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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Sandy's Aftermath; Obama Headed to New Jersey Today; Interview with Jen Psaki; Interview with Bob Menendez; Mitt Romney's Earlier Comments about FEMA Draw Controversy; Sandy's Smallest Evacuees; Black in America

Aired October 31, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, surviving Sandy. Recovery begins as nearly seven million people remain in the dark. At least 40 Americans have been killed by Sandy.

Entire communities are underwater this morning. New Jersey, one of the hardest hit areas. Right now, fires are burning out of control in that state. Emergency crews though can't get to them because of the hurricane damage.

And desperate for help, thousands of people rescued from the floodwaters. Many more, though, still need help, even though the waters are beginning to recede. Eighty homes gone. A horrible fire that ripped through a quiet community in Queens, New York, is leaving nothing but this, what you're looking at, ashes.

At a standstill this morning, New York City's subway system still shut down. It could be days before many northeast's transit systems are able to get back to normal.

Touring the damage, President Obama is heading to see New Jersey and the destruction there with the election just six days away. And, unfortunately, Sandy is not done yet. The superstorm currently is over the state of Pennsylvania and it's heading towards Canada.

CNN has this storm and the aftermath covered like no other network. Rob Marciano and Deb Feyerick are covering New York for us. Sandra Endo and Brian Todd in New Jersey. Dan Lothian at the White House for us.

It's Wednesday, October 31st. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning is what you're looking at right there, cluster of fires breaking out in the New Jersey shore town of Mantoloking. It's an area that was already hit hard by Sandy.

Police in the neighboring areas say they are aware of the fires, but they can't actually get to them. But they're telling us that they think that what you're looking at is the Camp Osbourne section of the barrier island. That's where the homes are. You can see homes in the shots.

People were told to evacuate ahead of Sandy. There's no word right now on how these numerous fires in this area, it looks numerous fires in this area -- how they got started, how far they're spreading, how much damage there has been, and even what's going to happen over the next few hours, if they're going to be able to get rescue workers in.

Our team this morning joining us: Governor George Pataki. He's the former governor of New York, now counsel at the law firm of Chadbourne & Parke. Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed. Richard Socarides is a writer for NewYorker.com.

Nice to have you all with us.

Superstorm Sandy is what we're talking about, the aftermath as well blame for now 40 deaths in the U.S. Twenty-two of them -- they've upgraded that number since last night -- 22 of them in New York; 6.6 million people still have no power across 15 states. About a third of that number is in New York where the flooded subways have made it really hard to get around. I mean, look at these pictures.

One bright spot though is bus service. Bus service is back, limited fashion. Of course, people should expect long wait times if you're going to take a bus. Lots of property damage to talk about. Eighty homes as we talk about in those pictures here.

This is Breezy Point in Queens. Look at that. That is just stunning, the damage there.

Recovery is going to be very hard for those. Mayor Bloomberg, New York City Mayor Bloomberg said it's going to be a mammoth job and he might actually be understating, I think.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: It looks like a tornado, right?

O'BRIEN: Doesn't it? The damage has been remarkable. Look at that. These pictures, it just -- I'm sure in person it looks even worse, often pictures, can't capture how bad it is.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano is in New York's Chelsea neighborhood where the building right behind him collapsed. The front of it is gone. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad.

Yes, this has been a stop for many, a looky-loo here in New York City, an extraordinary site, for sure, basically unlicensed hotel that during the height of the storm, the facade was ripped down. People managed to get out before that happened, but you can see inside in the bedroom set up there, an unusual site for sure.

But what's even more unusual is the drive down here from a lit up, uptown Manhattan to an in the dark Lower Manhattan, an eerie sight. Now the sun is coming up, people are getting around. And transportation at least is trying to get through. The fact remains they're in the dark. This system is underground mostly. And the substations that are above ground are only protected for 12.6 foot storm surge, which would be historic, but this was beyond historic with 13.8 foot storm surge.

Just down the street from where I stand is a headquarters for Con Edison. Yesterday, I got in there, went up to their situation room, spoke with the incident commander.

Here is what he had to say about the storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MIKSAD, SENIOR VP, CON ED: It was more -- it was sort of steroids. I never would have expected it. I mean, this is New York City. This is not Florida or North Carolina. I would never have expected to have two years in a row with this kind of damage, losses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: So, the estimation here for Lower Manhattan, once they get things dried up, fixed up, two to four days before complete restoration happens outside of here in the boroughs and up to Westchester County, could be as much as 10 days.

