANDERSON, CNNI HOST (voice-over): In a pandemic era, Olympic dreams dashed before some even get the chance to compete.
A year's worth of rain in just three days. This is the result in central China, a terrifying experience for tens of thousands of people.
And fancy some lunch in France?
Well, you're going to need a health pass. How the government is cracking down as the Delta variant spreads.
ANDERSON: It's 3:00 pm in London. I'm Becky Anderson, hello and welcome to the show.
At least three athletes have now pulled out of the Olympic Games after arriving in Japan and testing positive for COVID-19. This including a Czech
table tennis player, a Dutch skateboarder and a Chilean taekwondo athlete.
Several others have been forced to pull out of because of a positive test before arriving in the country. The official opening ceremony isn't until
Friday. But we have already seen the unusual side of women's softball and football matches, taking place in empty stadiums.
Olympic organizers are painting the games as a moment of joy and relief. But get this: they are also not ruling out the possibility of cancelling
them altogether at the last minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS BACH, IOC PRESIDENT: The games will also highlight that, you know, perseverance of the Japanese people and perseverance of the international
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Selina Wang joining us from Tokyo.
We've got a big team there, of course, for these Olympic Games and, although, Selina, these games don't officially begin until Friday, sporting
action has already begun. But the cloud of COVID infections very much hanging over this event.
What's the mood?
SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's incredibly bizarre and surreal, Becky. There's actually a major crowd of people watching this live drone
show that's happening in what we believe is in preparation for the Olympic opening ceremony. There was some ceremonial music playing in the background
But talking to people here today, they're gathered here to watch this drone light show but still concern from people about these rising COVID-19 cases.
And I just spoke to one man, in fact, who told me he has mixed feelings. In fact, he just had COVID himself, was hospitalized.
But again, this is surreal. None of these people will be actually allowed to watch the Olympic Games with the broader public band. And as we are
seeing as well, Becky, more and more athletes, Olympic dreams are being dashed before they get a chance to compete.
WANG (voice-over): The first competitive pitch of an Olympics that has taken nothing but curve balls and they just keep coming. The head of the
Tokyo Olympic organizing committee is not ruling out a last-minute cancellation of the entire games. That's despite the first competition of
the Olympics already kicking off.
"We cannot predict what the epidemic will look like in the future, so as for what to do, should there be any surge of positive cases, we'll discuss
accordingly if that happens," he says.
Chilean taekwondo player Fernanda Aguirre and Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs are out of the games after testing positive, the first athletes to
announce after arriving in Tokyo that they cannot participate because of COVID.
Just two days out from an opening ceremony, the first event started in what looked more like a dress rehearsal than the real thing. The USA women's
soccer and softball teams competing in empty stadiums on Wednesday.
Softball, a beloved game in Japan, brought back to the Olympics for the first time since Beijing 2008, with a big win against Australia for the
host team, who may still be able to lighten the mood of a nervous Japanese public as athletes and officials continue to arrive in Tokyo from around
No nerves for future Olympic host cities. Celebration in Brisbane, Australia, after the city was announced as the host of the 2032 event.
Closer to the age of COVID-19, the winter games, set for Beijing, start early next year.
JUAN ANTONIO SAMARANCH JR., IOC COORDINATION COMMISSION: We need very successful games in February next year in Beijing.
SAMARANCH: We really need that success for the sake of everybody, for the sake, as the president of the World Health Organization has said, for
keeping that light of hope really bright and open.
WANG (voice-over): But for now, athletes in Tokyo are grateful to get the chance to compete, as so many around the world prepare to count cases as
well as medals.
WANG: And Becky, the skateboarder from -- the Dutch skateboarder said that she needs time for her broken heart to heal. It's just hard to imagine what
it must be like to train your whole life for this moment, to go through all the COVID safety protocols, actually arrive in Tokyo, only to have those
dreams derailed -- Becky.
ANDERSON: The head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee has not ruled out cancelling the event at the last minute, saying that he would keep an
eye on infection numbers.
Selina, is it clear how many more COVID cases, either amongst athletes or locally, would press him to call the whole thing off at this point?
WANG: He was very careful in his choice of words, Becky. He said they cannot predict how the infection situation is going to change and that they
will watch it closely and they will hold a wider meeting with all the organizers if they deem that to be necessary.
