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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Aired October 30, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

It is shaping up as the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States and from continent to continent, it is also making headlines all around the world.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Superstorm Sandy has surpassed even the direst predictions and here we're looking at New Jersey's shoreline. The extent of the overnight disaster is growing more evident with every inch those floodwaters recede.

Right now 71/2 million homes are without electricity in 15 states and also Washington, D.C. Now although the nation's capital has escaped the worst of it, President Obama is managing this emergency and today left the White House to visit Red Cross headquarters.

And tomorrow he travels to New Jersey to tour the devastation there with the governor, Chris Christie.

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AMANPOUR: Twenty-nine people in the United States are known to have been killed so far. That is on top of 68 people in the Caribbean who perished as Sandy made it's violent journey north. New York City, the world's business and cultural capital has been slammed as never before.

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AMANPOUR: Airports remain closed, stranding hundreds of thousands of travelers on both sides of the Atlantic. Runways at La Guardia are all but submerged, but there is word the international hub, John F. Kennedy Airport, could open tomorrow.

In the city itself, floodwaters rushed into subway stations. The entire underground train system remains shut until further notice, affecting nearly 61/2 million people who use it every day.

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AMANPOUR: Trading has ground to a halt as the New York Stock Exchange remains closed for a second straight day, and that's the first time weather has caused such a shutdown since 1888. But now it is possible that it will open tomorrow.

There have been terrible fires just nine miles from JFK Airport in Queens, New York; 80 homes burned to a cinder as high winds whipped flames from house to house and firemen stood helplessly unable to reach the fire through the floodwaters.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Nearly 400 miles southwest of New York, in the state of West Virginia, a blizzard has dumped more than a foot of snow. Extraordinary weather, extraordinary devastation, but by all accounts, an extraordinary response as well by all federal, local and state emergency workers.

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AMANPOUR: Meantime, across this affected area, the prime concern right now is for people who might still be trapped inside homes and buildings, and we go straight now to Sandra Endo, who is in Toms River, New Jersey.

Sandra, you've been there assessing everything --

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, this is the scene residents are coming back to. They're coming back to their neighborhoods, finding it flooded. This has actually receded a little bit. This is floodwater from the bay, just down the street.

And down the street, there's a dock that's completely underwater. You can see residents coming back, checking on their home. This area was just under a voluntarily evacuation order, so some people just hunkered down; they wanted to ride out the storm.

But then, they say that the water came up so fast that they immediately tried to leave their neighborhoods. So now they're trying to get back into their homes. But you can see the very depth of the water here, the car is half underwater right now. The fence line along this corner house, of course, half underwater as well. That means inside homes have definitely taken in water.

Take a look at the tree behind me. You can kind of see the water line of when the water was at its highest. Again, the bay water is fully receding, and we're seeing neighbors and family members, friends, come out here in boats to check on loved ones who have stayed in their homes and also to try to recover some of their essential items because they have evacuated at the last minute.

Take a look also. I want to show you this home, Christiane, if you could -- obviously, it's very hard to walk in these waters, not knowing what you're stepping on. But over here, this homeowner has lived here for 30 years. He says he's never seen anything like this through any storm. And he tells me the water line comes up to here.

The water came up to here during the storm. And he just rode it out. But clearly you can see the debris line along his truck as well. That's how high the water came. And right now officials here are also under a recovery and rescue operation all along this coastline, all along the bay. And that's where they're going to be enduring and going through for the next few days, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Sandra, thank you so much.

And now just a little further afield in Ocean City, New Jersey, we join Mayor Jay Gillian.

Mayor?

JAY GILLIAN, MAYOR OF OCEAN CITY, N.J.: Good afternoon.

AMANPOUR: Good afternoon and thank you for joining me.

Yours is a town of some 9,000 to 10,000 people, swells to 20,000 in the high season. The pictures from yesterday are extraordinary with these huge rushes of water into the streets. Tell me how bad it was. What did you witness there? What did you live through?

GILLIAN: We witnessed one of the worst storms we've ever had here in Ocean City. We had about 9-foot tide when that hurricane hit. And very -- a lot of devastation, a lot of property damage. We're very, very fortunate no one was hurt, but a lot of damaged property.

AMANPOUR: Now you have not, you say, lost anybody and, luckily, nobody was hurt.

How did your responders manage to make that happen? Did you get everybody out in time?

GILLIAN: Yes, we used a lot of what we learned from Irene and listened to the governor. The governor did an excellent job. And you know, we did our homework. We went around to our elderly people and people that need medical needs and, you know, we took stock with everyone. And we did what we had to do to make sure everybody was safe.

