Return to Transcripts main page

CNN BREAKING NEWS

Superstorm Sandy Brought Hurricane and Tropical Storm Force Winds, Record Storm Surges, Flooding, Blizzard Conditions, Massive Snow Fall and Fires in 23 states across East Coast; Superstorm Sandy Caused more than 6.5 million power outages.

Aired October 30, 2012 - 03:00   ET

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


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Victor Blackwell.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Welcome to CNN's special coverage of Super Storm Sandy. We want to welcome our international viewers as well, from around the world.

It is now 3:00 in the morning here on the east coast. We have reporters up and down the east coast bringing us the latest developments all hour long.

BLACKWELL: The forecasts for this were that it would be a beast. And that is true. Damage estimates are in the billions. This storm was big. Look how powerful it is, ripping down trees, crushing cars. Already at least 13 people dead, five in New York, as we've said.

The number now of customers without power up to 6.5 million. And we've talked about this as a northeast and mid-Atlantic storm. But really 23 states under high wind warnings or advisories right now. And CNN estimates that the wind alone could cause damage upwards of three billion. Already 67 people killed in the Caribbean.

WHITFIELD: And then take a look at this, what's become a fairly common scene, unfortunately, roads flooded. The water rising nearly above a lot of cars that are parked there. Approximately seven, almost eight hours ago now this historic Superstorm made landfall over the most populated areas of the United States.

Wind damage, power outages, storm surges, inland flooding, even snowstorms are threatening the lives and homes of 60 million people from Virginia to Massachusetts.

BLACKWELL: We've been doing this for several hours, but of course this is something we have to continue to watch. A live look now at that crane that broke earlier this -- well, yesterday now, about 12 hours ago. So, above a building, West 57th Street in New York.

The boom is just swinging there and could fall at any moment. We're going to continue to watch it until it's secured. How long it can hold up, no one knows.

But let's check in with meteorologist Ivan Cabrera right now on the Superstorm. We talked a lot about the rain and the wind, but what is really intriguing is the snow that is falling and that will continue to fall. And this thunder snow that they're getting in western Maryland and West Virginia.

IVAN CABRERA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Everything. I mean, you name it. We have every single meteorological event going on here for just one storm. It's just an incredible feat here, what we've been able to do, which is again marry a hurricane which killed dozens of people through Cuba and into Jamaica.

We've been tracking this storm for quite some time now. And then, of course, it merged with this mid-latitude cyclone. So now we have this Superstorm that, indeed, as you mentioned, creating blizzard conditions in the Virginias here. And then we even have thunderstorm activity all the way up into Maine, with very heavy rainfall throughout.

I can show you the satellite and show you the radar. And we'll fly in here. But it's hard to tell what's happening on the ground because it is dark. We still have a few hours before daylight. In fact, sun-up is not until 7:24 in New York City. That's when we are really I think going to get the scope of what's been happening here on the ground with the flooding, as far as not only in Battery Park but, of course, also in the subways.

Here's Baltimore and Washington getting in on some heavy rain bands. Again, these yellow bands can contain tropical storm force wind gusts. And we've seen that, anywhere from 45 to 50 miles an hour.

And then the other side of the story is the snow that is going to continue to fall. This entire snowstorm and this entire event is not going to be done until about Wednesday. We are still going to be dealing with some kind of flooding, with some kind of wind damage. River flooding is going to continue. And then, of course, all of this is going to be pushing to the west.

What we are done with are the hurricane force wind gusts, that we did clock anywhere from 75 to 94, almost category two here at Eatons Neck in New York. We're not going to see that. So we are seeing some better news here. It's not all gloom and doom. We are seeing an improvement, because the storm, will continue to push away from the coast.

But we still have those high wind warnings that continue, gusts up to 60 miles an hour. And that does include New York, where that crane is dangling vicariously there. We'll watch that very closely for you here.

But again, not to ignore our good friends in the Great Lakes. If you're watching us from this region, you know based on your TV meteorologist that you're the gun for some nasty winds over the next couple of days, and also even some lake enhanced snow. That's what we're talking about off the Great Lakes as well.

That's how cold the air is. Cold enough for snow, 16 inches already in Snowshoe, West Virginia. Thank you, they're saying there, because that is a ski resort, so they're very happy as far as the snowfall. They're starting early so far. But for those of us that have to go in and around and drive around, it is not going to be pretty at all. We have another two to three feet. That's the total forecast here. That's the worst of it here where you see the purple. But you see the snow extends a little bit further to the north and west.

