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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hurricane Sandy Pounds East Coast; Hurricane Coverage; Interview with Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford; Obama Focused on Storm, Not Politics; Romney: Storm Will Be "Difficult Time"; Sandy Bears Down on Asbury Park; Latest Forecast for Hurricane Sandy; Why Some People Aren't Leaving; Threat of Flooding in Washington

Aired October 29, 2012 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Hurricane Sandy takes aim at some of America's biggest cities and it's about to come ashore. Conditions are getting worse by the hour. At least 23 states are now under warnings or advisories because of the storm's winds. Damage could hit $10 billion or even a lot more.

Some states could see their worst flooding in a century. And in the Appalachian Mountains, they're expecting blizzard conditions.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hurricane Sandy is a monster storm, even though its center is still out to sea, tropical storm- and hurricane-force winds extend, get this now, for 1,000 miles. Right now, damaging winds are blowing from southern New England across Long Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia. We have the full resources of CNN deployed on the story, including crews up and down the Atlantic Coast, as well as in cities that aren't used to this kind of a disaster.

Here's what the storm looked like this afternoon when the International Space Station flew over. You can clearly see the eye of the storm. Right now, the center is closing in on southern New Jersey.

Let's begin our coverage with our meteorologist, Chad Myers, who has the very latest.

Chad, some have said that this is the strongest storm ever north of the Carolinas. Explain what that means.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That means it has the lowest pressure ever that has been measured by an aircraft or on land of 939 millibars now.

North of Cape Hatteras, we have never had a storm that low, with the L. being that low. And then there's a high pressure to the west and that's going to make howling winds as far west as Ohio, Michigan and even Indiana. It is now a record-breaking low pressure center, the biggest hurricane, although the biggest or fastest wind, the lowest pressure ever.

BLITZER: And what's -- where do we see it unfolding right now? Because we're only, what, a couple of hours away from it making landfall.

MYERS: That's exactly right. Now the Hurricane Center giving us updates every hour on the hour. The storm now is 55 miles -- the center of that eye right there, 55 miles from Cape May, New Jersey. And it's moving at 28 miles per hour. That's two hours to landfall.

And landfall is not such a big deal with this because typically in a hurricane when you make landfall, the storm starts to dissipate. This storm is so intense and so deep, it will take hours, if not tens of hours to dissipate the wind, and the storm surge is right into New York Harbor all along the New Jersey coast, right into Wilmington, possibly even up into Philadelphia as the water goes the wrong way up the river here and then still the surge coming into Delaware, Maryland as like, and a lot of wind for Washington, into Baltimore, into D.C., Wilmington.

These areas will pick up wind gusts in excess of 80 miles an hour. And trees will come down and power will go out with that type of wind.

BLITZER: We're expecting that wind, that rain to last in these areas not just for today or tomorrow, but maybe even until Wednesday, is that what you're saying?

MYERS: That's right. This is not just a hurricane. It's now combining with a low pressure that's out to the west.

In fact, Wolf, I can draw it for you. That is snow. It's snowing on this side because there's enough of a cold air mass with a cold front and a low out here combining with the low here that we are going to see this do a little loop right over maybe West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Western New York, and then finally get into the Canadian provinces.

It will take so long because that delay will cause it to sit there for days and with days of rain like that, could be a situation a lot like Hurricane Agnes back in early '70s, where we have a lot of people flooded out.

BLITZER: Atlantic City, we're showing our viewers some photos, some live pictures from Atlantic City. That could see the worst of it at least in the next few hours? Is that what I'm hearing, Chad?

MYERS: Without a doubt. Wildwood, Atlantic City, Cape May, that is the right side or the wrong side of the eye.

When you get on the eye right here, talk about that eye right there, you have not only the spin of the eye at 90 miles per hour but also the forward motion of the storm, which is 28. You add 90 plus 28 and you're over 100 miles per hour on that right side, wrong side, of the eye.

BLITZER: Ali Velshi is on the scene for us in Atlantic City. Chad, we will get to him shortly.

