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New York, New Jersey Hit Hard By Superstorm Sandy


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Dawn will tell us more about the damage to the East Coast. But there's little doubt that it's massive. Water from Hurricane Sandy washed over parts of Manhattan last night like heavy seas coming over the deck of a ship.

BOB MCGEE: Essentially, Manhattan south of 39th Street is without power.

MONTAGNE: That's Bob McGee. He is with the power company Con Edison. Manhattan, below 39th Street, includes many skyscrapers, and also Wall Street. Other parts of New York were lit by fire as scores of houses burned.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about this first with NPR's Robert Smith. He spent the night in New York.

And Robert, what has the night been like?

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Well, I have to say, I've been driving around Manhattan south of 38th Street, and it is - it's a little terrifying, I've got say. It is pitch black on most of the streets. You cannot see a thing. It's like going through a dark forest. There's standing water in the intersections. The only light that breaks on these streets are emergency vehicles responding to some sort of emergency call or something. Water rushed into the commuter tunnels, so we have problems with our commuter tunnels, problems with water in the subway system. This is a city that it's hard to get into, hard to get out of and hard to drive around in today.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that I'm clear. When you say commuter tunnels, there are a number of tunnels that go from other points into Manhattan, one of them being the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel or the Hugh Carey Tunnel, and those are filled with water? That's what you're being told?

SMITH: Well, we're not sure where the water stands right now. At one point, it was 11 feet of water in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Of course, the tides go in and out. I don't know if there are tides in the tunnel. But I don't know where the water is at this point, but it's impassable. It's not open.

MONTAGNE: And, you know, are people not around at all? I mean, when you talk about tunnels being filled, I'm going to presume that people were not in cars.

SMITH: Yeah. There's nobody driving these streets. And, you know, the city's just waking up where, you know, probably 200, 300,000 people will find that they have no power whatsoever. It's a huge swath of this island that has no power. There are a few - it's odd. There are a few skyscrapers, the Goldman Sachs skyscraper, a few in Battery Park City have power, but other than that, is just blackness.

INSKEEP: Robert Smith, I want to understand the mechanics, here, because there was an announcement in many parts of Manhattan that power was going to go out, rather than it going out because of some catastrophe. Is it your understanding that power was turned off mainly because of the water to avoid a problem, and that therefore, the infrastructure is OK? Or are there truly massive problems that might take a long time to fix?

SMITH: There are two different levels of the blackout, which is there was an intentional turning off of the electricity to save some of the systems. That was in far southern Manhattan. But there was a problem with a substation on 14th Street. Some people reported an explosion. We talked to some Con Ed guys. They said that it was perhaps flooded with water. They say it's a mass -now it's going to take days to get the power back on, and that's for a swath of sort of around 14th Street. So it's hard to say which one's going to come back on.

INSKEEP: OK. Robert Smith, stay with us. We've got a lot to cover, here. Robert Smith is in Manhattan.

The eye of this huge storm came ashore in New Jersey. NPR's Jeff Brady rode out the storm about 40 miles in from the Jersey Shore in Vineland, New Jersey. He's on the line now.

And Jeff, what have you been seeing this morning?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Well, it's calmed down a lot this morning. There's still some rain falling, windy outside, but nothing like what we were experiencing last night. The big concern here in Southern New Jersey is Atlantic City. I've seen reports of six feet of water in some places. The local newspaper up there reports rescuers pulled some people who chose not to evacuate off their roofs after the storm came in. And the local utility says there are still thousands of customers without electricity this morning, and it's not prepared to say when they will be able to get the power back on for everyone.

INSKEEP: You've been talking with people who rode out the storm?

BRADY: I have been. It's hard to get to a lot of those folks. Some of them are out on the barrier islands down in Cape May County. And that's also a big concern, because about 60 percent of the folks there chose not to evacuate, and authorities are pretty concerned, because even before the storm was coming in, there were reports of significant beach erosion and flooding. So they're going to have to get out there today and see how everyone there fared.

MONTAGNE: And I gather we have a clip here from Sea Isle City in New Jersey.

BRADY: Yeah. There were a few people who did leave. I talked with Rick Rock of Sea Isle City, and he was receiving word about his community from residents who stayed behind.

RICK ROCK: Some friends have been sending us pictures, and, no, we don't have anything of our own place, but the neighboring area is flooded, you know. And it depends on which part of the neighborhood you're in, you know. Atlantic City was pretty beat up, as far as we could tell - which is not far from us, probably 20 miles.

BRADY: Yeah. A lot of folks chose not to evacuate because they worried about getting back in. And Rick Rock says his wife is a nurse, so he's hoping to convince local authorities to let them come back tomorrow so that she can go back to work at the hospital and he can get to work cleaning up their house.

MONTAGNE: And, Jeff, just quickly, on the Atlantic City, I gather Chris Christie, in the middle of last night, the governor of New Jersey, gave something of a tongue-lashing to the mayor of Atlantic City, who suggested that people stay sheltered at home when the governor had suggested they leave. So there's a fair number of people have to wait till this morning, till dawn, to get any help at all.

BRADY: Yeah. That turned into a little dispute there between the mayor of Atlantic City and the governor of New Jersey. And they were sort of passing barbs back and forth on television last night. You know, the mayor of Atlantic City was saying our concern right now is making sure that our people are safe, and that's what he says they're working on.

INSKEEP: OK. Jeff Brady reporting on the Jersey Shore, where Sandy came ashore last night. Let's bring in one more voice to the conversation. NPR's Jon Hamilton has been tracking the storm from here in Washington.

And, Jon, we come to you because we now see radar images of this storm that seems to cover much of the Eastern United States. Where is it now? Where is it headed?

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Yeah, well, the center of this storm - and we should say that it's no longer - it looks like a cyclone with a nice, neat center to it. But the center is about 90 miles west of Pennsylvania - 90 miles west of Philadelphia. It's moving west-northwest and will turn to the north. But really the answer is this storm is everywhere. I mean, you see rain from the Carolinas, to Maine to Cleveland. You see snow in West Virginia. As you say, as you look at the map, the weather from this storm covers a huge part of the country.

INSKEEP: We talked yesterday about the possibility of this storm interacting with or combining with winter storms. Has that happened now? That's what we're seeing?

HAMILTON: Yes. In fact, it is now being referred to a superstorm, not a tropical cyclone. And that is a reflection of the fact that it has combined with winter weather to create some sort of hybrid, or now a true winter storm that acts very differently.

MONTAGNE: And dumping snow in parts - in West Virginia.

HAMILTON: Yeah. I mean, what you have is a huge, rotating storm, which is grabbing cold air way up north near Canada and pulling it down to West Virginia, combining with moisture and dropping a huge amount of snow.

INSKEEP: Jon, you used the phrase perfect storm yesterday, which, in a way, was almost comforting. Because you're saying, well, it's like this thing that happened, you know, 20-something years ago, which makes it feel like a familiar event. But I'd like to know, as this has developed, is this like anything that you've seen before or read about before in the past?

HAMILTON: It's not like anything I've ever covered before. I mean, it certainly - there have been storms, hurricanes that combined with winter storm patterns before, nor'easters, and became - the perfect storm in 1991 is one of them. Things like this have happened. But what's different about this one is the size of it, the amount of the country it covers. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it.

INSKEEP: Let me just pull back to Manhattan, here, because I believe NPR's Robert Smith is still on the line.

And, Robert, let's let you take us out, here. Would you talk us through your understanding of the day ahead for Manhattan, where so much of the power is out, where there's been so much flooding? What are people trying to do? What needs to be done?

SMITH: Well, I think the first thing that all the agencies are trying to do is evaluate exactly what the problems are. Because as of right now, we don't know how bad off the subway tunnels are. We don't know how bad off the tunnels under the river to New Jersey are, or to Brooklyn. We just don't have that information. So I think there's going to be a lot of evaluating. As for the power and such, you know, this reminds me of that huge blackout we had...


SMITH: ...oh, so many years ago. There's going to be a lot of people throwing away a lot of food and trying to figure things out.

MONTAGNE: Robert, thanks very much. Robert Smith in New York City. Also, Jeff Brady in Vineland, New Jersey and Jon Hamilton here with us in Washington, D.C. We'll be hearing from you all this morning. This is MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.