Blizzard warnings are still flying. This is the amazing thing, as far as this once hurricane, now a full-blown north eastern here, is producing us with some blizzard conditions as well.

So again, a long duration event. I think for the east coast, we're going to begin to wind things down for today later on this evening. And then really get into the clear by Wednesday.

Take a look at the temperatures here. There are -- what is it now, guys, seven million people?

BLACKWELL: Six and a half.

CABRERA: Six and a half without power. I guarantee you they are going to be very chilly tonight. Look at the overnight temperatures. We're going to be dropping into the upper 30s to low 40s. That's just the temperature. You know when you're in your house, if it gets cold outside, you don't really feel it until the wind gets going and gets through the windows or the cracks of the house, and that's when you really start feeling the chill.

So we're going to have the temperatures in the 30s. We're going to have wind gusts between 45 and 50. And that is going to make for a very uncomfortable night whether you're outside -- and hopefully you're not if you don't have to be, but even for those folks that are inside that are likely not watching us right now, because they've got no power.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. And --

BLACKWELL: -- especially sad is that this is the time when people start those creative and unsafe ways to try to stay warm because they're without power.

CABRERA: Good point, yeah.

WHITFIELD: And of course the power companies will tell you it's going to take some time. They have to assess before they can actually address how to get the power back on. So we're talking about 6.5 million people now. And we're hearing updates almost every hour.

So it's unclear whether we are going to get to that number that Ivan just mentioned, seven million. Many of the tens of thousands of people who are without power are actually in Lower Manhattan and Staten Island. A transformer exploded there, and Con Edison is maintaining that it happened at that 14th Street Plant.

You're going to see it right there, caught on video. A Con Edison VP says workers don't know exactly what caused that massive blowout. But we're not just talking about New York City. Just take a look at all the states here that are impacted by the power outages, amounting to these nearly seven million people without power. Nearly three million people in New York and New Jersey alone have lost power, the most populous areas.

BLACKWELL: We have Karen Stecher on the phone right now. She's the communications officer with the Red Cross. She is in Peoria, Illinois. Karen, we understand that because of Sandy, the Red Cross has had to cancel blood drives. And especially this time of year with or without a storm, it's something you never want to hear. How many people are affected?

KAREN STECHER, RED CROSS: Well, at this point, the need for blood is constant. It's always constant. And with the cancellation of about 100 American red cross blood drives in 11 states on the East Coast roughly 3,200 people have not been able to keep their blood or platelet donation appointments. And that's pretty significant when you think about the fact that nationwide we need about 44,000 blood donations each and every day just to meet the needs of all different types of patients; 3,200 blood donations is a pretty significant number.

BLACKWELL: And with the evacuations of hospitals -- and we've talked about deaths, but there are also injuries, people will need blood transfusions. How long do we expect these cancellations to last?

STECHER: As long as the severe weather continues, we can expect blood drive cancellations to continue as well. Things like power outages, the winter storms, the flooding, all of those will mean that schools, churches, businesses will not be able to host blood drives. And certainly folks in the impacted areas are going to be trying to rebuild their lives. They won't necessarily be able to come out and give blood, which is why it's so important for everyone in unimpacted areas to step up and give right now.

BLACKWELL: And what's the best way to give?

STECHER: Give us a call or go online. We try to make it as convenient as possible. There are many, many blood drives nationwide. So it's easy to find one that's near you. You can give us a call at 1-800-RED-CROSS. You can go online to RedCross.org or RedCrossBlood.org and find a blood drive near you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Karen Stecher, Red Cross communications officer, talking about the need to help our neighbors, whether they're across the city or across the country. A lot of people after Superstorm Sandy will need some help.

Karen, thank you so much.

Let's turn to New York City, where Sandy has shut down air travel. Shut it down. Newark, Kennedy, Laguardia, all closed. An industry website estimates that 13,000 flights have been canceled since Saturday. And a lot of carriers are allowing passengers to change their itineraries without having to pay a fee. But you have to check with your airline for details.

Amtrak has extended cancellations for much of its northeast corridor through tomorrow. But trains coming to and from Canada or to and from the south will still operate. However, they will end their routes before they reach states affected by Sandy.

WHITFIELD: All right. Our team coverage of this Superstorm Sandy continues straight through the night.

