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Operation Begins to Extract Thai Football Team; Catastrophic Rainfall, Historic Flooding in Japan; California Wildfires. Aired 1- 1:30a ET

Aired July 8, 2018 - 01:00   ET




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

PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome. I am Paula Newton at CNN Center.

We are following breaking news out of Thailand this hour. A high-risk operation is now underway to free a youth football team trapped in a flooded cave. The prayers of a nation and really so many around the world now rest on a team of Thai and international divers.

The local governor said earlier that divers have entered the cave and called it D-Day and said rescuers are at peak readiness. The mission to extract the 12 boys and their coach will take hours. It could even take days.

They have been stranded in the dark for more than two weeks. For the latest, CNN's David McKenzie joins me from Northern Thailand.

David, in terms of bringing us up to date, the local officials and people coordinating this, thought they had to go now.

Why is that?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are two reasons they had to go now after 15 days and counting. In that cave system, the 12 boys and their coach, one is self-evident from what you can see behind me. Those thick clouds over the mountain where the cave lies right behind me, over there, the rain is falling.

It could fall extensively in the coming hours and days. So they believe this window is their only window to get the boys out.

The second factor is the oxygen levels in the cave systems have become hazardously low at times. And that might weaken the boys and their coach and hamper the risk.

NEWTON: Definitely a risk there. As I speak to you, David, I can hear all the questions that I have, that so many people around the world have. What do you know about the parents, the people in the worst situation

right now, excruciating to have to wait, about what they asked of the rescue team and what they have been told?

MCKENZIE: They gave final permission to the rescuers to go in. And you're right. This agonizing wait for the parents. At first, when the young boys went into the cave system on the field trip, everyone thought they might have died.

Then that extraordinary moment when a British diver rose through the darkened depths of that cabin to find them relatively healthy, hunkered down in the dark for nine days. They hadn't eaten anything, had drunk water from the water in the cave system.

Those parents managed to communicate with their boys, sending handwritten notes back and forth with them in the last few hours.

Yesterday, one young kid, 11 years old, Taitunal (ph) -- Tun (ph) is his nickname -- he said he just wants to get out and have fried chicken with his family because it was promised to them. These are young kids, 11 to 16. This ordeal has been something that you can't imagine. And the ordeal will only continue as they are brought out of the cave.

NEWTON: And brought out of the cave, so hard to imagine and we're expecting we will have news in a few hours. But clearly, those heading this rescue operation said, look, don't expect that. This could take days.

Remind us of the details of this rescue effort and what the boys will be going through as they try to get the boys out of the cave.

MCKENZIE: Imagine this behind me in that cave system. It's a series of chambers and interconnected with the narrow passageways. Some of the passageways, particularly closer to the boys, are flooded, we believe, completely flooded. They managed to pull out a great deal of water from the earlier sections of the cave.

That critical first section could still take a great deal of time of the specialists, international and Thai divers, pulling, dragging, pushing the kids, cajoling them to get them out. They'll wear full- face masks. There probably will be those small glow sticks that can be cracked and glow for up to 80 hours lining the route.

They'll be depending, though, on a guideline because there's zero visibility down there, pitch black at times. The cave top is right above your head. Panicking is a big issues and the best of the best from around the world, the specialist divers, both recreational and military, have gathered together.

The U.S., the British, the Australian, Chinese military are here with the Thai Navy SEALs. And that former Thai Navy SEALs gave his life for the operation. He was 38 and came in to lend a hand to his former colleagues. He died after taking oxygen to the boys. That really underscored how dangerous --


MCKENZIE: -- this mission will be.

NEWTON: Unfortunately, the mission has already turned tragic.

In terms of the boys, they are young, they definitely want to survive. They have the will to survive.

How much of a help or hindrance will that be in terms of their youth, what they actually know of the odds against them right now?

