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CDC: Vaccinations Among Teens, Young Adults Remain Low; First Case Of COVID-19 Detected In Tokyo's Olympic Village; NY AG's Office To Question Gov. Cuomo Today In Harassment Probe; Biden Calls Out Court Ruling On DACA "Deeply Disappointing"; Remembering John Lewis; Catastrophic Flooding In Europe; Suspect Arrested After Brazen Kidnapping Attempt; Blue Origin Set To Launch Bezos Into Space Tuesday. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired July 17, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday.
I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin this hour with the U.S. facing a new surge of coronavirus cases. All 50 states and Washington, D.C. are now seeing cases go back up, and that's the first time this has happened since January.
Six states -- Vermont, Alabama, Michigan, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Iowa are reporting more than 100 percent increase in cases in just one week. Vaccination rates are slowing down, now 13 percent from last week.
The CDC director making it clear what's fueling this new wave.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: There's a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: In Los Angeles County, the indoor mask mandate is being reinstated. Residents there have seen a 500 percent rise in COVID cases in just the last month.
And there's a new push from the White House to get more young people vaccinated. CDC data shows vaccinations remain stubbornly low as some schools prepare to reopen for in-person classes.
The White House teaming up with pop superstar Olivia Rodrigo to help get the vaccination message out, particularly to young people. She makes her pitch in a video with Dr. Anthony Fauci and reads some tweets from Americans on the vaccination push.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLIVIA RODRIGO, PERFORMER: "Wear your mask and get your vaccines. I need to see Olivia Rodrigo live in concert in the first row."
Get your vaccine. I'm so excited to tour these days. And I'm just so excited to go to a concert, aren't you?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I agree. I want to go to a concert for sure. For sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN's Natasha Chen is in Birmingham, Alabama, a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. School starts there in just a matter of weeks.
Natasha, so how are officials there planning to get students who are eligible vaccinated?
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred, that is the real struggle here. We are inside Parker High School's gymnasium where they are having a vaccine clinic today. And they are hoping to get more of these young people vaccinated because the 18 to 29-year-old group, as well as the 12 to 18-year-old group, those are some of the least vaccinated in the state of Alabama.
Right now, I'm standing here with the principal of Parker High School, Mr. Darrell Hudson. Thank you for being with us. You were telling me about just how many students you fear are still not vaccinated right now. What are some of the stories you're hearing about the pushback from either the kids or their parents?
DR. DARRELL HUDSON, PRINCIPAL, A.H. PARKER HIGH SCHOOL: Well, we realize that we have a certain number that have not gotten vaccinated. Some are still a little concerned about taking the vaccine and what's in the vaccine. But we've had a lot of our scholars who take advantage of these opportunities and get vaccinated.
At the end of the day, we want to provide a safe environment for our faculty and staff and all of our scholars when we open the doors of the schools on August the 2nd.
CHEN: Right. And you were telling me August 2nd, that's earlier than usual because you're trying to make up for lost education time the last school year.
And you've got a school district-wide survey right now to figure out exactly how many of the kids maybe got vaccinated, what their hesitancy might be. And there aren't yet rules about whether masks are required in class. That will be determined.
What is making this the most challenging for you running a school, not knowing how many of your students will come back vaccinated?
HUDSON: Well, like I've mentioned, we want to make sure that we provide a safe environment here at A.H. Parker High School. We do realize that there has been significant loss because we were on remote and virtual platforms for a large majority of last year, as well as the second semester of school year 2020. And we realize that our scholars do better when they are in person with that teacher/student engagement.
So at the end of the day we want to make sure that we get as many individuals vaccinated here at A.H. Parker High School as well as our parents and community and in the city. We don't want any child coming to our campus, taking the virus back home to parents, to grandparents, to aunties, to their relatives. So this is an example of what we are doing here in our district as well as at A.H. Parker High School to get the community vaccinated.
CHEN: Thank you so much. And of course, this is one of several vaccine clinics that have been held around the school district. We saw a cheerleading squad earlier supporting one of their cheer squad getting her shot today.
But in talking to those girls, I did learn that half of them had not gotten the vaccine because, Fred, they tell me that they're still scared to get that shot.
WHITFIELD: All right. Natasha Chen, thank you so much for that.