But I want to go to Brian Todd right now. He's along a Delaware coast, where wind and flooding already a serious problem. What's going on there, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, getting a very strong burst of the storm right here on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach. They are really worried about this boardwalk. Get to that in a second.

What they're dealing with now as well is inland flooding from the bays and tributaries and rivers not too far inland from here. Lots of roads underwater right now as those surges come up and some of those areas get flooded. I just heard from the governor's office. There are a lot of roads underwater right now, there are trees down on some other roads, traveling around now really not advised at all.

One big concern here, beach erosion. You see the tide behind me. This is not high tide. The high tide is going to come back soon. It was here earlier. I'm going to step down onto the beach area. High tide earlier here was pretty hellacious. It came up well past here on to the boardwalk. That's what they're worried about, beach erosion here.

They built out this beach earlier this year. They finished it in May. The Army Corps of Engineers built up the beach out to 300 feet out there. They are worried now that they are going to lose all of that and with the storm surge here, that it could compromise some of the hotels, some of the residences and businesses that are all along this boardwalk area. That's what they're really worried about right now.

You can see the storm surge getting a little bit more violent behind me. It was even worse earlier. But again when high tide comes back this evening, Wolf, it's going to get worse. Water is going to be pretty much up along where I am here and probably compromising this boardwalk that they spent so much time and money on earlier this year, Wolf.

So they're very worried at this point that the storm surge just coming back and really tearing this area apart.

BLITZER: Have there been evacuations in Rehoboth Beach, Bethany, Ocean City, Maryland, the whole area where you are right now, Brian?

TODD: Absolutely, Wolf. Mandatory evacuations were ordered. They were ordered to get out by 8:00 p.m. last night. And the city manager of Rehoboth Beach told me a short time ago, he believes that about 90 percent of the people who live here year-round heeded that call and got out. They know what it's like when one of these storms come.

And 20 years ago, they had a nor'easter here that pretty much tore this boardwalk apart. People who live here year-round here know about that. The good news here is the population of this area decreases significantly after Labor Day. Summertime population is about 30,000 to 40,000. The number of people who live here year-round, only about 1,300. And most of those people, the city manager believes, got out of here.

BLITZER: And some people didn't. When you're watching what's going on, do you see people walking around, do you see people driving around? Or is it basically empty, Rehoboth Beach, right now?

TODD: Well, I have covered a lot of these things. A lot of the time you do see one or two people driving around and walking around. I can see two people maybe 300 yards from me just standing there taking some shelter along the boardwalk.

But it is pretty much a ghost town. Not many people are out. They seem to be heeding the call to shelter in place or get out of town.

BLITZER: Brian Todd watching for us what's going on in Delaware, in Rehoboth, thanks, Brian, very much.

New York City's mass transit services are suspended. Normally bustling stations like Grand Central Terminal are ghostly and vacant right now. Train platforms are deserted. Other mass transit systems including Washington, D.C.'s metro service, also shut down. One place that didn't shut down on this day, the United States Supreme Court. The justices held their normal public session today. But tomorrow's session and oral arguments have been canceled because of the weather.

Let's go to New York right now. CNN's Ashleigh Banfield is standing by.

Ashleigh, where are you right now? And what's going on?

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. I'm in Southern Manhattan in Battery Park City.

Behind me is New Jersey, which is just about to be eclipsed by the clouds, the wind and the rain. And I would say the gusts have been kicking up to around 45, 60 some mile an hour. What I wanted to tell you about though is I heard Brian Todd talking about the storm surge.

Just look down here for a second here. You can see just how close to sea level this city is. This is one of the most famous sea level cities in the world, Wolf. And Mayor Bloomberg is saying in the worst-case scenario, there could be in five boroughs you could see storm surges up to 12 feet.

If you look down there, that one is about eight to 10 feet. That would bring it to here about on me by 8:00 tonight at the full moon high tide. There's another big issue with regard to the evaluations, 400,000 New Yorkers evacuated, especially in this zone, all these people evacuated, mandatory.

But we do see these people wandering along. It is one of the more uncomfortable places to be taking a stroll and yet we have seen them. Police have been out telling people, go home, get away. Yet they're still out here.

