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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

In the Aftermath of Sandy; Details of the HMS Bounty Rescue; Flight Delays in the Northeast; Presidential Candidates Suspend Campaigns; NYC Crane Collapse; Weaker Sandy Still Packs a Punch; Fire in Breezy Point Smoldering

Aired October 30, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You are watching our special coverage of the wake of Superstorm Sandy. I'm Soledad O'Brien. Instead of STARTING POINT this morning, we've got you special rolling coverage.

A lot to talk about. Developing story, take a look at this picture. It's a seven-ton tanker that has run aground. That's in Clifton, in Staten Island.

Also, rescues are underway right now, as many as 1,000 people said to be in danger, being plucked off the roof of theirs homes. That's in Bergen County. A berm has broken there. Enormous fire is burning right now in the Queens section of New York, 50 homes destroyed, another 24 are on fire right this moment.

Also, a transformer explosion ripped through the night about 15 blocks from where I am.

Also, 360 patients, some of them babies from the NICU, had to evacuate from a major New York hospital.

Historic record-breaking flooding to tell you about that's consumed not only Manhattan but also parts of the Northeast. Now, homes are under water and more than 7 million people are in the dark. They've lost power and transportation is at a standstill, could be days we're told until things get back to normal.

CNN is covering the storm and this story like no other network.

It is Tuesday, October 30th. And special coverage begins right here on a special edition of STARTING POINT in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

All right. Lots to talk about this morning. First, let's start with pictures of that tanker, 700-ton tanker has washed aground. It's happened in Clifton, Staten Island. Take a look at these pictures right here, these are live pictures. Don't know the information about this tanker at this moment, just happened, just getting this pictures in. As soon as we know more about it, we'll be able to update you. But imagine the power of the surge to be able to get a tanker of that size to wash aground in Staten Island.

Other stories to talk about this morning. Rescue efforts are still under way in Bergen County. Moonachie, looks like the focus of those rescue efforts. Berm, which is sort of a natural levee, if you will, has been breached, and that has put four to five feet of water right into the town.

Apparently, there's a trailer park right there. People scrambled out of their homes, on to their roofs and they have been plucked from those roofs by rescuers who have been working through the night since about 2:30 this afternoon, to try to rescue some people. That breach happening, we're told, around midnight.

Then, in Queens, in the Breezy Point section, Rockaway, we are told a fire is still burning out of control. Take a lock at some of these pictures. Fifty homes have burned to the ground.

There's another two dozen that are on fire right now, big problem for the firefighters there. Very hard to fight this fire when you consider that there's water pressure problems. There's actually flooding and damage from the storm, that's making it very difficult for the 200 firefighters that have responded to get access to this fire.

These are just some of the breaking news stories we're following for you this morning as we continue to monitor what has happened in the wake of hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy is no longer a hurricane. We're going to call it Superstorm Sandy. Take a look at the loop here. This is where it's headed. It's headed north now. But we're told, dangerous winds, 70 to 90-mile-an-hour winds are still going to happen, maybe in gusts in the Tri-State area.

So, Sandy is, by no means, over. We know that there are -- we continue to monitor Sandy as she moves into Pennsylvania, then into the west part of New York and then eventually some time Thursday evening-ish, models show it will be heading into Canada.

Some of the updates on what we know right now. There are 16 people who have died across the United States in the wake of this storm. More than 7 million people are now without power and insurers are estimating the damage from this storm between $10 billion and $20 billion.

Admiral Robert Parker is with the U.S. Coast Guard is going to update us on what we can expect now that the storm has passed through.

Admiral Parker, thanks for talking with us. Let's start with New York Harbor, for example. We were told there were 32-foot waves. Lots of those waves are what caused the storm surge that we saw in Lower Manhattan and that was record-breaking storm surge. They had predicted somewhere around 10 feet. It ended up being 14 feet.

Talk to me this morning about the aftermath of that.

VICE ADMIRAL ROBERT PARKER, U.S. COAST GUARD (via telephone): Good morning and thank you.

