Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ukraine Blows Up Kerch Bridge Linking Crimea to Russia; Dangerous Weather Causes Thousands of Flight Delays and Cancellations in the U.S.; John Kerry Travels to Beijing for Climate Change Talks. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 17, 2023 - 05:00   ET



RAHEL SOLOMON, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Right now on EARLY START, a crucial route for Russian troops apparently blown up. Who's behind the blast on the bridge? Plus, Americans coast-to-coast waking up at or near airports after dangerous weather cancels and delays thousands of flights. And two big global rivals and main polluters begin climate talks in scorching hot Beijing. Will cooler heads prevail?

Good morning and welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world, I'm Rahel Solomon in this morning for Christine Romans. We begin this morning with a developing story, Russia's war on Ukraine. A crucial bridge connecting Crimea with Russia now appears to be partially collapsed. We have some new video just into CNN which shows what looks like damage to the Crimean bridge.

Multiple telegram channels reporting strikes on the bridge a few hours ago. Now, this is the main link between Russian occupied Crimea and the Russian mainland. CNN's Alex Marquardt live for us in Odessa, Ukraine. Alex, good morning. What do we know about what happened to the bridge, and also who's responsible here?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Rahel. This is an extraordinary attack on several levels. As you noted, this is a key logistical line between mainland Russia and the Crimean Peninsula which, of course, Russia annexed back in 2014. It is also hugely symbolic.

Perhaps nothing more symbolizes the annexation of Crimea by Russia. We do now know, Rahel, that Ukraine is claiming responsibility. This was, according to Ukrainian officials, a joint operation between the security services, the SBU and the Ukrainian Navy. Now, this is a rare admission of a brazen attack.

Normally, after these kinds of attacks, the security services are rather coy about whether they're behind them, but Crimea, of course, is considered by Ukraine to be Russian-occupied Ukraine, so, Ukraine now is claiming responsibility. Now, we have seen some video and photos coming from that bridge on social media, which appear to show that the roadway was at least, partially destroyed, bringing traffic to a stop. There is a parallel train track going both ways. The trains appear to

be still running, albeit on a delayed schedule, according to Russian authorities. Of course, Russia is firmly blaming what they call the Kyiv terrorist regime for being behind this attack. It took place around 3 O'clock in the morning, local time, around 9 hours ago.

And the Russian counterterrorism agency says that Ukrainian sea drones or surface drones that would have gone through the water were responsible for taking out this span of the Kerch Bridge. Now, Rahel, you know, this comes just nine months after another attack on this vital bridge. That was carried out by a truck bomb that also ignited trains going past it.

That took the bridge out of -- out of commission for a little bit. It was -- it came the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin's 70th birthday. And there was a message to him from a senior Ukrainian official, saying happy birthday, Mr. President. As for what might happen now, Rahel, clearly, this is going to infuriate Russia, following the last attack nine months ago.

We saw the biggest wave of Russian strikes all across Ukraine since the war began last February, Rahel.

SOLOMON: Yes, it's a great point. And as you point out, it's the symbolism really of this bridge, and what it means to Russia. We'll have to wait and see what this now brings. Alex Marquardt live for us there in Ukraine, thank you. Right, back here in the U.S. announce that airlines in the U.S. really struggling to recover after a weekend of severe weather triggering thousands of flight delays and cancellations.

Slow-moving thunderstorms battering the northeast, causing dangerous flash flooding and keeping many roads just impassible. Tornado watches were also issued in parts of the region. The bad weather turned deadly in Pennsylvania meantime, where five people were killed by the raging floodwaters. Let's bring in CNN's Derek Van Dam, he has the forecast. So, Derek, is the heavy rain expected to clear out today, what are you watching?

DEREK VAN DAM, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, in fact, it is on its way out now, but not before the damage was already done impacting some of our most populated areas along the eastern sea board, most populated areas in the United States, that i-95 corridor, wide swath of about 3 to 5 inches of rain has fallen within about a two-day period.

But the good news is, today, we get a brief reprieve. That's the front, that's the system that brought the heavy rainfall, still some rain into northern New England, but for the most part, D.C., Philadelphia, into New York and Boston, it has come to an end.


But unfortunately, there's more rain to come. We look towards Tuesday, to see that another flare-up of showers and thunderstorms, weather prediction center already highlighting this area. Check this out, northern New England all the way to the New York Metropolitan area, that is where we anticipate at least, a slight risk of flash flooding.