Here's what so significant about New York City. We are close to the water and we are close to the sky. Wolf, take a look over there. That's about 60 stories up or so, that high-rise. Here's what happens when the 80-mile-an-hour winds hit this city.

You go up 30 stories and that wind changes to about 96 miles an hour. You go up 80 stories and that wind goes up to 104 miles an hour. And when I quote those numbers, they're sustained winds, they're not gusts. That's 104 miles an hour straight for a number of hours, not including the gusts. You can imagine just how dangerous it's going to be here.

BLITZER: Ashleigh, stand by, I want to get back to you.

But Atlantic City seems to be getting ready for a huge, huge disaster.

CNN's Ali Velshi is on the scene for us.

Ali, what's going on in Atlantic City?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can hear you. You may have trouble hearing me. We have a moment of calm here. The gusts have just eased up for just a moment.

But they look like they have been pushing 90 or 100 miles an hour. Look down the street, Wolf. All the way down, you can probably see some streetlights in the distance. That's boardwalk,the that's the ocean. Those are the casinos. Everything is shut down. Nobody's here who isn't an emergency worker who isn't here because they have got to be or isn't covering this thing.

But we're about two hours away from the worst of this. We have already got flooding in the streets here, as you can see. We're at seven feet above sea level. The storm surge here is supposed to be about nine-and-a-half feet. It's all going to get covered. Right now, structurally, you know Atlantic City, it's fine, it's mostly solid buildings. There are still some houses.

We believe about 400 to 500 people are in emergency shelters right now. You can see some police and utility vehicles driving around right now. But as of 6:00 p.m. Eastern, this place is under a total curfew. So police and city workers have been going around making sure nobody's around. You will see no garbage cans, things like that. Everything's been tied up and removed. But it's going to hit hard.

Surf's pretty strong. We have seen the pictures of it. I was out at the boardwalk about two hours ago. No damage right now. But it's picking up. You can see these gusts. You can look down here and see what's going on because there's water in the streets and you can see how much it's blowing, Wolf.

So pretty serious here, and the reason they tell you this is because there are places inland, there are places up the coast that are going to start to feel it this way. You think you want to ride this out, be careful. This is a serious, serious storm. A lot of people asking, well, why are you here? We know how to do this. We have done it before. We know how to seek safety. We know where higher ground is.

But if you don't, this isn't something to play with -- Wolf. BLITZER: Do people there know, Ali, that Atlantic City could be the location where this storm makes landfall or at least near Atlantic City, that they're going to get a wallop in the next few hours?

VELSHI: Yes, absolutely. It seems people are aware of this.

Most people did take this fairly seriously. Clearly, the governors and the mayors of the major cities around here have been telling them since Friday and Saturday take this very seriously, get out by Sunday. Those who hadn't gotten out by Sunday afternoon, they told them again, we're shutting down all public transit in major Northeast centers. So you're not going to get to and you're not going to get back from work.

So as a result, most people have stayed out. And these streets are actually empty here. I think they're pretty clear on the fact they're going to get a wallop. We were out at the boardwalk. All the stores are boarded up. Everybody's got plywood if they don't already have sheet-metal grates or steel grates over their stores.

And, again, this is one of those things that you don't know how serious it gets until you get it. Look, a gust is gone now. Wolf, I can completely walk around. And it's fine. And then moments later, it will start to wallop me and push me across the road.

That's what happens. And then when it comes in, the winds are sustained. You're getting 70 or 80 miles an hour sustained winds. That's not something a person can stand and hang around in. It could knock out your windows. So, it's serious.

BLITZER: Yes. And it's only going to get worse over the next few hours, Ali.

And I'm going to be speaking with the mayor of Atlantic City, Mayor Lorenzo Langford. He's going to be joining us in a few minutes.

If you could join us as well, Ali, I would like you to participate in that conversation. Be careful out there.

We will take a quick break. When we come back, we're staying in Atlantic City. The mayor will join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Atlantic City, expert in rolling the dice, facing an extraordinary risk right now as it stands right in the way of hurricane Sandy. Streets are flooded, water levels are dangerously high in some areas. The city is under a curfew as of 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

Joining us now is the Atlantic City mayor, Lorenzo Langford.