Now, that doesn't seem like a lot of you have been without power outside of New York City. But this is a different world. You got elevators that go up and down. You got people that are old or handicapped. They can't go up and downstairs.

And then people that can't live without their cell phones and people are just scrambling just to do that, they're plugging their chargers into our truck. And now, just -- they're starting to line up for mass transit which is limitedly getting back on track on a weekend schedule for the buses.

I think we've been reporting that Newark and JFK are open today but LaGuardia are still shutdown because of the water intrusion there. So, slow to get back on its feet. It's Manhattan and it will take us several days to do just that -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Little bit of a mess. Rob Marciano for us -- thank you, Rob.

President Obama, Governor Christie put aside politics for a tour of storm-ravaged New Jersey. That's going to happen today. Certainly going to be getting an eyeful because of the damage there.

Look at Hoboken, across the river from Manhattan. The National Guard had to be brought in to help with evacuations.

Bergen County, we talked about this a lot yesterday, berm breach and hundreds of homes under water. Situation is pretty desperate. There are thousands of people have already been rescued, but there might be more people that need to be rescued, like could be trapped.

Atlantic City, where Sandy made landfall, pretty close to that, entire neighborhoods buried under sand and debris.

Sandra Endo is live from Atlantic City this morning. What's the latest from where you are, Sandra?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, the rescue and recovery effort is certainly under way. And this is one of the major arteries into Atlantic City.

You can see cops have closed down this street and we've seen tensions run high here, Soledad. Residents are trying to get through, trying to get to their homes, trying to assess the damage by getting turned away. They're obviously upset.

And here's why: this is how high the floodwaters came. This is a houseboat that basically got washed ashore for several blocks. It's just parked here on this street. You can see it was torn apart from the dock. Here is a piling it was posted to.

And this is the type of damage President Obama will be seeing firsthand from later this afternoon when he arrives here to tour the damage and also talk to first responders and victims.

Interestingly enough, the staunch Republican governor here, Governor Chris Christie, is praising Democrat President Obama for his efforts.

Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: This is the livelihood of the people in my state. And when the president does things that deserve praise, I will give him praise. And when the president does things that deserve scorn, I'll give him scorn. I think people know that about me. But I am not going to play politics with this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ENDO: Certainly, politics are not at play here. It's all about trying to get New Jersey back on its feet. Six people died in this state, 2.6 million people lost power. So, certainly, it's going to take days and weeks to make sure this state gets back to normal -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh my gosh! Even years, I would guess there.

Sandra Endo has been covering this story, really camped out since Sunday. Thank you, Sandra. Appreciate it.

John Berman has got the look at some of the other stories making news. Good morning again.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Hey, Soledad.

Well, you're going to look like right now with 12-ton, 250,000 pounds, still dangling 90 stories up here in New York City. It could take weeks to secure this huge crane boom left dangling by Sandy. And the plan may involve getting a new crane up there in order to secure it.

Let's take a look at the video the moment this boom collapsed. Here it goes.

When asked how secure it is right now -- you can see it falling right there, Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded by saying, "Nobody knows". That's reassuring.

New York City police airlifting six people off their rooftops in Staten Island to safety. Five adults and one child were stranded by rising floodwaters. The helicopter used in these rescues is named "23" in honor of the 23 NYPD officers who died on September 11th, 2001.

We have some new polling out this morning from three critical battleground states with just six days, six days remaining until America votes. The latest CBS/"New York Times"/Quinnipiac poll has the president holding on to a five-point lead in Ohio. With Florida and Virginia much, much tighter, basically a tie there, although leaning a little bit to the president's favor.

A new CNN poll of polls shows Mitt Romney holding a one-point advantage over the president nationwide, however.

Mitt Romney is back on the trail with three stops in Florida, Tampa, Coral Gables and Jacksonville. And we've learned this morning, he will be sending out about 100 surrogates from Monday to Monday for a huge final push before Election Day.

And he's got this going for him, a new endorsement from "The Telegraph" in Nashua, New Hampshire. The editorial board there writes, "We are confident Romney is the candidate who would tackle the serious issues facing this nation, starting with jobs, the economy and the debt. In the end, we couldn't say the same about the president."

That is an about face. The paper endorsed then Senator Obama back in 2008.

Finally, there has been a major disturbance in the force. Disney is taking over the "Star Wars" business. The company shelling out more than $4 billion to buy Lucas Film from "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. There he is with Mickey Mouse.

