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Video: 76-year-old Texan departs from Cairo

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    >> egypt and its people but as we've been reporting, the 6-year-old texas woman was desperate to escape the chaos that engulfed the country and in particular her neighborhood. she managed to make it to the airport. we talked to her there yesterday. this morning we can tell you she is finally out of egypt and will soon be back in the u.s.

    >> you came to the right place.

    >> reporter: escorted by an american embassy official saturday for the first time we see the frail 76-year-old texan whose tough talk while living under siege captivated americans back home. mary thornberry lived in a building perched above the turbulent square, trapped for days and fending off mobs at her door front until a rescue came yesterday during a low in the fighting. what can you tell us about how you got out of your apartment?

    >> i would rather not go into that just in case some reprecushions become a problem. sorry.

    >> mary , i'm with nbc news.

    >> an nbc news producer caught up with her at the cairo airport where she told me by telephone about her walk to freedom.

    >> i got to the foyer. there were guys all over the floor sleeping. and there were rocks and a portion of the street was quite littered all the way as can you see. there was garbage and a lot of rocks. there were barricades all over the place.

    >> saturday, she spoke to worried family members back home who briefly lost track of her overnight. her rescuer dropped her at the airport.

    >> ways in bad shape by the time i got to the airport. in order to get there, several time i had to stop and sit -- instead of steps or hurt and rest before i could take any more steps.

    >> saturday, in the care of embassy officials, mary was put on an evacuation flight and late last night she arrived in europe on the first leg of her journey back to the u.s. but before she left, i had to know -- mary , did you bring your rolling pin with you?

    >> my son told me to. i did not have room. i only brought one carry on. that's all i have.

    >> well, the tsa would have taken the rolling pin away. but it's great she's on her way back to new york. you know what is so frustrating? from where we were in cairo, we could see her building. we just couldn't reach her because of the violence. thursday was a horrible day. there was all kinds of fighting going on. in the evening, it stopped. somebody flipped a switch. i remember thinking maybe this is the time she can get out and it was a few hours later as she made it out of her apartment.

    >> i grew up in haiti. there were political problems there. there is a sense of helplessness when you're stuck alone in another country. it is a frightening thing. she was all by herself. it is such a wonderful story and the way it ended.

    >> she was critical during the week which wh still stuck in there about the american embassy . she was full of praise yesterday. they embraced her at the airport and got her on her way. she was very happy with the

By
TODAY contributor

Mary Thornberry was rescued Friday night from her apartment building near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where she had been holed up during the protests.

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The 76-year-old retired American nurse, who had been fending off rioters with a rolling pin and a knife, was freed during a lull in the fighting. She spoke to TODAY’s Lester Holt over the phone from the Cairo airport, where she spent the night and is awaiting a flight out to the U.S. to reunite with her son.

She described the scene around her apartment as she was leaving.

“I got to the foyer and of course there were guys all over the floor sleeping and there were rocks and garbage and of course the streets were quite littered…” she said.

But when asked for details about exactly how she got out, Thornberry stayed mum.

“I would rather not go into that just in case some repercussions could come upon the party,” she said, adding that her trek to the airport was exhausting and left her feeling “totally debilitated.”

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Trapped in her home

Thornberry was in contact with the U.S. embassy, and they had been working to expedite her trip to the U.S., but this came after what Thornberry’s son described as fruitless attempts to get help for his mother.

The feisty Texan, who moved to Cairo 15 years ago to indulge her love of ancient Egyptian history, found herself a prisoner in her own apartment as rioting continued. Demonstrators demanding the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are clashing with pro-Mubarak demonstrators, and while Thornberry had a dangerous bird's-eye view of history in the making, her worried son, Phillip Derrick, was working with NBC to try to get his mother to safety.

Video: Trapped in Cairo, woman irked at embassy (on this page)

After several attempts to obtain help from the U.S. Embassy, Derrick contacted NBC Nightly News. As shown on TODAY Thursday, NBC’s Lester Holt attempted to reach Thornberry’s apartment when he was warned the unruly crowds were targeting Western journalists, and was forced to turn back.

On Friday, Holt reported on TODAY that the embassy asked NBC News for Thornberry’s location. The previous day, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was asked about her plight. “Where we can be helpful, we of course will dispatch direct assistance, or we will try to work with the host government where we can to help them,” he said.

Video: Armed with knife, retiree waits out unrest in Egypt (on this page)

On Friday, Holt also reported on TODAY that he had spoken to Derrick, who told him his mother “is getting help from an unspecified source,” though not directly from the U.S. government. She told NBC of the unsettling racket she heard just yards from her window.

Video: Egyptian unrest continues, journalists targeted (on this page)

“Sometimes I just hear the huge sound, and sometimes the chant will be ‘Mubarak, Mubarak, Mubarak,’ and sometimes it will be ‘ElBaradei, ElBaradei, ElBaradei,’ ” she said. (Mohamed ElBaradei is a leader of opposition to Mubarak.)