Mr. Mayor, I know this is a difficult time for you. Ali Velshi is joining us as well. He's on the streets of your city.

First of all, Mayor, what precautions have you taken right now? How are the folks in Atlantic City holding up? MAYOR LORENZO LANGFORD, ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY (via telephone): Wolf, good evening. We're trying to get through this and do the best that we can to cope with a very difficult situation. We have been successful in getting some of our residents to heed the warnings that we presented to them Friday and yesterday to evacuate the barrier island and move to higher ground.

Unfortunately, not as many folks as we would have liked have taken heed to that warning. Back during the last catastrophic event that we experienced, that being hurricane Irene, we achieved a 98 percent evacuation rate. But for whatever reason, this time, we haven't reached that number yet. We think we're somewhere having evacuated several thousand people. But we still have too many people in Atlantic City. That creates a very uncomfortable situation for all of our emergency responders and officials are still trying to do the best we can to get people out of harm's way.

BLITZER: Mayor, Ali Velshi is on the streets of Atlantic City. Right now, the winds are obviously very gusty.

Ali, you have a question you'd like to ask the mayor.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I do, Mayor. And the important thing is by looking at Atlantic City, those are people -- people can look at this and say, this might happen in my community. If you're still not evacuated, what do you do? I know people are driving around. They can get out in their car but it's gusty and it's dangerous.

Should people leave and go to a shelter now or if they're at home, should they hunker down and stay?

LANGFORD: I'll tell you, Ali, at this point, I think they would be best served to stay at home and hunker down. I just visited a couple of our shelters. I had a very difficult time getting back to where I'm supposed to be. In some place, we still have 2 1/2 to 3 feet of water on the ground at this point. And as you know, this is the low tide. And so in about an hour and a half at around the 6:00 hour, the brunt of the storm will make its way to Atlantic City. We're expecting the impact at that time. A few hours after that, high tide will come again and we could have as much as five feet of water in the city.

I just took a drive around, as I said, I saw some downed electric lines, I saw some tree limbs that have already snapped from trees. And so, I would not encourage people to try to make it to a shelter at this point because you're putting yourself probably in even more of a jeopardous situation. So, at this point, the best thing to do for those who decided to whatever reason not to heed the warnings and to stay in their dwellings, the best thing you can do at this point is probably hunker down and try to wait this thing out.

BLITZER: Ali, don't go away because I want you to be a part of this conversation.

But, Mr. Mayor, you have a curfew coming up in a little bit more than an hour and a half from now, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, on the streets of Atlantic City. What happens to individuals who break that curfew? What's going to happen to them?

LANGFORD: Well, as you know, a curfew is -- a violation of the curfew is a violation of the law. And we will have our police officers and other law enforcement officials out and about around the city. God help them if they get caught after 6:00.

The curfew will be in effect from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow. We're very hopeful that everybody again heeds the warning and do not attempt to come outside but rather stay indoors.

BLITZER: A strong warning from the mayor. Ali, you have another question for the mayor?

VELSHI: Yes. Mayor, obviously for people who don't remember hurricanes in this area of this nature, when do you expect things to start to feel back to normal? I've seen crews out here evaluating the situation, seeing what damage is there. But obviously when the power comes back on, they want to get essential power on first, make sure your police and your fire and your hospitals are working. And then get out to residential power situations.

What's the time line looking like --

LANGFORD: At this point, I do not think it would be prudent to venture a guess. Obviously, we're going to do all that we can to restore power and to get people back into their normal situations so that they can be as comfortable as they can be. But it's all speculative at this time. And who knows, you know, when Mother Nature sends her wrath your way, we're at her mercy. So, all we can do is stay prayerful and do the best that we can.

BLITZER: Mayor Langford, we've heard conflicting reports about the famous Atlantic City boardwalk. What can you tell us about its status right now?