This is really big, but what got everyone's attention is the news of a "Star Wars" trilogy --

O'BRIEN: Yay!

BERMAN: -- beginning with "Star Wars Episode VII" --

O'BRIEN: Yay!

BERMAN: -- in 2015. They'll have a new picture every two years. So, presumably this picks up after the Ewoks, in "Return of the Jedi". So, you know, the emperor dies and we're going to pick up again with this new trilogy. And it's got a lot of people talking about -- (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: My kids to see what I saw as a kid, I think that's awesome.

BEN SMITH, BUZZFEED: I think it's basically good for the force. Disney churns movies out. They don't make terrible mistakes like (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: I would say it's good for the force unless the movies are like the first three.

SMITH: I think Disney, the critique of Disney is sometimes the little formulae (ph). They don't make mistakes that bad. So --

O'BRIEN: I'm happy about it. Thank you, John.

President Obama heading to New Jersey today. Brand new polls that John was just mentioning from "the New York Times"/CBS/Quinnipiac polling, they're virtually tied if you look at Florida. You look at Virginia. But in the crucial swing state of Ohio, the president is holding a five-point lead on Governor Romney.

Let's get right to the Obama campaign traveling press secretary, Jen Psaki.

Nice to talk to you, Jen. Thanks for being with us.

JEN PSAKI, OBAMA CAMPAIGN TRAVELING PRESS SECRETARY: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Six days to go before the election and we know that there's been a lot of focus taken off the campaign trail as the president focuses on the devastation of Superstorm Sandy and Governor Romney, as well, not really campaigning, but sort of dealing with the storm aftermath.

Are you worried when you see some of the those poll numbers, where you see Virginia and Florida neck and neck?

PSAKI: Well, first, the president is out there doing exactly what the American people elected him to do, which is to manage the country in a state of crisis. And for this week, that's Hurricane Sandy. You've seen him over the past couple of days hunker down in the White House, making calls to mayors and governors, getting briefed by his team. He will be touring the damage with Governor Christie today.

And this is a time where politics takes a backseat. On the polls, look, this race is going to be close. We've always believed that. I will say we're leading or tied in virtually every battleground state. That's one of the reasons the Romney team is so desperately looking for another path to 270.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Jen, 10 seconds ago, you said, politics takes a backseat, and this is one reason Romney crowd -- PSAKI: I'm referring to what the president is doing --

O'BRIEN: I hear you.

PSAKI: -- and what he's spending time doing, and why we're not concerned at all, because he's focused on his job.

O'BRIEN: I hear you. I'm just pointing it out.

All right. I want to ask you about concerns about Election Day, right? I mean, I understand people have said and a lot of elected officials I've been talking to have said it's not a time to talk about politics. But Election Day is six days away. And if you're talking about power outages in some states that would be very critical to the Democrats, certainly Pennsylvania is one, New Jersey is another, how concerned are you about that?

PSAKI: Well, we're monitoring this day by day and hour by hour. That's how we've made decisions about the president's travel, where resources need to go. These decisions are really being made by the White House.

At this point, we're not engaging in hypotheticals. We have six days to go here until the election. You heard the president say yesterday that he's not worried about Election Day. We have every confidence we can get voters out to the polls. People have been early voting in states across the country and we're going to take this day by day and do what's necessary.

O'BRIEN: Michael Brown, who I remember from my Hurricane Katrina days, used to run FEMA when Katrina happened. He said this about what the president is doing. He said this, "My guess is that he wants to get ahead of it, he doesn't want to be accused of not getting on top of it, or not paying attention to it or playing politics in the middle of it."

And he was comparing to Benghazi, sort of saying, you know, he jumped on this much more quickly than he jumped on Benghazi. This is the inverse of Benghazi, he went on to say.

What do you make of what the former head of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina had to say?

PSAKI: Well, it's interesting coming from someone who has an abysmal record on handling emergencies. I think one of the other things he criticized the president for was jumping into quickly. I think the New Jersey, the people of Pennsylvania, the people of Connecticut, where I'm from, my family was evacuated, are happy that the president jumped in and moved quickly in needing to response to this storm.

So we don't take too much credence from somebody with a record like Mr. Brown.

O'BRIEN: Jen Psaki, joining us this morning. Thank you, Jen. Appreciate your time.

PSAKI: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Interesting question to have about FEMA. I think we have a clip of people -- reporters throwing questions at Governor Romney yesterday. They were asking him a number of times -- he wouldn't state -- do you think this is problematic for the governor?