By Thursday, Thornberry said she no longer had access to running water in her building, and she kept her improvised arsenal to ward off rioters and looters at the ready.

“I have a sharp knife,” she said. “I have my walking cane, and I have my rolling pin, so that’s my armory.”

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In an interview with TODAY Thursday, Thornberry told Meredith Vieira she was disappointed with government efforts to protect her and help her reach safety.

“I’m very displeased with the treatment I did not receive from the American Embassy,” she said in a tense telephone interview.

Derrick, a Seattle, Wash., high school teacher, said his mother tried to stand her ground in Cairo before he convinced her she needed to reach safety. In an interview with NBC, he said he feared for his mother.

“It’s been a surreal experience, this whole thing, especially with the Molotov cocktails being thrown off the roofs in her area, especially in her building,” he said.

Video: Trapped in Cairo, woman irked at embassy (on this page)

Thornberry has since spoken to her son and his wife over the phone, and joked that she had to leave one important item behind — the rolling pin that served as her armor.

“My son told me to [bring it], but I did not have room in my little carryon,” she laughed.

She adds that despite what has happened, she plans to return to Egypt one day.

“Egypt is my home; Egypt has been good to me. I love Egypt and the Egyptian people,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll come back to… I’m sure it will be all vandalized, things all over floor, broken, rumpled, dirty — but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

Seamus McGraw contributed reporting to this story.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: Farewell Friday

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  1. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Feb. 11. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptians set off fireworks as they celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after President Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military on Friday. Egypt exploded with joy, tears, and relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV. Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protesters walk over a barricade after it was taken down to allow free entry to hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 11, 2011. A furious wave of protest finally swept Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power, sending a warning to autocrats across the Arab world and beyond. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A spokesman for Egypt's higher military council reads a statement titled “Communiqué No. 3” in this video still on Friday. Egypt's higher military council said it would announce measures for a transitional phase after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Egyptian celebrates in Cairo after the announcement of President Mubarak's resignation. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. A furious wave of protest finally swept Mubarak from power after 30 years of one-man rule, sparking jubilation in the streets. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Egyptian reacts in the street after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, Feb. 11. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on Friday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptian soldiers celebrate with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Cairo's streets exploded in joy when Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptians celebrate the news of Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Friday night, in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate minutes after the announcement on television of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Opposition protesters celebrate Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, in Tahrir Square on Friday. President Mubarak bowed to pressure from the street and resigned, handing power to the army. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. On Egyptian state television, Al-Masriya, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivers an address announcing that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, in Cairo on Friday. (TV via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
    Dylan Martinez / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (18) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Farewell Friday
  2. Image: Protester in Tahrir Square
    Emilio Morenatti / AP
    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
  3. Image: Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters
    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
  4. Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Khalil Hamra / AP
    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
  5. Image:
    Mayra Beltran / AP
    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts

Explainer: Key players in Egyptian protests

  • Image: A senior army officer salutes a crowd of cheering protesters at Tahrir square in Cairo
    YANNIS BEHRAKIS  /  Reuters
    A senior army officer salutes a crowd of cheering protesters at Tahrir square in Cairo.

    Protesters stormed Cairo streets in a bid to drive Hosni Mubarak from power, even as the longtime president set the stage for a successor by naming his intelligence chief as his first-ever vice president.

    The following are key players in the unfolding crisis.

    Sources: The Associated Press, Reuters

  • Ex-president

    Image: Mubarak
    Khaled Desouki  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

    Name: Hosni Mubarak

    Age: 82

    Role: Mubarak resigned as president and handed control to the military on Feb. 11, bowing down after a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands. The former air force commander had ruled Egypt for 30 years as leader of the National Democratic Party.

    Background: Mubarak was thrust into office when Islamists gunned down his predecessor Anwar Sadat at a military parade in 1981. He has long promoted peace abroad and on the domestic front he has kept a tight lid on political opposition. He has resisted any significant political change even under pressure from the United States. The U.S. has poured billions of dollars of military and other aid into Egypt since it became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, signing a treaty in 1979.

    Controversy: Mubarak won the first multicandidate presidential election in 2005 although the outcome was never in doubt and his main rival came in a distant second. Rights groups and observers said the election was marred by irregularities.

    Personal note: There have been questions about his health after surgery in Germany last March.

