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THE SITUATION ROOM
Hurricane Relief Efforts Continue; President Obama Tours New Jersey; Interview with Joe Lhota, MTA Chairman; Standing By For Obama Statement In New Jersey; Live Now: President Obama In New Jersey; Epicenter Of Crisis On Jersey Shore
Aired October 31, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, dramatic new developments in the wake of the deadly hurricane. Right now, there are new evacuations at another major New York City hospital. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by with the very latest.
The drama continues throughout New York and New Jersey. Rescuers right now going house to house. They are still freeing people who've been trapped for nearly two days.
And very soon now, we will be bringing you in new video of President Obama's dramatic helicopter tour of the devastation along the Jersey Shore with the New Jersey Republican Governor, Chris Christie, right at his side.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There have been many, many major new developments all throughout the day. We want to bring you the latest developments right now. And we're going to begin with the big picture. The storm that started as Hurricane Sandy now being blamed for a total of 118 deaths, 68 of them in the Caribbean and now 50 of them in the United States.
The state with the highest death toll, New York state; 26 people in New York state have died. New York City struggling to try to get back to normal. As you see here, subway stations in Lower Manhattan, they are still totally flooded. They need to be drained.
This is a dangerous situation developing. Further uptown, there is limited, limited subway service. It should resume a little bit more as the hours continue. An iReporter sent us this amazing picture. Brooklyn had power last night, Lower Manhattan still did not. Nationwide, get this, about six million people in 15 states and the District of Columbia still do not have electricity. Also, a quarter of cell phone towers in the storm's path aren't working right now.
We have CNN crews up and down the disaster area to bring you all the latest on how people are -- on what's going on. But there are major problems involving power that are forcing hundreds of patients right now out of another hospital. This time, it's Bellevue Hospital, where some 700 patients, 700 patients need to get out. They need to get out quickly. This is a process potentially though that could take days.
Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is there on the scene for us in New York with the latest.
First of all, Sanjay, explain how this could happen.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think the best way to sort of describe it is that over the last couple of days they have been without a primary power source here at Bellevue Hospital, counting on generators to work.
I think it's been (AUDIO GAP) get some of that power back. That has not happened. They did take the precaution over the last day of moving many of the critically ill patients out. But as you point out, Wolf, this is a hospital that has about 900 beds or so in this hospital. And you can hear there's a lot of activity obviously behind me. I don't know how much you can see, Wolf, over here.
BLITZER: All right. Sanjay, hold on for a moment. Your audio is coming in and out. I want to work on that for a moment. We're going to fix Sanjay's audio.
Chad Myers is with us from the CNN extreme Weather Center, our meteorologist.
How is it that this -- what happened, Bellevue got flooded? Is that what you're hearing, Chad?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it did. And we knew that was going to happen.
This East River, the confluence of the sound, Long Island Sound up here, the water was already high. It was about 13 feet high and it was going down the East River at the time. At the time, just because the tides are completely different in Long Island Sound and in New York Harbor, they are almost exactly opposite. One was low tide and one was high tide.
When the low tide came in and so did the surge came into New York Harbor, Wolf, the water went up the East River. In a normal day, it would just keep going up the East River and into the sound. It couldn't keep going because it clashed with the water that was trying to come down from the sound and there was an extreme surge right here all along the East River due to the two bodies of water that typically run back and forth.
They couldn't run at all. They were just clashing in one spot. And that was very, very close to Bellevue Hospital. That's why we got so much water up in La Guardia as well. The surge was not doubled, but certainly it was moved up, the numbers were moved up simply because two bodies of water clashed their surge at the same time.
BLITZER: This is the second major hospital in New York that had this problem, NYU, the Langone Medical Center, they had to evacuate patients yesterday, and now this hospital.
What do we expect? Other hospitals in Manhattan, elsewhere in the New York-New Jersey area could face similar problems? MYERS: It all depends on how long the power is out. If the power was on at this hospital, there wouldn't be an issue. How long the generators can hold on and keep going, how long they still have diesel fuel, do they have to reload, refuel? Because the fuel doesn't really last that long. They have to burn it out every once in a while, refuel it. They put stable in it to keep it fresh.
But if you have to try to refuel -- refill these reservoirs and get these generators going again, boy, how long does it work? We have generators here at CNN and they're supposed to work for about four days. That means if we're longer than that, somehow we have to get fuel to them. That's the same problem with all of these hospitals on all of these backup generators, it's the fuel.