And, certainly, our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones. This has been a major storm, as you've been advertising, very chaotic, trying to get a sense of what's going on this morning. But we've got air crews out right now, some 860 helicopters and 865 helicopters are on Staten Island and far Rockaway, in that area, which seems to most be impacted.

There are a lot of issues out there. So, we're taking this in priority of safety of life, either search and rescue or hazardous materials response and our statutory authorities. Also, the search and rescue coordinator for the larger federal FEMA effort. And we're also looking while we're out there for port waterway and the marine transportation system, reconstitution, so we can get goods and services moving.

So, when the storm surge like this comes up and the waves are that big, the navigation gets pushed off station, they're shoaling in the channels. There's all kinds of debris in the water and things are under water obstructions. So, we'll be working very closely with the corps of engineers and others to get that working again.

But right now, our focus is on the safety of life and to get those who might be cut off, who are unable to tell us about their peril.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk a little bit about that, those rescue efforts. Can you give me more details about some of the rescues that you've had to put into action through the night and into the morning?

PARKER: Right. As you've been reporting through yesterday and last night, we've continued to search for the master of the HMS Bounty. We had an AC-144 on scene all night, hoping we would find some manner of indication out there, strobe light or some other light that might have indicated we had one more person to recover.

We did not find anything last night. They will be relieved on scene this morning by AC-130 aircraft. We have a 220-foot buoy tender hat's been out there all night. Elm of out of North Carolina and the Cutter Gallatin out of Charleston will be up there soon as well. So that search continues.

We've got about 168 people stranded in about 59 locations the we know of. I'm sure there's more. In Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn. We've been working very closely with the local authorities up there. And in Nassau County as well, trying to figure out, triage and make the best assessment of which of those people are most urgently needing evacuation. Obviously looking for people that have medical conditions are small children or other infirmities or concerns in order to get those people to the proper services and safe ground.

O'BRIEN: Vice Admiral Robert Parker joining us this morning from the Coast Guard. Thank you for talking with us. Sir, we certainly appreciate it.

I want to head now to Ali Velshi. He's in Atlantic City. Very dramatic shots from Ali yesterday afternoon. Some of that water has receded though.

Ali, how does it look where you are now?

Hey, Ali, I'm going to stop you there. We're having a hard time hearing you. The audio is not working. I don't know if you can hear me.

Let's see if we can re-establish that connection with Ali Velshi and get back to him in a moment.

Rob Marciano is in Asbury Park. It's where he was as well yesterday -- massive damage to talk about there. Rob, talking to Governor Christie, he has said that his state took it in the neck is what he said. It looks really bad there.

OK. So it looks like we're having -- this happens a lot, obviously, in storms. We lose some of our technical equipment, clearly, because people have been standing out in the rain and water for hours. They start getting very water logged. We're going to see if we can fix those problems and bring them both up to you.

Let's go into Time Warner Center. Zoraida Sambolin has an update on some of other weather-related stories that are making news this morning. Hey, Z.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Good morning to you, Soledad.

Well, we're looking at the live picture of broken crane. This is in Midtown Manhattan. It was knocked down by strong winds from Superstorm Sandy. The crane is dangling from a 70th floor of a luxury high rise that's under construction.

The building is called 157. It is slated to be 90 stories tall when it is finally completed. Here is what the crane looked like before. It's on the left-hand side and then after on the right-hand side.

So, the concern right now, of course, is that that crane will plunge to the ground. New York's Mayor Bloomberg says it was just inspected last Friday, and at that point, everything was fine.

We have terrifying video of homes completely exposed to the violent winds of super storm Sandy. You can hear it and you can so it. After strong gusts tore off the front of an apartment building in New York City.

One firefighter did suffer minor injuries there, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Sorry to hear that. But I guess, you look at those pictures, it could have been much worse.

Zoraida Sambolin, thank you, Zoraida, from Time Warner Center. All right. We'll try to get back to Ali Velshi. As I mentioned, he is in Atlantic City.

Water was raging. Those pictures yesterday were absolutely devastating. Let's see if he have him established.

