Superstorm Sandy Disrupts Life For Weeks To Come
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's not like it's over; Sandy spawned flood warnings on the Great Lakes; snow continues to fall in the Appalachians, and rain-swollen creeks and rivers pose new dangers hundreds of miles inland. Two days after the storm came ashore, we see many places to the south of its landfall more or less returned to normal, though tens of thousands remain without power.
To the north, too many places are still underwater. Millions are in the dark. Coastal towns and cities got smashed. Today, trains and planes advanced from out to spotty, automobiles and busses to crowded and slow. People struggled to save their homes, people struggled to get to work, people struggled against interminable waits, and for many it's going to be a while yet.
If you've been affected by Sandy, call and tell us how you've had to adapt. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. We begin with Jason Goldberg, the founder and CEO of Fab.com, an ecommerce startup that's based in New York City. He's on the line with us from his home in that city. Nice of you to be with us today.
JASON GOLDBERG: Oh, thanks for having me, Neal.
CONAN: And how come you're not at the office?
GOLDBERG: Well, you know, our office is closed. We have no electricity. We have our headquarters in the West Village, about a block away from the Hudson River. We lost electricity, and it's probably going to be, you know, a few more days until we get it back.
So our 225 New York-based employees are all working from home or from someone else's home. Our warehouse in New Jersey employs another 150 hourly workers, and that's closed, as well. But, you know, it's - you know, a little perspective is, you know, first, you know, make sure everyone's safe and sound, and then we try to keep the business going.
CONAN: I hope everyone is safe and sound.
GOLDBERG: Well, thank you, yeah. You know, about a third of our employees have been displaced because of, you know, lack of electricity. And what we've seen is a great coming together amongst the Fab.com team. We've got, you know, people who - you know, a great email thread, 180 responses, from different team members offering up their homes to other people. And that's the kind of thing you really like to see during a time like this.
CONAN: And I gather your home is - you've redefined the home office concept.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, you know, it's funny, our business was born two years ago around my kitchen table, and even, you know, now that we have 600 employees worldwide, it feels like we're back to basics. A dozen of our, you know, team members are sitting right around the table right now, and it's - but that's what we do.
You know, we're - you know, New Yorkers are a resilient bunch, and, you know, we've seen all sorts of things over the last, you know, few years that have, you know, impacted this city, and we'll get through this one, too.
CONAN: Yet your warehouse, you say, is in New Jersey. Whereabouts, and how long before that's going to be able to open again?
GOLDBERG: Yeah, you know, we actually have two warehouses in New Jersey, and, you know, it looks like it's going to be early next week at best. And, you know, we're just, you know, trying to, you know, to, you know, get electricity back on as quickly as possible, and, you know, holidays is, you know, everything for a retailer like Fab.com.
And, you know, under a normal holiday scenario, would have about two million products going out of our warehouse, and we still hope to, you know, have that same number of shipments going out over the next couple months. And, you know, we're just trying to, you know, do our best to, you know, let our customers know that they can still order from Fab and feel good about the experience.
We're launching 1,000 new products on our website every day right now. And tomorrow we're actually going ahead and launching our holiday shop still because we think, you know, it's important for people to smile even during these tough times. And our business is all about helping making smile through great designs.
CONAN: Now we've heard that cell communications through the city have been spotty in various places. Have you had any trouble with Wi-Fi?
GOLDBERG: You know, there's - yeah, I mean, if there's no power, there's no Internet, and so, you know, there's, you know, there's spots, parts - basically below 42nd Street, you know, it's - at night you see it's dark, and people are having a lot of trouble with mobile phones as well, as well as with Internet.
What we're doing is trying to, you know, move people to, you know, to the places where there is power and where there is good cell coverage and especially where there's Internet coverage.
CONAN: And I wonder, also, you've been saying you're introducing new products. Have you been transparent with your customers about saying we may not be able to ship as quickly as we might have before?
GOLDBERG: Absolutely. I mean, you know, our whole business is based on authenticity and transparency, and, you know, we've just taken the approach, whether it's, you know, with Hurricane Sandy or anything else, just be up-front and honest with your customers, and they'll give you, you know, they'll give you a long leash.
And, you know, we've - last night I sent out a message to, you know, five million of our customers saying that, you know, just bear with us. You know, our office is closed, but we're still working. Our warehouse is closed, but we're still working. And we're launching our holiday shop tomorrow because that's what we do, and we're going to keep doing our best.
And, you know, the response has been pretty fantastic from people all over, saying they appreciate us being up front about it and transparent. And, you know, it's the best you can do during a situation like this.
