tv NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt NBC October 12, 2017 5:30pm-6:01pm PDT
geyserville. we'll take a short break and see you back here at 6:00 with more live updates across the fire zone. thanks for joining us. & tonight, hostage family freed. an american woman, her husband and three little children rescued five years after being kidnapped by terrorists. a daring mission to save them. damage control. a surprise appearance from white house chief of staff john kelly, pulling back the curtain, putting to rest rumors and making clear he's not the president's minder. growing fire disaster in california. crews racing to save neighborhoods even as their own homes burn to the ground. targeting obamacare. blocked in congress, the president signs a new executive order for potentially major changes to health insurance. and breakthrough for blindness. helping a young man see. doctors say it could be the key to unlocking the answers for everything from heart disease to cancer.
"nightly news" begins right now. from nbc news world headquarters in new york, this is nbc "nightly news" with lester holt. good evening, everyone, and thank you for being with us. a kidnapped american mother and her husband and children are safe tonight after a harrowing rescue from the clutches of the taliban. the story of their five years in captivity largely shrouded in mystery. captured by terrorists while they were on an adventure excursion many might find too risky. the pakistani military saying their commandos freed the family, but tonight so many questions about their ordeal remain unanswered. our chief foreign correspondent richard engel tells us more. >> reporter: for nearly five years, we've only seen glimpses of pennsylvania native caitlan coleman since she was kidnapped along with her canadian husband while hiking in a remote terrorist hotspot in afghanistan.
her captors releasing the videos. >> if we all come out of this safely and alive, then it will be a miracle. >> reporter: coleman was pregnant when they were taken. in all, she gave birth to three children in captivity. with reporters converging at their home, the family taped a note to the door, asking for privacy while celebrating the joyful news. husband josh boyle spoke to his parents this morning. >> it's the first time in five years we got to hear his voice. it was amazing. >> reporter: coleman, her children and her husband were being held in pakistan by a faction of the taliban, the same group that held american soldier bowe bergdahl. the pakistani military said this time it got a tip from u.s. intelligence. pakistani commandos grabbing the family from the kidnapper's car. president trump, who has criticized pakistan for double dealing with terrorist groups, today sang their praises.
>> we want to thank pakistan. they worked very hard on this. and i believe they're starting to respect the united states again. >> reporter: but tonight their homecoming is delayed. coleman's husband has declined an american offer for transport out of pakistan. meanwhile, the taliban is still believed to be holding two american hostages. lester? >> richard engel, thank you. here at home a surprise appearance from the often seen but rarely heard in public white house chief of staff john kelly. after a series of high-profile controversies and ugly headlines for the president, kelly today went before tv cameras to offer a face of calm and business as usual at the white house. here's nbc news white house correspondent kristen welker. >> good afternoon. >> reporter: candid and comfortable, white house chief of staff john kelly speaking out to knock down reports he's on his way out amid tensions with the boss. >> although i read it all the time pretty consistently, i'm not quitting today.
i don't believe -- and i just talked to the president. i don't think i'm being fired today. >> reporter: kelly was brought in just seven months into the trump administration to calm a chaotic west wing. today pulling back the curtain. >> one of his frustrations is you. all of you. not all of you, but many of you. the congress has been frustrating to him. >> reporter: and giving new insight into his relationship with the president. >> i was not sent in to or brought in to control him, and you should not measure my effectiveness as a chief of staff by what you think i should be doing. >> reporter: kelly also revealing one of his biggest concerns, the north korean nuclear crisis. >> let's hope that diplomacy works. >> reporter: and weighing in on whether the president's public feuds with his fellow republicans are derailing his legislative agenda. >> the president has a right to defend himself. >> reporter: do his tweets make your job more difficult, general kelly? >> no. the job of the chief of staff is
to staff the president, give him the best advice. >> reporter: a tall order for the retired marine general. >> this is the hardest job i've ever had. this is, in my view, the most important job i ever had. >> reporter: kelly also addressed some of those caught-on-camera moments when he appears to look frustrated with the president, telling reporters not to read anything into his serious expression saying it's just a case of being tired and working hard every day to keep up with president trump. lester. >> kristen welker, thank you very much. one of the first things kelly was confronted with in the briefing room today was president trump's morning tweets about puerto rico. the president today seemed to be threatening to pull emergency responders from the american commonwealth. we cannot keep fema, the military and first responders in puerto rico forever, the president tweeted, along with, electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. you can only imagine how that
went over in puerto rico where 85% of the island remains without power, roughly 40% without drinkable water, and the death toll has now risen to 49. tonight gabe gutierrez with the brutal reality on the ground. >> we're overhead right now. >> reporter: tonight in puerto rico, some feel the president's words add insult to injury. >> i'm completely sad, completely disappointed. >> reporter: the president seeming to break the promise he made last friday. >> we will not rest until that job is done. >> reporter: a promise echoed by vice president pence. >> we're with them for the long haul, and we will see this through. >> reporter: today puerto rico's governor with this plea. >> as u.s. citizens is we're not asking for better treatment, for less treatment. we're asking for equal treatment. >> reporter: in the remote town of anasco residents say they've seen little, if any, federal response. maria gonzalez says she has cancer and is desperate for a generator. what would your message be to fema? >> come on.