Joining me right now to discuss is Dr. Anand Swaminathan, an emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Dr. Good to hear you.
So you just heard Natasha saying she talked to some of the young people. While it's impressive, right, that there would be this kind of push to get young people vaccinated, Natasha just said some of the folks that she's talked to said that they remain scared about the idea of getting vaccinated. So what would be the message that you would send to them?
DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: This is a really hard thing because especially young people, they feel invulnerable. We know this, we know this from science, from public health, from medicine.
And the message really has to be that what we are seeing right now is a lot of young people getting sick from COVID. And not just that they're developing very severe disease and needing to be hospitalized in the ICU which is happening. But also there is the effects of long COVID that these young kids are going to have that we don't even fully understand at this point.
So as much as a shot might hurt, the benefits of that shot far outweigh the risks of getting COVID. And we really have to understand that.
WHITFIELD: And as a whole now, are the unvaccinated in your view setting back the near 50 percent of Americans who have been vaccinated? SWAMINATHAN: Well, I echo what Dr. Walensky has said. This is really
becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated and young people are included in that group. But what we're seeing is that people who are vaccinated, they might get breakthrough inspections, but in general they're asymptomatic or they're minimally symptomatic. It is the unvaccinated group that's getting sick, that's getting admitted to the hospital.
And this is a huge problem because we are facing another surge that's coming. And in addition to that, Fred, we also have this pandemic of misinformation that people are seeing, that they're hearing about.
The surgeon general has called out this misinformation. It has been a huge hurdle for us to get past to really reach people.
And I think what we need to see right now as we look at the vaccination rates across the country, we see where this is lagging. It's lagging in certain areas. It's lagging particularly in areas that are conservative.
And public health shouldn't be about politics. Public health is public health. It's science, it's medicine. And what I expect, what I think we should all expect is that every Republican senator, congressman, state senator, state congressman, governor, mayor is on a microphone every day telling their constituents that they should be getting vaccinated in order to protect themselves.
WHITFIELD: And here's a -- another response to this ongoing pandemic. A handful of communities have reinstated indoor mask mandates. But listen to what the former FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: I don't think it's the right move. I don't think you can tell people who have been vaccinated that they have to wear a mask. I think quite frankly, it's likely to be the exception. I think you're likely to see very few states and municipalities do this because there's not going to be a lot of support for mandates at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So you just talked about the importance of messaging on the federal level. What do you say to that message?
SWAMINATHAN: Well, I think that's the wrong message to have right now. What we have to see is two pieces of masking. One is that people who are vaccinated are still at risk, especially if they are in areas with big COVID numbers, with rises in COVID cases, which as you said up front -- that's everybody right now.
Every state in the country and Washington, D.C. are seeing big rises in cases. So the -- the vaccinated people are still at a small risk. Granted it is smaller, but it is still there. But in addition to that, it's also about messaging to everyone around you. People don't know when they walk into a grocery store or a restaurant whether you've been vaccinated or not. And we need to send messages to each other of I'm here to protect you as well as protect myself.
And Fred, I've been vaccinated since mid-January. I'm still wearing a mask indoors. I think it's the right thing to do.
WHITFIELD: Yes. You and me both. I was vaccinated in April or so, but I still, you know, defer to that mask indoors especially when around other people because you just don't know who is vaccinated and who isn't. And of course, we have growing concerns about the Delta variant, too.
All right. Dr. Anand Swaminathan, thank you so much. Good to see you.
SWAMINATHAN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right. The Olympic Games -- well, it's set to start on Friday in Japan. And guess what -- the first case of COVID-19 has already popped up in Tokyo's Olympic Village.
CNN's Blake Essig is in Japan with the latest. So Blake, what more do we know about this new case?
BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Fredricka, so far 45 people involved with the games have tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Japan, with the first case being reported today from inside the Olympic Village.
At this point, we know that the person who tested positive isn't believed to be an athlete and that they have been taken into quarantine outside of the village.
Positive cases have come from athletes, coaches, contractors and delegation members from various countries. So far only one positive test has required hospitalization.
But the potential strain on the health care system remains an issue as Tokyo battles a surge in COVID-19 cases.
ESSIG: Now, it's important to remember even though Olympic organizers estimate 85 percent of people living in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated, only about 20 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. That means a lot of people living here are vulnerable if the Olympics turn into a super spreader event.
Because of health and safety concerns, these Olympic Games have been and continue to be deeply unpopular with majority of the Japanese people who feel Olympic organizers are holding these games against the will of the people. And when all is said and done, it's the people of Japan who will be left to deal with the consequences. Now an Ipsos Mori poll recently released shows that nearly 80 percent of people in Japan say the Olympic Games should not be held. Tens of thousands of people from 28 countries including Japan were surveyed, and more than half, close to 60 percent, say that the games shouldn't go ahead.
Now, this poll was conducted after the ban on spectators and increased border control measures were put in place to limit the spread of infection and highlights the reality that the attempts to ease those health and safety concerns haven't worked and that the vast majority of people still oppose these games, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: But as far as we know, the games will go on. Again, things getting under way as early as next week.
So while there will be no spectators in the stands, what are the plans to make it appear as though there are crowds there?
ESSIG: Yes. You know, Fredricka, roughly 97 percent of Olympic events will be played with no fans in the stands. And there's no question that many athletes including U.S. gymnast Simone Biles are worried about performance anxiety as a result. Perhaps to help ease that anxiety, Olympic organizers plan to create a crowd-like atmosphere by allowing fans to virtually attend, record six-second video selfies that will play inside arenas. And by using recorded crowd noise from past Olympic games.
And while it's not quite the Olympic atmosphere any of us were hoping for, Fredricka, I suppose it's better than silence.
WHITFIELD: Right. I guess, hearing the fans' noise sometimes adds great motivation that a lot of athletes need in order to perform their best.
Blake Essig, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
All right. Coming up, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is in the hot seat today facing questions from the New York attorney general's office about allegations of sexual harassment against the governor.
Plus, deeply disappointing. Those words from President Biden after a court struck down a program that shields undocumented immigrants from deportation.
WHITFIELD: The sexual harassment investigation into New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is entering a critical new phase today. He'll face questions from the two lawyers leading the New York attorney general's probe.
Polo Sandoval is following these developments from New York for us. So Polo, what should be expected out of today's questioning? POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, he's under oath so
certainly there's an expectation that some news will certainly come out of this once that wraps up.
Now a little bit about what we know at this point regarding what's happening. Andrew Cuomo, the governor, sitting down with two lawyers leading this investigation in Albany.
And this is really signaling that the now more than five-month-long investigation could possibly be coming to its final stages. Remember, it was originally New York state attorney general Tish James that opened this inquiry after two former Cuomo staffers came forward accusing the governor of inappropriate behavior.
And also more have come forward since then, making very similar claims against the governor. Now Cuomo has denied the allegations repeatedly. He has apologized to anyone who he says may have misinterpreted his remarks as unwanted flirtation.
CNN has reported several of those women did speak to investigators already. So technically the governor could possibly be one of the last people who have to sit down with investigators before the attorney general's office puts out a report.
Now, in terms of the timeline, the attorney general's office said that they don't really have one right now. Possibly, though, before the end of the summer, that we'll have to see if that actually does happen.
Now these allegations though they are certainly something that's been hanging over the governor now for the past few months as he's tried to take a -- more of a business as usual approach toward governing the state.
Now, a little bit more about today's meeting, Cuomo's senior adviser actually released a statement leading up to it. I'll read you a small portion of it here, Fred.
And in that statement he said, quote, "We have said repeatedly that the governor does not want to comment on this review until he has cooperated. But the continued leaks are more evidence of the transparent political motivation of the attorney general's review."
Just additional information about what the advisers referring to the so-called motivations he's suggesting are the attorney general who may be putting her name in for the governor's race next year. Though we should be clear, that's not something that we've confirmed yet.
So it just gives you a little more context as we continue to watch for any potential development out of Albany as the governor of the state of New York sits down with those two attorneys.
WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval, keep us posted. Thank you so much.
SANDOVAL: Thank you. WHITFIELD: President Biden meantime is calling a federal judge's decision against the DACA immigration program deeply disappointing saying the Justice Department will appeal the ruling blocking the new applications to the program.
The Obama-era initiative shields undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.
CNN's Jasmine Wright joins me now from the White House. So Jasmine, what more are you learning?
JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: that's right, Fred.
President Biden criticizes the ruling calling the program illegal. In a statement released today the president said "Yesterday's federal court ruling is deeply disappointing. While the court's order does not now affect current DACA recipients, the decision nonetheless relegates hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to an uncertain future. The Department of Justice intends to appeal this decision in order to preserve and fortify DACA."
WRIGHT: So this is now a program that has been -- this is the latest instance of a program that has really been debated for basically a decade. And Biden has multiple times, including today, vowed to fortify. That's of course, after former president Trump unsuccessfully tried to get rid of it. So now this is the next step.
And both Harris and -- Vice President Harris and President Biden are calling on Congress to make it permanent, to find a way to provide a pathway to citizenship for these young individuals.
And so one interesting thing, though, Fred, is that in his statement and in a subsequent statement released by the vice president, they both looked to the word "reconciliation" to kind of supplant that pathway.
And we know, CNN has reported that Democrats who are putting together that reconciliation package which allows those who are, you know, allows legislation to pass along party lines really bypassing that 60- vote threshold in congress are putting together a package of President Biden's top priorities. And it includes about $120 billion set aside for a pathway to citizenship.
And now a White House official just told me that the president supports it, that he told them as much when he was on the hill this week talking to Senate Democrats. But of course it is going to come down to whether or not the Senate parliamentarian allows that part of a legislation to be in this reconciliation bill, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Jasmine Wright, appreciate that from the White House.
All right. Still ahead, a special tribute to Congressman John Lewis on the first anniversary of his passing. I'll talk about that and the future of voting rights with Senator Jon Ossoff next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LEWIS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: The right to vote is precious. It's almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool that we have in a democratic society. And all of our citizens must be allowed to use it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: A heartfelt and powerful message from the late Congressman John Lewis back in 2016 about the importance of the right to vote.
Well today marks one year since his death. The civil rights icon and longtime Georgia lawmaker passed away after a courageous battle against cancer last year.
Today the U.S. Navy will christen the USNS John Lewis, a 742-foot refueling ship in San Diego. The senator's (sic) legacy of protecting voting rights is front and center as states across the country enact voting access restrictions.
Joining me to talk more about the life and legacy of the late Congressman John Lewis, Senator Jon Ossoff. So good to see you, Senator.
SEN. JON OSSOFF (D-GA): Good morning. Thanks for having me.
WHITFIELD: John Lewis was your friend, your mentor, exactly one year ago today his passing. And then in San Diego now is the USNS John Lewis that's being christened. What is this day, what is that moment like for you?
OSSOFF: It's a day I'm reflecting on his legacy, his impact, the lessons he taught me, the lessons he taught us as a people, the lessons that he gave to the world.
I mean he was the kind of guy -- and you know this -- when you were in the room with him you felt him radiating strength, compassion, and wisdom. And I think we still feel that from him now even though he's passed.
But that was a difficult day for our community, especially here in Atlanta a year ago to lose him. And I try to honor and remember him every day but particularly this first anniversary of his passing.
WHITFIELD: What do you think his perspective would be right now about the acrimony? How difficult it seems to be -- to be on one accord particularly in Congress about preserving the right to vote, especially as we see so many efforts by GOP-led state legislatures to put restrictions on voting?
OSSOFF: Well, Congressman Lewis was a tireless and steadfast and passionate champion of voting rights. And it was his self-sacrifice and the sacrifices of hundreds, for example marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he had his skull fractured for daring to demand the right to vote for black Americans in the American south.
His example paved the way for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And to see today that in Congress there's resistance to restoring in full that landmark legislation, there's no doubt that he would be denouncing the efforts to dismantle voting rights at the federal level and championing federal voting rights guarantees.
WHITFIELD: So what do you believe is behind what appears to be some momentum in some states, whether it be Georgia and the most recent law that was passed making it tougher for people to vote such as limiting availability of voter drop boxes, limiting time to request absentee ballots, plus new ID requirements for absentee ballots just to name a few.
And then in Texas, you have at least two bills that would end drive- through voting. It would also ban 24-voting availability which offered greater ballot access to Houston-area shift workers when implemented in the fall.