Ali, can you hear me now?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Terrific. All right. Tell me the --

VELSHI: I got you.

All right. So, we -- just before I talked to you last, we had a convoy of National Guard troops that pulled out to start checking around and seeing what's going on in the area, if people need rescuing. Then after that, we had a staging of ambulances, all from different areas. A lot of ambulances have come in here and they all dispatched with lights and sirens to see what's going on in the area. We've also got helicopters that have been flying up and down the coast to get a sense of damage and whether or not anybody is trapped or looking for rescue.

You'll see in a moment there are going to be some ambulances passing by right in front of my camera shot, or at least one more ambulance. Maybe that's a fire truck. I can't tell. Emergency vehicles all through Atlantic City right now.

That's all we are seeing at first light. They are coming out to get a sense of how much damage has actually been done.

I'm just going to scooch over here so you can still see me.

What we have here is the water is gone, Soledad. The water is gone. There's a whole lot of vegetation from the ocean that is on the street. We're going to go over to the boardwalk, which is three- quarters of a mile from here and take a look. You can hear sirens in the air.

So, there's stuff going on in Atlantic City. Chris Christie and the mayor have both said, if you're in your houses, you're going to have to wait until morning to get rescued. If it's not absolute, they weren't going out last night.

But we are hearing sirens, we are seeing ambulances. We'll get a better handle of what's happening in Atlantic City now that the sun is up from emergency management services and get back to you with that -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Ali, we've definitely seen that across the board now that the sun is up, first light of day. We're starting to see some action where I am, too, on the lower east side of New York.

Thanks, Ali. Appreciate the update. Coming up, we're going to be talking to the former New York governor, George Pataki, will be our guest. We'll talk about some of the estimate of damage across the state. The storm is not done with New York yet, though. It's expecting to hit the western part of the state as it continues on Wednesday and Thursday as well.

Short break, we're back in just a moment. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. George Pataki is the former governor of New York, joins us now. Nice to talk to you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

GEORGE PATAKI, (R) FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK (via telephone): Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So when you see some of the pictures of the devastation that has happened from this Superstorm Sandy - good morning to you, sir -- what's your takeaway? Obviously it's very dramatic, but you were running this state for a long time not too long ago. What do you think?

PATAKI: Well, it's dramatic and more than that, the safety concerns are not over yet. You still have downed power lines. You still have flooded subway tunnels. And the best advice is to continue to listen to the experts, listen to the emergency responders, like the police and fire, and don't make any unnecessary trips outside. You know, it might not be raining or windy, but the danger still is there.

O'BRIEN: We have heard that the New York Stock Exchange is closed for a second day in a row. That's historic. It hasn't happened for 120- some years. We've been told by the folks at Con Ed that this is the worst they've ever seen. The people who are dealing with the transportation, the subway, say they have never seen anything like this. What is the potential price tag of this?

PATAKI: Soledad, this is going to be in the billions. There's no Question about it. With the stock markets closed down, all transportation essentially shut down yesterday and today and we'll see how quickly they can respond to get it up again tomorrow. But one of the things you do is you don't worry about the price tag until you're confident that everyone is out of danger. And I would just repeat that I'm not confident that everyone still is out of danger. There are still risks of limbs or trees coming down. There's still downed power lines. So we can figure out the price tag as we go forward, and I'm confident that this will be a national disaster, which means significant relief will come from the federal government.

O'BRIEN: If it's a national disaster, does that mean -- what do you think that takes to overcome? I know New York state and New York City also are hard to keep down, clearly. But people here have been asking us, when does the power come back on? When do we get some normalcy in our lives?

PATAKI: No, that's the understandable Question. When do my lights come back on? And I think the honest answer is no one can really tell you at this point. We just don't know the magnitude of the loss of the system. But I'm extremely confident. New York has been through worse and we always come back. It's a resilient people, a resilient state, a resilient country. And we will have, as the rest of the country did, when they suffered natural disasters, the entire country's power behind them.