Now right now, we have seen more than 70 COVID-19 cases here in Japan linked to these games. But Olympic officials say that they were expecting
these numbers and they may even be lower than what they thought.
They say the fact they are catching these cases shows that their COVID-19 protocols are working, which includes regular testing, contact tracing. But
Becky, I have been speaking to public health experts, including Kenji Shibuia, who says the Olympic bubble is broken and he doesn't believe these
COVID safety protocols are strong enough.
ANDERSON: Selina Wang is on the ground. As we said, officially these games don't kick off until Friday but a lot of action there already. All right.
One of Japan's biggest CEOs tells CNN Business that the Olympics are losing their commercial value. Read more of what the CEO of Suntory said about
their decision not to sponsor the games this year. That is cnn.com/business.
Much of southeast Asia is seeing an alarming COVID-19 spike as the Delta variant sweeps that region. Indonesia now the new epicenter of the pandemic
in Asia. It's extended restrictions as COVID-19 deaths there climb.
Experts have been saying for months that India's death toll is undercounted. Now a study finds that the number of Indians who died from
the virus could be 10 times higher than the official account. That would be 3 million to 4 million more deaths.
And anger in Australia, growing after COVID lockdowns there expand to yet another state. Anna Coren keeping an eye on what's going on across the
region. She's live in Hong Kong.
Let's start with Indonesia, a country in crisis, new COVID cases and deaths soaring and real concerns about the high rate of infection amongst kids.
And what's being done to try and contain things?
ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Becky, obviously, they put in quite restrictive measures to try and, you know, stop the
spread of this Delta variant, which is ripping through Indonesia. This is the fourth most populous nation in the world. You know, it's a developing
It's a poor country, which makes it the perfect breeding ground for COVID- 19. As far as cases go, Becky, it was like a record daily case count of 56,000 last week. Today it was around 33,000.
But they recorded a daily death toll of almost 1,400. That is a record for Indonesia and, according to all authorities, that is going to climb. It is
now the epicenter for Asia's pandemic, you know. It really has overtaken India.
Obviously, you know, it is Eid. Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country. And even though these measures are in place to restrict movement,
families are still gathering, people are still getting together for this religious holiday. And so authorities are concerned there is going to be a
surge in cases.
I think, Becky, it's really important to note that only 6 percent of the population in Indonesia has been fully vaccinated. And herein lies the
ANDERSON: Yes. You and I talked a lot a couple of months ago about what was going on in India and in Nepal, in fact, as well. And at the time we
were concerned that numbers in India were vastly undercounted. We are now getting a clearer picture of the magnitude of what may have really taken
place in India. Just explain, Anna, if you will.
COREN: Yes, Becky, this has come from the U.S.-based Center for Global Development.
COREN: And this organization believes that the death count the government gave of 418,000 deaths is actually 10 times higher, could be 10 times
higher. That makes it at around 4.9 million deaths. I mean, that is really quite staggering.
Let me read this to you. They say that the deaths are definitely in the millions; they are not in the hundreds of thousands, making this India's
worst human tragedy since partition and independence.
And just to top it off, Becky, the government came out today, saying that there were no deaths caused due to a lack of oxygen. That has caused
enormous outrage throughout India because, as we know, there was a critical shortage of oxygen.
People died in hospital because they ran out of oxygen. It was something so simple that they needed to provide their people. And they failed. The
government maintaining it wasn't their fault.
ANDERSON: Going around the region, South Korea dealing with a growing outbreak, as is Australia, where people are frustrated over their
government's COVID response, with even more lockdowns.
What do we know about what's going on there?
COREN: Look, there's a great deal of frustration in fortress Australia, as many people call it. This is a country that tried to lock out COVID. They
thought they could, you know, keep it beyond the borders.
There was an outbreak in Sydney in June last month. It was a limousine driver, who picked up an international flight crew. And one of these
members had -- was carrying the Delta variant.
Well, that has just spread like wildfire, which has, really, you know, caught the government by surprise. You know, New South Wales, where this
has happened in Sydney, was slow to bring in the lockdown. It has finally brought in the lockdown.
Today they recorded 110 cases. There are cases in Victoria, in South Australia so those three states are now in lockdown. That equates to more
than half of Australia's population, 26 million people.
