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Coverage of Hurricane Sandy

Aired October 29, 2012 - 16:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour continuing our breaking news coverage 24/7 of Hurricane Sandy.

And from the Supreme Court to Wall Street to the United Nations, the east coast of the United States has closed its doors, facing down what may be the most monstrous storm this continent has ever seen, a superstorm, because Hurricane Sandy is colliding with other weather patterns to form something that many meteorologists say they have never before seen.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The President of the United States has gone on national television to assure Americans that every first responder is mobilized, including the military. President Obama has also firmly told everyone who is under evacuation orders to obey those orders and get out now.

The worst, though, is still to come. Sandy has not yet reached land. Take a look at this image from the International Space Station. It shows the sheer size of this hurricane, swirling over the Atlantic coast. And to give you an idea of its scope, look at these pictures, all taken within the last few hours.

First, the shoreline of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and several hundred miles north on the tip of New York's Long Island, the town of Montauk, where streets have become canals and some people are moving out in little boats.

In Atlantic City, New Jersey, our reporter, Ali Velshi, is there, waiting for the first strike of Hurricane Sandy and that is a live picture. It is expected to land right there, where Ali is, in about three hours.

The biggest fear is of an unprecedented storm surge. More than 50 million, perhaps 60 million people are in Sandy's path.

Millions of commuters cannot move, neither by air, subway, train nor bus. Airports and all public transportation are in lockdown.

The center of Sandy is said to move onshore near the southern New Jersey coast, as I said. Already the area is being pounded by driving rain and strong winds, with Atlantic City being especially hard-hit, and that is where we find Ali Velshi, standing in the middle of it.

Ali, it is extraordinary to see you, standing in that open, empty street there, practically invisible. How bad is it for you and the surrounds right now?

ALI VELSHI, CNN HOST: Well, (inaudible) winds, but the gusts here, the last I checked, 90 miles an hour. And they've become substantially stronger in the last half an hour. Now I'm 7 feet above sea level (inaudible) all the way down. You look at (inaudible) --


VELSHI: -- down, and that's the ocean behind us. We're expecting the storm surge to be 91/2 feet. We're at 7 feet right now (inaudible) water all around me. I don't even see it. But as I move this (inaudible) further, you get a picture of the fact that Atlantic City is flooding right now.

Most people have been evacuated here, Christiane. They were asked (inaudible) public transport pretty much anywhere in the northeast. It shut down last night (inaudible) go to work today. (Inaudible) there are still people (inaudible) 400-500 people in emergency shelters here (inaudible) Atlantic City, (inaudible) around me.

You see vehicles, these will only be police or emergency vehicles making sure everybody's out, because (inaudible) Eastern time, which is two hours from now, there will be (inaudible) in effect. But we (inaudible) get out of here if you haven't gone out, because the (inaudible) Atlantic City is washed over right now, (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Ali Velshi, that is truly dramatic. We can almost not hear you. We caught some really important things that you said, including that the storm is going to make landfall there in about two hours.

The vehicles that you've told us about are emergency vehicles. And obviously the wind has kicked up incredible gusts. Is it getting -- I mean, can you feel it, as you're out there, getting worse by the minute?

VELSHI: Oh, yes. Absolutely, I can feel it. In fact, I'm surrounded -- I've got buildings around me, which is maybe buffeting (sic) things a little bit, but it's protecting me from flying debris. (Inaudible) trucks that are crossing between us, these are all utility trucks. They're getting ready to repair power lines as soon (inaudible) absolutely feel this.

(Inaudible) the boardwalk, waves are crashing against the piers. (Inaudible) over 10 feet high. But you're right; the storm surge is the problem. The flooding has already begun. (Inaudible) already largely flooded. But you can actually feel this wind. In fact, if this thing picks up another 10 miles an hour, I'm going to have trouble standing.

