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Pakistan Tanker Explosion; China Landslide; London Fire; Russia Investigation; Israel Steps Up Involvement in Syria. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired June 25, 2017 - 03:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong.

Breaking news this hour. At least 120 people are dead and dozens more injured after an oil tanker exploded this morning in Eastern Pakistan. It happened in the city of Bahawalpur in Eastern Pakistan when the tanker fell off the road.

CNN producer Sophia Saifi joins us now from Karachi, Pakistan.

And Sophia, we understand that villagers, hundreds of villagers rushed to this tanker to collect the oil when it exploded.

What more can you tell us?

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: What, Anna, you need to understand is, that where this incident took place is a very poverty-stricken part of the country. The price of oil in Pakistan is now 70 cents a liter. And we just saw so many people from a settlement nearby where this oil tanker fell off the road.

People heard about it. They rushed over on their motorcycles, on their cycles, on their bikes, carrying pots, pans, jerry cans, random containers and trying to fill up as much as they could with oil, fill those up with as much oil as they could to take back to their homes.

Tomorrow is a massive public holiday in Pakistan, it's the Muslim celebration of peace. This is supposed to be a day of festivity and it was when this was happening, while the police are trying to cordon them away, trying to push the away, this explosion took place, which led to hundreds being injured, hundreds feared dead.

This number is expected to be rise with an emergency all over, in all of the hospitals in the area and in nearby provinces -- Anna.

COREN: Sophia, we understand that dozens of people have suffered from horrific burns coverage much of their bodies. They're obviously being taken to nearby hospitals but many of those hospitals are at full capacity already. What is happening to these people?

SAIFI: Well, Anna, the chief minister's office of Punjab has sent out a statement. They have sent out helicopters to take these people to burn centers because this are does not have any hospitals which have burn centers that could treat (INAUDIBLE) and as you said, there are very substantial injuries.

The military has also set up helicopters to take victims to nearby cities, the cities in other provinces, (INAUDIBLE) treat them. As I said earlier, there this emergency across the board, in hospitals, not only in the province of Punjab, where the incident has taken place, but also in provinces across the border in the province of (INAUDIBLE), where the injured have also been taken.

And what we must understand is that this is still an ongoing medical emergency and that the numbers are expected to rise -- Anna.

COREN: Sophia Saifi joining us from Karachi, many thanks for that update.

In China, a tragedy is unfolding there after a horrific landslide, 1,000 rescue workers pushed through the night, looking for survivors but only have found 24 bodies.

Earlier a couple and their baby emerged alive from the rubble. State media report more than 100 people are still missing and dozens of homes are buried. The disaster happened in the southwest of the country, striking a village in Sichuan province early Saturday morning.

For more now, let's go to Matt Rivers who is tracking developments from Shanghai.

Matt, we know that this rescue, now turning recovery operation, is in its 33rd hour. Hopes for finding any survivors very slim.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, as each hour goes by, those hopes become less and less. It would take quite a miracle, according to government officials, to find anyone else alive. We have a brand new video from state video broadcaster, CCTV, they flew a drone over the scene.

And it really gives you an idea of just the monumental task facing the rescuers as they try to produce a miracle and find someone in the rubble. You just mentioned the latest numbers, 24 people, 24 bodies have been taken out of the rubble. Those numbers were just revised up in the last hour or so. Initially it was 15, and now it's up to 24 which leaves 109 people left to be accounted for.

We know that according to government estimates, government figures, that the people who were unaccounted for range in ages are from 2.5-80 years old, so really running the full gamut there, this entire village having been covered.

We know that there's 2,500 rescuers there onsite, using specialized equipment, signs of life equipment. They're also monitoring the area around there. There's a fear that there could be another landslide so they are obviously worried about their own safety there.

We know they are using heavy equipment, 150 or so machines are there assisting rescuers in their efforts. But still, despite the manpower and the machine power, they face a monumental challenge to try and find anyone --


RIVERS: -- alive. The vice governor of this province spoke about it to reporters. Let hear what he had to say.


GAN LIN, VICE GOVERNOR, SICHUAN PROVINCE (through translator): According to the geologists who have participated in the rescue operations, the chances of the missing persons surviving a landslide from such a height are small particularly because the landslide site is so narrow that large-scale search operations are hard to conduct in the area.