AMANPOUR: So now as we look -- and as you look forward -- what is it going to take and how long do you think it's going to take to put your city back together, so to speak? And of course, as we were mentioning, it is a major city and a major destination during the high season.

GILLIAN: Yes, we're -- you know, we're -- we got to get ready; we've got to get our downtown ready.

Our downtown was devastated. But we have crews going to come in, start tomorrow. And hopefully, with a couple weeks or so, we'll get everything cleaned up and get it back to normal. But we have a lot of work ahead of us, a lot of sand, a lot of downed power lines, just a lot of infrastructure (inaudible) work on.

AMANPOUR: Would you say it was -- it was worse than you imagined? Or were you expecting this?

GILLIAN: We expected the worse. We got very lucky because by -- we had our last high tide when the hurricane hit, it was a little early. And we just dodged a bullet. So it could have been a lot worse. But what we got was something I've never seen in my lifetime.

AMANPOUR: And I think that's what everybody is looking at and feeling as well.

Mayor Gillian, thank you very much for joining us by phone from Ocean City. So many people are just amazed by the unprecedented nature of this storm. And if you can imagine, there is snow as we reported in West Virginia. And that is where we find Martin Savidge in Kingwood.

Martin, it is unbelievable to see you there in that amount of snow. How did that happen?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christiane, this is what happens when you get a hurricane that comes ashore on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States that runs smack dab into a cold weather system that was coming down from the north. Somewhere over the mountains of West Virginia in the higher elevations they slammed together and, well, this is the end result.

You're looking at a blizzard, a blizzard that's been going on here for 12, maybe 15 hours, and could likely go on for, at least in some parts of the state, another 24 hours. We've got maybe 25-30 centimeters of snow here, drifting very heavily, high winds also, a very big problem here. Then on top of it, if you can believe it, flood warnings are also impacting some parts of this state.

Hundreds of thousands without electricity but here the problem is the snow, extremely heavy, weighs so much coming down, it builds up on the tree limbs, builds up on the power lines and then they all give way at the same time.

The problem with that is that it's often in isolated, difficult-to- reach areas which means the power could be out, not just days but in some areas a week, maybe weeks. It just depends on where the breaks in the lines are and it's going to continue for some time yet, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Martin, were people there bracing for this snow? I mean, everywhere else, people were bracing for the winds and for the -- and for the water. Was the state ready for this snow?

SAVIDGE: They knew it would be a problem, especially here in the higher elevations. This is an area that traditionally in the winter time, gets heavy snowfalls. They're equipped; they're ready. The people are used to it. They're just not used to it at the end of October. This is something you would get maybe in a December or January.

So they had time to prepare, but nonetheless, it is truly a shock to many folks here as to how much snow has come down in so little time.

AMANPOUR: And, Martin, are the people sort of -- is it like the rest of the affected area? Are kids out of school? Is transport down?

SAVIDGE: Same sort of thing. I mean, you don't have public transport up here. There just isn't the population base to support it. But the roads are open; they're passable, but most folks are staying home. The schools have been closed. Non-essential employees for government jobs have been told to stay home.

It is right now the same sort of circumstance, many without power; they're hunkering down and waiting for this storm to pass. But it could still be another 24 hours.

AMANPOUR: Martin Savidge from West Virginia, thank you very much.

And we're going to take a break now. And when we come back, this truly is a biblical storm. We've had floods. We've had snow. And there is also fire. In New York, we will join our correspondent in Queens when we come back.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And there you saw some of the pictures of the devastation, cars swamped after last night's deluge. Now some nine miles from Manhattan in an area that's also part of New York City and Queens, there has been a terrible fire overnight.

It's in Breezy Point and perhaps visitors to New York can actually pass that area when they're driving in from JFK. There were 80 homes that were burned, many of them to the ground because of a fire that was whipped by winds from house to house.

New York State assembly member Philip Goldfeder represents that area and represents that district. He joins us right now. He said almost his entire area is underwater.

Representative -- thank you very much for joining us, Assemblyman.

PHILIP GOLDFEDER, NY STATE ASSEMBLY: My pleasure, thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: We are talking about your area, the whole world is watching and focused on this incredible storm. Tell me what the status of the situation is there right now.

GOLDFEDER: We keep hearing the word "devastation" used, and you and I have used it before, probably many a time. But until you've experienced it, you know, it really doesn't take meaning until you truly understand and appreciate what's gone on. You know, Rockaway is a peninsula surrounded on one side by the ocean and one side by the bay.

There 's 130,000 people who, I would venture to say, almost all of them, (inaudible) all of them were at some point underwater, their homes are damaged or completely underwater. And specifically in Breezy Point, either your home was underwater or your home was on fire. I mean, this is the circumstances that presented itself last night were unlike anybody in this neighborhood has ever seen before.