I'm, as you know, a big enough guy that I can generally withstand most of this. But every now and then I get a gust and it just sort of feels like it's blowing me over. So you can definitely feel it. Everything is structurally sound here for the moment. But at some point, once you get sustained winds of 90 miles an hour, (inaudible) --


VELSHI: -- (inaudible) --


VELSHI: -- (inaudible) right now. These are just gusts.

AMANPOUR: Ali, the wind is not a friend of your microphone. Can you tell me whether, to your knowledge, is anybody left in Atlantic City or have they obeyed orders to get out?

VELSHI: Nobody -- I'm not sure if this helps, but nobody's left here who isn't here to cover it or isn't an emergency crew to try and get people out. There are some people who didn't have a place to go, so they have gone into emergency shelters. They've put up schools, churches, those kinds of things, safe places.

So there are 400-500 people in this county who are still here. But they're not generally in their homes. There may be some people -- you know how people can be. They don't want to leave. But at this point, it reaches the point where it starts to feel dangerous. (Inaudible) stay safe in your structure, flooding and power outages are going to be a problem. And power could be out for a few days.

You know, there's some people who probably (inaudible) the water and food and they'll ride it out in their homes. But generally, the streets are entirely empty. So is the boardwalk here, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Well, Ali, Ali, thank you. Be very careful and you couldn't have painted a more vivid picture. And looking at it really is unbelievably dramatic. Thank you, Ali.

We're turning now to Professor Michio Kaku, who is physicist and climate expert at the City University here in New York.

Tell us what makes this this menacing, monstrous storm. We've been talking about Sandy colliding with other weather patterns.

MICHIO KAKU, PROFESSOR, CITY UNIVERSITY: This is the hurricane from hell, the hurricane that you're going to talk to your grandkids about. And it's caused by a triple whammy that we scientists have never seen before. It's a new kind of animal caused by the collision of three different air masses.

On one hand, we have a normal hurricane, a hurricane that comes in from the Atlantic Ocean. But then, this is the killer: it collides with cold Arctic air.


KAKU: The jet stream went all the way down to Florida.

And then third, we had a low pressure area, preexisting storm. So the collision of three air masses, a hurricane, cold air from the Arctic -- the North Pole -- and then a preexisting low pressure area. We've never seen this animal before.

AMANPOUR: And why have we never seen this before? Why is this now?

KAKU: It's very rare that we have such a great temperature disparity. The Caribbean is heating up so we're going to have larger and larger hurricanes in the future perhaps.

But the North Pole, the North Polar ice is thinning. It's 50 percent thinner than it was 50 years ago. So the jet stream is also becoming slightly erratic and the collision -- the collision of this warm air and the cold air can create superhurricanes.

AMANPOUR: Tell me again what makes this so special. I understand it's because, unlike most hurricanes and storm which will hit the coast, this has a huge land mass that it's covering.

KAKU: Exactly right. Most hurricanes are small and rotate very rapidly. This one is huge, extending about 800 miles, about a third the size of the United States of America, and it's moving very slowly. So it's confusing.

On one hand, people say, ah, don't worry about it; it's not so great. But the sheer size of it, the energy and the disparity of temperature and the fact that it's a very low pressure area creates this triple whammy effect.

AMANPOUR: So give us an example. The last time there was a devastating weather storm in the United States was Hurricane Katrina. How is this going to compare to that?

KAKU: Katrina, in comparison, is going to be like a pea shooter.

AMANPOUR: Seriously?

KAKU: In the sense that Katrina had a direct bull's eye to New Orleans, this has an extent that it's going to go all the way to the Great Lakes. So it's going to extend over a third of the United States of America, engulf perhaps 60 million and cause massive flooding, power outages, beach erosion on a scale that we've never seen before.

AMANPOUR: What is the biggest fear? Obviously right now, we can see these horrendous winds. Is it the storm surge? Is it the water? Is it going to be a mini-tsunami? What is going to be the most dangerous for people?