GEORGE PATAKI, (R) FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: I don't think so at all. First of all, let me just respond to Jen. She just blew off the criticism about Benghazi. But you listen to her saying in a crisis the president hunkered down in the White House, he's getting constant briefings, his travel is being monitored hour by hour based on circumstances. Think back to Benghazi, when apparently we had real time video showing this attack and the next day the president goes off to Las Vegas to raise money, either he didn't know what had happened or he was mistaken or misleading the American people.

But it didn't matter enough for him to suspend the campaign. For Jen to sit here and say with a straight face that politics is not playing anything into the president's decisions here is just not the case.

The president is doing the right thing. No question about it. But to say that somehow this is a lofty president who always does the right thing in the face of a political choice, that's just not the history of this president.

O'BRIEN: With all due respect, whenever politicians tell me it's not about politics, I almost never believe them, no matter who they are.

SOCARIDES: I do think -- with all due respect to the governor, I do think --

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: I do have a lot of respect for you, Governor.

PATAKI: Well, thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: I do think it's a little bit of a stretch to draw a connection between Benghazi, the response there and the response here to this natural disaster. I mean, I think that if you contrast what Mr. Brown said, the former FEMA director, who widely criticized for his response to Katrina --

O'BRIEN: It was a bit of a train wreck.

SOCARIDES: It was a train wreck. It was clearly a train wreck and then there was the famous thing that President Bush said to him, heck of a job, Brownie, to what Governor Christie is now saying about the federal response. I mean, I think in this environment we can really see how much FEMA is needed.

PATAKI: Rich, Rich, you're absolutely right. FEMA is need. But you're also right that there's a distinction between Benghazi. The difference is FEMA's role is derivative. The governor calls FEMA in. They don't have any independent authority to go into New Jersey, go into New York. In Benghazi, there's only one person with the ability to lead us and that was the President of the United States. Now the president is reacting to a request from governors and he's leading and doing the right thing. Then, when he was the sole person at the desk, making the decision, he flies to Las Vegas. And I think that is outrageous.

O'BRIEN: We have got to get to commercial break. But I think this is an interesting discussion.

PATAKI: We're going to talk more?

O'BRIEN: We're going to talk more about FEMA as well. Because a lot of reporters were shouting questions at Govenor Romney and he hasn't really said - he's talked about cuts but hasn't said what he would do with FEMA. I think 14 times or so he's been asked and he's dodged the question. I'm interested to know if that's going to be problematic for him.

But we got to get to break. As I said, we're going to be talking with New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. He'll join us up next. He was touring Hoboken. We'll get his assessment on the other side of this break.

Take a look at this taxi yard, completely submerged. Obviously - there you go. I mean, that is going to be a mess and has a big impact, obviously, on those folks who run those small businesses.

STARTING POINT's back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The town of Hoboken, New Jersey, is just across the river from New York. 50,000 people on a square mile in Hoboken, nearly half of them were flooded. Hoboken's mayor is estimating that fifth of them could be trapped in their apartments and 10,000 residents there without power.

Bob Menendez is a Democratic Senator from New Jersey. He toured those damaged areas of Hoboken. He's also going to be joining President Obama and Governor Chris Christie on that tour of the New Jersey shore just to take a look at some of that terrible damage that was wrought by Superstorm Sandy.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. Tell a little bit about the tour that you took of Hoboken. How bad is the damage?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D) NEW JERSEY: Well, Hoboken's been hit really hard. They have large parts of the city under water. You have National Guard now, thank god, helping rescue people out of their homes if there's nowhere to go. There's a very thick stench of gasoline in the water as well. So you have a real challenge to the city here.

O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about the flooding there. The mayor of Hoboken was practically begging for the National Guard. I'm going to play a little bit of what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER, (D) HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: I'm asking for the National Guard to come in. We are desperate for the National Guard to come in. We need their specialized equipment to be able to get to our city streets, to be able to safely get the people and to be able to evacuate those that absolutely need to be evacuated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: -- ask for the National Guard.

ZIMMER: I've been asking them. There's a chain of command with the state and we've been going through the OEM process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: What are you hearing? What are they saying to you?

ZIMMER: They're coming. They're coming. They're coming. But they're not here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: She's completely frustrated. The National Guard now is there. How would you assess the response to this terrible storm in that area?