LANGFORD: Well, most of the boardwalk so far is intact. But there is at least one section of the boardwalk which has been wiped out in the area of Maine Avenue in the inlet section. There's a section of the boardwalk near the intersection of Pacific Avenue that's been washed out, there's another part where boards have been ripped up. But for the most part, so far, we haven't experienced too much damage with respect to the boardwalk.

BLITZER: And all those hotels and casinos in Atlantic City that are so famous, they're empty right now. Is that what you're saying?

LANGFORD: Well, for the most part, the casinos are empty. The governor issued a mandatory evacuation of the city that took effect at 4:00 Saturday. The casinos were ordered closed by the Casino Control Commission. And most of the casinos at this time, they're empty.

BLITZER: This is a little unusual, but I'll try it. Mayor, Ali Velshi is on the streets of Atlantic City right now. He's an eyewitness to what's going on. Is there a question, Mayor Langford, you want to ask Ali?

LANGFORD: Well, I would just say to Ali and admonish him that he needs to be careful, too. We all have our responsibilities, but some preservation is a law of nature. And this thing is going to get crazy. And I would hope that everybody would take heed of the seriousness of --

VELSHI: Mayor, you're right about that. Thank you for bringing that up. Wolf, we do have comments. People are saying, why are you out there? Why are you doing?

One, we're trying to show people what happens. But number two, we got an experience with this, so we know how to get to safe shelter. We got it all worked out, we know how to get to higher ground.

But we will heed those warnings and stay. Mayor, thank you. Same to you and everybody in Atlantic City.

BLITZER: All right. Ali, we'll stay in close touch with you.

Mayor, one final question. Are you getting all the help from the federal government, the state authorities, everything you need right now?

LANGFORD: Well, so far, it's been an extremely cooperative effort by all of the governmental entities that are engaged. And we can just again -- all we can do is hope that we can continue to see the kind of -- the level of cooperation that we've experienced thus far and come through this thing.

BLITZER: Mayor Langford -- Lorenzo Langford, the mayor of Atlantic City, thanks very much. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Atlantic City in New Jersey and that area. They're bracing for this storm to make land -- to hit landfall in the Atlantic City area soon.

You see Ali Velshi in the streets of Atlantic City. He's being very, very careful. We'll get back to him and our other reporters.

We're also getting reaction from the president of the United States. He was in the White House Situation Room earlier in the day. He's off the campaign trail today and tomorrow because of this disaster that's unfolding in the Atlantic coast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's another view of hurricane Sandy from the International Space Station. Look at this. The center of the huge storm is about two hours from making landfall, maybe less. President Obama's monitoring the storm in the White House Situation Room after canceling his reelection campaign stops today.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, with the very latest -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president rushing back here from Orlando for two reasons, to get out ahead of that storm, at least the worst part of it but also to sort of oversee the emergency response. And as you pointed out, the president after coming back here to the White House, holding a meeting with his senior team, the emergency management officials, homeland security as well, to go over what the federal response is looking like. The president then coming out and talking to reporters said that there is good coordination between local, state and federal officials and that the federal government was helping to assist in providing food, water and emergency generators.

But, Wolf, this is a critical time. We're only eight days away from the election. Now the president will be off the campaign trail for two days, critical hours where the president was expected to be in these critical battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia. And now, that has been put on pause.

The president was asked if there was any concern about this and he seemed to suggest that he wasn't concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I'm worried about the impact on families and I'm worried about the impact on our first responders. I'm worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation.

You know, the election will take care of itself next week. Right now, our number one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search and rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get the food, the water, the shelter that they need in case of emergency and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Now, the president has signed a disaster declaration for some nine states, including the District of Columbia.

In addition to that, the president continues to get briefings from John Brennan, his Homeland Security adviser, some of those by papers, others in the situation room.

And one of the thing, Wolf, during the president's remarks, he wanted to make clear to those in the impacted areas. They should heed those evacuation warnings because if those first responders have to come back and rescue them at some point, it could put their lives in danger.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Dan, thanks very much.