BLITZER: Chad, stand by for a moment.
Actually, I want to ask one additional question before I let you go. If this situation -- it now looks like the weather's clearing up in major parts of this devastated area, and that's going to help in the rebuilding. Certainly going to help in the search-and-rescue. But the bad weather is by no means completely over.
MYERS: Well, no. And the word bad is relative compared to what these people have been through.
But now the problem is morning low temperatures will get down to about 35 even in New York City, into the 20s in the Poconos, even colder than that in the Catskills and the Adirondacks. So, people without power and still that number is greater than five million, all of a sudden you don't have heat if you don't have power. There are some people that can run generators and things to get the fan blowing on your furnace. But understand the furnace will not turn on or if it does, it will not stay on long because the thermocouple will turn it off.
The heat -- the high temperature will turn it off when it realizes that the fan isn't blowing. People are going to start trying to warm themselves up with I would say unapproved devices, some type of camp stoves and things like that. All of that can cause carbon monoxide. You can't smell it, but it will certainly kill you.
BLITZER: Chad, hold on for a moment, because I want you to be involved in this next report. We will go back to Sanjay in a little while as soon as we reconnect with him.
But let's head over to New Jersey from New York City specifically to Hoboken, New Jersey, where the situation is dire right now. Most of the city's residents still are without power. Many are still trapped by floodwaters from the Hudson River.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us from Hoboken right now.
Brian, what's it like?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a city in recovery from a storm that's flooded a major part of Hoboken. You can see people behind me just now starting to walk around this street here, these workers clearing this street. This was completely filled with water just a couple of hours ago.
But because they have been able to clear some storm drains now, the water is gone.
I'm here with Dan DeKemper. He's the owner of the Cork City pub here in Hoboken just a few blocks away.
Dan, how bad did it get at its height?
DAN DEKEMPER, OWNER, CORK CITY: Pretty bad, actually. We probably crested around eight feet right in that area and traveled all the way up Newark Street into my building right there.
TODD: Right. Show us here. We can walk kind of here. Our photojournalist, Chris Derner (ph), is going to kind of pan up here and show us.
DEKEMPER: At its height, we were looking at that doorway right there past the black car. And you think about the tremendous effort these guys have done today. The water at 8:00 a.m. was past this white car. And now you have -- 100 percent citizens have cleared this.
TODD: Walk down this way.
TODD: Did it affect your business at all?
DEKEMPER: Only from the electricity, very little water damage, but the electricity is pretty much...
TODD: How did people in the city handle this overall?
DEKEMPER: Fantastic. Fantastic.
We have charging stations all over the city. We're using your truck.
DEKEMPER: Thank you, CNN.
DEKEMPER: And that's where we're huddling. We probably have about 40, 45 just charging cell phones out of your truck.
There's a few houses around Sixth Street that have electricity. And there are probably about 200 people that, you know, were feeding electricity cords and charging everybody up. Several people are trading off to get hot water, because some areas have hot water and some do not.
TODD: How do you compare this to other natural events you have seen?
DEKEMPER: Let's see. Katrina, this area -- or in Irene last year this area also flooded, but not nearly as bad as this. The cleanup, it's pretty much drained within a day or so and lost no electricity last year. This one, we are -- you know, we don't know the ETA.
TODD: Slow way back. Right?
DEKEMPER: Slow way back.
TODD: Dan, thanks very much. Good luck to you.
TODD: Thank you. All right.
Wolf, there's one resident, one business owner here determined to recover. Others here -- an amazing sense of community spirit. These are all community volunteers doing a lot of this work largely responsible for the clearing of the street.
As I mentioned, just a couple hours ago this water was up to my knees, up to the knees of these volunteers who waded out here in some very, very unhealthy and almost dangerous water because it has so much sewage and chemicals and just garbage in it.
BLITZER: Brian, we will get back to you, Brian Todd in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Let's head back to Manhattan right now. We have reestablished our contact with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's over at Bellevue Hospital, a major medical center in New York City, where, what, Sanjay, 700 patients now need to be evacuated because they have lost power, emergency generators at Bellevue Hospital?
I think that's the best way of putting it, Wolf. It's a big hospital, as you point out, about 900-patients capacity and usually is at capacity. What they did as part of the protocol was evacuate many of the critically ill patients over the last day.