MENENDEZ: Well, obviously, when you have the mobilization of a statewide impact that you have with so many parts of the state hit, but when I was here last night, the mayor let me know about the need for a National Guard. They came last night after we made some calls. They're here today. They're doing fantastic work and we just have to continue to work at recovering each and every day. And today Hoboken residents, starting as of last night, were getting that relief.

O'BRIEN: Senator Bob Menendez. As I mentioned, he'll be taking that tour with the president and Governor Chris Christie a little bit later today. Thank you for your time, sir. We certainly appreciate it.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take a short break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, President Obama will get a closer look at the result of Sandy's fury today. He's going to be in New Jersey with Republican Governor Chris Christie. Will there be political fallout come Election Day? Let's take a look at that.

And some of the littlest people who were displaced by the storm, the newborns in the NICU at the hospital in New York. Dr. Sanja Gupta will join us to talk about that effort to get them all to safety. That's straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Bruised, battered, barely holding on - the state of New Jersey slowly transitioning to recovery mode this morning in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

New this morning, a massive cluster of fires have been breaking out in the New Jersey shore town of Montoloking. It's an area that was already hit hard by Sandy. Police in a neighboring area say they are aware of the fires. They're not able to get to them because of the damage from the storm.

Atlantic City, that's where Sandy made landfall, pretty close to there, hundreds of homes are now buried beneath sand and debris. Hoboken, just across the river from Manhattan, the National Guard has been brought in to help with evacuations. Bergen County, where a berm breached, left hundreds of homes submerged. The situation is very dire -- 1,000 people have already been rescued is what they're estimating. But still more might be trapped. We're keeping an eye on that.

The devastation from Sandy on the Jersey shore is eye-opening and President Obama will get a chance to see it firsthand today in just a few hours. He will be joining New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for a tour of the damage. And the president is promising to cut through the red tape and get relief quickly to those who need it.

Want to get right to Dan Lothian. He's live at the White House for us. Good morning, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. The White House trying to make it very clear that the president is staying on top of the situation you've seen over the last couple of days. They've released photographs of the president involved in various briefings inside the White House Situation Room. He has been on video conference calls with his senior members of his emergency management team, also been on calls with governors and mayors in the impacted area.

You heard Jen Psaki earlier talking with you, where she was saying that these actions by the president are just part of his job. That is correct, but clearly this White House realizes that the optics and politics are very important with just a few days away from the election. So you hear them use words such as "substantial" when describing a briefing of the president will be taking part later this morning. They also talk about "aggressive" in describing how the president is pushing the federal government to make sure that they meet any of the needs that they get from state and local officials as well.

And so this is really sort of a big push by the White House to show that, yes, the president is dealing with the election, but also very much staying on top of this devastation. And the president, we expect, will be talking about when he heads to New Jersey later today, will be talking about just sort of the overall effort by Americans standing behind those who have been impacted by the storm but will be there to help them get back on their feet. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian for us this morning from the White House. Thanks, Dan.

New this morning, house fire mostly out in Moonachie, New Jersey. It's in that same place where a wall of water about five feet high came crashing down Monday night, a berm collapsed, storm surge overwhelmed that berm and banks of the Hackensack River. One county official says 2,000 people needed to be rescued out of the 19,000 people who lived there. Brian Todd is there for us this morning, in Moonachie, New Jersey. Brian, what's the latest for us there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, you can see down the street here the fire trucks still responding to the fire east joseph street about a block away with from us. Moments ago I was talking to the mayor. Down the street we heard a crackling sound, couple of sirens. He ran down there. We ran down there with our cameras and the fire was just very, very intense on the corner right over there to our left. The fire was lapping out over the front entrance over a canopy. Smoke pouring out everywhere. First responders got there and busted through doors, bust thud windows. They used an elevated ladder with a platform at the end of it as a battering ram just to bust through part of the second floor door and window area to try to get to people that were in there.

The mayor said he didn't think anybody was in there at the time. We'll go back in a few minutes and get an update on that. But what we're told is that this is a residents used as a small business. It was a small commercial sign out in front. But the mayor did say there are people living in that home. So, he was very worried. He indicated that a friend of his was in there who may have owned the house or may live there. He was very concerned. So he was actually helping out with the first responders there.

It really illustrates the dangers of returning to an area like this after a storm like Sandy and after the floods occur. Literally 24 hours ago, this place was engulfed in water, five to six feet of water on these streets all around me, people having to be plucked from the roofs of their homes.