AMANPOUR: That is unbelievable to hear you say that, 130,000 people under -- either underwater or on fire.

How did that happen to those 80 houses? Do we know yet how the fire started?

GOLDFEDER: It's looking like it was a power line that came down due to the flooding and heavy winds. And as anybody would tell you, they teach us in first grade, you know, when there are heavy winds and fire, it only leads that thing (ph). What makes our neighborhood so unique is the houses and especially in Breezy Point.

There are many wood frame houses and they're very close together. So it's high winds, a small fire can turn into -- it started out yesterday as 20, 30 and we're hearing today 80 or 90 homes completely burned to the ground in Breezy Point. And that's -- and that's in addition to, you know, fires in Belle Harbor (ph) and Rockaway Park and in other areas of the peninsula. So we're seeing devastation at its worst.

AMANPOUR: Can you tell me what's happened to those people? Were they -- were they not in their homes? And even if they weren't there and escaped injury, what will happened to them? Are they being housed by the - - by the authorities?

GOLDFEDER: Yes, there are shelters that are being set up. There are many shelters throughout New York City. You know, there was an evacuation order in place, but there's one of those things that make Rockaway residents so special is that we're stubborn. And sometimes we don't heed the call when we should.

In addition to the evacuation that took place last year during Hurricane Irene, and as you remember, Hurricane Irene never really presented what everybody thought it would. So everybody said, well, we stayed last year; we can stay again this year. And obviously that proved to be the wrong attitude.

And you know, we're unknown, and that's why, you know, people keep asking me, well, how much do you think it's going to cost to rebuild and to get us back where we need to be?

And I don't even think we're up to that yet. I mean, we are still in recovery and rescue mode. I think there are a lot of people who are still trapped and underwater. We have a lot of work to do before we can start thinking about how we're going to get ourselves back together. And that's what I intend to do.

AMANPOUR: So, Assemblyman, are you still saying that there are people who are unaccounted for?

GOLDFEDER: I couldn't tell you. You know, in parts of southern Queens, they've already started going door-to-door. In Rockaway, we have not yet started going door-to-door, or we have not (inaudible) yet. So we just don't know. But (inaudible) without, I mean, it's just (inaudible) talking about 130 (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Assembly Member Goldfeder, thank you so much indeed for joining us from Breezy Point. And we obviously wish you good luck with your district there. It looks really devastating.

And we are now going to turn to Lt. General Russel Honore (Ret.). He was, in 2005, chosen by President George W. Bush to command the joint task force taking care of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He coordinated the military relief efforts there.

Lt. General, thank you very much for joining me.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.): Good afternoon.

AMANPOUR: Good afternoon. You were there; you saw what was then the worst hurricane that had hit the United States and we all remember so well what happened after Katrina. What are your initial thoughts about this one? How does that stack up?

HONORE: Well, I think many of the lessons that the government learned was applied to this big storm as it came, as it approached. The early evacuation of the vulnerable population. Since Katrina, I've gone to Con Ed, the power company in New York, twice. They've had seminars with local leaders, talking about a scenario. I briefed them on lessons learned from Katrina with the borough chiefs and with the fire chiefs throughout the New York City area.

So I think the application of what happened in Katrina, not to let it happen again, many positive things happened in terms of evacuation. The other day in his prepositioning the National Guard, from all the states, and the presidential declaration that occurred made a big difference.

Now we have some over 7,000 National Guard on duty, helping to rescue people, along with the fire departments and the first responders. So I think a lot of positive has happened since then.

And the changes that were made and administrative (inaudible) of the FEMA leads forward their preposition, Northern Command in charge of federal response and Army North, they're prepositioned people to help the local state and governments to respond as needed with helicopters and with logistics.

AMANPOUR: So you're basically painting a picture of a successful prepositioning and about a successful as possible a first response from federal, state and local disaster agencies.

HONORE: Yes, well, we've got to keep it in context that the reason this thing is a disaster is that it's overmatched the capacity of local governments to handle. So there will still be people that will be waiting to be rescued because of the complexity and to be able to find everyone.

That's why we continue to encourage neighbors to check on neighbors until the response teams can get there because the neighbors helping neighbors will save more lives initially than the response teams will, (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Well, that's really interesting because as you know, many of the police and those emergency workers will tell people to keep away, will close down streets. We've seen that already.

What is your advice to mayors, to local police?

HONORE: To allow the people to move and go check on their relatives. Police and mayors get too concerned about security. They all want to pull their guns out. They need to put their damn guns away and allow people to go check on their relatives and friends because they know where they live.