We'll monitor to see if that increases in threat as we get closer to the event. Again, that's for Tuesday. Scorching heat wave continues over much of the U.S., especially, particularly across the southwest. We're talking over 80 million Americans under some excessive heat alerts by the way, this includes Miami, a very mucky heat for you, dry heat across the southwest.

I am concerned about Phoenix, we have overnight lows that will not drop below 90 degrees, and then, you look towards the high temperatures, 118 by the middle part of the week, Rahel, that is just incredible, 17 consecutive days where the mercury and the thermometer has climbed above 110.

SOLOMON: Yes, just really no relief for those people, because you think about the temperatures at the height of the day, but then even at night, when usually --

VAN DAM: Yes --

SOLOMON: People will get some relief, they're not getting it. And then it's the duration --

VAN DAM: No opportunity --

SOLOMON: Of this heat, which has been weeks. Derek Van Dam live for us there, thank you, Derek.

VAN DAM: My pleasure.

SOLOMON: I want to turn back now to that devastating flooding in Pennsylvania that left five people killed. This was as intense rainfall flooded the streets and caught many on the roads by surprise and left some drivers trapped. CNN's Polo Sandoval has more now.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, here in the U.S., another weekend of deadly weather in the state of Pennsylvania, massive flash flooding affecting many residents in that state, including one family, was originally from South Carolina, that according to officials, they were on their way to a barbecue event, when all of a sudden they became trapped in rising floodwaters, the situation for that family turning deadly according to officials on the ground.

TIM BREWER, UPPER MAKEFIELD, PENNSYLVANIA FIRE: As they tried to escape the fierce floodwaters, dad took his 4-year-old son while the mother and the grandmother grabbed the two additional children, ages 9 months and 2 years. Miraculously, dad and son were able to get safely, however, the grandmother, the mother and the two children were swept away by the floodwaters.

And we have recovered the mother and she is one of the deceased. Right, she was found deceased, also, the two children that we are looking for to bring home, we are continuing all efforts to find them. We cannot even begin and imagine what the family is going through with two beautiful children gone.

SANDOVAL: And in terms of the wider impact, we do understand that there were many airports here in the U.S. that were affected by this wild weekend weather including at New York's JFK where there was a ground-stop that was implemented because of thunderstorms and also at airport in Boston as well. Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


SOLOMON: The scientists says here in the U.S. dealing with the severe weather, in South Korea, the death toll there rising to 40 due to widespread flooding, at least, 13 people were killed when their cars got trapped in a tunnel after a nearby river bank burst in floodwater poured into the cars. Responders there still working to drain the tunnel as divers are being deployed to retrieve the victims.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 people have also been forced from their homes due to landslides. And to Europe, meantime, a brutal heat-wave, temperatures in some parts, they're close to record-breaking highs in parts of Spain, France, Greece, Croatia and Turkey. Temperatures are expected to climb to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and above.

And Italy, where a red alert warning is now being issued for ten cities. They could reach as high as 119 degrees. CNN's Barbie Nadeau live in Rome with us. Barbie, this is a popular time of year for tourists, of course. How are people there, the Italians and the tourists coping with this?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know, it is the busiest time of the year, and this is extremely hot. You know, there's a big difference though between the Italians and the tourists, because it's always hot in Rome in the Summer and in southern Italy, in the Summer. And so, you're not seeing Italians out in the middle of the day.

You're not seeing them like the tourists here who are in front of the colosseum, there are so many people standing in line because, of course, they're on holiday, they want to take advantage of every moment they can when they're in a beautiful city like this. But the Italians know better, they're not eating much, they're not drinking much, they're drinking a lot of water.

The tourists, obviously, if you're on vacation, you have a whole different set of priorities. But in Rome now, 4,000 fresh drinking water fountains, and you see the tourists just filling up their water bottles, dousing themselves in it, you cannot jump in one of the most beautiful fountains in the world, the Trevi Fountain or anything like that, that's against the law.

But there are ways to cool off here, and you know, you've got -- just people trying to do everything they can to stay cool, and you know, the authorities hoping people can try to stay out of the sun during those hot hours of the day. Today is supposed to be really hot, we could break Rome's record set last year in June, tomorrow is going to be even worse. Rahel?

SOLOMON: Yes, it's funny, Barbie, when I hear Italy and fountains, I naturally think of the Trevi Fountain. But good to know that there are lots of other fountains for people to take advantage of and try to stay cool.