Then today you have this situation. The mayor was -- literally just finished talking to me about the dangers, about downed power lines. There's a downed power line right behind me. There are gas leaks all over this town. And we're going to find out if one of those things might have caused that fire behind me. But this just illustrates the danger of trying to return to your home after a situation like this. Officials here are cautioning people, if you don't have to come back, try not to for a while. If you have to come back, be extremely careful, because danger can be literally in places you don't see it, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: People so desperately want to get back into their homes to see the damage. But you're absolutely right. Thank you for the update. We appreciate that.

John Berman has a look at some of the other stories making news today.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. Police in Virginia looking for a bomber this morning. They want to know who set off homemade explosives outside two Stafford County homes in Fredericksburg Tuesday. No injuries were reported, luckily.

A Mexican man accused in the murder of U.S. border patrol agent Brian Terry has entered a guilty plea. Manuel Osorio-Arellanes is now facing the possibility of life in prison. He will be sentenced in January. He says he got into a gun battle with border patrol agents, including Brian Terry, while he and four other men were looking for drug traffickers to rob.

A California surfer fighting for had his life this morning after being attacked by a shark. The 25-year-old was bitten on his chest and abdomen yesterday. One of his wounds reported to be a 14-inch gash. Other surfers helped to pull him out of the water, load him on a truck, and rushed him to the hospital. Less than a week ago you'll remember another California surfer was killed in a shark attack off the coast of Santa Barbara.

In the wake of super storm Sandy a political controversy rages over something Mitt Romney said at a primary debate last year. Did he suggest FEMA should be eliminated? Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: FEMA is about to run out of money. Some people say do it on a case by case basis, but some people are saying that maybe there's a lesson here that the states should take it on. What do you say?

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. If you can take it further and send it back to the private sector, that's even better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Romney was asked about this several times yesterday and avoided questions from reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, what should FEMA's role be? Would you eliminate FEMA if you were president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, what would you do? You've been asked 14 times today. What's your response? Why won't you answer any questions on it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: A spokesman did give an answer. He said that Governor Romney believe that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions. As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities and to direct resources and assistance to where they needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEAM. O'BRIEN: Isn't that already happening?

PATAKI: It is. I think Governor Romney is right on this. You need FEMA, but the lead role is the states. States are the ones who were there. FEMA can't act unless the governor actually makes the call and requests their assistance. But there could be an expanded role for the states. And I'll give you an example. After Katrina, New York National Guard people went down to the Gulf to help. We don't have a mechanism to coordinate interstate help where one state can help the others. It's largely ad hoc. You call up a governor and say do you need anything. There is where the states can play a larger role.

O'BRIEN: You heard the reporter shouting questions to the governor. He has been asked many, many times and he does not say what his position is on FEMA. One of the reasons is because he has talked about cutting domestic spending dramatically but has not said here is what would happen to FEMA. He hasn't spelled out his position on FEMA.

SOCARIDES: Under a Romney administration, FEMA a will be dramatically and drastically cut. And this kind of disaster demonstrates why we need a very strong federal response. It's a very big difference between Democrats and Republicans. You're not looking at it right now.

BERMAN: There will be billions of dollars poured from the government. That's not an army of staffers.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I would love to go back to what people actually said.

PATAKI: Yes. Go back to what he actually said.

O'BRIEN: Let's play that first chunk which is what Governor Romney said originally in the debate.

PATAKI: When you can give the role back to the states it's a good thing.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Do not make me get on this table. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction."

PATAKI: Correct.

O'BRIEN: That's what he told John King. He went on, "You can go even further. Send it back to the private sector. That's even better." I'm not sure what he means by that. "Instead of thinking in the federal budget what should we keep, what should we cut? We should ask the question, what should we keep?"

John King said "Including disaster relief?" Governor Romney said this. "We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral in my view for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well we'll be all dead and gone before it's paid off. It make nos sense at all." So there he is saying specifically about disaster relief that he wants to modify the role of FEMA.

PATAKI: I think he's right in modifying the role of FEMA. The states have the power now. They should be given more power.

O'BRIEN: Does that mean cutting FEMA?

PATAKI: Let me give you one more example. It wasn't FEMA that weep went to get $20 billion to rebuild lower Manhattan. It was Congress. And --

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: It's clear that Governor Romney is saying that they're going to cut FEMA, dramatically cut FEMA. I'm not saying it's a good thing or bad thing.

PATAKI: The big decisions will be on the Hill after the election where Republicans will say we have to pay for these billions of dollars and cut something else.