So it's going to take some time, obviously, with power. People just have to be patient. I know it's easier to say than to do. I've been without power now since probably around 7:00 last night. It's not a great feeling, but you just understand that there are greater concerns at this point and that is to make sure everyone is as safe as they possibly can be.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right. Governor Pataki, thank you so much. And of course he would know; he ran this state and has seen a lot of preparation that we've had to do.

We'll get back to Soledad in just a minute. We were talking about the stock exchange. For the first time since 1888, the New York Stock Exchange will be closed for two days in a row because of the weather. That is so rare. Hasn't happened since the blizzard of 19 -- or 18, rather, 1888. The NASDAQ, also the bond markets, closed today as well.

Flooded subway tunnels in New York City could take as little as 14 hours to drain, 14 hours, or as long as four days. Metro transit officials say seven subway tunnels located under the city's East River have been flooded out. The MTA chairman says New York's subway system has, quote, "never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last month." So 14 hours or four days to clear that all out.

And speaking of floodwaters, this is what it was like inside a vent building at the Holland Tunnel yesterday. Officials closed the Holland Tunnel of course yesterday afternoon as the threat from Sandy loomed. That's what it looked like inside one of those Holland Tunnel vent tunnels.

All right, when we come back, we'll talk about air travel and when you can start to see flights getting back up and running. But across the country, there have been flight delays and cancellations. We're going to tell you what the status is now and when you can get back on a plane when we come back.

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O'BRIEN: In the wake of the superstorm, we have talked about the damage from flooding, from the storm surge, from the high winds. Also got to talk about some snow. Let's get to Martin Savidge. He's in Kingwood in West Virginia. Hey Martin, good morning.

Having a hard time hearing Martin. We're going to see if we can fix that audio issue with Martin Savidge. He's going to report on the blizzard conditions in West Virginia. In addition to the rain that we've had here, obviously it's snow that they're dealing with there. We've got to take a short break. When we come back in just a moment, we'll continue to update you on the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy and also where she's heading next. That's straight ahead. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. The superstorm called Sandy carved a path of destruction through New Jersey and also here in New York, but has been messing up travel for people not just here locally but nationally and internationally as well. Richard Quest has a look at that for us this morning. Hey Richard, good morning.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. The travel day is well and truly underway in the Midwest around Chicago and down towards the south. But in the northeast, just look at it. You don't see this very often. There are problems at the Richmond control tower, which is causing some delays. Flying is starting to get underway in Boston: there are a few planes that are now at the gate and have arrived. But this is the reason why it's going to be miserable and impossible to fly in and out of New York.

Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark -- they are closed. The runways were flooded last night and until they can sort out the safety implications of that, Soledad, those airports are not opening any time soon. Atlantic City is also closed because of the flooding. What tends to happen, and you're going to see this here, the airports tend to stay open, technically. The FAA doesn't close them unless there's a safety reason, which is what's happened in the New York airports. But that does not mean airlines are flying.

So Washington-Dulles, Washington National, just look for mass cancellations and serious delays. Even though flights going into Boston Logan are going to have some serious problems. There are just a handful moving. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, they start to move. If you are meant to be flying to the northeast today, take advantage of what the airlines are doing. They're allowing rebookings Wednesday through Thursday travel with a no fee change and a full refund. But it's got to be by November the 7th.

Soledad, this is the picture. This is what you have to bear in mind. As long as these major airports in the northeast remain either closed or seriously delayed, then the snowfall effect, if you like, will go both transatlantic and right the way across the United States.

O'BRIEN: All right, Richard Quest, thank you very much for the update. Certainly appreciate it. Here in Lower Manhattan, the rain is picking up once again.

Other breaking news to get to for you this morning. Let's take a look. First, this is from our affiliate WABC in New York: a 700-ton tanker has run aground on Front Street in Staten Island. It is the 168-foot John B. Caddell, we're told. It's a water tanker. It was moored about a mile off of the coast. Obviously in the wake of this superstorm, that has brought that tanker right up onto the beach in Staten Island. All right, more to get to. A natural berm has been overtopped in southern part of Bergen County in New Jersey, it happened overnight around midnight. About 2:30 in the morning they were trying to rescue people out of three towns. They think there might be 1,000 people trapped. Moonachie apparently is the place that is having the most difficulty with water four to five feet high, and there are reports that people have been climbing up on to their roofs in the hope that is they can wave down rescuers to get plucked off their roofs and be brought to safety. There is a trailer park there that has been a big focus of some really tough times.