Mitt Romney is rearranging, cutting back on his campaign stops because of the storm. But he did go to a rally this afternoon in the all- important swing state of Ohio. Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us now from Cleveland with more on what the republican presidential nominee is doing. What's going on, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, things are changing by the moment. Here with the Romney campaign, we can tell you the Romney campaign has gone ahead and canceled its events for tonight and tomorrow. He is keeping an event that is happening right around now in Iowa --

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we've just lost our connection with Jim Acosta. We'll reconnect with him. We're watching the political fallout as well from this hurricane disaster that's unfolding.

We'll get back to Jim Acosta. I think we actually have him back right now. Jim, are you there?

ACOSTA: Yes, I am, Wolf. I don't know how much you heard, but I wanted to reiterate the Romney campaign has canceled its events for tonight and tomorrow. It is keeping an event that happened right around now in the state of Iowa.

But what is very interesting that's developed, Wolf, with this campaign is we have not heard definitively where the candidate will be tonight or tomorrow. That is still up in the air at this point from an official standpoint.

But we have been told by the Romney campaign that the GOP nominee will not be having a down day. He will be doing something. They're not just saying exactly what as of this point.

But keep in mind, Wolf, this is when Mitt Romney wanted to unveil his closing arguments, a top Romney adviser put out that closing argument in terms of talking points overnight.

He was supposed to be talking about real change on day one, moving into the White House. That was supposed to be the message this week. Now it is all about Hurricane Sandy. And that's what we heard from the GOP nominee earlier today at an event here in Ohio. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I want to mention that our hearts and prayers are with all the people in the storm's path, Sandy is another devastating hurricane, by all accounts and a lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy's fury.

And so if you have the capacity to make a donation to American Red Cross, you can go online and do that. If there are other ways that you can help, please take advantage of them because there will be a lot of people that will be looking for help and the people of Ohio have big hearts. We're expecting you to follow through and help out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Now this campaign is not just in a holding pattern. It is almost very much tied at this point, Wolf. If you take a look at our latest CNN poll of polls, Mitt Romney with a slight edge over the president right now, 48-47.

But take a look at this, Wolf. We have a new CNN/ORC poll for the battleground state of Florida. This might surprise of Republicans out there who thought Mitt Romney would be pulling ahead by a more substantial margin at this point.

But no, Mitt Romney leading the president 50-49 in Florida so that state very much tied, but then look at this poll, Wolf, that came out over the weekend that gave some Democrats some heartburn out there, from the state of Minnesota, a state that should be bright blue right now.

A Mason-Dixon Starch poll showing President Obama clinging to a three- point lead, 47-44 and then in North Carolina, speaking of heartburn, a little bit for the Republicans side. An Ellon University poll showing President Obama and Mitt Romney tied up at 45-45 each.

And I think those polls demonstrate why both of these campaigns are playing it safe right now. They don't want to look too political when you have the mother of October surprises looming there off the coast and her name is Sandy.

BLITZER: Yes. What an October surprise. We have no idea how it's going to impact early voting, who it might help, who it won't help and what it might mean eight days from now.

We'll watch it all unfold. Jim Acosta, thank you. The National Hurricane Center is getting ready to issue an update on Hurricane Sandy in the next few minutes. Stay with us for the very latest on the storm's strength and where it's heading.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hurricane Sandy is barrelling toward the east coast, taking aim at New Jersey, expected to make landfall near Atlantic City very, very soon.

Reporter Maggie Lake is in the nearby town of Asbury Park in New Jersey. What are you seeing, Maggie? Where are you seeing the serious problems?

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're right on the boardwalk. We're actually taking refuge behind a building, if you can believe it. But if you step out with me here, you can see we're starting to see the ocean really kick up now. High tide is about 7:00, 8:00 tonight here. The tide is really pushing in toward the boardwalk.

Many people here extremely concerned about what happened in Atlantic City and the fact that they may be next. We still have a ways to go. The waves are getting bigger. The gusts are now much stronger than they were earlier today. We are actually right near Convention Hall, historic Convention Hall. And we talked to a long time resident who works here. And he talked about to him about his concerns for Asbury Park. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAKE: What do you think in terms of recovery? Has Asbury been through this before? Do you anticipate it's going to knock people back? It's tough economy anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's definitely true. Asbury's just starting to come back now. Everything was doing well. Luckily the storm comes after the season is over. So it's really not that busy now. But if it does a lot of damage, it can cost a lot of money to fix everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAKE: Now, Wolf, if you can take a look, this boardwalk is abandoned. We've seen a couple of curiosity seekers. Those who have not evacuated are staying inside.