KAKU: At 8 o'clock tonight, the immediate danger is the storm surges, which could be 10 to 11 feet and completely wipe out many coastal areas and cause beach erosion.

But further on, there's going to be massive flooding. That's why Hurricane Irene caught everyone off guard. Everyone was watching for the fierce winds of Irene, but it was actually the flooding, the flooding that caused the most damage.

AMANPOUR: Well, you say that, but obviously everybody is suffering a little bit of Irene Syndrome right now, if I might say. The people are saying, oh, you know, you all warned us about Irene and nothing really happened and why should we evacuate now? What is it about Irene that -- I mean, was Irene bad afterwards?

KAKU: What happened was Irene was supposed to hit Manhattan and create havoc. It actually hit Vermont and the other regions, because, again, most hurricanes are small compared to the massive size of Sandy. Sandy is humongous.

You compare the two together, and you realize we're talking something that dwarfs previous hurricanes. And, again, the wind velocities are smaller, so people get confused and say, I weathered the storm; what's all the fuss about? But the sheer size of it, the energy, the differential in temperature, which drives hurricanes, that's humongous.

AMANPOUR: Something like 1,500 people, I believe, lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina, and I've heard officials say that what's going to happen next after Hurricane Sandy could make that look like a small storm.

Do you forecast that this will take a lot of life?

KAKU: Well, Katrina was unusual in the sense that it hit the levees and it hit the dikes and they were already weakened to begin with. It was like an accident waiting to happen. Here we don't see that. We don't see a large city that's under sea level, for example.

Here the possibilities are massive flooding, power outages, just the day-to-day grinding effect of having this enormous lot of water dumped right on your own back yard.

AMANPOUR: Mon Dieu, you talk about low-lying, I mean, Manhattan is very low-lying in the south, the southern tip of the island, Battery Park City --

KAKU: Wall Street is supposed to be closed down because of the fact that it's low-lying. And realize that parts of Boston, parts of Boston were reclaimed from the ocean. And so realize that many great cities, large amounts of it, are reclaimed from the oceans, like Battery Park City in New York City.

AMANPOUR: And Boston is in the path of this as well.

KAKU: That's right, right in the bull's eye in the pattern of this.

AMANPOUR: And they're saying that perhaps that the New York Stock Exchange is going to be closed again tomorrow, that it's the first time since 1888 that weather -- 1888 -- that weather has caused the stock exchange to be closed for two days.

KAKU: That's right. This could be the hurricane of the century, just like we've had floods of the century, forest fires of the century; this could be the hurricane of the century, the hurricane that we talk to our grandkids about.

AMANPOUR: We just wanted to say one more thing, because as we go to a break, we just want to really tell people who might think that this is a lot of media hype or a lot of officials being super careful, is this something that people should be really scared of?

KAKU: That's right. This is a life-and-death matter. We're not playing with simply hype or playing like a game of chicken with the weather. This is a life-and-death matter. People could perish because of this, and they have to take it seriously.

AMANPOUR: Professor Kaku, thank you; stand by. We're going to take a break and when we come back we're going to go again to New Jersey, the very spot where Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We started by showing you Ali Velshi in Atlantic City. Well, a little further up the coast, we find Maggie Lake at Asbury Park, New Jersey, where there's also a lot of storm damage.

Maggie, what is the worst that you're seeing there?

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Christiane, the condition's definitely worsening. We're taking refuge behind a wall, but if I step out on the boardwalk, so the wind speeds have certainly picked up the last couple of hours, and I want you to look over my shoulder.

Everyone here is nervous that what we see (inaudible) Atlantic City is going to have it here in this community, we're a little higher up; we don't have much flooding yet but we definitely see that ocean is now kicking. The waves about 10 feet, some of them kind of swelling more and we've got the seafoam up, that water is creeping towards the boardwalk.

