News Wrap: Thousands homeless in Vanuatu after devastating cyclone

JUDY WOODRUFF: Wall Street got its week off to a running start today, after last week's losses. Stocks rose in part because dollar eased some from a rally that's made American goods pricier overseas. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 230 points to close back near 18000. The Nasdaq rose nearly 60 points, and the S&P 500 added almost 30.

GWEN IFILL: Competing new estimates surfaced today on exactly how many Americans have gotten health care coverage since the Affordable Care Act became law. The Department of Health and Human Services estimated the figure at more than 16 million. That's based partly on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Officials at Gallup put the increase at 9.7 million. They said they used a different method to make their calculation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States and Iran have spent another five hours in nuclear talks, with an end-of-the-month deadline bearing down. Secretary of State John Kerry met today with Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

There was word the Iranians asked about a Senate Republican letter that warned President Obama's successor could revoke any deal. The Iranian delegation also met with European ministers in Brussels.

LAURENT FABIUS, Foreign Minister, France (through interpreter):
We hope for an agreement, but only if the agreement is very solid. There has been progress, but important points remain which are not resolved and we will see if we can make progress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Afterward, there was word that the session in Brussels failed to bridge any differences.

GWEN IFILL: In Iraq, a government offensive against Islamic State fighters in Tikrit was put on hold today. The Iraqi military and Shiite militias have already made big gains. But the interior minister said they expect bitter fighting ahead.

MOHAMMED SALEM AL-GHABBAN, Interior Minister, Iraq (through translator): More than 90 percent of our objectives are going according to plans and timings. What has remained is a very small part, which is the center of Tikrit. The militants planted bombs in our government offices and buildings. By halting military operations, we also aim to give an opportunity to civilians and families to get away from the battlefield.

GWEN IFILL: Tikrit is Saddam Hussein's hometown and his once lavish tomb has been wrecked by the fighting. What's left are mostly piles of concrete rubble.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Russian President Vladimir Putin resurfaced today, after 10 days out of public view. The unexplained absence had fueled media rumors about his health. Putin dismissed those concerns as he met with the president of Kyrgyzstan in St. Petersburg, Russia. He quipped to reporters, "It could be dull — it would be dull without gossip."

Also today, the Russian military launched exercises across the country. In the Arctic alone, 40,000 troops were involved.

GWEN IFILL: Officials in Vanuatu labored today to assess the scope of devastation from a powerful weekend storm. Cyclone Pam blasted the South Pacific island chain with winds of 185 miles per hour. It killed at least 24 people and left 3,300 homeless.

Lucy Watson of Independent Television News reports from the scene.

LUCY WATSON: They are the unseen outlying islands that little is known about in this disaster, where those with no protection from the strong winds are struggling. They have lost shelter and contact.

JOEL KALATITI: This cyclone here is — something that we have never had before.

LUCY WATSON: Joel Kalatiti explained the difficulties facing his village.

JOEL KALATITI:
We have a big shortage of food at the moment, because on this island, we rely on local food.

LUCY WATSON: The food you grow here.

JOEL KALATITI: Yes, the food we grow. But at this time, every food — the wind has torn every food.

LUCY WATSON: We met also Maria, who is eight-and-a-half months pregnant.

She's worried about her unborn child, because the island has run out of medicine, and it takes too long to reach the nearest hospital. There are 65 inhabited islands in this area. Few have been visited. This is the sight and sound that many are waiting for. Aid is coming to some whose lives and livelihoods have been torn apart by Cyclone Pam.

The red eyes of Rose, single mother of four, tell her tale. "As the cyclone raged," she said, "I convinced myself I was already dead. I have lost my home. Looking at it, I don't know how to move on. My life is over."

This was one of 1,000 homes in this village completely flattened. The community, though, has already started to rebuild with whatever materials they can find. It's testament to the resilience of the people of Vanuatu. This place is more exposed to natural disasters than anywhere else in the world. Its people are still learning how to protect what they love.

GWEN IFILL: Vanuatu has 270,000 people scattered across more than 60 islands.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, the man accused of shooting and wounding two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, last week appeared in court today for the first time. Jeffrey Williams didn't make a statement or enter a plea. The prosecutor said Williams admitted to the shootings, but told investigators he'd been aiming at someone else.

GWEN IFILL: Boston has finally set a dubious new record: Most snow in a single winter. The city got nearly three more inches on Sunday, pushing the seasonal total to 108.6 inches. That's more than nine feet of snow, and the most since Boston began keeping records in 1872.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Curtis Gans, a longtime expert on voter turnout in the U.S. died last night. He'd been hospitalized in Frederick, Maryland. Gans' Center for the Study of the American Electorate was widely recognized for his turnout data and analysis. He also led opposition to a second term for President Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War in 1968. Johnson opted not to run again.