People know how to prepare but because the coast didn't get hit with Irene, a lot of people said they were thinking it was hype and they weren't going to leave, they were going to stay in their apartments.

A big concern with coastal flooding here, as you can imagine. But also power. We talked to the fire department, already reports of downed limbs, there are a lot of big trees in these neighborhoods, Wolf.

A lot of people concerned about what that's going to do to the power lines and how many people are going to be left without power. We are a couple of hours from this thing making landfall.

BLITZER: Yes, it could make landfall right around where you are in Asbury Park. Is there a mandatory curfew in place in Asbury Park as there is in Atlantic City as after 6:00 p.m. Eastern?

LAKE: I don't know if it's mandatory, Wolf. But I can tell you from earlier today when we were driving around talking to people, the police have been patrolling, getting people off the streets, chasing those away that they've seen.

I see sirens right now. There's a police car in the distance. They are driving around. They got people off the streets. Just before we walked up here, we saw a lamppost fly, street signs are starting to go, boards starting to come off the buildings.

So a lot of that preparedness, now that these wind gusts are getting up to the levels they are, even those measures are not going to help if we start to get much higher here. I also have seen jersey power and light driving around. Clearly, they're concerned about the outages, Wolf.

BLITZER: Maggie Lake, thanks very much. Be careful over there. We'll stay in close touch with you as well. Landfall expected within the next two hours around Atlantic City, maybe Asbury Park, which is just north of Atlantic City.

Despite mandatory evacuation orders for some towns on New York's Long Island, some people are staying put. One couple standing by to join us and to explain why.

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BLITZER: The center of Hurricane Sandy is about 90 minutes from making landfall right now. But even after it moves inland, this storm is going to be a huge problem for days. Let's get the very latest on what's going on.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is joining us. So once again, Chad, we're expecting first of all a new forecast. That's going to coming up from the National Hurricane Center momentarily. As soon as you get it, you'll share it with us.

Some are comparing what's going on right now to that famous Long Island express in 1938, a hurricane that literally ripped apart Long Island. We're showing our viewers some film from what happened on September 21st, 1938. What's the comparison here?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The pressure, Wolf, is lower than that storm. The center of the eye, the eyewall itself wind speeds, not as high. This is a wide, barrelling, lumbering, defensive lineman where that was a sprinter with a smaller body and a faster wind speed.

This big storm is now making wind speeds of 81 miles per hour out near Martha's Vineyard, 76 in Long Island Sound and making landfall literally hundreds of miles from there. A typical storm would only have the core of the energy, a core of the maximum winds very close to the eye.

That's the biggest trouble with this is that the widespread damage -- typically if something happens in New Jersey to the power lines, they'll call Vermont and say, send your power company down here to get our lines back up and we'll come up to your state when you need the help.

That's the problem. There are going to be 14 states with hundreds of thousands of power lines down. The mutual aid is going to be tough to come by in this area. They're going farther and farther away to get the mutual aid.

The problem is it takes longer and longer for those bucket trucks to get there. I believe this storm will come onshore somewhere between Cape May, Wildwood, Atlantic City, the eye is not really the issue.

A big storm, a Category 3 storm when it hits land will die off. It will start to get slower. This is going to take hours and hours to get slower even after landfall. So the joke today was that, we don't care about landfall because that just means it's only half onshore.

The other half is still offshore. Don't focus on the landfall. Focus on how much water is going to pile up in New York harbor all along New Jersey, right into Wilmington, possibly even the river running backwards up to Philadelphia and then all that water coming into Delaware, Maryland and even into Virginia.

An awful lot of rain, the wind now getting the soil very wet and when you get wind about 70 miles per hour, trees are going to start to fall down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that means the power lines will go down, millions of people potentially could be affected. Chad, I want you to join in this conversation.