All right, got to get to this fire that's happening in Queens, the Rockaway section of Queens. Take a look at these devastating pictures, just the sound of it. You can hear it. 50 homes have burned to the ground already. Another two dozen are fully engulfed in this fire, 200 firefighters at last count are on this scene. So they're having a really hard time getting access to the fire. They can't get in there. There's a problem with water pressure and also a problem with some of the access as well. So, they are having a really hard time getting in to deal with this fire. We're continuing to monitor that, that taking place in Breezy Point in Queens.

Then there's this landmark here in New York called Jane's Carousel, a 90-year-old merry-go-round that sits in the middle of Brooklyn Bridge Park. It was left standing in a sea of water. Take a look at these pictures, flooded by Superstorm Sandy, satellite loop to show you the damage that Sandy has done, moving on now. It was no joke, winds 70 to 90 miles an hour continuously. They're expecting in the Tri-State area still even though it is no longer being considered a hurricane. We'll continue to monitor this storm, obviously, as it moves into Pennsylvania and the western part of New York and then right into Canada as well.

All right, let's talk about the trail of destruction left by this storm. Sandy killed 16 people in the United States. At last count more than 7 million people now are reported to be without power. And insurers are telling us they're thinking that this damage will be somewhere in the $10 billion to $20 billion range.

Let's get right to Rob Marciano, reporting from Asbury Park, New Jersey, since yesterday, looking very bad this morning. The sun has come up here. Oh my goodness. There's actually a rainbow right in front of me. It looks quite nice, considering the devastation around us. Rob, how is it looking where you are?

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: The wind is still holding on. Spotty showers from time to time. Asbury Park survived this storm. There's a tremendous amount of damage here. On top of that, the surge that came in last night still vast puddles of water here that's covered up a lot of debris. This still has to drain out. They've got to clear some of these roadways.

By the way, we've seen Coast Guard choppers have gone up and down this beach line, no doubt, from the Atlantic City base down there. You reported on this, over 160 people across the five boroughs that are in need of residency could you at 50 different locations. So the Coast Guard definitely is busy.

This is actually the hotel we stayed in last night. Some damage there, just one of the many windows that was blown out. And the surge that came through here dumped a bunch of debris here. From the Asbury fire department, what have you seen so much today? What are you still concerned about?

GARRETT GIBERSON, RESIDENT, ASBURY PARK, NEW JERSEY: We have significant damage to our boardwalk and beach front area, and we're urging people to stay away from the beach front. It is dangerous. Several of our lakes have overflowed. Before the storm approached we significantly lowered our lakes to alleviate some of the flooding problems that may occur. That did help. If we hadn't, it would have been much more devastating as far as the flooding.

We have a lot of downed trees, wires, telephone poles that have been snapped in half, several structures that have roof damage throughout the city and the overall message as the governor has said and emergency management officials have said, everyone should stay home, stay off the road unless you absolutely need to be out.

MARCIANO: Did you get any calls for rescue last night?

GIBERSON: No, we didn't.

MARCIANO: Good news there. There are two areas where senior citizens actually stayed in place. One had 30, one had over 100. What's the status of that group?

GIBERSON: That's correct. Asbury Tower, a 26-story high rise building on our beach front, residents refused to evacuate. They are without power at this time. They are trying to restore power to that building. We also have another senior citizen, 12-story building that about 100 residency departments refused to go. They are without power. Backup generators are operational.

MARCIANO: Good news in no serious injuries or fatalities, but a tremendous amount of destruction here. One of the many coastal communities hit very hard with this storm, Soledad. No doubt it's going to take quite some time to put the pieces back together here across the jersey shore. Back to you.