MCKENZIE: Ignorance might be bliss in this instance. What's in front of them is truly daunting for even the most advanced cave divers. So they are also small physically, which is important, 11 to 16. These are not grown men. They are young boys.

Their coach might have more difficulty, unfortunately. But the tight crawlspaces are now crawlspaces through water. That will help the rescue divers get them out. They are resilient and relatively healthy. There has been some concern of three of them because of their long stay underwater.

But I will step out of the shot. That is where this drama is all unfolding, these crags, this mountain, up in that mountain. You can see the heavy clouds up there. It has been raining on and off since yesterday evening.

They were lucky in a way because that rain subsided for a few days, allowed them to pull all of that water. But this is a human drama unfolding there like nothing we have ever seen. And certainly they will take days possibly to get them out.

NEWTON: Sobering details; the fact that all the euphoria that they were alive has now been replaced by so much anxiety of what will come next. Everyone is hoping for the best here. We have quite a few hours to go.

David, I know you will stay on top of this story. We will get back to you.

As David was just mentioning, he is talking about the rain. In that shot, there had been rain coming down on and off but not really a torrential downpour. Good news, because more monsoon rain is one of the factors that's weighing heavily on this rescue effort.


NEWTON: We want to bring in Neil Bennett from Auckland, New Zealand. He's a managing director --


NEWTON: -- at New Zealand Diving.

Neil, those of us who do not have any knowledge or expertise of these things are worried, we're anxious. What are you thinking right now, knowing so much about what these rescuers and the boys are facing?

NEIL BENNETT, NEW ZEALAND DIVING: This is probably now, given the circumstances over the next few days, the first opportunity. It's going to be a big ordeal for them. I don't believe they can fully appreciate what they are going to take on.

This will be zero visibility. It's going to be very cold. And in particular the sharp instruments (ph) they will have to negotiate which have various protrusions and obstacles in it. It's going to be very, very difficult.

The biggest fear for the rescuers is the panicking divers and the need for these juveniles to get to the surface to breathe, which they can all do (ph). So there is a huge challenge in trying to keep these children under control. And that's the biggest danger.

NEWTON: And beyond that, how much danger is there in the whole issue of oxygen and keeping oxygen to these boys?

We had this rescuer that died. We have already had tragic consequences from all this just a few days ago. And he was an expert.

BENNETT: There are several aspects to this. The oxygen level in the cave is (INAUDIBLE) becoming poor quality. So this in itself is going to deteriorate their health and that with respiratory some problems and if they try and dive (INAUDIBLE) problems, that impacts the diving itself. It makes it a lot more complicated and dangerous.

So as a direction of the dive (ph) actually brings another factor in. (INAUDIBLE) while they are diving. So the rescuers have been deploying tanks along various parts of the cave system. So they have got a chance to actually get to these tanks and get them to these juveniles, these children, as they are actually diving.

So it's a very, very complex cave system. They have two guides taking them through the tunnels. And there will be other rescue divers around as well, trying to help them (INAUDIBLE) the problem.

NEWTON: When you look at this situation, of course, we are all hoping that the boys can make it through this and that they have the presence of mind and the calmness and the youth and vitality to make it through.

Yet we can't forget the rescuers that have their lives on the line and how dangerous this is for them, too.

BENNETT: Absolutely. The worst situation for any rescuer is the panicked person. Because all sorts of things happen there when the adrenalin is pumping. Even the young child's strength decreases dramatically. So (INAUDIBLE) very, very difficult. And your life is on the line as well (INAUDIBLE) get to the surface (INAUDIBLE). And they become a control when we give them air (ph) and make sure they keep the regulators in their mouth. It's a very, very difficult and dangerous situation. NEWTON: Neil, I have to ask you, because I know everyone will be thinking of it.

How do you measure the probability for success?

And I know it's a difficult thing to say but surely, as we heard from David, they did share the risks with all the parents before the parents gave their blessings for this to start today.

