States Recovering From Superstorm Sandy
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's the day after in many places along the East Coast. Sandy, still powerful but now a post-tropical storm, continues its push to the west, bringing heavy wind, rain and snow further inland.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie surveyed the flooding and damage in his state and called it some of the worst he's ever seen. Con Ed, the power company in New York City, now says electricity will be restored in Manhattan and Brooklyn over the next four days.
There are no predictions yet for how long the flooded subway system may be offline. The damage stretches as far north as Maine, west to Illinois, south to North Carolina. While emergency workers continue to rescue people from flooded areas, it's impossible to forget we're also a week away from a national election. The presidential campaigns have called a temporary truce. More on that a little bit later in the program.
We hope you'll be our reporters today. Call and tell us what happened where you live. What are you seeing now? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. And we'll begin in New York City with NPR's Margot Adler at our bureau there in New York. And Margot, a record surge reported yesterday in New York City.
MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Yes, practically 14 feet, and there were scenes in Lower Manhattan that are hard to believe. I think one subway tunnel station had ceiling-foot water, up to the ceiling, apparently. Apparently when Cuomo was - Governor Cuomo, Governor Andrew Cuomo, was wandering around and said that he saw things he'd never seen before. He said that, you know, he was used to all kinds of disasters.
He had been dealing with the earthquakes in California, he was there in Florida for Hurricane Andrew, and he said, you know, the Hudson River was just pouring into Ground Zero to such an extent that they were incredibly worried about the pit, that he saw, you know, literally the water flowing in as if it was accelerating. He had never seen anything like it.
And one of the things that was fascinating to me is that every single politician that I have heard speak in the last, you know, eight hours - and I'm talking about Governor Chris Christie, you know, in New Jersey; the head of the MTA, Joseph Lhota - do not sound like politicians. They are all somewhat shell-shocked. They are all speaking, you know, about facing a disaster that is historic, that they have never seen before.
CONAN: We're talking also about massive power outages across the city, especially right now a lot of people are thinking about what you were describing earlier: downtown Manhattan. It is the first time the New York Stock Exchange has been closed for two consecutive days by weather since the blizzard of '88, and boy, that's going back some in New York City.
ADLER: Right, and apparently there has just been an announcement that it will open tomorrow. As far as power outages, something like two million people have been affected. In one - on Long Island, some of the worst and apparently something like 90 percent of the population does not have power. There's an incredible loss of power in Lower Manhattan, and it may take days to restore some of it.
The subways - ughh - you know, one of the stories that we heard at one of these press conferences was, you know, there was a question from a reporter, you know, when will Metro North be fixed for commuters. And one of the answers was, well, there's a 40-foot boat on one of - you know, over the tracks. That's just one little detail of many.
And so there have been 4,000 requests for tree services, and there are downed trees everywhere. Downed trees actually contributed to some of the deaths in New York City and also around in other states. And there are crushed cars. There are cars that are still in two or three feet of water.
And there was one apartment building in pretty much Lower Manhattan or at least sort around - I forget, 14th, 15th Street, that the entire side of the building just was sheared off. So you could actually look and see all the rooms in the apartment building.
CONAN: Give us an idea. I think most of us have an image in our heads of what Times Square in New York City looks like. What does it look like today?
ADLER: Well, I was walking there this morning. I actually was put up in a hotel there, and so there were lots of tourists, and they were, of course, not having a lot to do because everything is closed. And there's a drugstore that's open, so you can get a few things. I could get some spare underwear (Laughing) because I was put up in the hotel.
But to even get a cup of coffee was - took about a four-and-a-half-block walk for me this morning because everything was closed. All the chains are closed, the McDonald's, the Starbucks, the Subways, all of those are closed. And so there are people that are wandering around. It was still raining when I was there a couple of hours ago. It was still windy.
People were walking around, but it was pretty deserted. There was some traffic. There are beginning to be some cabs on the street, but it was, you know, quite strangely, eerily quiet.
CONAN: You don't expect Midtown Manhattan to be a little like one of those beach resorts where the Weather Channel guys go to lean into the wind and file their stories. Margot, go ahead.
ADLER: And I should also just give you, you know, some facts. They say that JFK Airport probably will open tomorrow, and there are, you know, literally tens of thousands of flights that have been delayed. And so, you know, a lot of people all over the country, you know, almost everything comes into JFK.
LaGuardia apparently has some serious damage and apparently will not open tomorrow. Bus service will resume. The buses apparently were not damaged, and subway cars are OK, but of course the subway lines are in horrible shape, and it may take at least four days. And everybody is saying, well, we're going to basically improve this - how was it described - as bits and pieces.
In other words, they're not going to be able to get the system as a whole on track. They'll get a little bit here and a little bit there. They'll put bus service in in places where it's not used to be in, to sort of substitute for subway service. And everybody was talking, they were using words like flexibility and creativity, you know, to figure out how they are going to seriously do this.
CONAN: We'll be tuning in over the next few days to see how flexible and creative the people of New York City are. Margot, thanks very much.
ADLER: Always a pleasure.
CONAN: NPR's Margot Adler, with us from our bureau in New York. She was talking about the airports in there, the city, of course not just LaGuardia and Kennedy Airport, Newark Airport in Northern Jersey. These are three of the major airports in the country, and at the height of Hurricane Sandy some eight or nine airports on the East Coast were closed.
Thousands of flights have been canceled. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has been following the cascading effects of the storm on air travel and joins us from his office in Dallas. Wade, good of you to be with us.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello, Neal.
CONAN: And well, it was interesting, I was seeing on TV one of those pictures of all the flights in the air, and there was this big hole over New York City.
GOODWYN: Yeah, it's funny, I talked to several planners at both the airlines and the major airports yesterday, and the consensus was that their advance planning was going to minimize the impact of Sandy throughout the nation's system. Of course the East Coast and the Midwest were going to be severely impacted, but it was not going to be like, say, Valentine's Day blizzard in 2007 or some of the other winter weather blizzards, where hundreds of planes get trapped out of position, and the impact winds its way through the national system like a computer virus.
And I was told this was not going to happen with Sandy because they've had a long time to plan, and I think in some respects they were right. We don't have hundreds of planes trapped in airports that are socked in by snow, and I think that's going to be an important factor going forward. But the fact is, you simply cannot close down LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark and not have it impact the entire system.
It's like if you close down the highway interchange where three interstates come together, sure, you can say, well, we've limited the closure to just this one little interchange, and other than that, the interstates are open. Well, that's great, but until you get that interchange up and running, we're going to be backed up.
We're looking at 15 to 20 percent of the industry's flights have been canceled, and that's a pretty impressive interruption.
CONAN: So in preparations, just to clarify, as many planes as they could, they got out of the New York City area.
GOODWYN: Yes, you know, so that we didn't have this repeat of planes socked in airports that they can't take off and land out of. But then, you know, in New York City there's the problem of getting the crews to the airports. I mean NPR's based in Washington, D.C., and we've been on emergency staffing procedures since Sunday night, I believe.
But I'm covering the airline industry from Dallas, and that's not a problem for NPR in any way. And NPR's ability to fold in other staff from locations that are not being impacted by Sandy is an ability that can be replicated by many other companies in New York and in the Northeast in this day and age, but not the airline industry.
If you can't get two pilots and three or four flight attendants on each plane, it's not taking off, period. And traveling, as we just heard from Margot, traveling around from New York City right now with the flooded tunnels, both the road tunnels and the subway tunnels, is, you know, more than problematic.
So say you're JetBlue, for example, and many of your New York staff can't get to the airports, or let's say many of them can, and they can report for duty but not all of them. Well, in the airline business, that's not going to cut it. So it's just not about getting the runways ready for takeoffs and landings. And as we heard from Margot, LaGuardia's not even ready in that respect.
CONAN: There's damage, as she reported, if you just joined us, on LaGuardia, which of course like many airports right at sea level, just above it. And we think of course of all the flights disrupted in this country, but there are all kinds of flights from Europe that are disrupted as well.
GOODWYN: Absolutely. I mean Kennedy and LaGuardia in New York are just - it's not just the major interchange in the United States, but Europe and Asia have a lot of flights into New York. So it backs everything up across the world.
CONAN: And as you've been talking with airline officials, do they have any timetable on when they expect things to get more or less back to normal?
GOODWYN: Well, I think it's slowly but surely going to improve. Today is probably going to be as bad as yesterday, maybe a little better. Tomorrow will be better still. I think as the week goes on we're going to see some improvement. The question is: How soon can we get New York up and running?
I talked with Amtrak yesterday, the train system. They closed down the Northeast Corridor. You know, we'd like to think that the train system is hardier than the airline system, but you know, a hurricane will do the job no matter the mode of transportation.
A lot of Amtrak runs on electricity that relies on overhead lines, and overhead lines are vulnerable to tree collapse, and tree collapse is a hurricane specialty. So Amtrak also could be a while coming back to full service.
CONAN: I forget who it was, it might have been Governor Christie yesterday, who says those trains are hardy and meant to operate in all kinds of weather. They are not meant to operate underneath water, and a lot of those lines were flooded as well. Wade Goodwyn, thanks very much for your time today.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.
CONAN: NPR's Wade Goodwyn, with us from his office in Dallas. Rescue crews continue to help people in the aftermath of the storm. The emergency continues. That's our primary focus today. But up next, the effect on politics with the elections just a week away. 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. One grim measure of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy, the rising U.S. death toll. Number reached, 38 by the count of the Associated Press, mostly from fallen trees. And the storm continues to head to the north and west, eight million without power thus far.
Floodwaters in Manhattan and other places, particularly in North Jersey, many people stranded, thousands of flights canceled. Call and tell us what happened where you live. What are you seeing now? 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com.
The storm hit at a very difficult time for the presidential candidates. Both President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney suspended campaigning, but any reprieve can last only so long, with just a week left until voters go to the polls and with early voting already under way.
With us here in Studio 3A, NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. And as always, nice to have you here on the day after the storm.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Neal.
CONAN: And many areas on the Eastern Seaboard suffered tremendous devastation. It's going to be difficult for voters to get to the polls.
ELVING: It may be; we don't know yet just how much of the damage from the storm will still be inhibiting people from going to the polls a week from today. One thing we know it has done, it's made it more difficult for a lot of people who thought they were going to vote early to get to the places where they thought they were going to do that.
And in some states, and in the District of Columbia as well, they actually canceled the early voting opportunities for at least a couple, three days, and so that's already been something of a hardship for voters.
CONAN: And this is an email, just one of many we've gotten on this subject through the day. Is there any talk about postponing the big election? What if the East Coast still doesn't have power next week? What would be the political effects of postponing or going ahead?
ELVING: The odds of the election actually being postponed nationally would probably be pretty close to nil. We have never done that. There have been cities, there have been instances - famous example, of course, after 9/11, in September of 2001, the city of New York postponed its mayoral election, which had been coming up that November.
And they eventually did have it, of course, but under those extraordinary circumstances, the city, the municipality of New York went ahead and did that. There is no federal official who could order a delay of the presidential election. We do have, of course, the Constitution, that directs the day that we will have a federal election to elect the president of the United States, but the election is conducted by each of the several states.
It started out as 13; now we're up to 50 plus the District of Columbia. They all make their own rules. They are all to do their voting on that particular day, but there are allowances made in the Constitution for the states to, under the aegis of their own legislatures and governors, come up with some rules in emergencies.
So if, say, the state of New York, which seems to very hard-hit, or New Jersey, or another state were to say we can't get it done on November 6th, there could be an allowance made for that.
CONAN: Well, under extreme circumstances, the states could appoint electors?
ELVING: Under extreme circumstances. These circumstances are tragic, these circumstances are unusual, even extreme in many measures, but it is unlikely, I would say at this point, that any state, even as hard-hit as New York is, would attempt to put off this election. More likely what they would do is they would make special arrangements for some parts of the state or for some individuals to have a little more time to vote, a sort of, if you will, super-absentee ballot.
CONAN: In the meantime, this has put the campaigns on hold. Effectively this is a big reset button.
ELVING: It is except that, of course, anything that has this much momentum does not really stop. So President Obama has been staying in Washington, in the White House. He is on the move this afternoon. We believe he's going to make a statement a little bit later on this afternoon, probably at FEMA or some other part of the federal government that's involved in coordinating the response to this tragedy.
CONAN: He appeared yesterday at the Brady Briefing Room at the White House and said we are not really concerned of the election, it'll take care of itself, we're worried about first responders and people getting through the storm.
ELVING: And we're going to see some more of that from the president later on this afternoon. He had the open possibility of returning to the campaign trail in Ohio on Wednesday, but that has now been retracted, and the president will still be here in Washington on Wednesday.
Mitt Romney, at the same time, is still out there, and he's conducting what he calls relief rallies for the victims, but they look an awful lot like campaign rallies, and he still has all the same guests and the NASCAR drivers and the entertainers and so on. So we'll see how that plays.
Also, of course, the Democrats also have their surrogates out there. Joe Biden is campaigning, and Bill Clinton, the former president, is in Minnesota today.
CONAN: Let's hear some examples of that. This is Governor Romney speaking with voters in Ohio at a relief center, today, outside of Dayton.
MITT ROMNEY: I've had the chance to speak with some of the governors in the affected areas, and they've talked about a lot of people having hard times. And I appreciate the fact that people right here in Dayton got up this morning; some went to the grocery store, I see, and purchased some things that these families will need, and I appreciate your generosity.
It's part of the American spirit, the American way, to give to people who are in need.
CONAN: So that's, as you say, not a campaign event per se, but the governor keeps his face on local television in Dayton, Ohio, the critical swing state, and it has much the same effect.
ELVING: If the president is doing his job as president and supervising the response to the storm, he is obviously projecting a positive image of himself. And meanwhile, Mitt Romney is trying to do something equivalent from his standpoint as a candidate. He doesn't have a day job. This is all he has to do. So he's out there, you know, carrying bottles of water around and supplies for the victims and showing his compassion and projecting a positive image of himself as a prospective president.
CONAN: How the president does his job, it's been interesting, of course, George W. Bush got a lot of criticism for the performance of FEMA and other federal agencies after Hurricane Katrina. Thus far, it's been interesting to see the reviews of the federal government's cooperation in Hurricane Sandy, much better, including very positive reviews from Governor Chris Christie, the Romney surrogate who's the governor of New Jersey.
ELVING: Yes, the man who delivered the keynote address for the Republican convention this summer that nominated Mitt Romney, has been unstinting in his praise of President Obama in his handling of the crisis so far. Now of course that could change. We could have something happen in the next few days that was negative for the state of New Jersey, and the governor might not be so pleased, and of course he does let us know what his changes of mood are.
So before we put him suddenly out there as in the president's camp, he is still a Mitt Romney man, but he said extraordinarily nice things about the president all over the media on Tuesday morning.
CONAN: And you mentioned President Obama canceled a trip to Wisconsin planned for today. But former President Bill Clinton is on the road for the campaign. He addressed the crowd at the McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota.
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PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: It swept through the little town in New York where Hillary and I live last night. My next-door neighbor lost all the beautiful trees in his front yard. He's a 70-year-old pediatric cardiac surgeon, a devout Catholic layman and a strong supporter of the president's health care plan.
CONAN: And President Clinton, former President Clinton touching a lot of notes there. We remember him, of course, as mourner in chief at various other moments in history and managed to get the health care plan mentioned in there.
ELVING: Remarkable how he does manage to play chords that use all of his fingers when he's speaking in a political context.
CONAN: Here's an email question that we have from Nancy(ph): I'm a little-g government worker, I work for a county in Oregon, who wants folks who are undecided voters to remember this weather event is a perfect example of why we need government. Government is people, and we all need to support each other.
Partisan Democrats, Ron, are reminding people that it is Governor Romney who's been calling for cuts in federal management services, saying they should be devoted to the states or even privatized.
ELVING: Yes, and Mitt Romney is being reminded of statements that he made during the Republican primaries, when he was asked about federal agencies that he had suggested needed to have their budgets cut, or needed, in fact, even to have their functions removed and moved to the states and even to private use, as he said. FEMA might be among the agencies that would be better administered one state at a time or even by private contractors.
And then, of course, later on he was asked whether or not he really meant that in the context of some of the big storms we've had, and he had a somewhat different opinion and thought maybe FEMA was something that ought to stay in the federal government. But the videotape is out there and on YouTube. Democratic sites are going to be making sure that people have seen Mitt Romney saying that maybe FEMA ought to be something we take out of the federal government.
CONAN: We've also seen analyses of people saying, as you suggested, early voters seem to be more important for President Obama in places like New Hampshire and Virginia. On the other hand, if people are going to be having trouble getting to the polls, that's more likely to be in rural areas, which might favor Governor Romney.
There is no way to figure out who might benefit or how.
ELVING: I think the only thing we can all agree on is if the administration, the Obama administration, has a misstep or stumbles in managing this storm, and the memories of heck-of-a-job Brownie, that was Michael D. Brown, the FEMA director under President George W. Bush in 2005. He'd only been in his job for a couple years, he didn't really have much background in the field, probably not really all that well prepared for the storm. And then there were just all the terrible things that happened in New Orleans and around New Orleans in that instance in the fall of 2005.
Very fresh memories for people in much of the country. So you don't want anything to remind people of that FEMA. You want everyone focused on a much more competent, much more responsive, much better organized FEMA today. And if that's the dominant impression, that plays well to the overall theme of the Obama administration that they came to power after the George W. Bush folks left, and that they have kind of gotten the federal government righted as a ship. That's a good theme for them, but they have to be careful not to stumble because then the comparisons to Brownie will begin.
CONAN: So stay tuned. Ron Elving, thanks very much for your time today.
ELVING: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Obviously, more on this tomorrow with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. In the meantime, let's get another caller on the line, and this is George. George with us from Reading, Pennsylvania.
CONAN: Hi, George. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GEORGE: Yeah. Hi. I work for a tree company, and, you know, we're out here trying to do the best we can, and some people are just not being like - absolutely, you know, they're being ignorant and rude. You know, I just hope that instead of being rude, they would like bring coffee out to us and be happy that we're there.
CONAN: Ignorant and rude, their patience has been frayed. Is that what you're saying?
GEORGE: Yeah. They're just frustrated. No electric. And I understand that. But, you know, don't take it out on us. We've been up for a long time. And last night, we're just sitting around watching, you know, generators just blow up, you know, transformers blow up and just lightning and, you know, it looked like lightning in the sky. It was blue, purple, red, you know?
CONAN: Which is pretty on the one hand. On the other hand, it's - boy, that's a lot of work for you.
GEORGE: Yeah, yeah. Well...
CONAN: And we have - it's not been universal. We did hear from some people in New Hampshire who said that they had some linemen visiting from South Texas, and everybody seemed to be being very nice there. So, I guess, it varies region to region. But you can certainly understand people losing a little patience.
GEORGE: Yeah, yeah. So I mean, you know, if they just give us time, we'll get the job done, you know? And the more people that are on the roadways, it makes it harder too, you know, because you're constantly - have to watch them and everything. You know what I mean?
CONAN: And so what's been - other than people who might have been a little kinder, what's been your biggest problem today?
GEORGE: Basically, just the winds. You can't really be up in the bucket trucks, taking down, you know, trees in this wind because, you know, they're a little top-heavy, and some people just don't understand that, you know? We just can't go up there and just take a tree down. You know, you've got 40-mile-an-hour winds, even 30 miles an hour, even 25 miles an hour, it's very strong when you're up there 50 foot off a bucket truck.
CONAN: I can understand it could wobble a little bit, be a little scary.
GEORGE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So, you know, just trying to get it out to the people that we're doing the best we can and just be patient. We'll try to get your electric on fast.
CONAN: George, thanks very much for the call. We wish you the best of luck.
GEORGE: Yeah. Thank you. Bye-bye.
CONAN: So long. We're talking about the effects of what's now post-tropical storm Sandy. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get Mike on the line. Mike with us from Harrisburg in Pennsylvania.
MIKE #1: Hello.
CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.
MIKE: Yeah. I make my living traveling, probably get in the way of that bucket truck operator there earlier. But I - yesterday, I spent the day traveling through the Philadelphia area, which was an adventure with the - coming close to the eye of the storm. Basically, what I've seen is, you know, some flooding, you know, rivers coming up, things of that nature. And today, I'm just going north out of Harrisburg. And again, the Susquehanna is to my right as I'm traveling, and it's starting to get up and over some of the islands and the - in the river.
And there's been some low - some extreme flooding on some of the roads. Not a lot of debris. My wife just informed me that a couple of hours ago our power came on. It went out about 11 o'clock last night. So I consider myself pretty fortunate compared to some of the other poor folks.
CONAN: Yeah. We keep thinking about the storm coming ashore in New Jersey. It went right across that sort of southern tail of New Jersey, and that goes right into Delaware Bay and pushes right up...
MIKE: Oh, yeah.
CONAN: ...into Philadelphia.
MIKE: Yeah. Because I was - probably basically about 100 miles away from the eye of the hurricane were my travels yesterday. So it - the travel was pretty rough, going up the Northeast Extension. However, with all the people who are - had the sets of brain cells stayed home. Me, I'm on the road, but I (unintelligible) to begin with.
CONAN: You mentioned the Susquehanna too, reminiscent of Irene a year ago, and the Susquehanna, of course, it drains much of central New York. All of central Pennsylvania flows down...
CONAN: ...to the Chesapeake Bay. And, boy, it brought a lot of stuff down with it last year.
MIKE: Oh, yeah. Last year, I mean, I live in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, and we got hit pretty hard last year at this time. So far, the river has been behaving itself. It all depends on how much water gets dumped upstate New York because that's where we'll get hit, like a couple of days later.
CONAN: And the traffic, what is that like there in - near Harrisburg?
MIKE: Traffic is light. I mean, everything is moving. People are apparently venturing out. The - it was kind of strange with all the stores and things closed yesterday, and it is now starting to reopen, depending on what part of the state you're in. I know it's worse - Harrisburg, I normally do a lot of shipping by FedEx. And right now, FedEx is saying, well, forget about next-day delivery, you know? Which kind of messes up my business. But again, a small price to pay compared to some of the other poor people with their business and homes ruined.
CONAN: I know. It is, but it's definitely an inconvenience. What kind of business are you in?
MIKE: I work as a financial specialist for a trust company, so we handle, work with people's finances and things of that nature if necessary. So I travel about reviewing the current clients, what they're doing, so.
CONAN: And obviously, critical to get documents back and forth as quickly as possible.
MIKE: Exactly, yeah. In fact right now, I'm heading to do a death claim for a client so that's obviously, you know, doesn't take - it doesn't take a holiday for a bad weather day, so.
CONAN: No, I don't. Well, and drive carefully, Mike, and good luck to you.
MIKE: All right. Thank you.
CONAN: We need you to be our reporters today. Call and tell us what happened where you live and what you're seeing now. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. This came in from Allison(ph) in Stone Harbor in New Jersey. We are not yet allowed on our island, which is also our polling place. Any idea how we'll vote? And the answer is no. I don't have any idea how you'll vote. There's still a week to figure all this out. And, well, it's going to be difficult for officials in places along the Jersey Shore, officials in New York City, officials in Virginia and Delaware and other places that have been affected so dramatically by this storm. And we're going to bring you up to date on that as you follow NPR News, not just today but through the rest of the week.
Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Again, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. 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. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. All through the day on NPR News, we continue to cover the effects of now post-tropical storm Sandy, not just what happened yesterday but what's happening today as the storm continues to move up through Pennsylvania and into western New York state.
We got this email from Darren(ph). I've been working with the New Hampshire Fire Academy Swiftwater Rescue Training Program for firefighters in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is on the forefront with training and developing cooperation between federal and state agencies, local fire departments and volunteer search and rescue organizations. We learned a great deal from Irene - that was the big tropical storm last year - and the responders are much better prepared. Kudos to the leadership in these organizations for working things out. Our communities are the safer for it. Here in Conway, the river is in flood today but not like the New York metropolitan area. The fire and police departments are well positioned to respond, and they apply the lessons learned from last fall.
We need you to be our eyes and ears today. Call and tell us what happened where you live, what's happening now. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Outer Banks in North Carolina are starting to clean up today after Sandy lashed the coast with tropical storm force winds over the weekend. Highway 12, which runs the length of the outer banks, was under two feet of water as the storm passed by. But in many areas, residents report the damage has been lighter than expected. Some ferries that service the area are back up and running. Alan Sutton has seen his share of hurricanes. He's the co-owner of Tradewinds Tackle in Ocracoke on North Carolina's Outer Banks. He joins us by phone from his shop there. Nice of you to be with us today.
ALAN SUTTON: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: And did you have to close the shop?
SUTTON: Yes, we were closed Saturday afternoon, Sunday and yesterday. I came by the store Sunday and Monday to check on the building, check on anything and had my cell phone number on the door in case anybody needed anything. But we're back open today.
CONAN: And I understand it's still, you know, kind of the day after in New York, but cloudy, a little bit rainy. Nice weather where you are?
SUTTON: It's beautiful and sunny here. The wind's turned around to the southwest, and it's just gorgeous.
CONAN: And how did you fare? The shop OK?
SUTTON: Yeah. The shop's fine. The island is fine. We really didn't have any damage here. The wind was not too bad. The storm passed offshore. We did have quite a bit of water in the village. The streets were flooded, and that's one of the things that people really have to prepare for is getting their vehicles to high ground and make sure you don't lose your vehicle to the salt water. We had about four - I think we had about four to five feet above mean high tide on the island.
CONAN: Which is, well, something serious but it's been worse.
CONAN: And at this time of the year, have most of the tourists left and are most of the people there year-rounders?
SUTTON: Most of the tourists have left. Although we still have fishermen this time of year. It's a really nice time of year for shelling and fishing along the beach. Most of the summer tourists, obviously, are gone. But there's still a few folks hanging around.
CONAN: And what about the folks who operate fishing boats there? Are they OK?
SUTTON: Yeah, everybody's fine. The guys prepare their vessels. Smaller boats will be trailered - that are trailerable, you pull - they'll pull those out of the water, get them to high ground. And the larger boats, they'll make sure they are adequately tied down in a slip, or they'll pull them around to some of creeks that are even more protected than the main harbor area.
CONAN: So everybody's experience really comes into play. Everybody knows how to prepare, and everybody takes it pretty seriously.
SUTTON: Absolutely. It's not something we take lightly. The island is a really close-knit community. It's a small community, and the nice thing during times like this, the guys that aren't as experienced, you know, there's plenty of people you can lean on that'll help you - help tell you what to do.
CONAN: Communities pull together, especially a place like Ocracoke where people winter. That's a pretty a tight-knit community.
SUTTON: Yes. We've got just under 1,000 year-round residents here. We've got a school that's pre-K through 12th grade here in the community, so everybody's kids go to school together, and it really brings the community closer together.
CONAN: And what about nearby areas, other barrier islands there?
SUTTON: Yeah. North of us is Hatteras Island, and Hatteras Island, I know, had some problems with Highway 12. I don't know of much damage in Hatteras. I think it was similar to here as far as the southern part of Hatteras Island with a little - with some flooding. Mainly just taking care of the roads. There were some power outages, that kind of thing. But for the most part, things are getting back up and going. Highway 12 that services Hatteras Island is going to be more of a problem over the next week, but our Sound Class ferries - we have large ferries that service Ocracoke to the mainland, and those ferries are back up and running today with emergency personnel, supplies tomorrow, and we'll have - should be able to have tourists going back and forth by the weekend.
CONAN: Good to hear that, and I'm sure you're glad to hear that as well. We do know that storms, from time to time, can change geography there: divide islands, create new ones. Anything like that?
SUTTON: I'm not aware of any issues like that. We had overwash on the north end of Ocracoke, which is a very narrow section of the island, but that's not unusual. A nor'easter during a winter, it seems to happen about once a year. We'll have some ocean overwash there. So that's not that unusual. Highway 12, as you go up Hatteras Island, it's more fragile.
CONAN: Alan Sutton, thanks very much for your time today.
SUTTON: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Alan Sutton, co-owner of the Tradewinds Tackle in Ocracoke in North Carolina and joined us by phone from his shop there. Let's get the callers back in on the conversation. This is Mike, and Mike is on the line with us from Cape May in New Jersey. You're not too far away from where Sandy came ashore.
MIKE #2: Yeah. No, location is everything. We're south of Atlantic City. We're as far south as you can go. We're land's end. So it's where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay. You know, 400-year-old tows down here, but we're really, really fortunate. The majority of New Jersey coastal shoreline towns are barrier islands.
CONAN: And so...
MIKE: You have to go over a bridge to get to them. So there'll be a bay on the back side, and there'll be the ocean on the other side. So they're really surrounded by water. Whereas Cape May, it's not the case. Although we're an island, it's - we're technically an island because the Army Corps cut a channel on one side, but geography is everything. We kind of face south. If you look at a map of New Jersey, even though everyone thinks they're looking east when they're looking at our ocean, you're really facing south and then we're facing almost west. You can see Delaware. And the wind was out of the north, and that really saved us. The wind blew out of the north almost the entire storm till about 4:30, 5:00, when it switched west and then southwest, but it kept the water off us.
CONAN: So the surge was all onto the shore to the north of the storm. Anybody south of the storm, the wind was whipping around the other way and driving the wind, driving...
MIKE: Only us. No, no - only us. The next town north of us is Wildwood and the two towns north of that are Stone Harbor and Avalon, and they're under water today.
CONAN: Oh, really?
MIKE: Yeah. They're - again, they're barrier islands, so we were just fortunate by geography. The morning tide yesterday was big. We were out looking at it, and we had overwash at the main Broadway Beach over to the cove. There's was a lot of sand being moved. The seas were 10, 15 feet and constant, and we were worried because everyone knew that the evening tide was going to be a bigger tide. It's a full moon. There was a surge behind it. And that tide was damaging up on the beach. There's a lot of erosion, a lot of sand got moved around everywhere.
But I was up on the beach front today and a couple of restaurants got hit, but again, how it matters - the next town up is - you could see Wildwood from here. So it's a couple of miles by water, a couple of more miles by car because you have to make this kind of a - a circuitous to get there. But Wildwood is completely underwater from tip to tip, and I know Stone Harbor and Avalon are, and the whole way up the coast. So Cape May just got lucky.
CONAN: And do you have power?
MIKE: You know, I'm lucky; I do. It's a small town. Everybody knows everybody. The town was under mandatory evacuation, but a lot of us are local so, you know, we know the drill. We have firewood. We have backup generators. We have candles. We have thermoses and freezers. And, you know, we always hunker down. We stayed through Irene. Nor'easters will kick our butt. We had a bad winter a couple of years ago that was epic, the same one that hit D.C., 2010-'11.
I bumped into friends of mine. Everyone is out to survey the damage this morning, as soon as we got up, and a lot of people are without power. The grid was horribly affected. But fortunately, you know, everybody knows everybody, so people can come in and out of everybody's house, charge their phones, their battery; showers, whatever. Because the electrical grid for South Jersey is just tough. You know, you get a couple of trees down, and we had a lot, a lot of wind last night. It was blowing about 70, 80 miles an hour. There was a two-hour band between 4 and 6 that was just horrible yesterday afternoon. There was somewhere between 60 and 80-mile-an-hour gusts with a lot of shear to it. So somehow or other my electric stayed on. It went on and off a bunch. We weren't planning on it.
MIKE: We had firewood inside. We had food cooked. We had all the flashlights and everything we needed ready to go. But it went out and came back on and stayed on.
CONAN: Well, Mike, we're glad you did well.
MIKE: Thank you, guys. Keep up the great work.
CONAN: Thanks for the report. Among those responding to the damage after Superstorm Sandy - the American Red Cross, providing shelter, food and water to those affected by the storm. Anne Marie Borrego is director of media relations at the American Red Cross and joins us now from their offices. And nice of you to join us today.
ANNE MARIE BORREGO: Thanks so much for having me.
CONAN: And I gather President Obama was just one of your visitors.
BORREGO: Yes, he was. He came by to talk about the storm and to encourage us to keep up the good work as we continue to respond.
CONAN: It's nice to be encouraged from the very top.
BORREGO: It sure is.
CONAN: Now, the extent of this storm is massive. How is the Red Cross responding?
BORREGO: Well, as of last night, we had - last night we had 11,000 people spending the night in more than 250 Red Cross shelters across 16 states. So that's all the way down in Virginia up to - up through the East Coast. And we expect that those numbers could increase as the storm moves into cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee.
CONAN: And are people going to Red Cross shelters?
BORREGO: Yes, they absolutely are going to Red Cross shelters. And there they can visit with a health counselor or talk with a mental health counselor. They can get a meal and some snacks and get in touch with loved ones by using our Safe and Well feature.
CONAN: And just tell us a little bit more about that because we have a lot of questions about people asking how they can get in touch with relatives.
BORREGO: Yes. So there are several ways that people can let others know that they're safe. One is the Safe and Well feature, and you can get to that from our website. All you do is simply register that you're safe and well. And then during the actual event, the storm, people can go and look you up online and check your status.
Another way to let others know that you're safe is by downloading our hurricane app. Within our hurricane app, we have a one-touch I'm-safe feature that will push out that information to all of your social networks.
CONAN: And so you can send messages to everybody at the same time or at least try to.
BORREGO: That's right. So it will basically go up on Twitter and through Facebook to let everybody know that you're OK.
CONAN: Well, you're talking about social media. There's a question from Dee(ph) by email: I've been wondering why no one is addressing the cell phone outage in New York City. I've been trying to call people and getting nothing. Are you having any experience with that?
BORREGO: So we're actually - I mean here at headquarters we're doing just fine, but I know that as we've been communicating with some of our folks in the field, we are noticing that they're experiencing some connectivity issues, and that does - that's definitely does happen.
CONAN: We're talking with Anne Marie Borrego of the Red Cross. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And here's another question that came to us by email: What's the difference between a do-not-consume order and a boil order? Aren't they the same thing? Walter wanted to know that from Brooklyn, New York. Anne Marie Borrego? I guess she's left us. Of course a boil order, I think, is for water. It's for questions where you have - water should be boiled before drinking. It's usually when there's been problems with sanitation systems. Do not consume, I assume, relates to food, and so - if that can be boiled. Even if it can be boiled, I guess it's not safe to eat. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In a boil-water advisory, bringing the water to a rolling boil for at least one minute will render it safe for human consumption. A do-not-consume advisory indicates that the water contains a contaminant that cannot be removed even by boiling; the water cannot be made safe to drink.]
In the meantime, let's see if we get some more callers on the line. And this is Rachel. Rachel is on the line with us from Eldersville in Pennsylvania.
CONAN: Hi. You're on the line, Rachel. What did you see?
RACHEL: Well, just a couple of things that are interesting. We are just - we had huge winds here. We're on the far, far west side of Pennsylvania, and we've had about five inches of rain so far with a little bit of snow last night. But two things I just wanted to mention. We drove, our daughter and son-in-law - one of them - lives in Jersey City about a block from the waterfront, and we left their house Sunday afternoon. And we were astonished by - coming across on I-80 - was the hundreds and hundreds of utility trucks of all different kinds headed east from somewhere. I'm not sure where they were all coming from. We were hoping they weren't all from the Pittsburgh area. But anyway, so I was impressed with the - apparently someone had mobilized all these people to get ready for taking care of things, which was great.
The other thing having to do with our other daughter, who just happened to be in - with her husband and our two little grandchildren - were in Pakistan, left yesterday, were able to get out of Pakistan but are now spending an unknown amount of time in Doha waiting for Dulles to reopen. So just two different perspectives on the storm. Our daughter in Jersey City didn't have any damage except the gutter came off of their condo, but there was a lot of sandbagging along that area.
CONAN: And of course Jersey City, for people who don't know, lays right along the water in New York Harbor.
RACHEL: Right. They're right across from the Twin Tower of - in New York, so...
CONAN: And - but everything where you are is OK?
RACHEL: Yeah, although we may have to start building an ark, but otherwise we're good.
CONAN: Well, two-by-two I think is the rule.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Rachel.
RACHEL: Thank you.
CONAN: So long. Let's see if we go next to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth with us from Lebanon, New Jersey.
ELIZABETH: Yes. Hi, Neal. You know, I always listen to your show, and I'm often tempted to call but never would have thought that I was calling because of Sandy. Am I still there? I can't hear you anymore.
CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead.
ELIZABETH: Yeah. So I live in Lebanon, New Jersey. It's on the west - northwest of the - I'm sorry - west of the city, towards the Pennsylvania. Like the - as the caller before was saying, also we saw on the highway, on 78, coming from west, going towards east, going towards the shore, crews of electric - electric crews coming from out of state and obviously already getting ready because what the forecasters were saying, were saying was indeed true.
We live in a very wooded area. We have a lot of trees down. Last night around 10, we lost power. We actually heard the terrible noise all night long. But in particular at 10, when we lost the power, it seemed like sort of - I don't know how to explain. But looking at it this morning, it seems like a tornado maybe, because it's a line of trees coming from the lake in front of our house and coming from east. And one tree after the other, it down just like a domino effect. Three huge trees fell on our garage and all the power lines are down. The power lines are actually on the grass.
Our road this morning also was blocked. There are only seven houses there, on our little road; it's a country road. So with all the neighbors, we went out, everybody with a chainsaw, and we cleaned it up to open it for emergency. But the telephone poles and the power poles are broken in two. So you know, the wires, you don't understand if it is a phone wire or if it is an electric wire. I know that we are not supposed to touch it. They are not live, anyway. We are, in a way, lucky because our neighbor has a tree service, a company. So he's...
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CONAN: So he's right there. Well, Elizabeth, I know that sometimes tropical systems can spawn tornadoes. I'm not sure - I've not heard anything like that with Hurricane Sandy, but that may have been what happened. In any case, continued good luck to you.
Thanks very much for the calls, everybody. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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