Water Surge Continues To Wreak Havoc Along Coast

Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep speak with NPR reporters Jon Hamilton in Washington, Larry Abramson in Ocean City, Md., and Joel Rose in Point Pleasant, N.J., for an update on Hurricane Sandy's impact on the Eastern Coast of the U.S.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Let's work backward over the next few minutes, from the leading edge of super storm Sandy back to the coastline where it arrived last night.

NPR's Jon Hamilton is in our studios here in Washington. He starts us off. Jon, good morning.

JON HAMIILTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Where is the storm now?

HAMIILTON: Well, the center of the storm - or as near as I can tell where the center of the storm is - is now in Western Pennsylvania. It's been moving west, of course, overnight. But really the answer is this storm is everywhere, you know, from the Carolinas to Canada to the Midwest. You see a foot of rain in places. You still got 65 miles of an hour winds in places. It's everywhere.

INSKEEP: And it's beginning to lose its form. But you could still see earlier this morning that sense of a giant circle, a giant cycle of clouds.

HAMIILTON: It is still an enormous counterclockwise rotating storm. Yes.

INSKEEP: And the leading edge of that is over what - the Midwest, West Virginia?

HAMIILTON: Midwest right now.

INSKEEP: And that is bringing snow to those areas. Is that correct?

HAMIILTON: Yeah, it's bringing cold air down from near Canada and it's depositing it way south of where it would normally be. And that's causing a lot of snow.

MONTAGNE: OK, Jon. Thanks.

Let's move back to the coast, and Sandy came ashore last night. At least 16 people have died. Early estimates of damage are in the billions. NPR's Joel Rose is in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

And Joel, hello. Good morning. Hear you there.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Hi. What are you seeing?

ROSE: I'm here.

MONTAGNE: I'm certainly hearing a big sound of water.

ROSE: Oh, we've got still quite a bit of wind in the area. The rain has died down but we're still getting some pretty serious gusts of wind. It seems like the waters have receded a bit from their highs. I mean last night the water was rising fast towards the sidewalk, actually topped the sidewalk right in front of our hotel. Now it seems to be considerably down from that level.

It's still pretty dark here, though, and hard to get a handle on exactly how much damage the flooding caused. Power is out. Power has been out now for almost 12 hours. So you know, we really haven't had a chance to look around yet and really gauge the full extent of the damage.

INSKEEP: Well, that leads to a prompt question here for NPR's Jon Hamilton. Jon, because you mentioned the center of the storm is now over land, the worst of the flooding is probably over, but is there a possibility of continued flooding, of the water rising again from wherever it is at this moment?

HAMIILTON: Yeah, there is still some storm surge going on along the East Coast. And so the winds are not as powerful as they were. They're not pushing the water as hard as they were. But they're still pushing it and there's going to be another high tide this morning, so the two of those could cause some more flooding.

MONTAGNE: And then, Joel, this morning there - out there in New Jersey we gather a levee broke in the north, flooding towns with like four or five feet of water.

ROSE: Yeah, that's Moonachie and a couple of other towns in North Jersey. Yeah, that's sort of right across the Hudson River from upper Manhattan. In North Jersey, quite a few miles north of here, yeah, all we know so far is that there's been a great levee and that several towns have experienced four to five feet of flooding.

So, yeah. As Jon was saying, still, you know, an unfolding story as far as where the flooding is and how severe.

INSKEEP: And we're talking about a state that has a lot of river deltas, a lot of rivers, a lot of marshes, a lot of swamps, and water may come and go in those areas in the hours to come.

Would you just described, Joel, what it's been like to ride out that storm over the last 24 hours where you are?

ROSE: Well, the winds got extremely heavy last night and really, you know, didn't die down until the wee hours of the morning. This morning more than two million houses and businesses in New Jersey are without power. This is in a state of nine million people, so you know, it's almost a quarter of the state is without power, it seems at this time.

And the winds are still gusting pretty strongly. So you know, I'm thinking it's going to be quite a while before emergency crews are really able to get out there and start addressing some of the problems and start turning the lights back on. So for, you know, millions of people who live near the shore in New Jersey, it could be quite a while before the lights are coming back on.

MONTAGNE: And that's Joel Rose in New Jersey.

Let's turn now to NPR's Larry Abramson, who is in Ocean City, Maryland. In that area there is, what, Larry, a peninsula, chain of barrier islands? How bad are things there this morning?

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: You know, the initial indication is that conditions really have improved dramatically. We had a lot of flooding yesterday. And similar to Joel's situation, the winds were severe for hours and hours on end. But with the tide going out, we've had a lot of drainage here and things are getting quite a bit better.

The important thing to understand, as Jon was saying, though, is that this entire area inland from the coast, the Chesapeake Bay, has a series of tides that are going to cause continuing flooding throughout the day. You know, there's not just a simple exodus of water and then everything is dry again.

And the winds here are in the 20 mile an hour range so they're pushing water up onto the land and we're hearing reports of new flooding in places as far north as Baltimore. And that's why a lot of the local officials here are asking people don't go back home if you left. They want to keep the roads clear so they can continue to see if there are any downed power lines in the water. It can be, you know, quite a dangerous situation.

MONTAGNE: But as of this very moment this morning, still before dawn, are people still inside? You know, it's pretty...

ABRAMSON: I don't see a lot of - I don't see a lot of people out on the street here. I mean, people are being very cautious. And frankly, the town itself was evacuated. Most of the towns along the mid-Atlantic coast were evacuated. People who didn't evacuate until last night were basically told we can't come and rescue you. A lot of the roads that they would use to get out of their neighborhoods are still flooded.

So you're not going to see a lot of movement of people today. This whole area is pretty much shut down, I'd say, for the next 24 hours. Not much is going to happen.

INSKEEP: Okay. Let's talk to one person who has been out on the street a little bit north of you, in New York City. NPR's Robert Smith has been getting a look at the damage this morning. And Robert, you are in Manhattan, part of which flooded and there was quite a lot of drama overnight.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Yeah, there was because basically most of Manhattan below 30th Street is pitch black. There's no electricity. There are no lights. It is very dark here. (Unintelligible) Steve, I just saw something amazing, which is the clouds just parted above us and I saw a full moon. So no rain, no wind. I think we can at least say the storm is over here in New York City. Now the problems begin.

INSKEEP: Okay.

SMITH: Try and deal with this electricity and with flooding in the city.

INSKEEP: Let's talk very quickly about two of those problems. Things underground that are now flooded. We've got commuter tunnels, subway stations, what?

SMITH: Yeah, subway tunnels under the east river, the 7 Train, the L Train, most of the tunnels that go out, the Holland Tunnel, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. We have the bridges closed out of Manhattan so they're still trying to get those open. Basically, like, people are kind of stranded in Manhattan. There's one tunnel open, the Lincoln Tunnel.

I have to say, walking on the streets of the city (unintelligible) you see more than anything else, you see guys in reflective vests staring down into holes in the ground trying to see how bad the damage is under this city.

INSKEEP: And there was damage above ground as well, particularly involving a hospital that had a backup generator that failed. What happened?

SMITH: Well, that was New York University Hospital and that was in this zone where there's a massive blackout because of what we think is a substation that went down nearby. And they had the backup generator fail and they had hundreds of critically ill patients that they needed to transfer to other hospitals. And I was up there and it was an amazing sight because the city's completely dark, but there was a row of dozens of ambulances ready to take these patients to other hospitals.

It lit up this area of the city. It was an amazing logistical operation going on.

INSKEEP: Could have been a catastrophe, but it sounds like you're saying it was not.

SMITH: We haven't had reports of any major problems with that. Obviously an inconvenience, obviously a worry, but so far to good on that.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, Robert Smith, in about 10 seconds, if you look up, obviously you're in an area where the electricity is out, but do you see a few lights in the windows, signs of people, you know, lighting up the flashlights, lighting a fire?

SMITH: No. I think everyone's sleeping in today 'cause there's no work. There's no play, nothing really to do.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, Robert, we're glad you're up early this morning and giving us a picture of what's happening in Manhattan today, where massive flooding and power outages were suffered last night, also fires in many parts of New York City and continued flooding up and down the coast. We'll bring more as we learn it right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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