BENNETT: This is one I wouldn't like to call on the air but it is very, very difficult. And bearing in mind it's very different for rescuers as well. So it's the only choice they've got, given the circumstances. But it's not a good situation.

NEWTON: And I think that's a problem, isn't it?

These boys were rescued and, so happy, a miracle they were found. And yet it is only now that the reality of what they are facing to stay alive through this is really hitting everyone.

BENNETT: Yes. For the children, the real reality is when they hit that water and they go underneath it, then they realize how big of a task they've got in front of them. I hope they can breathe really well, because it's an immense challenge for them.

NEWTON: Neil, I thank you and I know you will be watching this closely and we will continue to check in with, especially with people with your expertise, who know exactly the challenge ahead. Appreciate your time.

Now moving on to another story in Asia, scenes of devastation in Japan as rainfall reaches historic proportions. We'll find out why the government, unfortunately, said this is not over yet.





NEWTON: Record rainfall is devastating entire communities in Southwest Japan. Dozens of people have died and many have been injured by flooding and landslides and by collapsed homes.

The government is urging millions now to evacuate with more severe weather on the way. We want to get the latest from Kaori Enjoji. She joins me now from Tokyo.

I have to tell you, listening to Japanese officials today, you really could see how concerned they were.

Is it the fact that the rain keeps coming or that the ground is so saturated that they are also afraid of the mudslides? KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: I think it's a combination of the two. The government is calling this a disaster of historic proportions. The death toll continues to mount. The government have confirmed 48 people dead and 28 people with cardiac arrest.

They have not been able to access some of the remote areas that have been severely affected by torrential rainfall over the last 48 hours. This kind of disaster happened exactly a year ago, when dozens of people died.

What's different this time is that it's impacting a larger area from the southwestern corner of Japan all the way up toward the central area of Japan. Some new areas have been ordered to evacuate because of expected rainfall over the next 24 hours.

So the government has set up an emergency response center. This is a move they haven't made in two years. I think that in itself indicates the severity and the gravity of this situation for residents across Japan.

Trains have been suspended and access to some of these areas are very, very difficult because roads have been turned into rivers. You are seeing a large area that looks like oceans, with the roofs of some of these houses jutting out like islands.

The self defense force, which is akin to the military here in Japan, has sent out more than 54,000 troops to try to get people to safer ground. They are using helicopters and rubber boats.

And all the while, thousands and thousands of people are being forced into evacuation shelters. The government said they are concerned. Come Monday, as the death toll possibly mounts, it's extremely hot and humid weather upwards of 30 degrees.

They might have trouble getting access into some of these remote areas and getting the food and water they need to some of these shelters.

I think you also have to remember that, in some of these rural areas, it's a very, very gray society, a lot of elderly people out there. I think those have been particularly vulnerable in crises like this.

Over the last 48 hours, the government and the weather agency has said this has been a freak period, abnormal, the amount of rain that has fallen in some cities. Some cities got dumped by two to three times more normal average rain that they would in a month in a span of 24 hours.

So Japan has seen a series of disasters from earthquakes to floods and all sorts of things. But I think this is probably the biggest that we have seen in about two years. As I say, confirmed 48 deaths and 28 with cardiac arrest.

It looks like the evacuations are ongoing in large parts of the city across from southwestern portions to the central area of Japan as well. There is concern about transportation come Monday, when business is

supposed to get back to normal because train services, including the bullet train, the chinkonsen (ph), still suspended in many of these areas. And I think a lot of people have started to worry about what impact it's going to have on industry as well --


ENJOJI: -- come Monday.

NEWTON: We have to expect that to be something we will talk about in the coming days. For now, I'm sure all of Japan hoping those vulnerable people hoping they can get into a safe space. Thank you for the update. It really is some catastrophic pictures we're looking at there.