CONAN: You mentioned all those people you employ. Have all them been able to report to work one way or another?
GOLDBERG: Yeah, we actually had the last couple people yesterday afternoon. We finally accounted for everyone. But, you know, there have been all sorts of stories. As, you know, with most New York companies, while we're based in the West Village of Manhattan, we've got people all over, you know, the New York area in terms of where they live, people in Northern New Jersey, people in Central New Jersey, people in (unintelligible) Long Island.
And, you know, we've had, you know, people that have had, you know, trees fall through their homes and people who have, you know, really struggled to kind of get out of the environment they're in. But everyone is OK and accounted for, thankfully.
CONAN: Well, Jason Goldberg, good luck.
GOLDBERG: Well, thank you very much.
CONAN: Jason Goldberg, founder and CEO of Fab.com, an ecommerce startup that's based, as he pointed out, in New York City. He joined us by phone from his home and home office there. Again, if you've had to adapt as a result of Hurricane Sandy, call and tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com.
Joining us now is John Waggoner, money columnist and reporter for USA Today. He's been covering the inevitable insurance implications that will come up in the aftermath of the hurricane. He's with us by phone from his office in Maclean, Virginia. Nice to have you with us.
JOHN WAGGONER: Hey thank you, Neal, thanks for having me.
CONAN: And the next chapter in the fallout seems to be insurance claims. In your most recent USA Today column, you referred to an army of claim adjusters on the move through the disaster areas. What do people face now if they had property damage?
WAGGONER: Well, they face a lot of time and headaches, basically. There are a couple things you have to worry about with this storm. One of which is if your house gets knocked into the next county by the wind, your property insurance is going to cover that, that's not a problem.
If it gets swept into the next county by a wave, you need flood insurance for that. And some people don't have that or will find out that their flood damage is not covered, and that's going to be very distressing for them. That was a big cause of contention during Katrina.
CONAN: So this is clearly going to be an issue again, that is a separate policy, often made available through the federal government.
WAGGONER: That's right, through FEMA, and it's subsidized because a lot of property, you know, insurers don't really want to take that risk. So the government subsidizes that to an extent. And if you don't have that, then you have a lot of arguing in front of you.
Now if a tree goes through your roof, and water comes down and everything gets damp, that's property casualty. Your streets are flooded, that's flood insurance. And so that's going to be the first battle for people to fight is am I covered by the damage that I suffered.
CONAN: And do these regulations vary state-by-state? I mean, I guess we're primarily talking about New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, places like that.
WAGGONER: Well, regulations, the insurance industry is by and large covered on a state-by-state basis. They're fairly consistent with, you know, what's covered by which. But one of the things that people need to be aware of is that the burden of proof is on you and not the insurance company.
In other words, if your house has been reduced to dust, it's up to you to prove that there was once a, you know, $200,000 insured property there and that it had, you know, your collection of Tiffany eggs in it, too.
CONAN: So take some pictures before and after.
WAGGONER: Yes, exactly.
CONAN: And as you - every time we see one of those insurance ads on TV, we see those armies of adjusters that are always there patting us on the back in disasters. Are they really there?
WAGGONER: They're getting there. They are - you can actually see, I believe State Farm has an actual video on the Internet of a caravan of adjusters leaving their Bloomfield, Illinois, offices to head for the disaster. It might take you a while, but the first thing you have to do is pick up the phone and call them and tell them, hey look, you know, I have a claim, and you need to come see me. But they try to be as prompt as they can.
CONAN: And is it likely that insurance premiums will go up throughout the region?
WAGGONER: Yeah, probably. That tends to be the trend whenever there's a big disaster, that you notice somehow that your premiums have gone up. Another thing people should be aware of, though, is that there is a difference between hurricane damage and run-of-the-mill disaster damage.
So if your house burns up, for example, in a non-hurricane-related event, you've got a dollar amount deductible, $1,000, $5,000, whatever you signed up for. In the case of a hurricane, it goes from being a dollar amount to a percentage amount of the insured value of the house.
So if you have a, you know, $100,000 home, and you have a five percent deductible, then your deductible, you know, pops up to $5,000 from whatever it was. And that's a big chunk to take.
CONAN: Thanks for the advice, John Waggoner. John Waggoner, a money columnist and reporter for USA Today. We've posted a link to his piece on what you can do avoid insurance hassles at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION. Let's see if we can get a caller in. This is Elizabeth(ph) and Elizabeth on the line with us from Albany, New York.