And we are hours away from high tide. That is the concern. We already see beach erosion going on. If we can turn and take a look, we've got sand all the way down the boardwalk here, just coming right up off of the beach. Flooding a major concern. There have been mandatory evacuations up and down the coast for these, you know, coastal communities.

But inland, it is the power, very large trees lining all of these communities up and down New Jersey, especially in the area where I am. We just spoke to the fire department, who said they were already getting calls about limbs down, spotty power outages in a community.

So far, though, many parts still have power. We're crossing our fingers, expecting that is not going to continue to be the case. These gusts have really picked up now in the last hour or so. We are two to three hours away.

We talked about the storm hitting. We talked to a long-time resident, been here all his life, very concerned about the boardwalk getting washed away, the floods coming all the way in. He said this is the worst he's seen. It feels like the hurricane now and it's not here yet, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Maggie, just quickly, have people left who've been told to leave? Because we've seen quite a few people up and down the Eastern Seaboard say they're going to ride this out, even in the worst parts?

LAKE: Christiane, you were talking before about Irene, a double-edged sword, the East Coast knows how to prepare. The problem is that a coastal area, if it wasn't that bad last time around, we definitely heard a lot of people talking about media hype in the days up to this.

I actually have family and a lot of friends down in Atlantic City, some of the elderly there saying we're going to ride it out; we don't want to leave our house. People have stayed in that community, some of them. They're not outside, but they are in the houses.

I spoke to a fireman in the Margate (ph). He was very concerned about that. And around here, the officials are concerned. A lot of people have left, but a lot have stayed, not (inaudible) that this was going to live up to the hype and the expectations.

Now that the flooding has started south, they're seeing it on TV and online. It is starting to hit (inaudible) people are getting very nervous, Christiane. In some cases, it's too late to get out.

AMANPOUR: Well, indeed. Maggie Lake, thank you very much indeed. In some cases, it's possibly unsafe to leave, right as it's getting to the worst and so close to what is going to get to the land. And so to get the very latest on the hurricane's path, we're going to join Chad Myers at the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, Chad give us an idea of the path and when we can expect it.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, I see landfall, Christiane. I see landfall happening really almost right now. And western part of the eye wall is almost on shore. The center of the eye right here, very close to Atlantic City -- that's where Ali Velshi was -- up there; that's where Asbury Park is.

Here's Cape May, New Jersey, at this point. There's a lot of wind coming into New Jersey and also into New York. I just had an 81-mile-per- hour wind gust. That's about 130 kph out here, hundreds of miles from the center of this eye. That's going to force an awful lot of water into New York Harbor.

There's a fear that New York Harbor pushes water so high it could actually go down the subway steps. If that happens, that -- we will get saltwater into the subway.

There would be a big, significant impact for hours and hours and even days before that could get repaired and this whole system will move eventually into the states of Pennsylvania, possibly into the nation's Capitol, with winds of 80 mph.

And when that happens, power lines will go down because trees will fall. We could have tens of millions of people without power and millions of people there that would have no power for a very long time to come, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And, Chad, you talk about those 81-mile-per-hour winds, which haven't yet reached land. What happens -- does it get lower or higher, the winds, when it reaches land?

MYERS: That is an excellent question. This 81, though, was on land. That was -- that was over by Martha's Vineyard here. And there's a 76 in the -- what we call the Long Island Sound. Those were actually at the surface.

What can happen -- and so you have to think of the Winter Olympics. When a skater is skating on one foot and puts her arms out, that skater goes slowly.

When the skater then brings -- spins slowly. Then as she brings her arms in, the skater speeds up because the initial motion, the -- right here, the inertia is very close to her body, compared to being out. When that happens, the center of this storm can actually get smaller and for, a while, wind speeds can actually pick up with a storm this strong.

AMANPOUR: And then once it does come properly ashore, where we're expecting it in New Jersey, how long does it stay dramatic until it starts dispersing? How long do people have to hunker down?