Now to North Korea, they are warning the U.S. to abandon the status quo if they want talks to continue. The foreign ministry says the U.S. made, quote, "gangster-like demands" for denuclearization. U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo responded to that characterization.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm counting on Chairman Kim to be determined to follow through on the commitment that he made. And so, if those requests were gangster-like, they are -- the world is a gangster because there was a unanimous decision at the U.N. Security Council about what needs to be achieved.


NEWTON: Pompeo is meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts. He stressed that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes.

Wildfires are spreading quickly across parts of the western United States. One person was killed in a blaze near California's border region with Oregon. The fires have consumed dozens of homes, forcing thousands to evacuate.

Record high temperatures are fueling the fires as Southern California is facing quite the heat wave. The temperatures in some places have reached up to 47 degrees Celsius. Our Sara Sidner has more from Santa Barbara County, where officials declared a state of emergency.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is just one example of the absolute power of the fire and winds that have come through parts of California. This is in Goleta, a tight-knit community here in Santa Barbara County, that has dealt with quite a bit.

If you look at the devastation that it's caused to some of the houses here, this one obviously a total loss. There are at least 20 structures that fire authorities say have been affected by this fire. Some of them destroyed like this one. I want to give you some sense of just how hot it was here when this

fire was raging. Look down -- this was obviously a truck. Look down here. That is likely that little step that gets you up to the truck. It's basically melted down, that metal there.

That's how hot this fire got here in Goleta. They have called it the Hollywood fire. There are several other homes just along this road that didn't make it. And this, of course, not the only fire that's been burning. At one point there were 13 fires burning all at once. Some of them small but this one extremely destructive.

And this place has a bit of PTSD, if you will, the residents here, because there was one of the largest fires in California history that burned here just back in December, the Thomas fire, taking dozens of homes in Santa Barbara County -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Goleta, California.


NEWTON: OK, don't go anywhere. We have much more on the efforts to rescue the trapped football team coming up. We are live in Thailand -- just ahead.




NEWTON: We are recapping our breaking news out of Northern Thailand. A perilous mission is underway right now to free a youth football team trapped in a flooded cave. A local governor earlier said divers have now entered that cave. He called it D-Day and said rescuers are at peak readiness, in his words.

Thailand's Navy SEALs and international divers are conducting the operation to save --


NEWTON: -- the 12 boys and their coach. The SEALs posted this image, saying they are ready to bring the football team home. As Thai authorities work to rescue the boys, school children across Thailand are sending their prayers. Our David McKenzie explains.



MCKENZIE (voice-over): Ever since their classmates went missing in the cave, they have been praying for a miracle. For more than a week, the students and teachers at this school, like in the rest of the world, have been waiting anxiously, unsure if the boys were still alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My students were sad. Some even cried when they heard the news. I told them to pray, which was the only thing they could do at that moment.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): They will continue praying and hoping every day, he said, until the 12 players and coach are back above ground.

At a makeshift vigil at another school, where one of the trapped boys is a student, they have posted photos and messages of support. Students have also filled the jar with 1,000 origami birds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I told my students to pray and also asked them to make birds because think it means good luck.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): In a nearby village, the grandmother of one the boys has been keeping her own vigil, supported by her friends. She said that, every day at 8:00 am, she and her friends listen to the news for updates, share meals and pray.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I went every day to the temple to make merit. Every day, I pray for them to be safe.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): News of the boys' discovery has lifted spirits of the community here but they know it's not over yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When I see my friend, I will hold his hand. When he is fully recovered, we will go play soccer again.


MCKENZIE (voice-over): Until then, they will pray each day for their friends, their sons and family to rise to the surface safely -- David McKenzie, CNN, Chiang Rai, Thailand.


NEWTON: Of course everyone around the world is hoping that those prayers are answered. Again, as you heard from that grandmother there, waiting, hoping that the boys make it through what we know will be a very, very difficult journey through the caves.

Again, we remind you, the rescue operation is now underway and it will be challenging and take hours, perhaps even days. We will continue to bring you up to date.

In the meantime, thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Paula Newton. Wait right there. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment.