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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  April 29, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT

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on the broadcast here tonight, path of destruction. the tornado death toll over 300 as the search for survivors continues. a walk through this hard-hit community tonight, as the president comes here today to offer support. while across the atlantic, the whole world watches as great britain celebrates its big day. "nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television and good evening from a ravaged tuscaloosa, alabama, tonight. the center of an epic tornado outbreak. the worst since the depression era in this country, and now a tragedy spread over seven
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states. beyond the pictures of the damage, like the scene behind us we can show you, we have found perhaps a better way to show you how massive this tornado was. a satellite picture from space, when you look closely, you can see in brown the path the funnel carved in the earth from the lower left to the upper right and right through where we're standing now. the image is remarkable, and so is this, the fact that you can now see downtown tuscaloosa from suburbs like the one we're in now, and that hasn't been possible in some places since about the 1860s. sadly, it's only possible now because the vegetation and the buildings are gone across about a half-mile-wide band. we have a huge team on the ground here throughout this region to cover this story. headed by lester holt, who is here with us tonight. lester, good evening. >> reporter: good evening to you. officially, they're still
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searching for survivors, but the fact of the matter is at this point, there's growing anxiety over those who remain unaccounted for. how big is all this? since tuesday, there have been reports of 230 tornadoes across seven states. those storms have killed at least 328 people. across alabama, the sounds of heavy equipment at work could barely mask the sounds of grief. >> homes just leveled. piles of rubble. >> reporter: from the air over alabama, it's a clear, almost surgical path of destruction. from the ground, where president obama met survivors today, a nightmarish landscape. >> i have never seen devastation like this. >> reporter: cadaver dogs sniffed out the dead in alabama, which bore the most fatalities at 220. >> we worked all night, trying to get people out of the houses. that's about all we could do. >> reporter: tennessee and mississippi each reported more than 30 dead. the trail of death extends as
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far north as virginia. national guard troops have been deployed across the region. places used to tornadoes, but not like these. hugging the ground for long distances. some churning at up to 200 miles per hour. for more than a day, sandra roberts couldn't find her mother who lived alone in this small house. that was a tough 24 hours wasn't it? >> yes, sir. >> reporter: what was it like when you finally heard from her? >> tears of joy. >> reporter: today, they were reunited at the home of a friend who took her in. jeanette barnes recalled her harrowing ordeal. >> they dug me out of a hole through the back. i just thank the lord that somebody came and got me. >> reporter: in tennessee today, people waited for hours for gas because so many gas stations have been without power. officials now say fewer than 400,000 customers in stricken areas are still in the dark though many no longer have homes, they are determined to
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move forward and celebrate what they do have. >> i'm just so blessed to be here. thank you! >> reporter: the high death toll even more shocking when you consider the storm that came through this neighborhood. there was about a 24-minute warning for residents, but as one expert forecaster pointed out, 24 minutes is enough time to hunker down, but not enough time to leave the area particularly with the tornado the size of the one that came through here. >> that's absolutely right, thus the stories and the scenes we're here covering. lester holt heading up the coverage here tonight, thanks. as lester said, the folks here in western alabama knew they were in for bad weather. for that matter, "nightly news" had been covering this same basic storm system for several days, tracking it across the country. but then the storm blew up right here, and suddenly, it was upon them. those who weren't hit, they all know somebody who was, and some lost everything. they are the ones who will be spending another night in shelters like the one we visited here today.
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the new center of the community in this part of tuscaloosa these days is this shelter because it's all the shelter these folks have. >> i got a blue five. >> we met stephanie here and found out she's now a two-time tornado survivor. she rode one out back in '07, and this time around, she had to cover up her two children inside her home, praying all the way. >> i was saying, lord, please protect us, and shield us from any harm and danger. that was about it. i kept saying it over and over. protect us and watch over us. i kept repeating myself. >> reporter: sounds like it might have worked. >> it did, it really did. we didn't get -- as much as people's houses were blown away, he protected us. he was a shield for us. >> reporter: because you're all together, alive. >> yes. >> reporter: we also met suzanna and her husband, joe. both of them are with the red cross. both rode it out in their tub
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with their two dogs and their neighbors huddled in the same bathroom. by the time they took shelter, the local news coverage was getting frantic. >> it seemed so unreal to you. you're sheltered, but you think, oh, this isn't going to come that close. then you hear the freight train sound they always talk about. >> reporter: your job now is comforting and helping and hearing of needs and filling them, right? >> yeah. >> as long as it takes. >> reporter: meanwhile, who is taking care of you and the damage you suffered? >> the neighbors we were helping are now helping us. >> reporter: that's how it works. >> that is how it works in tuscaloosa. >> it really is. >> reporter: and over on the floor, we met the card shark, jaquan bates, who invited me to deal the next hand and casually mentioned why he's here at the shelter with his three siblings. >> our house broke down. >> reporter: what happened to your house? >> a tree fell on it. >> reporter: did a big storm come? a big storm, but you're okay. >> yeah. >> reporter: but your house
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isn't okay? the red cross told us jaquan's house has been destroyed. he doesn't know that, and for now, seems happy playing card. this is just the heart of it, the absolute core of the tornado passed right where we're walking. this looks like "the wizard of oz." disabled army veteran tony shealy showed us where he went when the storm was coming. he ran across the street to the piggly wiggly supermarket to buy food and was rushed into an adjacent drugstore as the manager was locking the door. that, he said, saved his life. this is what happened to his apartment, his neighborhood, all destroyed. >> this used to be my place, right here. >> reporter: how many times have you said thank god you went to the market? >> if i would have stayed home, i would have been trapped in
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there, dead and gone. >> reporter: you saw a lot of things that day. how are you going to process that? >> i'm going to pray about it, brian. that's all i can do. that's all i can do now. >> reporter: we wanted to share some of the wonderful people we met here in tuscaloosa today. remember, even as they now get used to their new existence and the new landscape here, and of course, the story spreads out from here to other communities and six other states. and whether the damage is catastrophic or minor, whether the loss is small or large, people, of course, in this region are jumping in to help. we want to go to nbc's john yang in the small town of phil campbell, alabama, which was among the hardest hit. >> reporter: there wasn't a lot to the town of phil campbell to begin with. now there's even less. at least 26 dead here in a community of around 1,000. winds of up to 175 miles an hour destroyed nearly 100 homes. one of them was linda correll's. she was lying in bed when everything came crashing down.
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>> the wall came down on top of me. and then the other two floors came down. >> reporter: she escaped with just bumps and bruises. how did you get out? >> crawled and kicked and just got out the best way i could. mostly everything is busted and just turned into match sticks. >> reporter: after making sure her mother was safe, bonner helped pull victims' bodies from the rubble of other houses. >> it's unreal, the bodies that are everywhere, and they're still pulling bodies out. it's just -- it's all sad. >> reporter: when a small town like this one loses so many people, it's hard for residents not to know one of the dead or someone who is still missing. >> one of my neighbors across the street got killed, and then another neighbor right down here got killed. i don't even know who all is dead yet. >> reporter: linda grew up on this property and made the hardwood floors by hand. now, everything she owned and everything that belonged to her mother who died in november, all gone.
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where do you go from here? >> i don't have a clue yet. >> reporter: a feeling shared by so many across this devastated region. john yang, nbc news, phil campbell, alabama. >> reporter: this is ron mott in mississippi. from tupelo with love. with chicken, burgers, and fixens, too. instead of closing a deal today, marcus mccoy made the 40-minute drive to decimated smithville, family, friends, coworkers, and grill in tow, hungry to help. >> i was sitting, thinking how blessed i was to still be in the land of the living. i said, i need to do something. >> reporter: across the south and beyond where tornadoes paid a visit, volunteers are on the move. communities are swelling in number as newcomers pour in to clean up, quench thirst, salvage the old, find something new, filling whatever need they can. at outpouring of support won't begin to fix what is broken here, and there's plenty broken, but it is outreach that is help mend what is hurting.
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>> reporter:many donations and aid have been donated by social media like this facebook page trying to reunite owners and their keepsakes. a sonogram photo, a man in uniform, another uniform minus its little boy. mississippi's governor haley barbour said america's volunteer tradition is enormously strong and plain to see. >> you have seen the devastation here, yet the shelters that have been opened have hardly anybody ipthem. that's because their neighbors have opened their homes and said, come stay with me, come stay with our family. >> reporter: families of strangers perhaps feeling a collective pain, pledging to heal these wounds together. ron mott, nbc news, smithville, mississippi. >> the only thing more relentless than the bad news around here these days, the stories of good will. one note about president obama tonight, after he toured the damage here, he and his family went on to visit the kennedy space center in florida, despite the fact we learned earlier today that the space
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shuttle "endeavour" launch was delayed, scrubbed for now due to an engineering problem. the president met with the crew, including commander mark kelly, husband of gabby giffords. the president had a private meeting with the congresswoman as well. we'll take our first break. when we come back, what happened today an ocean and you could say a world away. great britain has a new duke and duchess.
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a long way from where we are right now, a very different story about families coming together today. britain's prince william and kate middleton entered into marriage and history with an estimated 2 billion plus people watching a royal wedding truly for the digital age. nbc's kate snow is outside buckingham palace for us tonight. kate, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. it was a moment of history.
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they are officially now the duke and duchess of cambridge, but tonight, they're just william and kate having a late-night party right here at buckingham palace with all of their closest family and friends. it was majesty on a human scale. the embodiment of national pride and centuries of tradition. an estimated 1 million spectators in london alone. perhaps 2 billion more watching around the world. the day began at historic westminster abbey decked out like an english garden with nearly 2,000 guests. the prime minister, elton john, the beckhams. the couple's closest friends and family, royal and otherwise. but this was william and kate's day. he arrived with best man prince harry. moments later, right on time, kate took center stage. a first glimpse of the dress by british designer sarah burton
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for alexander mcqueen. she wore a halo of diamonds, a tiara borrowed from queen elizabeth herself. "you look beautiful," the groom told his nervous bride as together they became husband and wife. >> i william arthur philip louis -- >> take 3 katherine? >> i take william arthur philip louis to be my wedded husband -- >> with this ring i thee wed. i pronounce they be man and wife together in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy ghost. >> reporter: and with that, the future king and queen of england began their life together.