Barbie Nadeau live for us there in Rome, thank you, Barbie. All right, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing this morning. They're discussing ways that the world's two largest economies can produce pollution. The face-to-face follows one of the hottest weeks in the planet's history, and also comes amid rising tensions between the two countries. CNN's Anna Coren live in Hong Kong. Anna, both the U.S. and China continue to experience some of their hottest days on record. Might this be an area where the two sides can actually come together.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, Rahel, there's definitely commitment on both sides to regain momentum on climate talks, considering what is happening around the world, and certainly, what is happening in their own countries. John Kerry, he wrapped up a four- hour meeting with this Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua.

Waiting for a readout from both sides, but the length of this meeting certainly suggests that they covered a lot of ground. Before the meeting, Xie said that China is seeking substantial dialogue that could improve our bilateral relations. Now, almost a year ago, climate talks came to a standstill after then U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.

Beijing as a result, severed talks in protest. But as we know, there have been a slew of high level U.S./China meetings in the past month to improve this bilateral relationship. The U.S. Secretary of State, then the Treasury Secretary, now U.S. climate envoy John Kerry. Kerry and Xie, they have a history, they've met more than 50 times.

They worked together in 2021 for COP26 in Glasgow and made real progress there. They met on the sidelines of COP27 in Egypt of last year, and then beginning of this year, they held a video conference and continued communications despite the strained relations between the two countries. This face-to-face meeting, Rahel, very important.

This is about resuming their joint-working group on climate cooperation before COP28 in Dubai, which starts at the beginning of November. Kerry said it was imperative that China and the U.S. make real progress in the next four months. You know, we are talking about the two largest economies in the world. They are also the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, accounting for 40 percent of global emissions.

So, Rahel, there needs to be, you know, cooperation to drastically cut fossil fuel production to make an impact on climate change, and hopefully, to lead by example. Rahel?

SOLOMON: Yes, certainly, a lot of people around the world counting on some potential cooperation between the two. CNN's Anna Coren there. Thank you. Well, just ahead, the arrest of a possible serial killer in suburban New York. But are there more victims? Plus, a new threat from Russian President Vladimir Putin, a weapon he says that he could use.

And the Republican race for president? Which candidates have the biggest campaign war chests right now? We'll tell you.



SOLOMON: Welcome back. The presidential campaign for Ron DeSantis facing new pressure. He raised an impressive $20 million in the second quarter, but he's also burned through $8 million since he entered the race. His campaign spokesperson confirmed that some staffers have also been laid off. The Florida governor will be interviewed by CNN's Jake Tapper tomorrow as he shakes up his media strategy right here on CNN.

Let's now bring in Daniel Strauss; he is the senior political correspondent at "The New Republic". Daniel, good morning, welcome, good to have you as always. So, even though, DeSantis is pulling far behind Trump nationally, he is adamant that he can catch up. Take a listen to what he said on "Fox News" yesterday.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would be political malpractice to be running for president, fixated on national, rather than Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, so that's what we've done. You can make that ground, and we are making up ground in all those states.


SOLOMON: So, Daniel, it's still early, more than a month before the first debate, more than six months until the Iowa caucuses. Can he make up that ground? Can he catch up to Trump?

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Absolutely, but at the same time, national polls showing him trail behind Trump does have an effect on the primary electorate. For Republicans, this is a primary electorate that is very interested in viability and strength in both their primary and then the general elections.

So, this -- the fact that DeSantis is losing staff, that he is trailing Trump in fundraising, that he's trailing Trump in polling is not the ideal situation for him. But this race is far from over. This primary is far from over, he's still a top-tier candidate, we have a long way to go.

SOLOMON: Fair. What seems to be, from your point of view, his biggest issue? Is it his message? Is it his -- what critics call lack of likability or is it the power that Trump still has?

STRAUSS: I mean, it's a collection of both. If you ask most Republican primary voters, either supporting Trump or someone else, there was a great deal of hype around DeSantis coming into this primary, and voters feel that he hasn't lived up to that yet. And that said, though, we haven't had any debates. There hasn't been a direct contrast between Trump and DeSantis.

But DeSantis' argument that he is the more viable, more effective version of Trump is just not breaking through the way he hoped.

SOLOMON: Well, speaking of the debates, former President Trump said over the weekend, he still hasn't decided whether he'll attend the first debate next month. If he is not there, what are the odds that the debate changes any of the dynamics that we're currently seeing, if he's not there?

STRAUSS: I mean, I am very skeptical that in the end, the former president won't be at debates. He loves the spotlight, he loves showing up at debates, he loves claiming victory at debates, he loves making a show about it, so, I think this is part of a stage craft for him of will he or won't he and keeping the spotlight on him going up to debates.