What do you think is behind what appears to be a nationwide push to make it more difficult for people to vote?
OSSOFF: This is transparently a cynical effort by Republican-dominated state legislatures to change election law to gain a partisan advantage. And they're doing this because the former president's lies about the 2020 election, they believe have given them license to make it more difficult for folks to vote even in the absence of any evidence the prior system was abused.
They've made it so much more difficult to vote by mail here in Georgia pushing more people to voting in person. At the same time they've reduced the period when folks can go and vote early in elections here in Georgia.
And all of this is based on lies. This is cynical use of legislative power, abuse of the force of law to make it more difficult for people to vote in order to gain a partisan edge in elections.
WHITFIELD: Let's talk about legislation that now you as a member of Congress and the Senate are trying to get passed now. This weekend, you and your colleagues in the Senate are working hard this weekend to try and finetune what is to be a bipartisan infrastructure legislation. How are you doing that?
OSSOFF: This is a historic moment. We have a generational obligation to address climate change, to make long-deferred investments in the maintenance and construction of American infrastructure so that America can continue to lead the world, so that we can confront this environmental crisis.
The question before us is whether or not we will assert American vision and American strength. And the stakes are this high, Fred, so that humanity can flourish without destroying our habitat.
This is a rare moment that we have a chance to make that kind of a difference, to leave a legacy that will last for a century. And we're working hard across the aisle and as a democratic caucus in the Senate to make that kind of history and make that kind of difference.
WHITFIELD: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set a Wednesday deadline for procedural vote. Republicans are saying don't rush it. Are these indicators that this bill is in trouble?
OSSOFF: No. I feel confident that we're going to get this done. And we're continuing to work across the aisle to do this bipartisan where we can. And also to make sure that where we can't attract Republican support, we nevertheless advanced the necessary measures.
This is an opportunity to upgrade our quality of life as a people, building out transit and transportation infrastructure, transitioning from the combustion of fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy sources, laying the foundations for American economic strength and competitiveness for decades and decades to come.
It is a rare moment in the United States Congress and a moment that I believe we'll meet.
WHITFIELD: And in that bill it's calling for $579 billion to build roads, bridges, and public transit among other things. But Democrats as a whole are talking about pouring $1 trillion into the economy with this legislation. All of this at a time when inflation is at a 13-year high. Is this the right way to spend money?
OSSOFF: Well, we have to do this responsibly. And I think what you're going to see is a real effort to make sure that the bulk of these investments are paid for because we do not have limitless resources. The borrowing power of the United States is not unlimited.
The greatest threat to our economic future is if we fail to make the investments necessary for American competitiveness. We are falling behind the world despite our great strength and wealth because political paralysis has prevented us from doing what we've known for decades we need do which is to upgrade our infrastructure. That is vital to our economic future.
WHITFIELD: What's the area in which you think Democrats and Republicans are going to be able to meet in the middle on this?
OSSOFF: I think that there is broad bipartisan agreement among the American public that we need to make these significant historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy. And the fact that a significant portion of this infrastructure package is expected to be bipartisan, the fact that the White House has been working with Republican members of Congress to build a bipartisan plan demonstrates that the American people are united in their demand that we make these investments, and Congress is responding to that.
WHITFIELD: Let's talk about some of your colleagues -- Senator Joe Manchin, Kristen Sinema -- who have been on one accord, not ending the filibuster is something that they're not a fan of.
Senator Manchin says he's not advocating for any agenda where it seems as though it's one party who benefits. Is there any arm-twisting? Do you have conversations with him at all especially as it pertains to protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
OSSOFF: I talk to Senator Manchin all the time, and we've discussed voting rights many times. And I know that he is passionately committed to defending and protecting the right to vote.
OSSOFF: And he's been playing a very constructive role in helping to develop a federal voting rights bill that will guarantee the right to vote, that's under assault by these state legislatures. Those conversations will continue. And I'm confident that we're moving toward a resolution.
WHITFIELD: Do you agree with him on his stance on the filibuster?
OSSOFF: Well, I think we have to be thoughtful in our approach to Senate rules and Senate procedure. My view is that we need to carefully consider any proposed changes to Senate rules, take the long view, consider what the long-term implications are.