do what you're supposed to do. >> reporter: fema says 19,000 civilian and military responders are in puerto rico and the u.s. virgin islands. today the acting homeland security secretary met with officials here. >> we've heard some elderly people want to come out, and they need to let us know so we can assist them with that. >> reporter: how can they let you know if they have no communications? >> they're working with the -- the mayors are getting out also. and we're continuing to get out, too. >> reporter: but some volunteers aren't waiting for fema. these u.s. army veterans are now on a mission. >> we're reaching out to get people to cut that red tape so the people in this town can get the things that they need. >> reporter: we join them as they brought food and water to a neighborhood still trapped by a mud slide. >> if i was stranded in the mountains, i'd want somebody to come help me. you know? and i wouldn't want anybody to forget about me. >> reporter: they plan to stay here as long as it takes. gabe gutierrez, nbc news, anasco, puerto rico.
we turn now to another disaster unfolding in the west. the death toll still climbing as nearly two dozen large fires burn in california. right now red flag warnings are in effect as more residents flee the flames that have already destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. nbc's joe fryer remains on the front lines tonight. >> reporter: surrounded by flames, smothered by hazardous smoke, california's wine country is on high alert tonight as winds pick up fanning the fires. >> we are not out of this emergency. >> reporter: today the size of the fires is growing. thousands more evacuating including the entire town of calistoga. shelters are packed. many unsure if their homes are still standing. >> i want to go home so bad that i'm ready now to sneak back in there. >> reporter: jake oliver's house was spared when he flagged down a fire truck. >> i said, help me, man. i said, you can save my house.
they're my heroes. >> reporter: firefighters are stretched thin. we met this crew from southern california. they just battled the destructive inferno in anaheim hills, then drove eight hours to help with fires up north. if you had to measure just how bad these fires have been this week on a scale of one to ten? >> well, i'm going to say where we're at now, a ten. >> reporter: the death toll now jumping to at least 29 including christina hanson who used a wheelchair. her father was burned trying to save her. during the fire, a california highway patrol helicopter came to the rescue of pepe tamayo's family of five, but the chopper could only take four. tamayo stayed behind. >> i called my daughter and i told her, if i don't see you again, i love you. that was it. >> reporter: the helicopter came back and got him, leading to a happy family reunion. late today, the mayor of santa rosa announced that in this city alone more than 2800 homes have been destroyed.
authorities also warn that the death toll could rise further as they investigate hundreds of missing person reports. lester? >> joe fryer for us, thank you. let's turn now to the growing scandal surrounding hollywood movie mogul harvey weinstein. another big star has come forward to accuse him of inappropriate behavior towards her. weinstein now facing dozens of accusers. and nbc's anne thompson has all the latest details. >> reporter: today it's actress kate beckinsale telling her harvey weinstein story. on instagram, beckinsale writes about a hotel room incident with weinstein when she was 17. after declining alcohol and announcing that i had school in the morning, i left uneasy but unscathed. a few years later beckinsale says weinstein asked if he had tried anything in that meeting. i realized he couldn't remember if he had assaulted me or not. today the producer labeled a predator on the cover of "time" magazine. >> are you doing okay, harvey? >> reporter: as he left his los angeles home yesterday, weinstein spoke to photographers. >> guys, i'm not doing okay.
i'm trying. i got to get help, guys. you know what? we all make mistakes. second chance i hope. okay? >> reporter: with nearly 30 women now coming forward, criminal inquiries span the atlantic. london's scotland yard reportedly investigating the sexual assault claim from the '80s. here in new york, police say they're getting tips as they take another look at weinstein to see if there are any additional complaints. in 2015 prosecutors declined to charge weinstein even after he admitted groping model amber bartalano gutierrez. >> why yesterday you touch my breast? >> please, i'm sorry. come on, i'm used to that. >> reporter: former prosecutor deborah tuerkheimer says allegations from other women could lead to charges. >> he could face a charge of rape or a charge of criminal sexual contact which is also a serious felony. >> reporter: tonight weinstein's being judged in the court of public opinion. actress emma thompson. >> i don't think you can describe him as a sex addict. he's a predator. >> reporter: the one-time
starmaker now shunned. anne thompson, nbc news, new york. one of the most prominent and influential women in the tech world, facebook coo cheryl sandberg, faced tough questions about what the social media giant knew and when about russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential race. in an interview with axios, sandberg says facebook owes the american people an apology. >> things happened on our platform in this election that should not have happened, especially and very troubling, foreign interference in a democratic election. >> facebook has admitted that some 3,000 russia-linked ads appeared on facebook's platform during the campaign. now to a new front in the battle over obamacare. president trump beginning to dismantle his predecessor's signature achievement by unveiling plans today to allow small businesses and individuals to buy insurance that does not meet the minimum obamacare requirements.
but there are critics who say it will only drive prices up, hurting older americans or those with medical conditions. nbc's tom costello explains. >> reporter: the president's executive order takes direct aim at obamacare's minimum coverage rules. >> this is going to be something that millions and millions of people will be signing up for, and they're going to be very happy. this will be great healthcare. >> reporter: mr. trump directing his administration to allow insurance companies and unregulated associations to sell cheaper policies that offer less coverage than obamacare currently requires. potentially no longer requiring maternity or substance abuse coverage. insurers could charge groups and businesses with sicker employees more than others. who wins? jim and julie, healthy 20-somethings with no kids who aren't making a lot of money. a bare bones insurance policy would be cheaper but come with higher out of pocket expenses. who loses? david and gail, a 60-something couple with higher medical expenses.
with fewer healthy young people in the insurance pool, everyone else could pay more. >> what we've got going on here is a shuffling of the deck chairs on the "titanic," i think. it can help some people but at direct cost to others who are left behind. >> reporter: americans could also buy short-term coverage but no pre-existing conditions allowed. today some small business groups applauded while health care providers generally warn of higher costs. >> i do know it is a sabotage of the affordable care act. and quite frankly, a real disservice to the american people, many of whom voted for him. >> reporter: the trump plan will take months to implement with legal challenges likely. lester? >> tom costello, thanks. a big revision tonight to the las vegas shooting timeline. the company that owns the mandalay bay hotel now says stephen paddock shot a hotel security guard within one minute of when he began firing out the window at the outdoor concert. the police had earlier said the guard was shot six minutes earlier, raising a question
about just how fast the hotel reported it. we've got a lot more to tell you about as we continue here tonight. still ahead, the teen taking center stage after experimental therapy reversed his blindness. the breakthrough that could now be a life changer for so many others. we'll tell you about that. just uncovered the new clue in the mysterious sonic attacks on u.s. diplomats in cuba. we'll give you an idea of what they heard. stay with us.
back now with a medical breakthrough. fda advisers today unanimously recommended approval for the first gene therapy in the u.s. to treat an inherited disease. in this case, blindness. scientists believe this revolutionary technique has the potential to treat so much more. nbc news medical correspondent dr. john torres has the details. >> reporter: when 17-year-old christian guardino appeared on "america's got talent," he was more than a star. he was a medical miracle. >> just was like one of biggest wow moments i think that i've ever had in my entire life. the gene therapy changed my life completely. >> reporter: christian was born with a genetic defect making him go blind. >> it was so difficult to watch him not even be able to navigate his home surroundings at times and knock into walls. >> reporter: he became one of the first to try an experimental gene therapy to reverse blindness. doctors inject directly into the eye a normal gene to fix the defective gene.