In addition, the rescuers cannot dig too deep so as to avoid triggering a new collapse of the rocks. However, despite all these adverse factors, we will spare no effort and regard saving people's lives as our top priority.


RIVERS: Now in terms of trying to figure out what caused this landslide, government researchers are saying they can actually trace it back to a massive earthquake that happened in May of 2008 in Sichuan province. What they think happened is that it loosened the mountain structure in this area, many, many different parts of this mountainous area were impacted by that earthquake.

And as a result, this landslide was likely triggered by rainfall that was taking advantage of this loosened mountain structure. But no matter the cause, rescuers are still there. They are still trying to produce a miracle but, as each hour ticks by, the odds of finding anyone alive, frankly, just gets slimmer and slimmer.

COREN: And, Matt, the focus also turning to what the government could have done to perhaps prevent this disaster and if that village should have been located there in the first place.

RIVERS: Yes, and it's a very fair question to ask. This is an area that has had its fair share of landslides. Unfortunately this is not a surprise that this happened. But you have to wonder, if this is such an exposed village, why perhaps was there no relocation?

This isn't the first time this region has dealt with large-scale deaths. In fact, it was back in 2010 about 500 kilometers north of this village that over 1,600 people were killed in a similar landslide. What the government has done since then to say, look, maybe we should

be forcibly relocating some of these people for their own safety, we are not sure. The Chinese government rarely engages in self- criticism. If they do, they certainly don't make it public.

So the question should be asked, why were the people allowed to live here if the risk was so high?

But that question will likely not be answered by the Chinese government.

COREN: Matt Rivers, joining us from Shanghai, we appreciate the update. Thank you.

China's president will visit Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary of the British handover. Xi Jinping lands here on Thursday in his first visit to the city since becoming president. Mr. Xi will help swear in Carrie Lam, as the new Hong Kong chief executive. Protests against the visit are expected. Pro- democracy activists say Beijing is undermining Hong Kong's one country, two systems rule.

A week after the U.S.S. Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine registered cargo ship, many questions still remain, including why the Fitzgerald crew didn't see the other vessel coming.

CNN's Ryan Browne has the latest on the investigation.


RYAN BROWNE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. Navy investigators are starting to learn some new details about the collision between a cargo ship and the U.S.S. Fitzgerald that cost the lives of seven U.S. Navy sailors.

This investigation is ongoing in additions to investigations by the U.S. Coast Guard and Japanese authorities. But some of the initial details are beginning to emerge, such as where the collision took place, on the starboard side of the Fitzgerald, impacting directly in the sleeping quarters, the berthing areas aboard that ship, as well as hitting the communications node, forcing U.S. sailors aboard the Fitzgerald to use satellite cell phones in order to communicate with their higher headquarters as they attempted to keep the ship afloat immediately after the collision.

Now investigators are most interested in finding out how this collision could have taken place without any of the crew aboard the Fitzgerald being able to detect the incoming cargo ship and avoid the collision.

They are going to review radar data from the sophisticated Aegis weapons system aboard the Fitzgerald as well as other data and information from the cargo ship in an effort to find out exactly how such a tragedy could have taken place that cost the lives of seven U.S. Navy sailors. Back to you.


COREN: Ryan Browne reporting there.

Well, pressure is mounting on the British government over fire safety in apartment tower blocks across the country; 34 high-rise buildings in 17 areas across the U.K. have failed fire safety checks since last week's Grenfell Tower fire.

Thousands of people in North London had to evacuate their homes this weekend when their buildings were deemed unsafe. But some residents are refusing to go. ITN's Rebecca Barry reports from Camden.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you moving back in?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you moving back in?



REBECCA BARRY, ITV CORRESPONDENT: They have been told to go but some are refusing...

BARRY: Why are you staying put?

Why are you --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want us to stay on the streets?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They couldn't find a place for us. (INAUDIBLE) kids out of school here and they want to put us somewhere (INAUDIBLE)

BARRY: -- even though officials say their building has failed fire safety tests.


BARRY (voice-over): Steve Peroli (ph) was told to leave at three o'clock this morning because of concerns over the fire doors, external cladding and gas pipes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where I live. This is the (INAUDIBLE) I've got (INAUDIBLE) but apparently, what's behind those is wrong. The (INAUDIBLE) looks at it, (INAUDIBLE) stench.

BARRY: In the past?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the past. Some of these (INAUDIBLE) that's fine.

BARRY: Does it concern you that that's right by your front door (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't, until yesterday.