Once again, the rollout of the vaccine, so incredibly slow. Something like 11 percent of the population has been actually been vaccinated in
ANDERSON: Anna Coren with some real context and analysis with why it is we're keeping a very close eye on what is happening in that part of the
world. Anna, always a pleasure. Thank you.
In France, if you want to go to the Eiffel Tower, visit a museum or a movie theater, be prepared to show proof, proof that you are fully vaccinated
against the coronavirus, have recovered from COVID or tested negative for it.
France's new health pass or passe sanitaire is taking effect today, as the highly transmissible Delta variant is fueling a surge in COVID cases there.
Lawmakers debating the government's plan to extend the pass to more public places like cafes, trains and shopping malls next month.
CNN's senior international correspondent Jim Bittermann joins me now live with more on all of this.
This isn't the first place in the world where we are beginning to see the use of some sort of pass to get you around your daily life, as it were. But
this mandatory health pass in France coming into effect today.
How has this been received locally?
JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, there's already even before it went into effect, there was a lot of pushback. Last weekend
we had hundreds of thousands or maybe a hundred thousand people in the streets around the country, saying that they didn't want the health pass.
They didn't like the government's plan to push vaccinations, et cetera. Having said that, the public opinion polls seem to indicate that people
favor the government's policy. About 60 percent, according to one poll recently, indicates that they would be behind what the government is trying
Basically it presents -- and this is my health pass here, it's got a little European flag on the front and a QR code on the back, which can be easily
identified by hand readers at the various (INAUDIBLE) points at, for instance, today, at museums, cinemas, libraries, that kind of place.
Any kind of place where there's going to be more than 50 people gathering, you have to show this or an indication that you have tested negative in the
last 48 hours with an antigen test.
Now to help that out, help people out in that, they have set up testing sites right in front of a lot of the various tourist locations around town,
for example, because, while the French and people in the French health care system can pretty easily get this or download it on their cell phones, the
tourists are not eligible to do that, of course. And so they can get tested immediately.
BITTERMANN: They can get results within five or 10 minutes or something like that, one of these antigen tests and they can get access to the sites.
Nonetheless, it's going to be a new stage and I think the health pass is going to be something we're all going to be living with here for some time
ANDERSON: Some evidence that people have been encouraged to get vaccinated on the announcement of this pass, in a country that has had an issue with
anti-vaxers. All right, thank you for that.
A year's worth of rain has fallen over three days in one central China province. Officials say the devastating flooding has killed at least 25
people so far with seven others missing and now they are warning that more heavy rainfall is expected in the days ahead. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout has
KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Dramatic images coming out of China's central Hunan province with its capital Junjo drenched by record
breaking rainfall. Junjo is a city of 12 million, situated on the banks of the Yellow River and authorities there say a year's worth of rain has
fallen on the city in the last three days.
And it's not just Junjo; streets in a dozen cities across China have been severely flooded. Among the devastating scenes out of central China, people
trying to drive down flooded streets and police helping those who can't make it by raft, by boat, by human chain, rescuers bringing people to
Many reservoirs are at or above capacity, roads impassable with power lines down. And people trapped in subway cars as rushing water fills the station.
Listen to this passenger who was trapped in a flooded subway car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The flood was so strong and many people were carried away by that. The remaining few of us, including a kid,
were so tired and we nearly gave up.
We kept holding on tight to the railing and that's why you can see so many bruises on my arms. These are all bruises. This is one, too. This included,
too. If you don't hold on tight to that railing, it's very easy to be washed away.
STOUT: Authorities say more than 500 people who were trapped in Junjo's subways have been rescued; 12 were found dead. And more rain is expected to
cross Hunan province over the next three days -- Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.
ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson for you. When we come back, a second billionaire soars into the skies.
When will the rest of us be able to afford a flight to the stars?
Take a look at that a little later.
Boris Johnson may be in isolation but the prime minister could not avoid some tough questions from fellow members of Parliament earlier today.
And a little later, Siberia, burning. But people who live there are used to arctic temperatures, of course. Well, now they are facing abnormal heat and
heavy smoke. How and why is just ahead.
ANDERSON: "The first step of something big."
Those were the words billionaire Jeff Bezos used when describing his trip into space aboard a Blue Origin rocket on Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's incredible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To space.