MYERS: For 48 hours. There will be areas that have rain for 48 hours and winds excess of 60 mph all the way through this area right here. And back on this side, hard to see, back out here, but believe it or not, that is snow. And your doctor earlier talked about the three systems that collided, this is that cold part he was talking about, blizzard conditions right here and up to 60 inches of snow.

That's like 160 cm worth of snow and blizzard conditions on the western flank of this storm. That could last for 48 hours. That's the problem. As the storm comes in, it's going to slow down, make a loop and then finally head up to Canada. But that's going to take a very long time.

AMANPOUR: I mean, it really -- you paint a very, very grim picture. And 48 hours is an extraordinary long time. Does that mean all the emergency procedures stay in place, the states' emergency, the transportation cancellations, all of that lockdown has to stay in place as well?

MYERS: Absolutely. And we're going to see tens of millions of people without power. And these power companies will not put their men and women in these power company trucks, in buckets, going up on a power pole to put these lines back until the winds die off.

So if you lose power right now, you may be without power for an entire week. That's like going camping for a week in your home without power. Things spoil in your refrigerator. You know, if you have medicines in the fridge, they can go bad. This is a very dangerous situation before, after and, of course, during the storm.

AMANPOUR: Chad, how would you describe it? We heard Dr. Kaku say that there's been nothing seen like this -- it's really the monster storm from hell. How would you describe this historically?

MYERS: I don't know if you remember the movie "The Perfect Storm." It was about -- Sebastian Junger wrote the book; it was about a big storm off the coast of Massachusetts. And one of the ships that was out there, one of the fishing vessels sunk. And people's lives were lost.

That was a lot like this storm except that storm, called "the perfect storm" in 1991, did not make landfall. It stayed in the ocean. So, yes, there were winds and, yes, there were waves, but not this. This is worse than anything anyone has ever seen in a place where there are 60 million people involved.

AMANPOUR: Chad Myers, thank you for keeping us up to date and, of course, you are 'round the clock. And we'll be monitoring and we'll be back right after a break.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. For a final couple of thoughts, Professor Kaku, on the big picture of global warming or global swings, where does this fit in?

KAKU: There's no smoking gun. You can't say that, aha, global warming caused this incident. However, the Caribbean is heating up and that's the energy source that drives these hurricanes. And also the North Pole is thinning, which, perhaps, could destabilize the path of the jet stream.

So in other words, we're going to get a witches' brew of conditions that could make things worse in the future. So get used to it. Global swings could be the norm in the future.

AMANPOUR: Meantime, everybody hunkering out and hoping to -- hoping to survive this one.

Professor Kaku, thank you very much indeed.

KAKU: Yes.

AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, imagine if the city that never sleeps became a ghost town. That's exactly what's happening to Gotham City right now. It is not a scene from a science fiction movie. That is Grand Central Station, New York's transportation hub, all but empty after rail service in and out of the city was suspended.

And you can see the same things up and down the coast in all those stations. The New York City subway system, nearly 500 metro stations, it's one of the world's largest and busiest, has also been shut down. And that's our subway stop right here at Columbus Circle near Central Park as you've never seen it, empty.

Speaking of intrepid, New Yorkers spent the weekend stocking up on essential supplies from bottled water to -- this being New York -- parmesan cheese and really good bagels as well.

In Lower Manhattan, where the threat of flooding from the storm surge is most dire, people living near the rivers were forced to evacuate and in all five of the boroughs that make up New York City's schools, parks, bridges, tunnels and airports, have been closed. No local or international flights are going in or out for now.

But in case anyone thought that they could use a storm day to catch up on some shopping or to catch a movie, department stores, movie theaters, even Broadway shows are dark until further notice -- 8 million fiercely independent New Yorkers have been told to stay home and do nothing. Imagine that.

And it's the same all over the Eastern Seaboard. So get out the board games, enjoy time with the children. That is it for tonight's program. Thanks for watching. Goodbye from New York.