But what they realize is that their emergency generators are not continuing to work well. Some of them are underwater because of the flooding. You can't see this, Wolf, but just beyond the hospital which is over there is the East River. The same thing that happened to NYU Langone Hospital which is just up the road has happened here as well as Bellevue which has been significant flooding, and that's affected these generators.
I also should point something else, because we have talked a lot about the generators, Wolf. We have talked to people that work inside the hospital, and some of the generators are at higher levels, which is what you would expect, the 12th, 13th floor even. But they require fuel to function.
And those fuel pumps oftentimes are at ground level or even below ground level. It is those fuel pumps that seem to have failed. So for the last day or so they have been carrying oil up 12 flights of stairs to try and make the generator work.
Just imagine that scene, Wolf, in addition to taking care of hundreds of patients, carrying that fuel up. And they made the decision earlier today to just go ahead and evacuate all the patients. Again, most of the critically ill are already gone. But you have about 25, 50 ambulances maybe now lined up over there to do just that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Sanjay, you're a physician, you have worked in hospitals, you have dealt with critically injured and critical care patients in intensive care and others. How dangerous, potentially precarious is it to transport these people at these respective stages in their care?
GUPTA: Well, it can be very challenging, Wolf. I mean, the transport of a patient, especially over the last 24 hours some of these critically ill patients can be very challenging. Even to transfer them within the hospital from one floor to the next, that can be a real challenge. It's a very coordinated process. You always plan for the worst-case scenario.
Everything from a patient's heart rate to their body temperature can change, especially with the neonates, the preemies, that we were talking about yesterday, Wolf. It's a very coordinated thing.
Here, my guess is, you take a look. You have 700 patients. You have this one sort of road going in and out to do all this. This is going to take at least a couple if not more days to get this done. Again, I want to point out that what I'm hearing is that most of the patients in there, while there may be some who have particular needs, but the critically ill patients, from what I have been told have already been evacuated.
So the process is likely to be more methodic, a little bit slower, perhaps even look a little more organized than over the last 24 hours, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to stay in close touch with you, Sanjay. If you get new information, an update from Bellevue Hospital over there in New York, let us know.
Sanjay Gupta on the scene following the breaking news, 700 patients being evacuated from Bellevue Hospital as they have lost power in that major medical facility.
Much more on this part of the story coming up. Also, some of the most unreal pictures of the storm's aftermath, they are just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. And they show the flooded subway stations throughout New York City. When will the system be fully operational? The man in charge, he's standing by to join us live when our special coverage continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: These pictures you're seeing right now, they come from the American Red Cross which had 171 shelters open last night for people who couldn't go home because of the devastation from this storm.
Getting around New York City is a nightmare. Starting tonight from 6:00 until midnight, cars crossing New York's East River bridges must have a minimum of three people inside. Buses are running, but many are packed. There's limited subway service, limited service should resume tomorrow we are being told.
Joining us now is the chairman of New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority, Joe Lhota, joining us from New York.
JOE LHOTA, CHAIRMAN, METROPOLITAN TRANSIT AUTHORITY: Hi, Wolf.
BLITZER: Mr. Lhota, thanks very much for coming in.
LHOTA: Thank you.
BLITZER: When you say that limited subway service will resume tomorrow, what does that mean?
LHOTA: Well, what it means is we're going to have 14 of our 23 lines up and running. People who are coming from the Bronx, Queens as well as from Upper Manhattan will be able to come down as far as 42nd Street. We can't go beyond 42nd Street, except for two lines, which will go to 34th Street because power south of 34th Street is out, as you know. You've just been reporting on the hospital situation here in New York.
For people who are in Brooklyn, we'll all able -- we're going to have three sites, two in downtown Brooklyn and one in Williamsburg where trains from Brooklyn will terminate at that point and then we'll be able to take over by a bus. We're calling it a bus bridge. Be able to take them over, take them to midtown or take them down to Wall Street.
So I think the system while limited will be robust enough that millions of our passengers will be able to use it. Just to put in perspective how big the MTA is, we have 8.5 million people every day on our subways and our two commuter rail lines. Both of those commuter rail lines have started limited service this afternoon at 2:00.
BLITZER: So, if you work let's say in below 30th Street or 35th Street, you're not going to be able to get a subway into those parts of Manhattan. Is that what I'm hearing?
LHOTA: That is correct. Until they turn on the power. We need the power from Con Ed, we call it traction power, to power up the third rail. Without that, trains can't move. Lights can't be on. We need their power.
BLITZER: What does Con Ed say? When will that power come back to the lower part of Manhattan?
LHOTA: It varies from different people from which you talk to. It would be better if you get one of those guys onto give you an accurate statement.
BLITZER: Yesterday, they told us it could take four days. That was yesterday. It might even take a week in parts of New York City. What I'm hearing, as you're saying that Brooklyn is slowly but surely coming back. What about the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island?
LHOTA: The power outages -- the sustained power outage in New York City is really located in Manhattan, from Midtown, south of Wall Street, as well as in certain pockets and different areas, in Queens as well as in parts of Staten Island. But it's very, very limited in those areas.
The large concentrated area in the Bronx is the one with the millions of millions of people living right now.
BLITZER: Have you ever experienced anything like this before, Joe?
LHOTA: No. New York City has never experienced anything like this. I said yesterday it was by far the single most devastating event to ever happen to our subway and rail system. I was involved as deputy mayor in New York City on 9/11. It's given me -- I'm having enormous amount of deja vu.
What's different though is this is not isolated to the World Trade Center area and just lower Manhattan. It's city-wide. The devastation that's happened out on Long Island, it's happened in New Jersey. This was massive.
BLITZER: We're watching, by the way, Joe, the President of the United States. He's in New Jersey right now. He's been touring some of the devastated areas, walking around with Governor Chris Christie. We understand the President will be making some comments shortly. So if I break away from you, you'll totally understand.
I think Governor Christie might say a few words, the President will say a few words. They've been seeing what's going on in New Jersey. It's awful there. It's awful in parts of New York City, elsewhere in New York state including out on Long Island right now.
The President did say yesterday he might be able to help with some military assets to pump out water from some of those subway stations. Do you need the U.S. military to help you in this area?
LHOTA: They're here already. They've been tremendous. Part of the Army Corps of Engineers, I think it's the de-watering unit. They were actually very helpful to the folks in Katrina immediately -- Katrina down in New Orleans. And they've been here. We need their help on the subway system.
We also -- part of the MTA, we also have two tunnels that transport cars. Right now, those tunnels are completely flooded. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel which is recently been renamed the Hugh Carey Tunnel, that tunnel each tunnel -- that's two of them, have 47 million gallons of water in them that was flowing in from the Hudson River.
And we need to get that water out of there. Then we need to do an examination of the structural integrity of those tunnels. Once we do that and hopefully they're structurally sound, we'll be able to get cars moving through between Queens and Manhattan, and between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
BLITZER: There's been some concern that if the water stays in those subway stations for too long, it could cause even greater problems, mold and other dangerous situations. How concerned are you about that?
LHOTA: I believe we're going to do everything we can to get the water out before this weekend. So I'm not concerned about the water sitting there that long. I was there last night with Governor Cuomo. And the water actually almost miraculously is crystal clear. We were both commenting about how clear the water was.
So from that point of view, I'm not worried about the environmental issue.
BLITZER: You're also in charge of the buses in New York City. And you say they're going to be packed. I assume they're going to be pretty packed especially since there's only going to be limited subway service. Give us an update on how the buses are operating.
LHOTA: They are absolutely packed. They are coming from all over five boroughs that we're working in. We've got over 4,000 buses on the street right now. They are completely packed.
We started very, very early. Actually, we started limited service yesterday afternoon. Between 3:00 and 5:00 and we've got the complement of buses out there right now, both local buses as well as express buses that come in from the farther reaches of the city.
The city is crowded. I'm sure you've seen the traffic problems we're having here. The mayor is dealing with that with his announcement. But I will tell you -- I mean, people are gratified that the service is up. I will tell you and I would like to tell my customers here in New York that we are going to come back in increments.
We're going to do the limited service tomorrow for travel tomorrow. There will be more the following day and more the next day and more after that. We want to bring as much back as we possibly can.
BLITZER: Well, good luck to you Joe Lhota. We are really appreciate you're updating our viewers. We are deeply, deeply concerned obviously about what's going on in New York City. We'll stay in close touch with you.
Hopefully, you can give us some good news tomorrow and the day after. Appreciate you joining us.
LHOTA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. The President of the United States has been touring New Jersey, some of the devastated areas. You're seeing these pictures coming in right now. He's going to be speaking shortly together with the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, updating us on what he saw.
We're about to also get dramatic aerial video from Marine One. The President is touring the area with Chris Christie, the Governor. We're going to show you the video. We're going to hear from the President. We'll hear from Chris Christie.
Stay with us. Our special coverage continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of the President of the United States in Brigantine, New Jersey, right now. He's been speaking with some residents there after touring the seashore of New Jersey, together with the Governor Chris Christie. We expect the President to be speaking shortly making a statement. I assume Governor Christie will as well.
Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent is with us, as is Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst.
Jessica, update our viewers first of all. This has been a busy day for the President. He's off the campaign trail. But he's been busy in New Jersey.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
He has been on the ground there for some three hours now first touring with Governor Chris Christie by helicopter, looking at some of the hardest hit areas along the coast of New Jersey. And then he took some time out to visit a community center again with Governor Chris Christie that's serving as a shelter for some residents who have lost their homes.
In that shelter, he repeated that his top priority is to get power back on for the residents, which is clearly a priority for the health and safety of people there -- also an important priority for the President politically. You don't want people if I may say so, going without power for too long. They might get frustrated and take it out on the ballot box Tuesday. But for these people, obviously, it's a matter of absolute health and safety.
He has also during this tour, Wolf, I should point out, heaped praise on Governor Christie, who is a Republican as you know, and a supporter of Governor Romney, telling people in the shelter who are homeless that your governor has been working through the night for you, working for you tirelessly. And the Governor in turn has heaped praise on the President, saying it's very important that the President of the United States is here.
And they have both taken an enormous amount of time talking to each person who's come up to them and wanted their attention. I'll finally point out they are in this town Brigantine, New Jersey, which is a coastal town not far from Atlantic City, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, somebody would have suggested only days ago that on these final days before the election the President would be in New Jersey with Chris Christie, the Republican Governor who was so critical of him at the Republican Convention at the end of August in Tampa. Who would have believed it? But it's amazing how this situation has unfolded.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. You would have expected Chris Christie under other circumstances to be in Ohio campaigning for Mitt Romney. But I think -- look, Wolf, given the tenor of our politics, even given the campaign we've had, the negative campaign we've had, we shouldn't find it really remarkable that the President of the United States is doing his job and the Governor of the state of New Jersey who is of a different party is also doing his job.
And the fact that they're coming together for people who have been devastated by a storm, even the most cynical among us would have to say this is of course what they ought to be doing, campaign or no campaign.
BLITZER: And you see the President walking there. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as Governor Chris Christie.
They're walking slowly but surely closer and closer toward the microphones. We expect the President to be making a statement although it looks like he wants to stop and speak with some people on the ground over there and comfort them.
These people have gone through hell over these past 48 hours. So I see Senator Frank Lottenberg, the senior senator from New Jersey as well touring this area.
Jessica, the President will be heading back to the White House after he finishes up in New Jersey and then he resumes campaigning tomorrow. Is that right?
YELLIN: That's right, Wolf. The schedule calls for the President to be back in the battleground states beginning tomorrow. He was scheduled to visit Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado, states that are important for him to win if he's going to retain his seat here at the White House.
The campaign believing that they've dedicated enough time to the President having a singular focus on what they call doing his job focusing on the superstorm Sandy with his officials here in a face-to- face way. And now he can go on the campaign trail.
And they say he will continue these ongoing updates on the road. You know, presidents always say they take the job with them, they can do it anywhere, but symbolically very important for a president to be at the White House during a crisis. And that's why they rushed him back here during Sandy. One of the messages, Wolf, that he's been conveying to these people he meets at the shelter is that the U.S. government, his administration, will be with them for the long haul. They're not just here to visit, but that they will do what it takes for the long haul.
That's the message he keeps conveying. And I should say also praising his FEMA director who has also gotten some praise from Governor Christie as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Governor Christie has been very effusive in his phrase. All right, as the President and Governor Christie and the others, they will head toward the microphones. Let's take a quick, quick break. On the other side we'll hear from the President.
BLITZER: All right, you're looking at live pictures from New Jersey. The President of the United States -- you can't really see him right there. He's standing next to Chris Christie, the Republican governor. Christie is next to Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA over there.