>> we're delivering this gene which sets up shop and delivers the therapeutic molecule continually so that you don't have to take a pill every day or take an eyedrop every day. >> reporter: scientists believe one day this approach could treat other conditions caused by genetic defects. like certain cancers, heart disease and parkinson's. before the trial, any options? any hope? >> the option was to sit and watch his world go completely black or try to trust science a little bit. >> reporter: within 24 hours, a dramatic change. >> they removed the patch, and then he said, mom, is that you and papa sitting over there? >> reporter: four years later christian could see the crowd's reaction that night. and today doctors see the future of gene therapy. dr. john torres, nbc news, new york. pretty amazing discovery, giving a lot of hope tonight. coming up, jaw dropping sights from the volcano erupting for the first time in years.
we have an update now on those sonic attacks on american diplomats in cuba. a purported recording surfaced today of the sound that embassy staffers say they heard which reportedly causes brain injury and hearing loss. experts do not believe it's dangerous to hear at short durations through standard types of devices like your tv speaker. so we're going to play a very short snippet for you now. apparently more than just annoying, as you hear that. it's still unclear who is behind the sonic attacks, but the u.s. has since pulled more than half its diplomatic staff out of cuba. now to an awe-inspiring sight. japan's mt. shinmoedake volcano erupting for the first time in six years. it shot a plume of ash into the sky higher than 6,000 feet covering nearby cities and towns. when we come back here tonight, the brave first responders battling to save others' homes from flames even after they've lost their own. the death toll has now risen to
29. 15 of those deaths in sonoma county alone. the sheriff is about to start a briefing. we )ll take you there live -- at 6 it's been an all-hands-on-deck effort to battle the wildfires that have leveled so many california neighborhoods this week. sleepless days and nights and dangerous work for those manning the front lines. the grim determination on their faces sometimes masking their
own devastating losses. >> let's go. >> reporter: when residents rush out, they rush in. it's not just a job especially when the tragedy becomes a shared one as it has for so many on the front lines. >> i made it to the entry to my neighborhood, and all i could see was fire. >> reporter: santa rosa assistant fire marshal paul lowenthal is just one of at least 40 bay area firefighters who lost their homes even as they battled to save others from the same fate. he's seeing what's left of it today for the first time. >> there's going to be time to deal with this, time to recover. right now we just have a lot of work to do. >> reporter: contra costa county fire captain chris christenson and novato fire battalion chief dmitri menzoo work at different departments, but they live just blocks apart. both told their wives not to worry, their homes would be safe. both returning to this.
>> i didn't know what "gone" meant until i saw it. nothing left. >> reporter: in glen ellen, volunteer firefighter kristin johnson returned home to find fellow first responders at her doorstep. 22 years of memories lost in the ash. >> we grabbed what we could, what we could carry in our cars, and we left. >> reporter: johnson got her 3-year-old to safety, and then, as her property burned, went back to evacuate neighbors and fight fires. because saving lives and homes, even when you can't save your own, is what they do. >> what my colleagues did that night was heroic. they got people out of their homes. >> reporter: to these firefighters, it's a calling bigger than themselves. heroes and sometimes victims, some of california's bravest tonight. we appreciate you spending part of your evening with us. that is "nightly news" for this thursday night. i'm lester holt.
for all of us at nbc news, thank you for watching, and good night. the news at 6 starts right now: the number of these fires are growing together. i don't want to breathe all the smoke. please stay off the roadways. not the kind of thing you want to have people out running and breathing in. pretty devastating. you think it's not going to be you. it takes your life away. you have to get the word to the people that are in danger. we are a long way from being done with this. this is just like end of the world. good evening thanks for joining us janelle wang set sitting in for jessica aguirre.
not much property damage in the last 24 hours but that could change in the next 24. let's start with sky ranger over geyserville about 20 or 30 minutes, advisory evacuations. essentially voluntary evacuations there in geyserville for now. here are the latest numbers. 29 people confirmed dead. the highest number of fatalities in sonoma county o county with 15. in all 3500 homes of businesses destroyed, making this the most destructive fire and fires in california history. 300 square miles of burned. more than the size of san jose, san francisco and oakland combined. here are the three biggest fires. the tubbs fire, the atlas fire and the nuns withins fire that merge the tubbs fire devastatesed parts of santa rosa is 10% contained. the atlas fire in napa and solano is