ELIZABETH: Hi, I'm actually calling on my way up to Albany. I currently don't have any power in Connecticut. And I was evacuated from my student (unintelligible) house. I'm a current student at Fairfield University. I'm a senior. And I was evacuated about 12 p.m. on Saturday. So all I have is a bag, and I don't know when I have school next, and I don't even know if I have a house to go back to when this is all said and done.
We haven't been able to get in touch with anyone. Our landlord is stuck. She has a tree blocking her road. So she has no way out. And we're just taking it as it comes.
CONAN: Fairfield down in the southeastern corner of Connecticut, on the coast there. So you're at this moment a gypsy.
ELIZABETH: Yes, I'm living out of my car. I have about a bag full of food that I took out of the fridge, and I've just been popping it into people's fridges as I get to their houses. And I have - you know, I'm running out of clothes. I'm currently going to someplace where I can have some electricity and a hot meal. But I really don't know what's going to happen.
The university hasn't contacted us yet with alternative housing options for students who have been displaced, and we haven't had any word on the state of our house yet.
CONAN: Well, Elizabeth, good luck to you, and we hope you reach Albany safely, and we hope you can get back to school safely.
ELIZABETH: Thank you very much.
CONAN: If your life has been adjusted by Hurricane Sandy, call and tell us how you're adapting, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Before Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast of the United States, it swept across the island of Haiti, where it dumped heavy rains and blasted the country with strong winds, a country still not recovered from the catastrophic earthquake two years ago.
Sandy's blamed for more than 50 deaths in Haiti. The storm was Category 1 when it hit the country. Now aid workers and government officials warn of major food shortages there.
Our focus today closer to home as people in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast recover from Superstorm Candy - Sandy. If you've been affected by the storm, call and tell us how you've had to adapt, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Joining us now by phone from Atlantic City is Brandy Ross, who works in housekeeping at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City. Nice to have you with us today.
BRANDY ROSS: Oh thank you, Neal, it's nice to be with you.
CONAN: Thanks. We understand Atlantic City is one of the places hardest hit by storm, not far from where the eye of the storm came ashore.
ROSS: That's right. Where I live at, I live in the south inlet, and I live in a building called The Ocean. It's right on the boardwalk. And it's about - I would say about a mile, about a half a mile - at least a half a mile of the boardwalk has been completely demolished and destroyed, from a street from Oriental Avenue all the way up to - which is called the Gardener's Basin, where our boats and ships and things come in to.
CONAN: And we mentioned that you work in the casino industry. The casinos were closed before the storm. Have you been able to work since?
ROSS: No, I haven't. The last day I worked was last Thursday. And I worked about, what, from nine to two, and then they wanted - they had to evacuate the city. They were going to shut the roads down at 4 o'clock. So they wanted everybody out - you know, that wanted to get out could get out.
So the Revel, which is our newest casino, it's about a $2.5 billion casino that was built, it's a beautiful place, it's really - I called the hotline this morning, the employee hotline to see when I was going to be able to return to work, and it said that - it gave different departments but they stated on the hotline that due to the storm that nobody would be coming back to work probably until November the 3.
CONAN: Well, that's not until the weekend. So are you going to spend this week where you don't get paid?
ROSS: That's right, exactly.
CONAN: And why did you decide to stay there in Atlantic City rather than evacuate when the order was to evacuate?
ROSS: Well, I really had nowhere to go. The shelters, I have a little dog, a little Chihuahua. I couldn't take her with me, and I wasn't going to leave her by herself here. And the building, Neal, that we live in, this building is 50 years old, but this building was built by the Army Corps of Engineers. And the architect and the design of this building was built to - as an actual trial and experiment to see how this structure would fare for hurricanes.
And it really, really did really well. We had some water damage, but the thing that was fearful for me, once I saw the boardwalk breaking apart, I was afraid that maybe a board or something would propel itself through one of the windows. But thank God it didn't and everything held.
And I was - you know, we were - it was about how many, would you say, stayed here Paula(ph)? Here? We don't have 200 people in this - it was maybe about 100 residents, 120 residents that stayed that had nowhere to go. And we have elderly and disabled and a lot of - no, we don't have a lot of kids, but we have quite a few.
We had a three-month-old baby that was here, and so we all just band together, and we got barbecue grills, and everybody brought food, you know, because we had no power. So all your frozen meats and things that would have went bad, we just cooked, and we all ate together, and everybody just came together as a family.
CONAN: Well, continued good luck to you, and I hope you can get back to work as soon as possible.