  • New VP

    Arno Burgi  /  EPA
    Omar Suleiman

    Name: Omar Suleiman
    Age: 74
    Role: The intelligence chief and Mubarak confidant became Egypt's first vice president in three decades on Jan. 29. The move clearly set up a succession that would hand power to Suleiman and keep control of Egypt in the hands of military men.
    Military man: He has been the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services since 1993, a part in which he has played a prominent public role in diplomacy, including in Egypt's relations with Israel and the United States. In 1992 he headed the General Operations Authority in the Armed Forces and then became the director of the military intelligence unit before taking over EGIS. Suleiman took part in the war in Yemen in 1962 and the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel.
    Intel chief: Suleiman was in charge of the country's most important political security files, and was the mastermind behind the fragmentation of Islamist groups who led the uprising against the state in the 1990s.

  • New PM

    Image: Ahmed Shafiq
    Mohamed Abd El Ghany  /  Reuters
    Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

    Name: Ahmed Shafiq
    Age: 69
    Role: President Mubarak appointed Shafiq as prime minister on Jan. 29.
    Background: A close associate of Mubarak, Shafiq has been minister of civil aviation since 2002. As minister of civil aviation, Shafiq has won a reputation for efficiency and administrative competence. He has supervised a successful modernization program at the state airline, EgyptAir, and improvements to the country's airports.
    Former fighter pilot: Shafiq served as commander of the Egyptian air force between 1996 and 2002, a post Mubarak held before he became vice president of Egypt under former President Anwar Sadat.

  • Rival

    Mohamed ElBaradei
    John Macdougall  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Mohamed ElBaradei

    Name: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Age: 68
    Role: The Nobel Peace Prize winner joined demonstrators trying to oust Mubarak. ElBaradei has suggested he might run for president if democratic and constitutional change were implemented.
    Atomic watchdog: ElBaradei joined the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1984 and served as its director-general in 1997. He transformed the IAEA into a body bold enough to take a stand on political issues relating to peace and proliferation, despite critics' belief that it was not its place. In 2005, ElBaradei and the IAEA were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He retired in 2009.
    Law and diplomacy: He studied law, graduating from the University of Cairo and the New York University School of Law. He began his career in the Egyptian diplomatic service in 1964, working twice in the permanent missions of Egypt to the United Nations in New York and Geneva. He was in charge of political, legal and arms control issues. He was a special assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister and was a member of the team that negotiated the peace settlement with Israel at Camp David in 1978. He joined the United Nations two years later.
    On Iraq: ElBaradei was outspoken on the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, which angered the Bush administration.

  • On guard

    Image:
    Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AP
    Egyptian army soldiers in Tahrir square in Cairo.

    Name: Egyptian Armed Forces
    Role: The army remains the most powerful institution in the nation, and whatever it does next will determine the future of the Arab world's most populous country. The military appeared to be going to great lengths to calm the country without appearing opposed to  demonstrations. 
    Background: Egypt's 500,000-man army has long enjoyed the respect of citizens who perceive it as the country's least corrupt and most efficient public institution, particularly compared to a police force notorious for heavy handedness and corruption. It is touted as having defeated Israel in the 1973 Mideast War, and revered for that role.
    Stabilizer: The military, for its part, sees itself as the guarantor of national stability and above the political fray, loyal to both the government and what it sees as the interests of the general population. The military has given Egypt all of its four presidents since the monarchy was toppled in 1952.
    Provider:  Although it has almost completely withdrawn from politics since 1952, the army has added to its strength by venturing into economic activity, playing a growing role in such key service industries as food production and construction. It stepped in in 2008 during an acute shortage of bread, Egypt's main stable, which it provided from its own bakeries. It has since opened outlets for basic food items sold as vastly discounted prices.

  • The Brotherhood

    Image: Mohamed Badie
    Asmaa Waguih  /  Reuters
    Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie

    Name: Muslim Brotherhood
    Role: The brotherhood is Egypt's largest and most organized political opposition movement. Banned in 1954 on charges of using violence, members returned to Egypt to show support in protests.
    Background: The group said it has since denounced violence and expanded its international presence. It has participated in Egyptian elections as independents despite frequent crackdowns. It surprisingly won about 20 percent of the 454 seats in 2005 parliamentary elections and since then, authorities have jailed around 5,000 of its members. The group believes in Islamic rule.
    New audience: The Muslim Brotherhood is the focus of a TV series, "Al-Gamaa," or "The Group," which centers on a 2009 court case in which members were accused of setting up a student militia.

  • Mubarak's son

    Image: Gamal Mubarak
    Khaled El Fiqi  /  EPA
    Gamal Mubarak

    Name: Gamal Mubarak
    Age: 47
    Role: Served as secretary general of his father's National Democratic Party.
    Background: The younger Mubarak spent 11 years working at Bank of America in Cairo and London, had gained considerable influence in government after his father appointed him head of the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) policy committee in 2002. Many Egyptians felt Mubarak was grooming Gamal as his successor. Before Gamal rose to prominence, speculation was rife in the 1990s that Mubarak wanted Alaa, Gamal's younger brother, to succeed him.

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