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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  January 27, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PST

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on our broadcast here tonight, new records for all time have now been set this winter. this latest storm exploded, confounded predictions and buried big population centers again and again. nobody moves. a day of rage across egypt. just hours from now a big u.s. ally under siege as the world is watching. our own richard engle is in cairo tonight. the road to recovery for gabby giffords. tonight we go inside rehab where the work of getting to a new normal can be intense. and we now know who put it there. it turns out the story of the piano on the sandbar in florida is stranger than first thought. "nightly news" begins now.
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captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening. now it's in the books forever, or at least until the next winter as powerful and relentless as this one. it really will be spring before some of this snow is gone. this last storm which grew way beyond what even our crack meteorologists saw coming cemented this winter in our history, cemented millions of people inside their homes. it affected approximately 55 million people in 17 states. look at the size of this thing, as seen from space. records fell, schools closed along a huge area, and look at the cities where new seasonal snow totals have been set. put it this way, the inscription at the base of the statue of liberty says "give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses" and so on. today it might as well have read "give them to me tomorrow
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because today the statue is closed due to snow." let's begin our coverage with nbc's peter alexander in central park here in new york. peter, good evening. >> reporter: brian, good evening to you. at some point you run out of words to describe another storm like this. central park is now buried beneath a fresh 19 inches of snow. that is three feet for the month, making this the snowiest january on record. and new york is not alone. enough already. for the northeast, yet another punishing round of snow, the region's sixth major storm since christmas. >> it's heavy wet snow. it's no fun. no fun at all. >> reporter: at times overnight, an overwhelming 3 to 4 inches fell each hour, paralyzing traffic. we found this car on a new jersey highway stopped cold, and these passengers taking matters into their own hands. by morning, new york city's aggressive response included more than 1700 plows. >> expectation is that by
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tomorrow morning's rush hour, all of the city streets and roadways will have been plowed. >> reporter: while the storm itself wasn't a surprise, its intensity stunned even seasoned meteorologists. in gloucester, massachusetts, residents expected 4 inches and woke up to 14. here in boston, they're digging out of another double-digit snowfall. they have had 5 feet of snow since christmas, and look at it piled everywhere. in fact on these intersections, you can hardly see around the corners. >> reporter: in hartford another foot fell shattering the city's all-time record for its snowiest month. in philadelphia, 15 inches. and in newark, 19 inches of powder. the storm also crippled airlines, grounding more than 1200 flights at new york's three major airports, stranding thousands of travelers. tens of thousands are still without power. for millions of students, another snow day, only the ninth in 33 years for new york city schools. of course not everyone is complaining. just ask these kids in connecticut. >> do you like to go fast or
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slow? >> medium. >> medium. good answer. >> reporter: peter alexander, nbc news, new york. this is tom costello in washington where 5 to 8 inches of wet, thick snow put rush hour in a dead stop last night. tens of thousands of commuters who normally get home in 30 to 60 minutes stuck for 7 and 8 hours. on the george washington parkway, 12 hours of gridlock. >> no one is moving. some people are walking in frustration. it's surreal. >> reporter: even the president's motorcade was slowed to a crawl by mother nature's fury. >> this is a sharp snow, it's an angry snow, and it bites you as it hits your face. >> reporter: it all started just as rush hour was getting under way, with flashes of snow thunder and lightning striking seconds before my live report last night.
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>> what was that? >> reporter: it was startling and deadly, with trees crashing onto trapped cars, killing one woman and just missing alan. >> i was just about to leave and the next thing you know, the tree fell right on top of my head. >> reporter: this morning the digout began. thousands of abandoned cars and power lines down across the region, with 400,000 homes in the dark. >> worried about the house getting cold and pipes freezing. >> reporter: local utilities under fire for poor service in recent years say repairs could take another day. >> we've actually had more outages, and it's because the snow has been so heavy, it's wet, it's staying on the lines. >> and those outages are extending all the way up into delaware. you know this storm in d.c. might not have been so bad but it was preceded by rain that washed away all the chemicals they put down on the road. by the time the storm came, the chemicals were all gone. >> we had thunder here last
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night and i jumped as high as you did. tom costello in d.c. and peter alexander in new york. gentlemen, thanks. there is increasing evidence the world is changing, in spots and in stages. a movement that started in tunisia has now done what a lot of governments feared it would. it has spread elsewhere in the arab world. this week to egypt. as of today, yemen and the world is watching as the clock ticks down to what has been planned as a day of rage tomorrow against egypt. richard engle is on the banks of the nile in cairo tonight on what could be the eve of something big there. richard, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. many people are very concerned about tomorrow. the demonstrators say they will start out from at least seven mosques and three churches here in cairo, and then plan to march to the center of the city. they hope to draw tens of thousands of people.
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the most violent clashes today were outside cairo. near the strategic suez canal, demonstrators torched a police station and a firehouse. witnesses say they stole weapons and opened fire on security forces. egyptian police tell nbc news 87 policemen were injured, one was killed. and this unprecedented popular arab revolt is spreading. in yemen, the arab world's poorest nation, thousands demonstrated today at a university, demanding reform and lower prices. in tunisia, where this movement began just last month, the emerging new government caved to protesters' demands and agreed to purge officials associated with the ousted former president. a pattern is starting to emerge. the regimes under fire are pro-western police states, widely accused of corruption. and the protests are being organized through social networks. >> blackberry is down. >> reporter: in a rundown cairo office today, human rights
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activist sally sami used twitter, facebook and blackberry messenger to help organize major demonstrations scheduled for tomorrow. >> one march can start with 300 or 400 people and grow into thousands and this is what's stressing the state. >> reporter: people are already angry in egypt. half live in poverty. but with instant, hand-held communications, now they know they're not alone. perhaps appropriately, president obama today spoke on youtube to call for calm. >> so the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence and the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence. >> reporter: egypt's hosni mubarak, president for almost 30 years, has so far remained silent. but he may now have a rival. the former head of the u.n.'s nuclear monitoring agency and nobel laureate, mohamed elbaradei arrived in cairo today to join tomorrow's protests. >> i have said a number of times that the right for peaceful demonstration is an absolute
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right of every egyptian, of every human being. >> reporter: he has expressed interest in becoming president. tomorrow's demonstrations could be a turning point. the united states, brian, is in a difficult position. of course it doesn't want to be seen as going against the democratic movement, but president mubarak has long been a stable u.s. ally. egypt has a peace treaty with israel. and this country does control the suez canal, so a lot is riding on this. >> richard engle in cairo. he'll be covering the story when day breaks there. richard, thanks. now we go to south africa where the news turned ominous earlier today about one of the towering figures of our time, nelson mandela. rumors and anxiety spread concerning his condition and his health after the former president spent the night in a johannesburg hospital. we get an update tonight from johannesburg. good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian.
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a day of confusion and concern about the health of nelson mandela. very little official information coming out and millions of south africans are really hungry to hear more information about the health of their great icon, now 92 years old and very frail. he was taken into the hospital yesterday after having difficulty breathing. tonight a spokesman for the mandela family said that he was in good spirits. they said that they were hopeful that he was being treated well for his lung condition and that he might be released perhaps as soon as tomorrow. now, amongst those sending their best wishes, the former u.s. president, bill clinton. he said quite simply "he is my friend. i love him." brian. >> we'll check back there if need be. thanks. back now to this country. as we reported here last night, the color-coded terrorist threat advisory system that's been in place since just after 9/11 is now officially going away. no more red, orange, yellow
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alerts to confuse and confound the public. tonight we now know what will replace it. our justice correspondent, pete williams, in our washington newsroom tonight with that. pete, good evening. >> reporter: the homeland security department said the old system didn't provide enough useful information and had simply become background noise. janet napolitano explained how this is going to work when it's phased in by late april. instead of using the five levels represented by colors in the old system, from now on advisories will come in two levels, elevated threat or imminent threat. some may go directly to local police or to some segment of the private sector, like shopping malls or hotels, depending on what the intelligence says. and the new advisories will give as much detail as possible about the nature of the threat and what people are supposed to do in response, such as reporting anything suspicious. and these threat levels will be issued only when they're needed. otherwise a homeland official says the condition will simply be readiness.