O'BRIEN: Governor, is he saying -- it sounds to me like he's saying we need to cut back on FEMA because we're racking up huge debt.

PATAKI: I think at that point he's talking generically about $1.3 trillion in debt. He is absolutely right about that.

O'BRIEN: We should cut FEMA?

PATAKI: No, but we should try to make it more efficient and do it in a way that doesn't cost as much.

O'BRIEN: Does that mean cutting FEMA?

PATAKI: It could mean making it more efficient but giving a greater role to the states. I don't know. I can't sit there and say do you need 11 press officers at FEMA or do you need eight? You do need FEMA and you do need it to be able to respond to a state's call when there's an emergency like this. Governor Romney agrees with that.

O'BRIEN: He has not answered that question as reporters pepper those questions. Is that a mistake?

PATAKI: Soledad, when you are running for president and people are screaming questions at you, are you supposed to stop and answer?

(CROSSTALK)

PATAKI: Reporters would like that. I don't think anybody advising a campaign would tell their candidate to respond to a screaming question. They put out a statement and that statement says including a continued role of FEMA. I don't know the exact language.

O'BRIEN: I have the exact language. They say includes --

PATAKI: -- includes help from the federal government and FEMA. You're not talking about abolishing FEMA when you're saying you're going to have help from the federal government and FEMA in a Romney administration.

O'BRIEN: Governor, thank you. I appreciate this conversation. It's been an important one. We've been talking about over the last couple of days.

PATAKI: Animated.

O'BRIEN: Yes, animated conversation.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, the littlest people who have been misplaced by the storm, newborn babies who have been in the NICU. Sanjay Gupta will tell us how it went when they tried to get them all to safety. That's straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody.

New developments to tell you about this morning. In Breezy Point, Queens, that's where a fire destroyed 80 homes just as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the city. Those are the shots from yesterday, oh my goodness.

Earlier, there was a strong smell of gas this morning. This is the aftermath. And these are pictures from this morning. Utility poles spontaneously burst into flames.

Deb Feyerick is live in Breezy Point, she's got the latest for us -- Deb.

DEB FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes hi Soledad.

The smell of gas has diminished somewhat. Nobody knew whether in fact if it was an open pipe or perhaps just methane coming up from some of the cess pools that are in this particular area. Let me tell you, I'm standing on what was or what is somebody's back porch. It's a little bit unstable. So I'm standing a little bit back, but the back porch is what all this entire distance, this entire length. Anything that could burn, Soledad, basically burned.

Everything you're seeing here completely incinerated. You've got the metal structures. But -- but the height of this -- that's the foundation, that's where the homes basically began. So you can imagine this sort of one, two-story bungalows simply burned all the way down to their foundations. You've got some metal objects.

Here you can see some of the electrical wires behind me. All of that, clearly, has been turned off. There was a fire inspector earlier today, somebody who was trying to see. You can see out the source of what -- what triggered this. Again, one very powerful fire that spread to all of these homes. The estimate, Soledad are between 80 and 100. The folks who live here, that we've spoken to, they say it's closer to about 100 homes.

But they're trying to figure out exactly what caused the blaze, whether it was a transformer, a downed power line or even a powerful explosion from a propane tank. All of that under consideration right now, Soledad. People here are going to have a tough time figuring out exactly what to do and how to rebuild -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Deb Feyerick for us. Deb, can you get off that porch now? You're scaring me a little bit. That looks completely unstable.

FEYERICK: Yes one thing I do want to point out Soledad, the one thing we haven't seen in a very long time. Maybe you can see it now. Blue sky and sun. So actually having gone about 72 hours without that, pretty nice thing to see today.

O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness. A little bit of good news for the folks there, who are dealing with that terrible devastation. Deb Feyerick for us this morning, thank you, Deb.

Take a look at this, this is Seaside Heights, that's the iconic amusement park area. Amusement Pier damaged by the storm. One thing you might not be able to see so clearly is that sand, all the sand that has just poured into Seaside Heights left behind in the wake of the storm. And that -- wow. If you see the before picture, if you know this area at all, just beautiful and charming and now just absolutely devastated.

We've been talking about the millions of people who are without power because of -- Sanjay, many people were evacuated, they can't get back into their homes. But look at these pictures, this is the evacuation at NYU Langone Medical Center. This happened really at the height of the storm. They lost power.