They've been speaking with some local residents after touring the Jersey Shore. They've been speaking with some of the first responders as well who are there. They're in Brigantine, New Jersey, right now.
We expect momentarily the President to be making a speech or saying a few words about what he saw when he toured that shoreline with Governor Christie and others aboard Marine One. The video from that tour will be feeding in shortly.
We'll show it to our viewers as well. We understand pretty dramatic scenes the President was watching what's going on. Let's see if we can eavesdrop a little bit, hear what the President's saying.
It's hard to hear what the head of FEMA is saying. You see Governor Christie right behind him. Apparently, we're told he's speaking to a woman who was rather emotional telling her story of what happened. And there have been so many stories.
Millions and millions of people have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. This was the superstorm that hit 48 hours or so ago and caused so much damage as a result of the winds, the floods and it's especially been hard hitting on New Jersey, the entire Jersey Shore as well as New York City itself.
The President didn't go to New York City, but he did go to New Jersey we were told that the mayor of New York thought it would be very logistically difficult for the President to visit Manhattan at a time like this when resources are so scarce moving around was so difficult.
Here's the President. He's going to speak. He's walking over to the microphones we're told and will make a statement. I believe that's what he's trying to do. He's going to the microphone right now together with Governor Christie and Craig Fugate from FEMA.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE, NEW JERSEY: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you all for coming today. I want to thank the members here as well. Obviously, I want to thank the President. We spent a significant afternoon together surveying the damage up and down the New Jersey coastline.
We were in Marine One together to be able to show the President that personally as you see it and we had an opportunity to discuss it at length. And then going over to the shelter here be able to meet with folks, have them see the President and his concern.
The concerns all of us have for making sure all things get back to normal as quickly as possible. We have lots of challenges. Challenge now is to get back to normalcy. The things we need to do to get power restored as quickly as possible.
Make sure people have clean drinking water. Waste water treatment plants are working. Hospitals are taken care of the way we need to and kids back to school. So I discussed all those issues today with the President.
And I'm pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things while we were in the car riding together. I want to thank him for that. He has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit.
This is our sixth conversation since the weekend. And it's been a great working relationship to make sure that we're doing the jobs people elected us to do. And I cannot thank the President enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state.
On phone conversations with him I heard it and I was able to witness it with him today personally. We'll do what we need to do. We're coordinating with FEMA and I want to thank Mr. Fugate for being and for the input he's already had to make our operation even better.
We will move on from here. What I said yesterday I really mean. There's got to be sorrow when you see that and the President seen that today in the eyes of the folks he met. That sorrow is appropriate. We suffered some loss.
Luckily we haven't suffered that much loss of life and we thank God for that, but we have suffered losses. And this is the worst storm that I've seen in my lifetime in this state. But we cannot permit that sorrow to replace the resilience I know all New Jersians have.
So we will get up and put this back together and that's what this state has been about. For all you here and I met a bunch of you today at Brigantine with disregard of my admonition, get the hell out of here. You are forgiven this time.
All of you look around and see this destruction, that's fine. But you know what, all that stuff can be replaced. You look to your right and to your left, to your husband or wife, your son or daughter, all right, those are the things that can't be replaced.
I'm glad we don't have that loss of life to deal with. So I want to thank you for being here today, for bringing this personal attention to it. And it's my honor to introduce all of you to the President of the United States.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Thank you. Thank you everybody. Let me just make sure that I acknowledge the folks who are here because they've played an important role in this.
First of all, congressional delegation, Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Lautenberg, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson and Brigantine Mayor Philip Gunther. Obviously this is a federal, state and local effort.
And the first thing I want to do is just to thank everybody who's been involved in the entire rescue and recovery process. At the top of my list I have to say that Governor Christie throughout this process has been responsive.
He has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm. And I think the people of New Jersey recognize that he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before.
I want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership and partnership. I want to thank the congressional delegation because part of the reason we're going to be able to respond quickly to all of this is because they helped make sure that FEMA financing was in place.
And we're very appreciative of those efforts. And I want to thank Craig Fugate. Sometimes people thank not just FEMA, but they need to think the people behind him. Craig lives and breathes this stuff making sure we're providing help people so desperately need in these situations.