O'BRIEN: No question about that. Rob Marciano for us this morning. Thank you, Rob, appreciate it.

We want to get to the Bergen County police chief of staff. We told you about rescue efforts, people literally being plucked off their rooftops as the berm has been breached. It's sort of like a levee for those of you that don't know. There are three towns that are affected. Can you tell me the towns and what kind of damage you're dealing with now?

JEANNE BARATTA, POLICE CHIEF OF STAFF, BERGEN COUNTY, NEW JERSEY (via telephone): Yes, Moonachie, Carlstadt and -

(INAUDIBLE) BARATTA: - devastating event we just were not ready for.

O'BRIEN: What can you tell me about these rescue efforts, Ms. Baratta?

Obviously we're having some technical issues with her shot. What we do know is that they thought as many as 1,000 people may need to be rescued in those three towns, especially in Moonachie where it seems like things were quite dire. Rescue efforts have been ongoing since 2:30 this morning. That berm was breached around midnight. We know from Governor Christie updating us that those rescue efforts are still underway at this hour.

We want to get right back to Zoraida Sambolin at Time Warner Center with more weather-related news to us.

SAMBOLIN: Some election news, actually, Soledad this morning. Election day is now a week away. Both President Obama and governor Mitt Romney are canceling events in response to Superstorm Sandy. Instead of heading to an event he had in Florida, the president provided major disaster declarations for the states of New Jersey, New York. And officials say he will also cancel today's scheduled campaign events.

Meantime, Romney says he will not be campaigning today either. However, he will be holding a storm relief event in Ohio where he will be joined by racecar driver Richard Petty and country singer Randy Owen.

A showdown of two Senate candidates put on hold because of Superstorm Sandy. Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren announced yesterday they would not attend a scheduled debate. Both candidates say that efforts should be focused on disaster relief.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it, Zoraida.

Let's get right to Dan Lothian. He's at the White House this morning. Dan, I want to talk to you about what Zoraida was just talking about. Many people, including those campaigning, say we're going to put the campaign on hold as we focus on disaster relief. What can you tell us about that?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. The campaign itself is not on hold but the president's travel plans have been put on pause, not only yesterday but today as well. I did reach out to a campaign official who told me that it's still up in the air. They have not nailed down whether the president, in fact, will head back out on the campaign trail.

As you know, the president all this week, into the big push into Election Day had stops planned in all of these key battleground states and put it on hold so he could come back and deal with this disaster. As you heard a few minutes ago, the president issued disaster declarations for the states of New Jersey and New York. In addition to that, he did sign an emergency declaration for West Virginia and Virginia in addition to nine other states, including the District of Columbia, which the president signed yesterday.

He has been briefed overnight on the situation with Sandy. The main briefer, we are told, is John Brennan, his adviser for homeland security. We are told that he will have another briefing this morning. The big question is, again, when will the president head back out on the campaign trail? We're waiting to find out if, in fact, we'll hear from the president today in the briefing room.

O'BRIEN: Governor Chris Christie told me he had heard from President Obama and he was grateful for the assistance that the president has been giving. We also heard from Newark Mayor Cory Booker, tweeting about his meeting by phone with President Obama. He has been reaching out to these effected states.

LOTHIAN: He has, in fact. Not just those governors and mayors but Jersey City mayor. They gave us a list of those that the president reached out to overnight. We heard from the president yesterday when asked whether or not he was concerned about taking this pause from the campaign trail to focus on this issue, how this would impact the election. The president saying that was not the main issue for him at this time, that the election would sort of take care of itself. He wanted to focus on the people in the affected area and also the first responders.

So you're seeing that the president using this moment to seem presidential, I guess you could call it, reaching out to mayors and governors, all the officials involved, as well as emergency management officials to make sure that they have the necessary assets and also promising federal help with whatever they need.

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian for us this morning. Thank you, Dan. Appreciate the update. Dan is at the White House.