That said, if he's not there, and there's no contrast between him and the rest of the Republican primary field, that's a good question. It will probably create a situation where most voters who don't want to vote for Trump coalesce around one candidate. But it's hard to tell who that will be until that -- such debate actually happens.

SOLOMON: A lot to watch. Daniel Strauss, great to have you this morning. Thank you. As we said, Ron DeSantis will join Jake Tapper one-on-one from the campaign trail. Hear how he plans to take on Trump tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Time for quick hits across America now. The suspect wanted in a deadly shooting of four people in Hampton, Georgia, over the weekend is now also dead. The sheriff's department says that he was killed in a shoot-out with police, one officer was severely injured. A police official tells CNN that there may be more victims in the Gilgo Beach serial killings investigation on New York's Long Island, just days after arresting a suspect in the court case, that police official says, quote, "anything is possible."

Officials in Alabama say some containment is now in place after a tugboat sank releasing thousands of gallons of diesel into the Tennessee river. Clean up operations resumed this morning along with a plan to lift the boat to shore. Coming up for us, an American woman now on her way home after being kidnapped for eight months in Mexico.

And Tom Cruise proving that apparently seven times can be the charm, as the latest "Mission Impossible" hits theaters. We'll be right back.



SOLOMON: Welcome back. In the Middle East, Iran's so-called morality police is back at it. Street patrols have resumed imposing the country's strict Islamic dress code for women which includes the wearing of head scarves. Iran was rocked by nationwide protest last year after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody, she was detained for not wearing her hijab correctly.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz live for us in London. So, Salma, what do we know about what triggered the return of this crackdown in any sense of whether this, this new policy may be different than before the protests?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Rahel, this is really the final blow in a brutal crackdown that has suppressed and silenced one of the biggest protest movements, one of the biggest challenges to Iran's clerical establishment in a decade. You'll remember that it was last Fall, just about 10 months ago, when a 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini was stalked by Iran's morality police died in their custody, sparking demonstrations in every single province of Iran and forcing Iran's morality police to recede from the streets.

You saw women bolder than ever walking around publicly without their head scarves. But that also was followed by a very brutal and deadly crackdown. Hundreds of people killed according to rights groups that, again, have silenced that protest movement and allowed the voice of hardliners, the voice of the clerical establishment to rise up for the last few months.

They have been pushing, calling for the return of the enforcement of the hijab law. But it's important to remember, this is not just about the physical object of the hijab being worn. It has now become a symbol for so many protesters, for so many demonstrators of a government that they see as corrupt of the socio-economic conditions of the country, of a ruling establishment that prefers to impose what they see as Sharia law over trying to create opportunities, a future for the youth of Iran.

So, yes, for now, this is an absolute win for those hardliners. This is an absolute win for that clerical establishment. But you have to remember the structural issues that sparked those demonstrations from socio-economic conditions to anger at the ruling elites, those structural conditions remain, and activists, analysts, observers will tell you --


ABDELAZIZ: It's only a matter of time before you see tens of thousands of people back on the streets again.

SOLOMON: Salma Abdelaziz live for us in London. Thank you, Salma. Time for quick hits around the globe right now. The FBI says Monica de Leon Barba is heading back to the U.S. after she was released by her captors in Mexico over the weekend. She was kidnapped and detained for eight months. There have been no arrests.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back on the job, he had a cabinet meeting this morning after being treated in the hospital for dehydration over the weekend. Netanyahu says that he spent time outside without a hat during a heat wave there.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin making new threats against Ukraine after noting Kyiv now has a quote, "sufficient supply of cluster munitions". Putin says that Russia will retaliate if Ukraine starts using them. And just into CNN, the Kremlin has formally announced that it is not renewing the Ukraine grain deal. The agreement first brokered by Turkey and the United Nations last July allowed Ukraine to export grains utilizing the Black Sea.

I want to bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian live in London. Clare, this is an area that folks had been watching for to see what ultimately would happen. Now, Russia making it clear that they do not plan to honor this deal moving forward. Bring us up to speed.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, after weeks, months in fact of brinkmanship, the Kremlin saying this morning that they are going to allow this deal to expire. Today was when it was officially set to expire, remember, it gets renewed every few months. And the Kremlin has been using it as leverage to try to get various concessions including sanctions lifted.

There was a memorandum signed in July of last year when the deal was signed alongside that, where the U.N. and the other brokers of the deal like Turkey committed to try to ease the path of Russian food stuffs and fertilizers onto the market. Russia has been saying that, that part of the agreement has not been met.

So today, they are saying they're letting the deal expire.