ROSS: Oh, yeah, we are hoping so. You know, this is the first of the month coming. I don't know what's going to be going on as far as, you know, people with their debit cards, ATM machines. Nothing's working. So people are not going to have access to money. And, you know, it's the domino effect, you know, with when a catastrophe strikes, it disrupts your life in so many other areas that you don't know how to get - how to get yourself together, you know.
CONAN: I know. Brandy, thanks very much, good luck.
ROSS: All right, thank you, and it was wonderful talking to you. Have a blessed evening.
CONAN: Nice to talk to you, and say hi to Paula, too.
ROSS: All right, Neal. Thank you, Neal, bye-bye.
CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Meryl(ph), and Meryl's on the line with us from Binghamton, New York.
CONAN: You're on the air, Meryl.
MERYL: I'm at the other end of this storm. What I have is I have two daughters, three actually, who live in the metropolitan New York area. One is in Lower Manhattan, so she's without power and water and had the East River in her building. And one of my daughters in New Jersey is without power. So they're heading up here. In fact I just returned from the grocery store, and I'm trying to stock up to welcome children and grandchildren and so on.
CONAN: Thanksgiving's coming early.
MERYL: Yes, it is, it is. I mean, we're at the other end of the spectrum, and we are fortunate that we didn't get it this time because last year we had Lee, and we had terrible flooding and closures.
CONAN: You're right there on the Susquehanna River in Binghamton.
MERYL: Exactly. Actually it's the confluence of the Susquehanna and the Chenango. So I'm very happy to welcome our children. I'm running out and buying all cereals and things I need for them. But they - the problem is my one daughter in Manhattan is a public school teacher, and they don't know - they're so afraid to leave because they don't know when things will restart.
CONAN: It's going to be tricky because then you've got to time the drive back down to the city, yeah.
MERYL: Exactly, exactly. And, you know, people are helping people. Those who have power down there, the kids run to get their cell phones charged, and, you know, people are just pitching in to help each other. And us grandparents out of town are eagerly awaiting them. They're en route now.
CONAN: Well, I hope everybody arrives safely, and have a grand time.
MERYL: Thank you so much, Neal, bye-bye.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. And earlier I did misspeak about Fairfield, Connecticut. It's in the southwest corner, not the southeast. I get those confused from time to time, and I apologize for that.
Here's an email from Jennifer(ph): My sister lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and owns a very well-loved small-world café, a coffee café. They only close two days of the year but decided to close on Monday, heeding the warnings of the storm. Princeton suffered high winds, rain, power outages, lots of fallen trees. On Tuesday morning, she checked in with some of her staff and found out that downtown had power.
She managed to get enough staff together to open the cafes and have had a line out the door since they opened at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Many people are there charging their devices, sharing stories and drinking coffee, a small example of how communities and businesses come together to help each other out.
Yesterday during our program on the effects of Hurricane Sandy, we received this email from David Cisneros: Hi, I'm with a large entourage of line crews traveling from Southern California to Long Island to work on restoration of power. We're in Ohio and plan to be there tonight. Everybody's geared up and ready to work safely to get the lights back on.
Well, David's a journeyman lineman with Par Electric, based out of San Diego. He's still on the road, joins us now from Route 91 in Massachusetts. And good to have you with us today.
DAVID CISNEROS: Hey thanks, Neal. Good to be here.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the email. Thanks for including your cell phone number so we could reach you. Where are you headed?
CISNEROS: I just - right now we're headed to Rhode Island. Possibly that'll change, but that's our destination as of right now.
CONAN: So Rhode Island, as opposed to Long Island.
CISNEROS: Yeah, yeah. That's changed. We were going to go to Long Island, then it was Massachusetts. And now the most recent one's Rhode Island. So...
CONAN: And you're with a convoy of equipment?
CISNEROS: Well, the - there's multiple crews that are headed, you know, to different places. But my crew - and there's about three or four others that are headed to Rhode Island. But I - there's quite a few, you know, contract crews that are coming from all over the States.
CONAN: And I...
CISNEROS: We're - when I heard the radio show yesterday, I heard one of the callers say they saw us coming from Minnesota. And I just want to share that we're coming from Southern California.
CONAN: I understand you've worked on power outages before, after Hurricane Rita in Louisiana, in Houston after Hurricane Ike. It seems a long way to come from California to Rhode Island.
CISNEROS: It is. It is. That's pretty much from one end of the country to the other, the farthest I've been (unintelligible). But, yeah, that's - this is what we do. This is the kind of work that, you know, that we do. And when the power's out, big situations like this, it takes a lot of manpower to get the lights back up and get the service restored. So that's why we're here.
CONAN: One of the things that we also heard yesterday was from a lineman who said people who sometimes have been waiting a long time to get their power turned on can be a little, well, a little short with some of the crews. Has that been your experience?
CISNEROS: Yeah. It kind of depends on some that we're - the neighborhood that we're working. Some people that are in the more rural areas, they're kind of used to it. And when they see us, they're more than happy to, you know, bring out coffee that they warmed up on their woodstove, or whatever. (unintelligible) one of the more dense, urban areas. People get used to flipping that light switch, and they kind of expect it. And so they get, you know, frustrated and impatient. They kind of let us know about it.
But one thing about most of the guys I've ever worked with, and most of the men in the trade, you know, they take the job seriously and have a lot of pride in what they do and work tireless, you know, long hours to finish the job and, you know, have the satisfaction of seeing people be able to have their service restored.
So, hopefully, people can understand, you know, what goes into what we do. It's not something that just takes place with the snap of your fingers. There's a lot of work that has to be done, has to be done safely. So it takes time.
CONAN: Well, David Cisneros, thanks very much. Be careful. It's a dangerous job, too. You know that better than I do. And drive carefully, as well.
CISNEROS: OK. Yup. Thanks a lot. You have a good day.
CONAN: David Cisneros, a journeyman lineman from Par Electric in Southern California, on his way on the road with a bunch of other equipment, all the way to Rhode Island. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
And let's get Steve on the line, Steve with us from Dallas.
CONAN: Hi, Steve. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVE: OK. Well, I'm Steve McPatrick(ph). I'm an - a Texas-licensed insurance adjuster. Myself and a lot of friends are on our way up to Richmond, Virginia, and then we're going to circle up and drive up to New Jersey and start getting some of these houses looked at so people can get paid for their losses and get them repaired.
CONAN: So you're on your way to help people figure out how their insurance is going to work.
STEVE: That's right.
CONAN: And I wonder, are you always welcomed gladly?
STEVE: Well, I'm always welcomed gladly, but, you know, if they see the amount and they're not happy with it, then the frown kind of pops up.
CONAN: And that amount can be adjusted. Again, we were talking with John Waggoner of USA Today and pointing out a lot of people don't understand that, on their regular policy, floods are not covered.
STEVE: Well, that is true, and that's sad. You know, the federal government has a program because none of the insurers can afford to handle the huge costs that are involved when flooding happens.
CONAN: And what do you tell people when they realize that?
STEVE: Well, I just tell them that it's - it was their choice whether or not to choose the coverage for a flood. And if they don't choose to cover it, there's not a lot I can do except offer condolences.
CONAN: And where do you expect to be working, Steve?
STEVE: I expect to start out in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey. Where I go from there, who knows?
CONAN: You may be so busy there, you may not have to move very far.
STEVE: Yeah. Well, maybe I'll be able to retire from there.
CONAN: That might be. Steve, good luck, and thanks. Drive carefully, OK?
STEVE: Yeah. Thank you.
CONAN: All right. Steve with us from Dallas, there. And let's go to Carrie(ph), and Carrie's on the line with us from Queens in New York.
CARRIE: Hi. How are you doing, Neal?
CONAN: I'm doing well. Thanks.
CARRIE: I always listen to NPR. I'm actually just driving right now back into Manhattan. I live in Manhattan, in Washington Heights, but I've been out at the other end of Long Island with my family in the Hampton Bays with no power since Sunday, actually. So...
CONAN: Yeah. We heard that something like 90 percent of Long Island lost power.
CARRIE: Yes, actually. Well, in our neighborhood, some people do - have had power and never lost power, but we were just one of the unlucky ones who have been without power. So - but what I've been calling about is my - I have a really large family, and my grandfather actually just passed away on Sunday.
And so all of us were coming out into the other end of the island right before the storm because we wanted to be with him as he passed. And my grandfather has always been a chronically late person his whole life, and now the storm hit right as he passed. And so it kind of puts back his wake and his funeral, and we've been joking about it because now he's going to be late for his own funeral.
But we've all just banded together. There's been 12 of us in one house with no electricity. I have an aunt that's with us, too, who has a home in Breezy Point, which is on the Rockaway. And we've just heard that half of Breezy has been completely wiped out by either water or fire.
So we really don't know. They're not allowing anyone to go back to the island right now or cross the bridge. And we think her house is gone. All the homes there are on top of each other, and we heard there it's just a huge electrical fire. So she hasn't been able to figure out whether or not her house has even been touched yet. And my other aunt, actually, who has been with us, too, on the island, has a house in Westchester.
CARRIE: A tree fell in her house. And so her husband was there, but he was luckily at work because it fell right in where their bedroom is at nighttime at the height of the storm, I guess. And so they - she's driving back right now to see what the damage has been done and what they can do about that. And I'm just driving back to my apartment right now just to pick up some things because our funeral has been pushed back, and I'm just stuck in traffic trying to get back into Manhattan from Queens at this point because a lot of the - I know that the tunnel has been shut down that I normally take, so I'm trying to get on the Queensboro Bridge, actually, in slow traffic.
CONAN: A lot of us know that as the 59th Street Bridge. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandfather, and fight your way through the traffic...
CARRIE: Thank you.
CONAN: ...and say hi to everybody in your family.
CARRIE: Thank you. Thank you so much.
CONAN: That was Carrie on the line with us in Queens, and it sounds like it may be a while before she's able to get on that bridge and get up to Washington Heights and get the stuff out of her apartment and turn around and head on back. We're talking about life after Hurricane Sandy. If you've been affected by the storm, call and tell us how you've had to adapt: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Up next, we'll get answers to some of the questions about whether climate change may have played a role in this disaster. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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CONAN: Right now, we're talking with some of the people affected by Sandy. If that includes you, call and tell us how you've had to adapt: 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
At a news conference earlier today, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raised an issue that's been talked about a lot since the storm hit. He said climate change needs to be a bigger part of the conversation.
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GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: Part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable. And if we're going to do our job as elected officials, we're going to need to think about how to redesign, or as we go forward, make the modifications necessary so we don't incur this type of damage.
CONAN: Governor Cuomo went on to say he believes an event like this will happen again. There are a lot of questions swirling about climate change and its possible effect on storms like this. To answer some of those questions, we turn now to Adam Frank, professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, cofounder of NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog. He's with us by phone from his home in Rochester.
Thanks very much for being with us today.
ADAM FRANK: It's a pleasure to be talking with you again.
CONAN: And we're talking with people whose work has been affected by Sandy. You're with us by cell phone because you're at home, because you don't have any power.
FRANK: Right. The storm knocked down a giant branch in my backyard, and I've been without power now for - going on 24 hours.
CONAN: Well, we hope the crew is out there quickly and that that can change. But in the mean time, a lot of scientists will tell you, well, you know, Sandy could've happened 100 years ago or 200 years ago, and you can't confuse weather and climate. Climate, it happens over a very long period of time. Weather is what happens next week.
FRANK: Right. And that's, you know, always been sort of an essential distinction to people. It's important to make the difference between, you know, the weather that ruined your picnic yesterday and, you know, the long-term, over-years pattern of changes that happen with climate. But what we certainly understand now is that climate change, the addition of all that CO2 in the atmosphere and all the heat that's being trapped, is pushing our climate into a different domain whereby we're going to expect the frequency of extreme events to change.
CONAN: I.e., since the water's warmer, that could impel more energy into these storms, which could become more violent.
FRANK: Right, right. Exactly. You know, what happens with climate is - one of best things I've heard is if you're going to draw the connection between climate and weather is the idea that now what's happening is we have weather on steroids, right? So if a, you know, a baseball player is using steroids, you're going to expect in the season he's using steroids to hit a lot more home runs on average than in the season where he's not using steroids. And that's the kind of scientific perspective that people are now beginning to take on what is called attribution science, the ability to say, hey, that storm that you had or that incredible drought you had last year is, you know, is attributable to climate because we see a higher statistical inference for these kinds of things once you start adding all this extra energy into the atmospheric system.
CONAN: In particular, in your piece, you cited Peter Stott of the UK Met Office and his work, looking in to the big heat wave that happened in Europe in 2003, a heat wave that killed thousands of people.
FRANK: Right. Right. I think it was 35,000 people who were actually killed in that heat wave. And so what you're seeing there, really, is there is a hierarchy of different kinds of weather events that you can attribute to climate more clearly. It doesn't mean that something like this storm has not been affected by climate. Indeed, almost every weather pattern is going to have some base-level change because of the changes that have already happened to the climate. But what he was really looking at was what was heat waves and droughts, which really are on the top of that hierarchy, things that you really expect to be happening more frequently and with more intensity because of climate change.
Now, it doesn't mean that with a storm, like with hurricanes, that it's not happening or changing the intensity because of climate change. It just means that the science there is - in terms of the attribution of any particular storm - is just more complex. And, you know, many scientists in field, you know, because they're scientists, that they're not going to make, you know, they're not going to put money down that that exact storm was caused by climate change.
CONAN: And so you talked about that hierarchy of events. If droughts are near the top, you say hurricanes are near the bottom.
FRANK: Right. Hurricanes and tornadoes right now are the most difficult thing to point to any individual event as occurring due to climate change. And the reasons for that are manifold. One is just the complexity of the weather system such that being able to say, OK, that storm was due to climate. And also, with hurricanes, it's because we don't have as much data from the past, right? It's only been since 1970 when we got a satellite that we actually could count up the number of hurricanes that were occurring. Before that, if a hurricane occurred and it didn't, you know, make landfall somewhere, you didn't know it was there.
Now, the interesting thing that's happening, though, is there is - just a month ago, a paper came out where someone used - or a group - a team used storm surges as a proxy, right? People, certainly on land, notice when a storm surge happens. And they used that - the rise in the waters as a proxy for the - for hurricanes that maybe didn't make landfall. And there they saw a very nice correlation between warm years and storm surges versus cold years.
And certainly, what you expect with climate change is the water's going to get warmer, the whole planet's going to get warmer. So that really was a nice step in the right direction in terms of being able to see the connection between these massive storms and changing of the climate.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for being with us today. And again, we hope that's the power company knocking on your door right now.
FRANK: We will certainly hope. RG&E, hello. Help.
CONAN: Adam Frank with us from Rochester, New York. Appreciate your time today.
FRANK: Yeah. Thank you so much. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, cofounder of NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog, with us, as we mentioned, by cell phone from his powerless home. Let's get some more callers on the line. Let's go to Britney, Britney on the line with us - Charlottesville in Virginia.
BRITNEY: Yes. Hi.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
BRITNEY: Hi. I'm actually on the road right now, passing through Charlottesville on my way to family. I escaped the three feet of snow in West Virginia.
CONAN: Three feet of snow?
BRITNEY: Yeah. We were - we lived off in the mountains, and we had three feet of snow today.
CONAN: Just - that's - you get snow in the mountains of West Virginia every year, I expect.
BRITNEY: Yeah. Now we do. It's just Sandy hit at the same time that a small snowstorm was kind of passing through, and a few collided right over top of us. And it's extremely, extremely heavy, wet snow. It knocked out power for most of the area, phone lines, cell phone towers, everything. My family actually didn't even know I was coming until I was an hour on the road.
CONAN: Oh, couldn't get cell service?
BRITNEY: Yeah. Yeah. We had no cell service.
CONAN: That's the kind of snow - that really heavy snow, not only can it knock down trees and hit the power lines, of course. It can knock down roofs.
BRITNEY: Yeah. Yeah. We're actually kind of questioning if our carport's going to make it, but - because it was still snowing when I left. But...
CONAN: Any prediction of how much there's going to be before it's all said and done?
BRITNEY: No. I know my husband stayed behind here at the construction company, and they're still going to work. But they said that it's probably been another two inches since I left this morning.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much. Drive safely. We hope you make it.
BRITNEY: Yeah. I'm almost there, so...
CONAN: All right.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's go next to - this is Ann, and Ann's on the line with us from Fort Lauderdale.
ANN: Yes. Hi. Good afternoon. How are you?
CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.
ANN: I'm just calling to say I live in Brooklyn, in Sheepshead Bay.
ANN: And when Sandy hit, it was one of the worstest(ph) things I've ever experienced.
CONAN: What was it like?
ANN: Very high winds, very scary, waiting for trees to come down. Thank God that no trees came down on our home. But two doors away, my neighbor's home, a tree fell on her home. And there was no power. First, before the storm hit, before Sandy hit, the power went off for a few minutes, just before 7 o'clock. It went out for a few minutes, and then it went back on. Then at 8 o'clock, it just went off completely.
CONAN: This is on Monday?
ANN: Yes, on Monday. Next thing we know, my house is getting flooded from the front door, the back door, the side door, and there's nothing we could do, absolutely nothing. We turned on the flashlights to see where water's coming from. My son tried to get pails to try to take out the water. It was devastating.
CONAN: Had you given any thought to evacuating before the storm?
ANN: No, because plenty of time they said before when there was storms and hurricanes, this is zone A, and you must evacuate. I did that last year.
ANN: And nothing happened. Thank God everything was fine last year. But this time, I thought it's just another - it's going to pass us. It's not going to hit.
CONAN: Well, sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're wrong. So I guess...
ANN: Exactly. So now, on Tuesday, we never slept. We stayed up around the clock, me and my husband and my son, just watching the water come in in our home. And nothing could be done. And there's fire departments and ambulances and police cars just going around the neighborhood, every block, fire department everywhere
CONAN: And how did you get, then, from Sheepshead Bay to Fort Lauderdale?
ANN: Got up Tuesday morning, packed up whatever I could in my car. Unfortunately, a lot of cars was damaged. But I thank God that my car was - there was nothing wrong with it, nothing, like God protected it. I packed up in my car, and me and my husband left.
And we would like to thank the volunteers, the police department, the National Guard, FEMA, whoever came to give help. But there was nothing could be done when the water's rising in your house. It's a scary feeling.
CONAN: Oh, I'm sure it's terrifying. I'm sure it's terrifying.
ANN: You don't know where to run. What could you do or what could you save? What to save? You know what? I just stood in the middle of my living room, and I said there's nothing I could save. There's nothing to save.
CONAN: Did you end up, though, taking some things with you?
ANN: No. No. I just packed up a bag. There's nothing to be...
CONAN: Whoop, I think we lost Ann. I apologize. Ann with us on the line from Fort Lauderdale, and we hope she and her family are fine and can get back home to Sheepshead Bay quickly. We're listening to stories of people's lives and how they've had to adapt after the hurricane. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
The total power outages in the United States, according to our count using the Department of Energy list of power companies: 5,064,000. Total power outages, according to the Associated Press at 1:19 this afternoon, more than six million homes and businesses. Total deaths in the United States: 66. That's not counting one unconfirmed and one missing in North Carolina. There's also been a report of one person dead now in Canada. Total deaths in the Caribbean when Sandy was active down there before it came north, that's according to the Associated Press, 71.
Cancelations: The New York Stock Exchange is scheduled to reopen today with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ringing the opening bell. We all heard that. New York Governor Chris Christie authorized a closure of all state offices in New Jersey today. Many schools in the state will also remain closed. For the first time in its 39-year-old history, New York City has canceled its famous Halloween parade through Greenwich Village. All Halloween festivities at the White House have also been canceled in the wake of the storm. Broadway will be lit up again tonight for the first time since Saturday, as shows are to resume, many of them.
Con Ed tweets this is the largest storm-related outage in their history. Crews are working around the clock to assess damage, and that customers served by overhead power, well, if their lines are down, it could take at least a week. Underground, that could take four days. More than 250,000 residents of Lower Manhattan are without power. The Long Island Power Authority said it will need at least 10 days to fix outages there. More than 914,000 of LIPA's 1.1 million customers were without power as of 8 p.m. Tuesday. That's according to the newspaper out there, Newsday.
Air travel: John F. Kennedy Airport opened at 7 a.m. today. Some airlines landed planes at the airport last night to prepare for today's opening. The carriers will be providing limited service. Rail service at AirTrain JFK is suspended until further notice. Newark Liberty International opened at 7 a.m. Carriers will be providing limited service there, as well. AirTrain Newark is suspended until further notice. Trenton and - excuse me, LaGuardia and Teterboro Airports remain closed at this time. The runways at LaGuardia remain flooded. Air traffic cannot resume until crews can clear it.
Terms of transit: The George Washington Bridge, Goethals Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Outerbridge Crossing are open. The Holland Tunnel is closed until further notice. Floodwaters have kept the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel - better known as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel - and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel closed. The Lincoln Tunnel remains open. The New York City subway system is closed because of flooding. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that service will start again tomorrow - limited service, though. Restoration all through the system will likely come in stages.
Here's an email we have from Maureen in Idaho: I'm from Idaho, and somehow, my husband got us linked in to listening to the Brooklyn dispatchers during the horrible fire the night of the storm. I have to say it chokes me up just thinking about it. The dispatcher, two that switched back and forth, and the firemen were working so hard and intensely. Dispatchers didn't have a moment's rest contacting all the fire trucks and letting them know where they needed to go. The firemen would say they couldn't get through because of the flooding. Then dispatchers would try to contact them, and they wouldn't respond.
I see in the news Tuesday that they'd left their trucks and walked into this disastrous fire going on for blocks and were saving people. Dispatchers so worried and so busy, firemen so intense in doing their job. Well done, Brooklyn dispatch and firemen out there. From far off Idaho, we heard that 80, perhaps 100 homes were destroyed in that fire at Breezy Point, and many other homes in that neighborhood - as we heard earlier today - ruined by rising water, as well.
Stay tuned to NPR News for the latest on Hurricane Sandy, as recovery attempts continue. More today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
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