Coming up this morning, we'll be talking to the former head of FEMA, talk about the disaster relief and people who have been affected in all those states Dan was just talking about, what they can expect. That's ahead. Stay with us. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT as we take a closer look at super storm Sandy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Still dangling high above midtown, you are look at a live picture of a construction crane that collapsed from a luxury high rise. It was knocked down by the strong winds from super-storm Sandy. The building is slated to be 90 stories tall when it is finished.

Here is what the crane looked before on the left and then after. The concern is that the crane will plunge to the ground. New York's Mayor Bloomberg says it was just inspected last Friday and that everything looked fine then.

And 260 patients at the NYU Langone Medical Center including babies and the elderly in intensive care evacuated because of Sandy. Massive flooding and a failed backup generator forcing ambulances to transport everyone to nearby facilities. This was all last night some patients had to be carried down 15 flights of stairs with 12 feet of standing water in the elevator shaft.

And Superstorm Sandy rips the face off a building in New York City. The violent winds smashed the entire facade, leaving apartments completely exposed to the elements. One firefighter had to be treated for minor injuries.

And the body of a missing crew member from the doomed replica tall ship HMS Bounty has been recovered off the North Carolina Coast. One crew member still remains missing at this hour. The Coast Guard says 14 others were rescued from their life rafts by two Jay Hawk helicopters after the ship took on water and sank. You're looking at that picture there. And these are the pictures of the HMS Bounty as it was sinking.

A tragic ending there for -- for that person. Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it certainly is.

All right, Zoraida, thank you very much.

We want to bring in James Lee Witt. You might remember that he ran FEMA under President Clinton. Thank you for joining us sir, I certainly appreciate it. You had something like 350 disaster that FEMA responded to in your tenure. How would you -- how would you rate or rank what we're seeing in this storm with what you've been through?

JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Well, I think that FEMA has done an excellent job. Craig Fugate, the administrator, is a very experienced emergency manager from Florida and he's done a really good job. I'm very proud of him in prepositioning all of those resources, pumps, generators, disaster medical teams, search-and-rescue teams. And they had them all in pre-position before this storm ever came to shore.

O'BRIEN: We heard from many people, the Con Ed, for example, said this is the worst that they've had to go through. We know for the folks who run the subways they say the very same thing. Is this true? I mean would you say that this particular storm as it has made its way up and continues, I should add, has really been one of the most devastating storms that all these emergency responders have had to deal with?

WITT: Well, I think it's very devastating. And I think we'll just have to wait and see and see what the cost is going to be on this. I heard an estimate of $20 billion. You know, it's -- you just don't realize how much damage until the water goes down. And look at the infrastructure and -- and seeing what problems you may have.

And the power companies are going to have a challenge on their hands. And people need to be patient because of all the damages and getting power back on in a safe way is very important.

O'BRIEN: Yes I have to tell you, people are not all that patient. Because the number one question I'm being asked as people walk by or ride by on bikes is when will my power be on. What's the thing that FEMA should be focused on right now? Is it power, is it, I guess I should say beyond the search-and-rescue, because we had some rescue that are underway that we've been reporting all morning. What's FEMA's big picture focused right now sir?

WITT: Well, I think the most important thing that FEMA has already done is to have people in the emergency operation centers and the pre- staged equipment and -- and following whatever resources the states are going to need to start the process of recovery. And they had done that. You know FEMA doesn't go in and take over the disaster. They go in and supplement the states and local governments. And that's their role and responsibility.

O'BRIEN: James Lee Witt ran FEMA under President Clinton. Thank you, sir. We appreciate your time this morning.

WITT: You're welcome thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning I'm going to bring you the very latest update on what's happening in Queens. We've been telling you about that fire that was burning out of control in the Rockaways. They've made some progress on that fire. We'll update you with the very latest in Breezy Point, Queens. That's straight ahead this morning.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

We've been telling you about this story, a developing story. You're watching some of these very dramatic pictures, 50 homes burned to the ground. Another two dozen homes that were engaged in major fire taking place in the Rockaway section of Queens at Breezy Point in Queens, New York. The New York Fire Department now updating us saying there are pockets of fire. The fire is still smoldering.