I want to thank all the first responders who have been involved in this process. The linesmen, firefighters, the folks who are in here shoveling out people who were supposed to get the hell out and didn't. You've helped to save a lot of lives and a lot of property.
And one thing that you learn in these tragedies is the first responders keep in mind their homes are usually under water too or their families have been affected in some way and yet they make the personal sacrifices to help other people. We really appreciate them.
I'm just going to make a couple comments. Number one, and most important, our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones. It's true that because of some good preparation the loss of life was kept lower than it might have been.
But for those individual families obviously their world has been torn apart. We need to make sure that everybody who's lost a loved one knows they're in our thoughts and prayers. I speak for the whole country there. For those like the people I just had the chance to meet on this block and throughout New Jersey and throughout the region whose lives have been upended, my second message is, we are here for you and we will not forget.
We will follow-up to make sure you get all the help that you need until you rebuild. At this point our main focus is on the states of New Jersey, which got hit harder than anybody, the state of New York particularly Lower Manhattan and Long Island.
We are very concerned about some situations in Connecticut as well and we're still monitoring West Virginia where there are heavy snows in some inaccessible areas. But for the most part, those four states are really bearing the brunt of this incredible storm.
What we've been able to do is to preposition and stage commodities, water, power generators, ambulances in some cases, food, medical supplies, emergency supplies. And we have over 2,000 FEMA personnel that are on the ground right now.
Their job now that we're moving out of the search and rescue phase is to make sure that they are going out and talking to individual communities so that people know exactly how they can get the help that they need.
We expedited our emergency declarations for the state of New Jersey and local counties that have been affected. What that means is that people can immediately start registering for emergency assistance.
And one of the things I want to emphasize to the people in New Jersey and throughout the region now that, you know, you're safe, your family's safe, but you're trying to figure out where you're going to stay for the next couple of days, et cetera.
It's very important that you know that there's help available to you right now. For example, to find rental housing or to be able to pay for some groceries, over at community center we saw a young woman who had a newborn or I guess probably an 8-month-old still needs diapers and formula and has run out. Those are the kinds of basic supplies and help that we can provide.
If you call 800-621-FEMA, 800-621-FEMA, or disasterassistance.gov if you've got access to the internet, you can go to disasterassistance.gov, that will allow you to register right now so you can immediately start receiving help.
We want to make sure you get everything that you need. Just a couple final points, obviously our biggest priority right now is getting power turned back on. We are very pleased that Newark got power yesterday. Jersey City is getting power we believe today.
But there are still big chunks of the community including this community right here that don't have power. And so it's hard enough cleaning up debris and dealing with boats that have been upended and roads that are blocked. When people don't have power, they're obviously disabled in all sorts of ways. And it's hard to get back to normal. So yesterday I had a chance to speak to the CEOs of the utilities from all across the country.
And a lot of the states that were spared that were not hard hit or some states as far away as California, they have pledged to start getting equipment, crews, et cetera here into New Jersey and New York and Connecticut as quickly as possible.
And one of the things we've been able to do just to give you sense of this all hands on deck approach were able to get C-17s and C-130s military transport planes potentially to move assets, personnel to speed up the process of getting power up and running as soon as possible.
Our first priority is water filtration plants and some other critical infrastructure in the state. For that we've got emergency generators. We've got a Navy ship that has some helicopters that can help to move assets around the state as well.
So we're going to be working with Governor Christie's office and local officials to identify what is the critical infrastructure, how can we get what's needed as quickly as possible?
Just a couple other things we're concerned about, one is as power starts coming back on. We want to make sure that people can also get to work. Obviously, there are a lot of folks in Jersey who work in New York in the city and in other places where transportation may be hobbled.
One of the things I mentioned to the Governor is the possibility of us using federal assets, military assets as well as taking inventory of assets from around the country that can be brought in so that we can help people get to their work.
And Governor Christie also mentioned the importance of schools. The sooner we can get our kids back into school, back into a routine that obviously helps the families and helps the kids as well. So we're going to have a lot of work to do.
I don't want anybody to feel that somehow this is all going to get cleaned up overnight. We want to make sure that people have realistic expectations. But what I can promise you is that the federal government will be working as closely as possible with the state and local officials.
And we will not quit until this is done. And the directive I have given, I said this yesterday but I will repeat and I think Craig and others working with me right now know I mean it, we are not going to tolerate red tape.
We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy and I've instituted a 15- minute rule essentially on my team. You return everybody's phone calls in 15 minutes whether it's the mayor's, the Governor's, county officials. If they need something, we figure out a way to say yes. I was just gathering around and I had a chance to talk to some of the young people here who have been volunteering going up and down the block cleaning up debris. And when we were over at the community center, there was a restaurant owner who for the last 18 hours have been cooking meals just as his contribution to the recovery process.
And some of the folks were saying the food was better than they got at home. You know, you had a 15-year-old young man whose mother was disabled and he was making sure that she was OK and taking on extraordinary responsibilities for himself, but also for his mom.
You know, when you see folks like that respond with strength and resilience, when you see neighbors helping neighbors, then you're reminded about what America's all about. We go through tough times, but we bounce back.
The reason we bounce back is because we look out for one another and we don't leave anybody behind. And so my commitment to the people on this block, the people in this community and the people of this state is that that seems fit will carry all the way over until our work is done. All right, thank you very much, everybody.
(END LIVE FEED)
BLITZER: So there's the President of the United States promising the people of New Jersey and the region that he will make sure that their lives get back to normal. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be expensive. It's going to be difficult.
But he said the response will be aggressive. He praised Governor Christie for putting his heart and soul into what's going on. Governor Christie in turn praised the President as being incredibly close with me he said. He's working. They've got a great working relationship. And that's clearly obvious by the words they have spoken.
We have much to digest. We're also going to go to one of the most hard hitting areas of New Jersey. Our own Michael Holmes is on the scene right now. There are a lot of developments breaking right now. We'll take a quick break. We'll resume our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Some of the most dramatic pictures from the aftermath of the storm shows sand deposited from the storm's tidal surge covering blocks and blocks and blocks of houses in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, among other places. You're looking at some of the pictures.
CNN's Michael Holmes managed to get there today. Michael, tell our viewers what you saw.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was absolutely amazing. Those aerial shots we saw yesterday, well, this just confirmed everything we saw in those pictures. We went right up and down there. We went from Seaside all the way to Brick Ocean Beach and all other towns in between. I can tell you that some of it looked literally like a war zone. There were houses in the middle of streets where they'd been shifted off their foundation.
We saw that about three times and just dumped in the middle of the road. We saw a full sized pickup truck up over its windows in a sinkhole. Several sinkholes across the area. Sand had been pushed three to four blocks back from the ocean front.
Dunes that once stood about 12 feet tall were down to the ground. Unbelievable situation. We spoke to people who were still there who lived through this storm. And they said they wished they hadn't stayed and defied the mandatory evacuation order.
We also saw in Brick, an area a gas leak, the smell of gas is right there right across the barrier islands. In Brick, we saw an area the size of two or three football fields where dozens of houses literally burned to the ground by gas fires.
And those fires are still burning away there too so a disaster of epic proportions there. That place is never going to look the same. We actually saw the President's helicopters fly along that coast while we were standing there looking at the destroyed Joey Harrison Surf Club, one of the many iconic places along that shoreline.
Those holiday homes devastated and some areas are pretty good. They are very well, but in the areas that were hard hit particularly along that eastern shore just a terrible sight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do they have any idea when they're going to start trying to remove some of that sand?
HOLMES: Yes. They started actually, Wolf. We've seen probably 20 or 30 front-end loaders go in there along with a bunch of other equipment, heavy equipment, and first responders. They're going door to door checking every house.
They still have found no casualties, believe it or not, on those barrier islands, which just seems extraordinary. But, yes, the front end loaders are starting to clear that sand from the roadways, push it back up towards the beach.
But one can imagine this is going to be tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage there. The cleanup's going to take a very long time indeed. Those people still there, there's not that many now, they've pulled about 300 people off those islands in the last day and there's still a handful.
They've been told stay indoors. If you come out, you will be forcibly moved. Authorities want to get everyone off that island to stop looting and as well allow the workers to do their jobs and make everything safe and begin the clean up.
But I cannot -- it's one of those situations, Wolf, where you wouldn't know where to start, I mean, it really is a terrible sight there particularly along that front shoreline that took the brunt -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael Holmes with dramatic video and a heartbreaking story. Michael, thanks very much.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, thousands and thousands of people in a New Jersey city trapped by flood waters. The National Guard is moving in. They are trying to move some of them out. We're going there live for you.