BARRY: So you've been told that you should leave. Tell me why you're not going to leave and if you're ever going to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it's pointless. And it's just making Camden look good. (INAUDIBLE)

BARRY: Do you think this is just people covering their backs?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's disgusting. Absolutely awful. (INAUDIBLE) hopeless.

BARRY: Overnight, residents from the Chilcott Estate in North London were put up in a local sports center and hotels, almost 4,000 people are now facing weeks in temporary accommodation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well obviously, last night was deeply stressing for people, you know. People knocking on your door with no notice, saying you need to leave your home. I completely understand people's distress, in light of Grenfell, this changes everything. We have been doing tests on all of our blocks and they said to me we do not think people are safe to sleep in these blocks tonight. That is our view. And I think when someone says that to you, you just have to ask.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I came to pick him up and I heard about it from a friend in Scotland and are very nice. (INAUDIBLE) get your medication, get what you need, I'm on my way. And I came up from Surrey to pick him up.

BARRY: Camden Councils say it could take a month to get the tower blocks safe, but they need the buildings empty. Whether residents have chosen to stay or go, it will be an uncertain few weeks ahead.


COREN: Rebecca Barry reporting there.

Sustained and determined: that is how Britain's parliament describes a cyber attack on its computer system. There are fears that blackmail may be a motive. Investigators say hackers tried to access lawmakers' emails. The affected network is used by every MP, including Prime Minister Theresa May, and members of her cabinet.

U.S. President Donald Trump is trying shift the Russia investigation away from himself and on to his predecessor, Barack Obama. Mr. Trump is reacting to a "Washington Post" story, detailing how the Obama White House responded to Russian interference in the election. Our Athena Jones has more from the White House.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president has been responding to "The Washington Post" report for the last couple of days now. It started Friday night, when he sent out a tweet that seemed to acknowledge that he accepted the conclusion that U.S. intelligence agencies reached months ago, that Russia meddled in the election.

This after months of calling the Russian meddling story "a hoax" and a "phony." Now it's certainly possible that the president was just responding to "The Washington Post" report, not making a definitive statement about own beliefs about the election.

But it was noteworthy. He continued his responses to that story on Saturday, with a couple more tweets. I'll read them to you; you can put them up on the screen.

He said, "Since the Obama administration was told way before the 2016 election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them, not T," Trump.

Another tweet, "The Obama administration official said they choked when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election. They didn't want to hurt Hillary?"

That second tweet a direct reference to a quote included in "The Washington Post" article. So it's clear the president very much focused on this story and wanting to shift the blame to his predecessor and away from himself.

I should mention that he followed up those two tweets by talking about the health care bill pending before the Senate, putting pressure on Republicans to vote for the bill, since it is of course Republicans who are standing in the way of it.

But it's still very, very clear that the issue of Russian meddling remains top of mind for the president. We will have to see what he tweets today.


COREN: Well, we are now joined by Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times."

Lynn, thank you so much for your company. There's a lot of discuss. But let's start with the president blaming the Obama administration for not taking stronger action against Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Is that a fair criticism?

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, it is because the -- we are getting more and more information on how President Obama and his team learned about Russians' attempt to influence the U.S. election and yes, now, it seems in hindsight that the administration should have let the American people know more sooner.

COREN: And I think it's fair to say that --

[03:15:00] COREN: -- those who've spoken out in the last couple of days representing the Obama administration would say as much, that they wish they had done more.

SWEET: Right. And there was a blind quote in "The Washington Post" story, where one of the sources of the reporter said that they "choked" when it came to this.

But just one other thing that the stories have been bringing out, that the context is important, even though history will determine, I think, when we know everything of this period, about why Obama was so hesitant to act, this was during a time where now President Trump was claiming that the elections were rigged, implying they were rigged against him.

So when you had this kind of information that Russia was trying to rig the election, I could see why it made the usually often, always cautious Obama White House even more cautious about how to explain this to the American people in the context of the nominee of the Republican Party saying that the election is rigged.

COREN: Pressure is growing on President Trump to act; he will have his opportunity to confront Vladimir Putin face-to-face at the G20 in Germany in two weeks' time.

Are we expecting a meeting between the two leaders to discuss exactly this?

SWEET: Well, this, I am maybe a little contrarian on this, I would not be surprised if there's a meeting but what interest is it on either of them to either bring this up right now?