We continue to monitor this fire. These pictures are from overnight. It looks like this fire is getting more under control. That coming to us from the New York Fire Department.

I want to update you now on what is happening with the -- the Red Cross in Asbury Park and other parts of New Jersey. Kristiana Almeida joins us now in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. Why don't you start with some of the damage. When I talked earlier to the Governor of New Jersey he said that he felt that his state had taken it right in the neck, which translated means a lot of work for you.

Where are you being able to place your resources? Where are you seeing your biggest problems?

KRISTIANA ALMEIDA, RED CROSS SPOKESPERSON (via telephone): We're actually going to be seeing this as a very fluid situation over the next few hours especially as we're able to get people into the field to truly get an idea of what the damage is like in a lot of the neighborhoods. I can just tell you this morning having woken up with residents who have been affected. You know many of them are calling their friends and neighbors, trying to get any information they possibly can, you know many of them worrying the worst, that their homes have been destroyed or are currently sitting under water. That you know garage doors are missing. Stuff has floated out to sea.

But unfortunately people are waking up in our shelters this morning not receiving the best of news regarding their own homes.

O'BRIEN: So what kinds of things do people need? Obviously when we hear the Red Cross is helping people, anybody who's watching that hasn't been affected, the first thing they want to do is assist in some way. What do you need?

ALMEIDA: So one of the things, a couple of things that we're providing right now, we are going to continue to provide shelter and food for a very long time. We expect it to be a very large and a very costly operation because of the extent of the damage and the number of people affected.

So in addition to providing shelters, we're going to continue to provide feeding, we're going to continue to provide comfort. We're going to continue to provide hugs and any gifts or any service provided by the American Red Cross is actually a gift from the American public.

So a donation to the Red Cross is actually a gift to someone who has been affected by a disaster. That's going to be the best way for us to have the most flexibility to making sure that the needs of everyone is getting to be met knowing that everyone's needs are going to be slightly different based on their unique situation.

O'BRIEN: What are the people who are coming into the Red Cross and asking for assistance, what are they telling you? What are you hearing from them?

ALMEIDA: A lot of it has just been kind of -- gosh -- it's just been utter disbelief. You know people have been here for 20, 30-plus years. I met a couple that only evacuated their home three times ever and the last time was during Irene. And so the fact that some of these homes are gone is just utter disbelief.

So we've actually been doing a lot. You know just giving a lot of hugs and giving a lot of comfort. Because right now it's just a real shock phase for a lot of people and they just don't know what their first step is. So we're helping them to kind of sit down, assess their situation and we're going to be working with them long term to make sure that they have a place to stay, that they're going to have clothes on their back, they're going to have next steps in place so that they're able to kind of take charge of their recovery process.

O'BRIEN: My goodness. We certainly are glad that you're doing that work. Many people who need this help, obviously looking at these pictures this morning -- absolutely devastation. Kristiana Almeida is a spokesperson for the Red Cross joining us this morning. We appreciate your time and we appreciate your work as well. Thank you.

We're going to take a short break; we're back in just a moment. When we come back, we'll update you on super storm Sandy, where she's been, where she's headed, coming up.

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O'BRIEN: Take a look at the satellite loop of Superstorm Sandy. Even though she's no longer a hurricane, the damage done in her wake in New York, in New Jersey, in Maryland, in Delaware, even as far as West Virginia, has been devastating. We know that Sandy continues her way up north. She'll be heading into Pennsylvania and the western part of New York and eventually make her way into Canada.

We continue to monitor Superstorm Sandy's progress even though we're no longer dealing with the brunt of the storm. We've been told that there could be gusts between 70 and 90 miles an hour here. It could be problematic for the folks who've now come up. The sun is up and people are actually out in the street, going back to check out their homes.

Many people spent their night in a shelter down there. They want to see exactly what's happening with their homes. Where I am, power is out. That's a big focus here in New York City. When will we be getting power back on to the nearly 700,000 people in this area who have lost their power?

That's a look at what Sandy has reached overnight and where she's headed. We're going to head it now to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. That's coming up, next.