ANDERSON (voice-over): Although a couple of decades of science led up to this flight, of course, for the passengers, it was really just an
incredible 11-minute joyride. Blue Origin says journeys like this pave the way for a future, where people will live and work in space. And they are a
reminder of the importance of keeping planet Earth clean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON: Many see this as a toy of the super rich, you see on Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin flight cost $28 million. Richard Branson has been selling seats
on his future Virgin Galactic space flights for $200,000 to $250,000 each. Cheaper the price when you consider what the others are charging.
That's four times as much as the average American family makes in a year. And a lot more than many of you watching around the world, I'm sure. But it
seems many of us actually don't even really want to go, even if the flight was at discount prices.
Polls taken over the years show only a small increase in the number of people actually want to be space tourists. More than half of adults say
they wouldn't want to go at all. Despite those numbers, many people do still dream of space and my next guest thinks that's the reason they do --
or the reason they do is because they want to feel more free.
You wrote a column about space colonization, saying if we want something different, how can we get there?
One vehicle is the growth of commercial space enterprises because their premise is so new and their activities are so vibrant. SpaceX, Blue Origin
and others deserve a lot of credit for what they have and can achieve technologically.
Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, I'm delighted to say he joins us live from Rochester, New York, today.
Aside from a wild ride for four newly minted astronauts, let's discuss what was really achieved yesterday.
ADAM FRANK, PROFESSOR OF ASTROPHYSICS, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER: Yes, I think the important thing here, well, like I say, it was a bad day for flat
Earthers. But beyond that, what was really achieved here was the beginning of a commercial venture in space, of having commerce in space because, you
know, the space tourism is a very small part of what we can expect to happen if we're successful in terms of becoming a space-faring
And to do that, you really have to have commerce. There has to be a reason to go out there in terms of jobs and making a living and economy. And that
you're not going to get just from governments doing exploration.
ANDERSON: So what will space commerce or colonization look like, sir?
FRANK: Well, that's the interesting question. I mean, that's sort of for us to describe. I mean, there are people who I think, rightfully, criticize
the idea of, you know, billionaires in space. You don't want to end up with zillionaires in their orbital space habitats and the rest of us just
taking care of them.
But you can imagine that there are children being born today who may end up having jobs on settlements on the moon, that are working to do scientific
exploration, that are working on manufacturing in low Earth orbit, mining of -- one of the interesting things is idea of mining rare Earth metals
And these are essential components for all of our electronics. You don't want them being mined at the bottom of the ocean, which is going to be
incredibly disruptive. So these kind of economies can happen as governments begin to move into space, using it for various things.
And then they're going to hire. They will have contractors, private contractors. And that will bootstrap the economy to eventually where you'll
have settlements in space, settlements on Mars. And they will eventually become self-supporting.
And that's when we have the possibility of developing different kinds of human communities, which is exactly what -- the possibilities of freedom
that people are looking for. People are always moving to the next hill, hoping that we can do something better.
ANDERSON: Jeff Bezos talked about how important it was for him to just get a sense of the fragility of Earth and why it is, he believes, important
that we move stuff away from Earth because what we're doing at the moment is sort of ruining it.
But I just -- I guess many of our viewers will be watching this interview and saying, all right, I hear what you're saying.
But with respect, what sort of time schedule are we talking about?
After all, you know, as long as I have been alive, we have been talking about the possibilities of doing more in space.
Does this really take us any closer?
FRANK: Yes, absolutely it does. Well, first of all, I mean, you know, Bezos talked about moving all heavy industry off into orbit. That's, I
think, pushing it a bit.
FRANK: But then seeing the fragility of the planet, I think, is an essential component. The more people you have off Earth, they get to see
that there's no boundaries, there's no Magic Marker line delineating the United States from Canada, et cetera.
So seeing that fragility is important. And also, you know, you just presented some stories about climate change. Climate change is an
existential threat and one of the only ways we're going to be able to deal with it is actually by having more presence in space because that actually
allows us to observe the Earth and understand it to a greater extent.
So our understanding of climate change that we have now wouldn't have been possible without all of the use of low Earth orbit. So that's one point I
think that's essential.
The other point you're talking about, though, in terms of time scales, is that really, within 50 to 100 to 200 years, I think it's possible, if we
solve the climate change crisis, that we could have millions, you know, hundreds of millions of people within a century or two, which really may
seem like a long time but it's only a few generations, really, four or five generations.