Sanjay Gupta has got to look for us about what they did, with some of the smallest people, little babies had to be evacuated from the NICU.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's still remarkable to look at these images. Transporting a patient under any conditions is tough. They got a call at about 10:30, they said at Mt. Sinai, saying they needed to transfer a bunch of patients over. And there was one baby, Emma, weighing just two pounds, her parents are far away. They can't get to see her, they have no power, they don't know where she is, where she's been evacuated to. It's a remarkable story about them and also about the nurses and doctors who transported her.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA (voice-over): Monday night, this baby, 13-day-old Baby Martinez, a preemie, weighing just two pounds, suddenly needed to be urgently transported from NYU Langone Hospital to Mt. Sinai. Challenging under any conditions and these were extraordinary ones.

DR. KENNETH DAVIS, MT. SINAI HOSPITAL: It's frightening and it's about as challenging as you can get.

GUPTA (on camera): We're in front of NYU Medical Center. Mt. Sinai is several blocks to the north over there and about four blocks to the west. And that's sort of the important point because just over there is the East River. What we now know is that at 7:00 pm there was no water inside that hospital. At 7:45, there was 10 feet. The power started to go out and then the generators failed. And all of a sudden, the patients and the doctors found themselves in a worst case scenario.

(on camera): As for the parents of little Baby Martinez, they found out the hospital and their daughter would be evacuated when they watched Mayor Michael Bloomberg on TV. Shortly after, they lost power and they had no idea where their baby would be taken.

LUZ MARTINEZ, MOM TO EMMA SOPHIA: I lost power in our apartment. We had no access to the TV, no access to Internet, no phone services at home. It was just our self.

GUPTA: Just imagine the desperation, the nightmare. Their 13-day-old baby rushed through the streets of New York City in the middle of Hurricane Sandy while they were stuck at home in New Jersey.

MARTINEZ: All the bridges were closed and we had no choice but to go back home and just sit and wait for today to get here. And it was a very long night. It's a very, very long night. I have only had one hour of sleep.

GUPTA: Dr. Kenneth Davis who we met earlier is also the man who ok'd the transfer. And now for the first time he will meet the baby he helped save.

DAVIS: You need a hug. Oh, my goodness.

MARTINEZ: Thank you so very much.

DAVIS: That's so hard. And you're dad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

DAVIS: Wow. It's going to be ok.

GUPTA: Do you have any names picked out?

MARTINEZ: Her name is Emma Sophia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: They gave us an extraordinary access as well Soledad into that neonatal ICU, there were so many families there. You know it was --- there were 10 babies in all that had been transferred. And they all are doing well.

O'BRIEN: Thank God.

GUPTA: And those families seeing them for the first time. O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness that's brutal. Sanjay that's such a great story. Thank you for bringing it to us.

GUPTA: Yes, thank you. Sure.

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This month the U.S. national soccer team advanced to World Cup qualifying, thanks in large part to half a dozen German-born players who were fathered by African-American soldiers in the U.S. military.

George Howell takes a look at this "Black in America" report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This year marks the 25th anniversary of that famous phrase but the impact of the U.S. military build-up in Germany during the Cold War is still being felt today in an unlikely place, the soccer field.

A half dozen sons of American soldiers stationed in Germany, born to German mothers, have elected to play for the U.S. National Soccer team rather than Germany's in the last few years.

For some, this decision relates to their racial identity. Danny Williams and the other five players all have African-American fathers.

(on camera): What does it mean to be biracial in Germany versus being biracial here in the United States?

DANNY WILLIAMS, UNITED STATES MIDFIELDER: When people look at me in Germany, they know that I'm not 100 percent German. I told my parents that I feel more American than German.

HOWELL: Jermaine Jones was the first of this recent wave from Germany to join the American soccer team.

JERMAINE JONES, UNITED STATES MIDFIELDER: I'm different. When you see me to German people, I'm a different guy. I'm mixed.

HOWELL: Unlike Williams, whose American father raised him in Germany, Jones grew up in a single parent household.

JONES: My mom and him goes -- when I was young, separate ways. And for me it was hard, too, to grow up with no dad.

HOWELL: But since electing to play for the U.S., Jones has rekindled his relationship with his father. After scoring his first goal for the stars and stripes, Jones performed a simple but poignant tribute to his soldier father. You gave a salute to your dad.

JONES: Yes. He was calling me after the game. He was like, God, thank you. My mom, my brother, everybody see it. And everybody is proud of you.

HOWELL: A simple gesture of pride, but one rooted in history.

George Howell, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We're out of time. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. Good morning Carol.