But also that Senate procedure is not as important as policy outcomes. And when the right to vote is under attack, we need to be prepared to take action to defend it.
WHITFIELD: How far are you and members of Congress willing to go to defend it?
OSSOFF: I think that we must pass federal voting rights guarantees. And we're working together as a caucus to get that done.
WHITFIELD: Texas Democrats, for example, you know, they've left the state saying they want to stand in the way of Republicans passing legislation that would restrict voting rights. And on the state level, many lawmakers are saying Congress has to do more. What's taking so long?
OSSOFF: It is our obligation and our constitutional prerogative as Congress under Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution to make laws pertaining to the conduct of federal elections. And so when you have state legislatures that are making it more difficult to vote on the basis of lies so that they can gain a partisan edge in elections that offends the basic principles of our constitution and that demands federal response.
WHITFIELD: We've talked about a lot of obstacles and hurdles. What keeps you optimistic? OSSOFF: Look, let's return for a moment to a celebration of
Congressman Lewis' life and legacy. And Congressman Lewis represents and stood for courageous defiance of racism. He was a titan of the civil rights movement. His self-sacrifice paved the way for passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
He was also someone who urged us to focus on our shared humanity as the basis for our commitments to human rights and our commitments to each other. So let's just take a moment now today as a united American people to honor the Lewis legacy, to honor each other, and to remember that ultimately it is true that what we have in common is much more important than what we have apart.
He would always say despite our differences we all live in one house, one American house, one world house. As we come out of this COVID-19 pandemic, as we make these investments in our infrastructure and our shared future, let's remember that.
WHITFIELD: Thank you so much, Senator Jon Ossoff. Good to see you.
OSSOFF: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Appreciate it.
WHITFIELD: And this programming note. President Joe Biden joins Don Lemon for an exclusive "CNN PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALL" live this coming Wednesday at 8:00 p.m.
All right. Still to come, catastrophic flooding in Europe. Homes destroyed, communities in ruin, and the death toll rising. We're live in the Netherlands with the desperate search for survivors.
WHITFIELD: The number of people killed in catastrophic flooding across western Europe is now at least 157. Officials say it is the worst flooding in more than a century.
Some towns in Germany were devastated as dams broke. And there is now a frantic search going on for hundreds of people who remain missing.
CNN's Sam Kiley is in the Netherlands. So tell us more as we see people with sandbags behind you, what other measures are being taken?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here on the Meuse River you can see that this orchard behind me, or indeed from the street sign, just how high that's got. Those are pear trees that stand at least two meters, two yards, six or eight-feet high. And the river is some 200 or 300 meters beyond its own banks.
But there are dikes throughout the Netherlands, and it's these dikes here that the Dutch Army are now reinforcing. And that's because the town just downriver from here has already evacuated or is planning to evacuate some 10,000 people. They've already evacuated the local hospital.
And this is because the Netherlands, if anything, can be a silver lining to this very catastrophic humanitarian situation. It is the Dutch, the people of the Netherlands have had forewarning of what has been going on in Brussels -- rather in Belgium and in northern Germany where you've seen those catastrophic scenes -- scenes of utter devastation.
We were earlier on today in a German town where whole houses have been ripped away and simply flushed away by flash floods. This is the preparation against those flash floods being carried out all the way along the Meuse River.
The river levels we're told are either rising or remaining stable at the moment. But the longer this water sits against these dikes, the mushier they become. They absorb it like a sponge. They've got holes in them that are created by animals and other issues. And that means that if the water's up against them for a long period, they can give way. If they were to give way, there would be walls of water that would come rushing down this river valley into these towns.
KILEY: And many of the towns and villages, particularly with the populations that are close to the dike areas, are being evacuated.
WHITFIELD: And so Sam, while we're seeing there, you know, and appreciating the orchard, I wonder what many of the residents nearby are thinking when they look at those images of buildings and homes that were simply washed away, you know, with the kind of breadth and vigor of that water.
How are they preparing themselves for the potential like that? You know, repeating itself? Are they getting out of town? I mean and just hoping those sandbags are going to help the structures?
KILEY: A lot of volunteers that we've seen, people are volunteering, villages themselves, it's not just the military that are carrying out these protection operations. Ordinary people have been banding together to protect their dikes.