We could have a real, vibrant human presence in space, including doing things like energy generation from space, manufacturing in space.
And, finally, if I can make one last point about this, to live in space, you have to care so much about your ecosystem, whether it's a manufactured
ecosystem or one you're building by, you know, adding plants to it. And all of that makes it more clear about the spaceship we're living on. We're
already living on a spaceship, so I think that --
ANDERSON: Yes, we did see a poll moments ago, that said less than half of people even want to fly to space and you pointed out that's not really what
it's about. It's not really about space tourism, thank goodness, because the numbers are quite frankly, so swingeing that most of us would never get
an opportunity to do this.
But do you see some potential for space tourism going forward?
FRANK: Well, you know, it is worth noting that the first cars were only for rich people. The first, you know, airplane rides really were very, very
expensive. But what I really see is more of an opportunity in 50 years, is that there will be jobs in space. There will be opportunities not to go up
as a tourist but to go up because, you know, you were offered a job on a lunar base or on a rotating space platform, a hollowed out asteroid.
So I think that's actually a much more vibrant possibility. And again, this idea, right now, space is so new, you can imagine people don't really know
what it's about. But once there's, you know, hundreds of thousands of people living in space, it will become much more commonplace.
ANDERSON: See you there. Thank you, sir.
FRANK: Thank you.
ANDERSON: Coming up in the next hour of CONNECT THE WORLD, I'll be talking with the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria.
That was a file, wasn't it? Ryan Crocker has spent decades as a diplomat in the Middle East and Asia and we will have plenty to cover, from the Taliban
and ISIS to the next step in the pandemic.
Plus, 100 million doses exclusively for African countries. We'll tell you how Pfizer BioNTech plans to make that happen.
ANDERSON: Russian mercenaries have been accused of grave human rights abuses that, in some cases, experts say, could amount to war crimes. CNN
has reported extensively on the alleged atrocities committed in Africa. We now bring you another report.
This time from Syria, where the horrific torture and murder of a Syrian man in 2017, allegedly at the hands of Russian mercenaries, is now a landmark
case, the first ever legal effort to hold Russian Wagner mercenaries accountable for their crimes.
The victim's brother spoke exclusively to CNN about the tragedy that devastated his family and his dangerous quest for justice. And I have to
warn you, the images that you're about to see are extremely disturbing. My colleague, CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, reports.
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A series of videos emerged beginning in 2017, revealing one of the most disturbing incidents
of the war in Syria, an unarmed man, taunted and tortured by four Russian- speaking men in military fatigues.
They pin him down and, with a sledgehammer, they repeatedly strike his feet and his hands. His screams of agony drowned out by the sound of nationalist
Russian military music and their laughter.
KARADSHEH: Later that year and in 2019, more video clips of the incident surfaced online. They're too graphic to show, too gruesome to even detail.
The men's take turns dismembering and beheading their victim, whose last words appear to be reciting the shahada, a declaration of a Muslim's faith,
typically spoken as a death rite.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): Their perverse pleasure evident throughout this ordeal that played out in their makeshift Syrian desert torture chamber.
One of the men was identified in a 2019 investigation published by the independent Russian paper "Novaya Gazeta" as an alleged member of Wagner,
the shadowy Russian private military entity, with links to the Kremlin, that's operated in Syria alongside Russian forces.
The victim was identified as Mohamad Ayde (ph), a Syrian army deserter. In 2019, Moscow said the reports, quote, "have nothing to do with Russian
military operations in Syria," and requests by "Novaya Gazeta" to the country's main investigative body to launch a probe were dismissed.
Four years after that grisly killing, rights groups from Russia, France and Syria have filed legal action in Moscow in an attempt to trigger an
investigation into the incident. It is the first time anyone has ever tried to hold any member of Wagner accountable for what rights groups say is part
of a growing list of alleged atrocities committed by the mercenaries with an expanding global footprint that allows Russia to advance an off the
books foreign policy.
The case was filed on behalf of the victim's brother, who broke his family's silence in an exclusive CNN interview. For the safety of family
still inside Syria, Abdullah asked us to conceal his identity.
"ABDULLAH," MOHAMAD'S BROTHER (through translator): I want the world to hear about my brother's case, so these criminals are held accountable. My
brother is gone. He will never come back.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): Abdullah said Mohamad never took part in the war. To support his young family, he worked as a construction laborer in
Lebanon. The last time Abdullah heard from him, Mohamad said he had been detained by the regime on his way back into Syria and forced to join the
military. But he planned to desert.
"ABDULLAH" (through translator): He said, 'I'm going to leave but I don't know if I'll be able to get back to you. Take care of my children and my
wife.' It was as if he knew something was going to happen to him.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): The family lost contact with Mohamad for months until this.
"ABDULLAH" (through translator): A man from our hometown sent me a video clip. He said, "Watch this video, it could be your brother." Of course I
recognized my brother from his clothes, his voice, his appearance. He was being tortured by soldiers.
KARADSHEH: At first Abdullah only got the torture video and, for months, the family held on to the hope that Mohamad may still be alive. His father
traveled to Damascus, he searched hospitals and jails for his son.
KARADSHEH: Mohamad's death was only confirmed when the rest of the horrific videos appeared online.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): Relaxed, smoking cigarettes, they posed for photos before setting his body on fire.
"ABDULLAH" (through translator): When I watched the video, I stayed in a room and I didn't leave the room for three days. I didn't send the video to
my parents. And my other brother developed a kind of psychological illness from the video.
We have a very heavy burden. I want to try to describe it now but I can't. I can't express what's going on inside me.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): Abdullah's never heard of Wagner. He just wants his brother's executioners punished.
"ABDULLAH" (through translator): If the criminals who tortured him are arrested, the least they deserve is jail. We will not be like them. We will
not demand what happened to my brother happens to them. I just want them to be held accountable, even if this costs me my life.
KARADSHEH (voice-over): In a war where well documented atrocities have gone unpunished, Abdullah's quest for justice will not be easy.
How does anyone get justice from a faceless shadowy Russian outfit, unaccountable to anyone, one that officially doesn't even exist? -- Jomana
ANDERSON: CNN has reached out to Russia's investigative committee for comment. We have not received a response to our requests. Wagner has been
unreachable for a number of CNN reports in recent years, including this one.
Up next, the Russian army has a huge fight on its hands. It's battling raging wildfires in Siberia, where the land that's been frozen for
centuries is starting to thaw.
ANDERSON: Reckoning with a warming world, Siberia, known as one of the coldest places on Earth, well, ,now it's on fire. Russian troops trying to
douse wildfires raging across the northeast of the country, one of the fastest warming regions on Earth.
KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From high above, Russian military aircraft dump hundreds of tons of water on the angry
flames below. They're in a battle against wildfires, now ravaging northeastern Siberia.
In an area more accustomed to arctic temperatures, residents are facing enormous blazes and land that's been frozen for centuries. Rising
temperatures and suffocating smoke are driving residents and firefighters to dig trenches to keep the fire away from their homes and fields.
But the smog has already covered over 50 settlements, disrupting daily life.
BRUNHUBER (voice-over): The situation is particularly dire for the elderly and COVID-19 patients. Many are feeling hopeless and scared.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's frightening, smoke every day, just every day. Only today we have a little sun.
BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Abnormally high temperatures, drought and strong winds have worsened the spread of the fire, according to media reports.
People in northeastern Siberia rely on these forests. When it burns, verdant woods turn into swamps and the flammable, dry undergrowth releases
long-stored carbon into the air.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The fire hazard situation has sharply worsened almost all over the country due to the abnormal heat. The
situation in Yakutia is the most difficult.
BRUNHUBER (voice-over): So far, flames have ripped through hundreds of thousands of hectares of Russian forest. Firefighters on the ground and in
the air are trying to extinguish the blazes and stop them from spreading. But the thick smoke cuts off visibility.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The fire is massive. We extinguish it in one place and it ignites in another. It is very hot weather. The wind
is still strong, fanning the fire quickly. But we are coping.
BRUNHUBER (voice-over): What is one of the coldest places on Earth has now become one of the fastest warming regions. Scientists say that, while
occasional forest fires are natural, forests in North America and Russia are burning at unprecedented races.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's common to these fires in Russia and also in North America is they're right now they're really occurring in places where
there are heat wave conditions. There are long standing drought conditions and these things all feed into what we call the flammability of the field.
BRUNHUBER (voice-over): As a changing climate wreaks havoc, another population has been forced to reckon with a warming world -- Kim Brunhuber,