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for the ride to buckingham palace, an open carriage. there was no rain to mar this parade, and the british showed once again, they know how to do pomp and pageantry. as william and kate reached the palace, thousands crowded the procession route. this was the moment they were waiting for. a moment with echoes of history and family ties. the kiss was expected. but then, with the crowd calling for more -- >> kiss! kiss! >> reporter: -- another. the couple's public day was over. but wait, william and kate had one more surprise. and a break with tradition that delighted the crowd.
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a drive from the palace with the prince behind the wheel of a purple aston martin convertible on loan from his father. we saw centuries of tradition today, but with the hope of a new beginning. take a look at these newest pictures we have gotten in. brian, it shows the couple all decked out, ready to celebrate the night away. so many people i talked with today said they feel like today they witnessed a new chapter beginning in the monarchy. brian. >> kate snow in london tonight after the big day there. when we come back from here, what has happened to our weather lately?
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back now from tuscaloosa, alabama. some more of the staggering numbers we have been telling you about. in the month of april, a record 453 tornadoes have been confirmed. this not counting wednesday's line of massive storms. and when they tally those up, that will be larger, and remember, may is usually worse than april. our friend, weather channel meteorologist jim cantore, who has been here covering this, has been kind enough to join us. you and i were talking earlier. is it fair to say, at the center of this storm, at the center of hurricanes like katrina, it's the most energy mother nature can produce on the planet? >> i think it is. when you look at the biggest
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tornadoes out there, the ef-4s and ef-5s, winds upwards of 200 miles an hour, which we feel this is, we're talking rare kinds of numbers. that makes up .4% of all the tornadoes. we have about 1,300 a year. >> you get stopped everywhere you go every day on the subject of weather, and i sometimes do, and wherever you go, whenever you hear people talking, you know what i'm going to say, "it didn't used to be like this. what's going on? what are we doing to cause this?" it seems newly virulent and violent all across the country. >> when you go back, you look for evidence of something. sometimes the most obvious things don't hit you until they're right there in front of your face. if we have a warmer earth, and the purpose of the jetstream is to help equalize all that, because it's warmer, it's going to have to work a lot harder. that in addition to the fact we have so much instability in this month of april, heat and humidity, those two things create this monster out break,
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this monster april. >> i guess we're all looking for ways to explain away what happened here. >> it's hard to do that. >> thank you for your ongoing coverage. we'll take another break from here. when we come back, a day and time, really, of competing images. as different as the two could be.
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as you may know, we were supposed to be in london tonight with the rest of our team, covering the royal wedding, which became a welcome television diversion for a global viewing audience today. as the kate middleton "newsweek" cover story put it a while back, "in a world gone to hell, thank god, a wedding," as they put it. a lot of people felt that way today, while mindful of this tragedy here. more tonight on all of it from lee cowan. >> reporter: from the ominous skies over the american south, to the clouds that parted over a balcony just in time for a royal kiss, it would seem our attention today was split between wedding bells and tornado sirens. and yet the two were oddly joined. across the hard-hit south, we looked for anything that made the horrible seem somewhat tolerable. the hugs of survivors, the
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triumph of a rescue, the better angels we hope are in all of us. we tuned in this morning to hear angels, too. the voices of a country swelling with pride. the royal couple offering the kind of majesty the modern world has all but forgotten. through all the pomp, it was simple. the glimpse of a dress, the whispered vow, the tiniest of bridesmaids shutting out the roar of the crowd. it was, in a word, happy. for those who felt guilty about celebrating when so many other people were hurting, one simple reminder today that seemed to put not only america's nightmare but britain's fairytale into perspective. >> in the busyness of each day, keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. >> reporter: being generous and remembering what is real and important bridged the gap today.
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from a tattered landscape to a sacred abbey. lee cowan, nbc news, london. what a day, and speaking of these relentless images, we're back inside what was once a front room. a newlywed couple survived what went on here. the expression you hear in this area, this college town, roll tide. these are all over the place. we found an abandoned dvd, alabama '09 championship season. the story now will develop into people coming out to help. we have already seen them stream into this neighborhood. if you wish to do eelectronically, a number of organizations we have posted tonight on our website for you. for us for now, that is our broadcast from here for this friday night. thank you for being with us. lester holt will be with you from here all weekend long. we'll be back on the air tonight for a special broadcast of
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"dateline" 9:00 eastern time. i'm brian williams reporting tonight from tuscaloosa, alabama. good night, everyone. plummeting off a cliff. how a bay area man managed to survive a dramatic drop. >> you do everything that you can knowing still that a fire came like the one we had, we probably would lose it again. >> the danger never ends. a survivor of the oakland hills fire tells us how her family rebuilt as fire season


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