If they close the cities down, one of the most valuable assets we got, the population, which saves more lives after a disaster, will not be able to get in there and help their relatives and friends.

AMANPOUR: Well, you sound very emphatic on that. So what you're saying now is a citizens' kind of army is required of concerned relatives to go in and do what they know best, to pluck their relatives out?

HONORE: I'm admitting to you, neighbors save more people lives in Katrina than the Army ever did. Government isn't good enough to do this. We have to have citizens moving and checking on each other and going and check on their relatives. They cannot close this down because of security. They need to allow people to go check on their friends and to check on their neighbors.

AMANPOUR: And I remember Katrina -- it was obviously during a very warm time. It was -- it was early September. We're now heading into cold weather; we've seen areas which even have snow. And it's chilly out there. What is the danger for those who are still out there and unaccounted for?

HONORE: There's going to be hypothermia, because this temperature, they may get wet, they get overexposed to these cool temperatures. And this wind that continues and, again, help is on the way, but what's going to help people now is those that are listening, and we have a weather radio, it's the neighbors help neighbors until they can -- people can be evacuated.

The other thing is how do we prepare these communities, because all these homes have been destroyed. And where people are going to live, so again, we've talked strategy, tactics for two days now, the mayors have. Now the heavy lifting coupled with logistics, because this is a logistics operations now, (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Do you think that the logistics operation, which has sort of gone into effect already, is going to get -- I mean, what's going to happen? We're talking, you know, we're about 12 or more hours after the worst of it. Is it going to uncover worse? Or is it going to get easier to deal with as the time goes on?

HONORE: It's going to get worse before it gets better because the enormous amount of population that we're dealing with that's sheltered in place that can look forward to three to five days or 10 days without electricity, this will get worse before it gets better. Right now, the evacuation people (inaudible) where the flooding occurred.

And once that's done, then how do you get people out that have medical issues that can't live where they're living because they don't have electricity or how do you get enough shelters open? And this will get worse, I think ,before it gets better.

AMANPOUR: And what about people who have no batteries, who have no phones, who don't have cable television, who simply don't have any means of communicating or knowing what's going on outside around them?

HONORE: That is where the neighbor concept comes into play, (inaudible). The neighbors have to help neighbors and they have to get out of their house that they're listing and find their neighbors and find somebody near them that they can communicate with.

AMANPOUR: Lt. General, thank you so much indeed for joining us. I appreciate your insights.

HONORE: And good luck to the people.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

New Yorkers see themselves, of course, as survivors. But as the storm raged last night, something very dear to the people of this city was in peril: their ability to laugh at themselves. Jon Stewart, whose political humor is more trusted than most politicians and who is an international phenomenon, had to cancel his live "Daily Show" and replace it with a rerun.

But for New York late night comics, David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon, the show went on -- sort of.

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DAVID LETTERMAN, CBS HOST: Hey, ladies and gentlemen, we're in the middle of Hurricane Sandy. And we have no studio audience.

JIMMY FALLON, NBC HOST: Welcome to "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," everybody, please. Please keep it down.

AMANPOUR: So empty studios, but certainly those comedians, knowing that people did need some kind of light relief after what happened yesterday. New Yorkers may have lost power and other essentials, but not their sense of humor. We will be right back.

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AMANPOUR: And now a final thought. A terrible storm like Hurricane Sandy can reveal heroes such as those first responders. It can also show us the purpose and power of government. Imagine a world where political animosity and gridlock give way to cooperation and mutual respect.

One week from the U.S. presidential election and a campaign in which both sides have been hurling the usual accusations and making the usual promises, campaigning has come to a screeching halt as the job of keeping the country afloat -- literally -- has trumped stumping for votes.

Here in the United States, we've grown numb with the endless political bickering, the narrow interests and the us-against-them mentality that makes any kind of consensus impossible. In fact, it is a conservative credo that government itself is the problem and rarely, if ever, the solution.

But today, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie crossed the no man's land of partisan interest to praise the political enemy. Take a listen.

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GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), N.J.: Federal government's response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president personally. He has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area.

I have to say the administration, the president himself and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this.

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AMANPOUR: Imagine, kind, indeed effusive words for the president and for FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, from an outspoken, even pugnacious opponent of Big Government and a key spokesman for Mitt Romney's campaign. It's the same Chris Christie who last week described President Obama as blindly working -- walking around the White House looking for a clue.

It took Sandy to remind us that political foes can work together. It further reminds us that Big Government, despite some of its inefficiencies, can do what nothing else can and that is help people when they're in big trouble.

Thanks for watching. Goodbye from New York.

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