Karen Boss is joining us from Fire Island out on Long Island, one of those so-called barrier islands. Karen, I know there's been a mandatory evacuation. But you and your husband, Walter, decided to stay put out there on Fire Island. Why did you decide to stay there?

KAREN BOSS, FIRE ISLAND RESIDENT (via telephone): Well, we're year- round residents and this is our home. We have a few properties here. We have a business here. And we feel that there's a good access point for someone to communicate with. Also when they never said a Category 2, 3 or 4 hurricane, I wasn't as concerned. We've been here through storms.

BLITZER: You've been there through storms before. I want Chad to get involved in this conversation. Chad, speak to Karen Boss for a moment, if you have a question for her. And I'm curious what it's like right now, Karen. But go ahead, Chad.

MYERS: The issue really with Long Island, Wolf, is going to be the surge when high tide comes, still a few hours from that. What did you see when the first high tide came in there?

BOSS: On the bayfront, which is the Great South Bay, I'm overlooking the harbor and the harbor was completely submerged. You could not see any of the boardwalks or the walks around --

BLITZER: Let me interrupt and say, this is video that Karen and her husband, Walter, shot and sent us to. That's the video we're seeing. Go ahead, Karen.

BOSS: And there's debris floating in. We had a major concern about a barge that was tied up by the entrance of the harbor, which we've notified the Office of Emergency Management and that barge seems to have been moved to the inside, which diverted what I think could have been a major disaster in here.

MYERS: They never even had a low tide. Take a look at this line on my map right here. We'll do this very quickly so you can see. This is what should have happened. This is regular tide up and down, up and down.

This is the high tide where she filmed that video. It was supposed to go down. It never did. It stayed very, very flat. Now when high tide comes again, it's going to be at least 3-1/2 to 4 feet higher than what you see in that video on this second high tide she's about to go through.

BLITZER: How close are you, your property where you are right now, Karen, to the water?

BOSS: I'm right in front of it. My house sits right on the harbor.

BLITZER: Obviously, you must be concerned that that water is going to start coming up to your house.

BOSS: I'm concerned that it might come into the first floor. If that's the case, I'll just move into another house that's higher up.

BLITZER: Good luck, Karen. Good luck to your husband, Walter. We'll stay in touch with you. Maybe we'll check back, but you're out on Fire Island on Long Island watching what's going on. Thanks for sharing that video with us.

Chad, don't go too far away. We're awaiting momentarily the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center. We'll take a quick break. More with Chad and everyone else right after this.

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BLITZER: Hurricane Sandy is pushing water up, some of the major rivers along the U.S. east coast. And that means the threat of serious flooding, as far inland at least right now as Washington, D.C.

Chris Lawrence is along the city's main point of defense for the waters of the Potomac River. We're talking about the tidal basin. Chris, what's going on over there?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we're starting to see the winds starting to pick up a lot here. You can definitely see the waves starting to lap here in the tidal basin.

If you take a look, an iconic view of Washington, D.C., that's the Jefferson Memorial, with the waters really starting to pick up here. One of the things we've been following throughout the day is the power outages.

To give you an idea how quickly things have changed since we've been out here, in just a matter of a couple of hours, it's gone from maybe 9,000 people without power, Wolf, to probably over 60,000 people without power.

And even though this is a storm that is affecting mostly the east coast, as this storm pushes up the coast, the people responding are coming from all over the country. Some of the area companies here have been pulling workers from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, areas that have had their own problems with hurricanes over the years.

This time, they're in the opposite situation. They're lending about 1,500 crew members to help people get out. The key number to remember for people without power is 35, as in 35 miles per hour.

Because federal safety guidelines mean none of those workers can get up into ladders and start restoring power and fixing the lines until the winds drop below 35 miles per hour.

So even though we've got power on in a lot of areas, there are still many, many problems out there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the tidal basin in Washington, D.C. It's going from bad to worse here in the nation's capital.

For more information about the path of Hurricane Sandy, what you can do to help those affected, check out cnn.com/impact.

We'll be back to CNN's Ali Velshi. He's in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which may take a direct hit at the center of Hurricane Sandy as it makes landfall.

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