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>> and hopefully life will go on tomorrow. pete williams in our washington newsroom, thanks. now to the economy. it's been two years and four months since the world financial system came close to falling off a cliff. tonight the presidential commission that's been looking into the causes of the meltdown has issued its report. our own lisa myers has the results. >> we believe the report speaks for itself. >> reporter: in more than 500 pages, the commission blames the financial meltdown on a complex stew of recklessness, greed and regulatory negligence. >> this financial crisis could have been avoided. let us be clear. this calamity was the result of human action, inaction and misjudgment. >> reporter: wall street comes in for scathing criticism, accused of a systemic breakdown in ethics and risky investments to generate hefty profits. it blames government officials for devastating failures of financial regulation and says their responses to the crisis
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actually increased the panic. specifically criticized in one way or another, federal reserve chairman alan greenspan and ben bernanke, as well as treasury secretaries hank paulson and tim geithner. geithner in his previous role with the federal reserve. >> regulator after regulator, they either chose not to act or turned a blind eye to what was actually going on. >> reporter: the panel also said in examining wall street's conduct, it found several possible criminal violations in need of further investigation. >> those have been sent to the proper authorities to examine. >> reporter: many former regulators have been critical of the government's failure to hold anyone accountable. three years after 4%meltdown, not a single major player has been charged with criminal wrongdoing. after the much smaller savings and loan crisis of the '80s, hundreds were prosecuted, including top executives. today republican members of the panel issued their own report, saying the majority's was too simplistic and largely ignores
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the global nature of the crisis. it is a critically important issue for this country. >> reporter: like almost everything in washington, this commission too split along partisan lines. lisa myers, nbc news, washington. also news from washington tonight of a new white house press secretary. he is jay carney, former "time" magazine writer, currently press secretary for the vice president. he takes over, of course, from robert gibbs who has manned the podium from the start of the administration. and former white house chief of staff rahm emanuel will be allowed to stay on the ballot, continue his campaign for mayor of chicago. the illinois state supreme court cleared the way for that late today. when we come back here tonight, we go inside rehab to look at the journey ahead for congresswoman giffords. and later, the mystery of the piano on the florida sandbar gets better. the kind of stuff you just can't make up.
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arizona congresswoman gabby giffords had her first full day
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of rehab today in the houston hospital that will be her home for what's expected to be several months now. we've learned a lot of rehab lessons these past few years, sadly because of the number of brain injured returning veterans from our dual wars overseas. and tonight nbc's robert bazell has an inside look at the rigorous process of getting patients to a new normal after this kind of brain injury. >> reporter: no two brain injuries are the same. but rehabilitation can be one of the most difficult challenges in medicine. >> good job. now we'll do the next one. >> reporter: few facilities know this as well. as the veterans administration poly trauma clinic in palo alto, california. >> this is like a plan, how to solve this problem. >> reporter: such va hospitals have treated more than 800 soldiers and marines with severe brain injuries from iraq and afghanistan since 2003. >> everything that the brain can do, we try to exercise. whether it's movement, whether it's thinking, whether it's
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memory, helping you talk, understand communication, interact with people socially. >> it's important to orient them to the situation. >> reporter: that requires a team of specialists. doctors, psychologists, speech, occupational and physical therapists. >> go ahead. you don't have to take such a big step. >> reporter: army specialist orlando gonzalez was hit by a roadside bomb in afghanistan last november. he wears a helmet day and night because like congresswoman giffords, part of his skull was removed temporarily to allow for brain swelling. gonzalez often finds his rehabilitation difficult. >> it makes me mad. my arm just doesn't work all the way good, so it doesn't work that good, so that's pretty frustrating. >> reporter: but now gonzalez can spread the fingers on his right hand for the first time since he was hurt. and that is a big accomplishment. the experts say the most important thing at the beginning of rehabilitation for brain injury is to set realistic goals for what the patient wants to
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achieve and can achieve. >> how are you? >> reporter: and those goals must be constantly updated. >> we have an interdisciplinary team that looks at that specific question, at multiple phases in an individual's recovery, not only with the individual but with the -- with their family. >> reporter: some patients heal quickly. but for most, it is a long and unpredictable road. robert bazell, nbc news, palo alto. up next, the unlikely lawsuits being filed by some famous names in politics.