But they are lucky because they don't anticipate this rushing flash floods that hit very often hillside towns or towns that were designed to have a drainage system for a very small stream that then turned into a massive torrent. Also the Meuse River has quite wide flood plains.
So they're not anticipating it turning into a kind of tsunami, a flash flood-type situation but inundation. And it is the steady inundation that may not take lives, I don't think there's any real concern that large numbers of casualties might flow here in the Netherlands from flooding. But that the destruction could be very, very widespread.
And just over here, you can't quite see it, but behind the trees there, there's actually a farmhouse that's covered up to its roof. So that is a people -- a family who have lost their livelihoods altogether.
WHITFIELD: Very frightening potential in the making there. Thank you so much, Sam Kiley.
All right. Coming up, a close call involving a child. An attempted kidnapping right in front of the boy's family, right there. We'll hear from his quick-acting mother.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back.
A 24-year-old suspect has been arrested after a brazen kidnapping attempt in New York and the whole thing was caught on camera. You can see the man right here hop out of his car and then grab that five- year-old boy right off the street there in Queens.
NJ Burkett from our affiliate WABC in New York talked to the boy's mother about what happened next.
DOLORES DIAZ-LOPEZ, MOTHER OF FIVE-YEAR-OLD: I said oh my God. My kid. Oh my God, my boy.
NJ BURKETT, WABC REPORTER: Dolores Diaz-Lopez told us she grabbed her son and wouldn't let go. She was walking with her three children on Hillside Avenue at 8:00 last night. The entire episode captured on surveillance video.
As they're walking, a man bursts out of a car, runs to the walk. He grabs Dolores' youngest son Jacob, carries him away, and literally tosses the boy into the back seat.
Dolores and her other two children struggle through an open window, desperately trying to pull him out. And within seconds, the boy breaks free and is back in his mother's arms.
As the car takes off, eyewitnesses are powerless to stop it.
"A mother's instinct made me fight and act in a different way," she told us. "You have to do what's necessary no matter what."
The car was just parked there, she said. I would never have imagine that a man would get out of the car and grab my son.
Jacob is five years old and was playing video games on his phone this afternoon, but Dolores says all three of her children are traumatized and refuse to leave the house.
"Mothers have to be careful with their children," she said. "Always hold their hand when walking with them because there are a lot of evil people and you never know who is near."
WHITFIELD: That is unbelievable. That was NJ Burkett from our affiliate in New York WABC.
All right. Still ahead. Launch day is looming. Jeff Bezos is about to blast off into space. A look ahead to his launch next.
WHITFIELD: All right. This Tuesday coming up, Amazon's Jeff Bezos is making his attempt to go into space. The billionaire's company, Blue Origin, is having its first human launch nine days after Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson completed a successful sub-orbital flight.
CNN's Rachel Crane has this preview.
RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Jeff Bezos and his three fellow passengers are days away from their 11-minute journey to the edge of space.
Just this week, Blue Origin announced the identity of the final crew member, 18-year-old Oliver Damon. He's taking the seat that was reserved for the winner of Blue Origin's online auction. The anonymous bidder who paid a whopping $28 million for the seat apparently has a scheduling conflict.
On Tuesday, if all goes to plan, Damon will become the youngest person ever to travel to space. And fellow crew member Wally Funk, she'll become the oldest. She's an 82-year-old former astronaut trainee, an aerospace legend.
Along with Bezos and his brother Mark, they'll board Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket in a remote part of southern Texas, and hurtle more than 60 miles above earth.
The autonomous space ship has undergone years of un-crewed testing. But this flight will be the first time humans have ever flown on board and it will commence the company's commercial operations.
WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much, Rachel Crane for that reporting.
All right. Finally this hour, a bittersweet reunion in Surfside, Florida. This is 15-year-old Jonah Handler meeting with the first responders who found him alive in the debris of that collapsed condo building.
Jonah's mother Stacy died in the collapse. Jonah's father, Neil, says the family is struggling with that loss and through this tragedy, some comfort however.
WHITFIELD: Neil sharing these photos and writing the first time we saw these nameless heroes was on the news reels as they were pulling my boy out of the rubble.