It seems a lose-lose, especially since there's an investigation of Russian meddling in the United States election that has drawn in people in the Trump orbit.

So what Trump needs to do is to explain to the American people even before talking to Putin, is he doing more to punish Russia, now that this is -- we are getting more facts out about what they did.

There's even talk that the Trump administration may roll back some of the sanctions that President Obama put on Russia, in the weeks before he left office. So a face-to-face will be dramatic.

It could be that Trump will deliver a message about things being done for cyber security that are not obvious on the surface to people. So, yes, a meeting. But as again, I'm not sure why it would be in their self-interest to talk about this one aspect of the bilateral relationship.

COREN: Lynn Sweet, great to talk to you, thank you for your time.

SWEET: Thank you.

COREN: Coming up, Israel steps up its involvement in Syria's civil war, we will go to the disputed border between the two countries -- that is next.




COREN: Back to our breaking news, officials say at least 120 people were killed and 130 injured after an oil tanker explosion in Pakistan. It happened Sunday morning in the eastern city of Bahawalpur. The tanker reportedly left the road in an accident and hundreds of villagers gathered --


COREN: -- to collect the oil when the truck exploded. An emergency has been declared in the city as well as nearby towns. We will bring you more on the story as we get it.

Well, Syria's state run news reported that several people have been killed Saturday by Israeli airstrikes near the country's disputed border in the Golan Heights. The Israeli military said it was in response to projectiles fired into Israel from Syria.

Israel have stepped up its involvement in Syria's civil war in recent months. The two countries they share a border more than 60 kilometers long.

CNN's Ian Lee spent a night with an Israeli intelligence unit as they deployed to disputed area.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight's mission uses the cover of darkness, soldiers concealed their faces. We're joining an Israeli unit gathering intelligence on the neighboring civil war. The final orders from the commander, work quickly and quietly. We'll be tens of meters from Syria.

Israel occupied the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. The two states clashed again six years later, in a massive tank battle. That was conventional warfare. Today, advanced Israeli units patrol the frontier, watching the regime rebels and ISIS on this vast, unconventional battlefield.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The threat is very serious because they are always fighting between them and they can always aim their weapon right here.

LEE (voice-over): Earlier in the day, we witnessed such clashes, automatic gunfire in the nearby Syrian village, fighting occasionally spills over. Last November, ISIS attacked an Israeli patrol. A tank silenced the terror group's guns.

The blazing moon illuminates the countryside and us, soldiers secure the perimeter before beginning their mission. We're a few hundred meters from the secured defense right now, just behind me. If you listen closely, you can hear dogs barking, vehicles moving around and I'm told you can also hear a tank.

A rebel tank idles roughly a kilometer away. The night scope reveals the crew, unaware they're being watched, smoking a last cigarette before bed.

"We're tracking all of the factions," the battalion commander tells me. "We know how to differentiate and separate them. There's a contingency for each threat."

Over the past years, intelligence units witnessed attacks, regime movements and rebels training. One group in particular gets special attention.

"Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria threaten the state of Israeli," the commander says. "We're prepared to deal with this enemy. We know their tactics."

The unit finishes camouflaging the position. We leave. Their watch has just begun. One hour down, 59 to go -- Ian Lee, CNN, in the Golan Heights.


COREN: The diplomatic crisis seems to be escalating between Qatar and other Gulf nations. Qatar says the list of demands from four Arab nations is unreasonable. The demands include reducing ties with Iran and closing the Al Jazeera news network.

In the last month, nine countries have boycotted Qatar, accusing the country of supporting terrorism, a charge it denies. A senior UAE official says if Qatar doesn't comply with the demands, they will part ways.


ANWAR GARGASH, UAE STATE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The alternative is not escalation, the alternative is parting of ways, parting of ways because it's very difficult for us to maintain a collective grouping with one of the partners in this collective grouping through this platform or, you know, is actively promoting what is an extremist and terrorist agenda.


COREN: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, he backed Qatar's response.



COREN: Muslims around the world are now celebrating Eid al-Fitr. It's one of the most important Muslim holidays, marking the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The start of the holiday depends on the sighting of the new moon. So some countries will begin it Monday.

During the holiday celebration that runs from three days to three weeks in various countries, Muslims exchange gifts, spend time with family and pray, as in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Muslims are praying in the main mosque there.

Thank you so much for your company, I'm Anna Coren. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment.