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East Coast Reeling After Hurricane Sandy


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


And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning. Just to review some of the effects of the Superstorm Sandy this morning, we have high-wind warnings in the Great Lakes area; we have snow in West Virginia and Maryland; we have some flooding in eastern Maryland; we have massive flooding receding in Manhattan today, but many subway and other tunnels nevertheless flooded; massive power outages. And then there is New Jersey, where Sandy came ashore as a hurricane last night.

NPR's Joel Rose is on the line. Joel, where are you, exactly? What have you been seeing?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, I'm in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. This is a shore town about 50 miles north of Atlantic City, on the central Jersey shore. And you know, we're still pretty hemmed in by floodwaters here. High tide for the morning has passed but, you know, it's still very difficult to get around here. We're hemmed in - to the south, and to the north - by high floodwaters.

The only way to really see what's going on, on the shore, is in a vehicle with a really high clearance - like a dump truck - or by boat, or by helicopter. We actually saw some officials hovering overhead - kind of trying to get a sense of the scale of the damage here - in a helicopter, which tells you, you know, something about the weather, too. The wind has subsided enough for a helicopter to be out there, surveying the damage. So, you know...

INSKEEP: Help me understand...

ROSE: ...that's one thing we can see.

INSKEEP: Help me understand the floodwaters that you're describing, Joel. Is this just water in low-lying areas? Do you have streams and rivers that have overflowed their banks? Are there bridges that are impassable? What are you seeing?

ROSE: Well, you know, I think I'm seeing the ocean, honestly, just lapping up onto the roadway here. The dividing line - kind of - is the railroad tracks that are a couple of hundred yards away from the beach. If you're on the beach side of those railroad tracks, you're pretty much underwater. I don't know how deep the water gets, but it appears to be, you know, waist-high in places. You know, it's flooding up into residences, into warehouses, into buildings. But if your house - if you're lucky enough to be on the inland side of the railroad tracks, a lot of the houses here appear to be high and dry. Many residents say they didn't even get flooding in their basements.

So a real stark division, there, between the people right along the shore, who took a lot of water; and the people further inland, who did not. At least, that's the situation in Point Pleasant. I don't know elsewhere on the shore, obviously. But here, though, the rivers seem to be high, but not so high that they're flooding the adjacent houses. Like, I think the bridges that connect us to the inland, are still open. It's mainly the going north and south, along the coast itself, that is severely impacted by the storm.

INSKEEP: OK. You talked about talking to residents. Are there lots of people out and about today?

ROSE: Yes - to the dismay of local officials, I'm sure. The mayor in Point Pleasant asked everyone to stay inside, to let emergency crews get to work trying to restore power - which is out, you know, in every direction, as far as I know. And the - so the mayor asked everyone to stay inside. But I am seeing lots of people now, as the - you know, sun comes out, and people start to get around to survey their community.

Yeah, it's almost like a normal rush hour, in certain ways. There's a lot of traffic on the roads. People are trying to get back to their houses - in some cases, successfully; in some cases, not. And they're trying to help their neighbors, to clean up some of the trees that have fallen. And you know, I've seen - actually, some really lovely scenes of people coming by to help their neighbors dig out, to pull debris off of their lawns and, you know, start having some sense of normal life...

INSKEEP: Well, I suppose...


INSKEEP: ...they're not - they're not at home, using the electricity; which is the next thing that we're going to talk about.

MONTAGNE: Right. As you suggested, Joel, people there have - in New Jersey - have lost electricity. And they're - along with millions of other people through these states, that have been hit by - by what was Hurricane Sandy, now Superstorm Sandy. We have with us environmental correspondent Elizabeth Shogren, who knows something about that. What are the numbers that you've come up with?

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Well, I did a utility-by-utility count of how many people have been losing power in this storm. And I've got more than 7 million homes and businesses without power, so far. And that's just the utilities I could count. There's lots of small ones that I must have missed. And we're talking customers here. We're not talk - so there could be millions and millions more people. One apartment building might count as one customer.

So millions of people are without power, and this is a lot more than other storms. Hurricane Katrina had less than 3 million people, for instance, without power. So one of the things that's very specific about this storm, is that it stretched for such a wide area, over such a heavily populated part of the country. And that's why we're seeing lots and lots of people without power.

MONTAGNE: And it's, obviously, more than just a nuisance. I mean, remind us of the sorts of ways in which people can't function when there is no power.

SHOGREN: Well, it means lots of things to lots of different people. If you live in a tall apartment building, it means you can't even - maybe make it downstairs. There are lots of things.

MONTAGNE: Right. Bodegas and local shops are closed and yeah, right, no heat. It's getting cold. It's getting cold in West Virginia. It's snowing. In New York City, it's cooling down, too.

SHOGREN: And if you lose your valuables - there might be things in your freezer, like - say, breast milk that you'd stored up, or important medicine. And you just lose it, then.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask something, Elizabeth Shogren? Obviously, this is a monster storm, but it was not record winds; lots of flooding, but it's in a region that is - that expects hurricanes. It's not a surprise that there would be a hurricane in this part of the country. Should we be disturbed about the resiliency, or lack of resiliency, of the power grid; that so many millions of people would lose power, all at once?

SHOGREN: Well, it is disturbing. And I think what is disturbing to people, is that this seems to be happening a lot. The previous - some of - several utilities told me this is, by far, their record loss of power - that they've ever had; the record number of outages they've ever had. And they said that the last record was last year.


SHOGREN: So in fact, what people are seeing is, there are more and more of these things happening to them, in frequencies that they're not feeling great about.One of it is that - this section of the country is a very leafy area; and the trees are busting, and they're bringing power lines down. That's happening a lot. But another thing that happened, particularly in this storm, is that there was a lot of flooding, and the substations were vulnerable to that. They got swamped; and either because the utilities knew they were going to get swamped with water, they purposefully took them offline - they say that they have - or else something happened, and they just got knocked offline. This happened in the lower part of Manhattan, with hundreds of thousands of people without power because of just that one station losing power.

MONTAGNE: Well, in fact, let's go to lower Manhattan because Zoe Chace is there. And we've been talking to you earlier this morning about power, Zoe. What else are you seeing there?

ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: Well, I'm actually peering over the Hudson River right now, and it's still pretty choppy; it looks rough. And I can see the Statue of Liberty, where the light has gone out in the torch there because there's no power down here. And the other thing that I saw is that there's tons of shops and restaurants in downtown New York - that's kind of the lifeblood of this area - and they have been really decimated. Like, a lot of windows are broken in; mannequins from Ann Taylor, tossed blocks up the street. This one bar, the actual bar itself - of the bar - was moved two blocks up the street, by the wind.

INSKEEP: Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. You're saying the building was moved? Is that what you're suggesting?

MONTAGNE: No, the bar came off - the bar.

CHACE: No, no, no, the actual bar itself...

INSKEEP: Oh, the bar. OK.

CHACE: ...where you would put your beer down. (LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: So it was rolled out of the bar, and sent up the street.

INSKEEP: Maybe it was a moving party when it happened.

CHACE: Yeah. It was because of the water - is what I think because if you look at the sides, the windows of these shops - the sort of remnants of the windows, you can see how high the water was. It was like, 6 to 7 feet up. It was definitely above my head. And so what happened was, the water just carried all this stuff up from downtown Manhattan, a few blocks north. This one guy I talked to, was actually picking up stuff from this store - Brookstone - and bringing it down and then tossing it through the broken window, back into the store.

INSKEEP: Reverse looting, that's good.

CHACE: Yeah, exactly. People are trying to help each other out, which is kind of a New York thing.

INSKEEP: Just got about 10 seconds, Zoe, but you told us yesterday morning that a lot of bodegas were staying open. You could still find coffee. Any coffee available this morning?

CHACE: Oh, yeah, absolutely. There's tons of coffee. And there's people drinking it and commiserating, and running into each other again, and talking about how crazy the night was.


MONTAGNE: Zoe Chace, thank you very much for joining us. We've also been joined by Elizabeth Shogren, here in our studio; and NPR's Joel Rose, in New Jersey; covering the Superstorm Sandy all this morning, on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.