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♪ wait a minute mr. postman such distinctive vocals that can only be the voice of gladys horton whose sound we came to know on songs like "postman" and "beechwood 4-5789" and "too many fish in the sea" all recorded. gladys horton has died in a los angeles nursing home. a product of the detroit suburb of inkster, she was 15 when she recorded "postman." she left the business to care for her handicapped son.
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gladys horton was 66. two men from the world of politics in the news because of lawsuits they filed. first, congressman dennis kucinich is suing the cafeteria in the house of representatives because of an olive pit in a sandwich he purchased there three years ago. kucinich alleges it caused serious and permanent dental damage. he's asking for $150,000. and former minnesota governor jesse ventura is suing the tsa. he was forced to undergo one of those now famous airport patdowns because he's got a titanium hip that sets off the detector. he said it amounts to an unreasonable search of his person and he wants a federal judge to order officials to stop what he calls their warrantless and suspicionless searches. a lot of passengers probably agree with him. when we come back, the mystery of the florida keys has been solved. we now know how that piano got there.
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so last night when we showed you the pictures of the piano on the sandbar in biscayne bay, florida, we naturally said well done and asked whoever did it to come forward, claim credit and tell us how it was done. well, fast forward to tonight.
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we have our answer. it's the kind of story you'd think would be behind the appearance of a grand piano on a sandbar in the middle of the water. we get the story tonight from nbc's mark potter in miami. >> reporter: once it was discovered and made the papers and tv, the grand piano on a sandbar in the middle of biscayne bay became a huge attraction for photographers, boaters and gawkers. for more than three weeks, no one could figure out how it got there. >> my favorite part was when it was first coming out, it's like oh, mysterious piano appears. >> reporter: but now it can be told that teenagers, nicholas harrington, julian kolevris-roots and some of their friends are the ones who hatched the plot after a new year's eve party. >> we're teenagers doing what teenagers do. >> reporter: and what they did with their own camera rolling was to hang an old piano from a dock side pulley and lower it onto a boat. with it tied to the bow, they then headed for the sandbar for another party, where, again,
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being teenagers, they set the piano on fire, like they first did here on new year's eve. >> that's awesome! >> reporter: but from that event actually came some dramatic pictures that harrington said were shot for his application to a prestigious art school, and it was only after someone else claimed credit that the boys revealed their involvement. and so with the mystery solved and the kids getting lots of attention, all was well here, until up this canal came the authorities. on two boats today, officers from three agencies came to harrington's home, warning the boys they have 24 hours to remove the piano from the sandbar. >> it's a place that you run aground. >> it's illegal dumping. >> it's actually a felony. it's littering. the same thing as littering. >> reporter: late this afternoon, the piano was removed. as miami says goodbye to its once mysterious piano bar. mark potter, nbc news, miami. >> now will he get into art school. that's our broadcast for this
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thursday night. thanks for being here with us. i'm brian williams. as always, we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. -- captions by vitac -- chilling words from the last people to see them alive. a highly publicized cold case. thanks for joining us. >> three minutes of terror caught on tape. today san jose police released the


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