BLACKWELL: Yeah. Live reports, new details, tracking the storm, the rain, the snow, the wind, all of it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling it a once in a long time storm. Thousands remain without power. Flood waters continue to pour into Lower Manhattan. That's where we find Chris Welch. Chris, any progress there?

CHRIS WELCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, a few minutes ago, I heard you talking about that transformer explosion that we've sort of been discussing here tonight. That is very near where I am here in the lower east side of Manhattan. We're at about East Houston (ph) and Avenue D streets.

And that transformer went out -- oh, about I guess it would be about three or four hours ago at least now. And I've heard from several folks in the area who say they heard loud bangs. They saw flashes of light and then darkness. So that transformer services these people in this neighborhood where I'm standing right now.

So everywhere around me, it's dark. This is not a sight that you usually see on the lower east side of Manhattan here in New York City. Now currently the water where I'm standing is about -- just about maybe at my ankles. But when we were here earlier about three hours ago, where I'm standing right now was probably about right about here. And if you look behind me, you can see sort of a mini van there. The water was up to at least the headlights there. There were several cars parked behind that one mini van there.

Since we've been here for several hours, the wind and the rain has kind of come and gone. We've had periods of calm -- and it's really gotten quite chilly. But other than that, you know, this water, as I mentioned, has gone down quite a bit. But I want to say, it seems like at least if it's not stopped altogether, it's slowed -- the receding has slowed down severely, at least where we are standing for the present time. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And then again, we understand that a high tide, which is roughly about 9:00 a.m., that could change the dynamic of things as well. Chris Welch, thanks so much, in Lower Manhattan.

So Sandy is forcing the evacuation of more than 200 patients from NYU's medical center, not far from where Chris is. They are being transferred right now to other facilities because NYU's hospital lost generator power.

Earlier I spoke to senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen about the situation unfolding. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP))

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are in the middle right now, as we speak, of evacuating 260 patients, approximately. At around 7:00, they went from having no water in their building to 45 minutes later having more than ten feet of water. So they are now carrying patients down 15 flights of stairs, sometimes only with flashlights to illuminate the way.

This evacuation includes an intensive care unit, a neonatal intensive care unit, and a pediatric intensive care unit. Those are the sickest patients, Fredricka. And we're told that those patients are all out. Now, four of those newborn babies were on respirators that were not working because there was no power. So the whole time that they were taken down about nine flights of stairs, a nurse had to do what's called bagging.

A nurse would manually pump oxygen so that the child could breathe, the baby could breathe. They anticipate this evacuation will take another five hours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Wow. Sandy ripping through a wide swath of big cities all up and down the east coast. We're going to look at the situation state by state. Let's go to Connecticut first. This is the situation right now. Sandy has killed at least one person and injured two others in Connecticut. Entire waterfront communities submerged underwater, and more than 639,000 people are without power there.

The already high storm surges from Sandy are only being made worse by the full moon. And Governor Dan Malloy says authorities are bracing for surges up to 11 feet above normal high tide. The governor says Connecticut could potentially face unprecedented damage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. DAN MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: We head back to New York. Sandy is being blamed for at least five deaths there.

WHITFIELD: A spokesman from Governor Cuomo's office says one of the victims died when a tree fell on his home in Queens. And also in Queens, a woman was electrocuted when she stepped into a puddle.

BLACKWELL: Jason Carroll has a look at things there now in Long Island.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's now well after midnight. The wind has still picked up. But the water at least has receded. Just about an hour ago, I could not have stood in this section of the Montauk Highway without the water not being up to knee level. But now you can see it has receded.

But if you stare into that blackness off to my right, this is one of many streets that still feed into the Montauk Highway. And those streets are still flooded. But again, the water has started to recede.

Some of the issues that they've been dealing with here in Lindenhurst is not just flooding but also fires. We've reported at least several house fires in the area, electrical fires sparked by the flood waters. So they're having to deal with that, putting out those fires throughout the -- worked throughout the day and into the evening.

They'll be working into tomorrow morning as well, assessing the damage here. We're expecting, when we see the light of day tomorrow, that there are going to be dozens of homes here in the south shore that are dealing with flooding as residents who were under a mandatory evacuation and heeded the warning, finally start to return to their homes tomorrow.

As you can see, some of the emergency crews now still coming through here, assessing the area, trying to keep people out and picking up those last-minute folks who decided they were not going to evacuate, trying to help them as well.

So it's been a long night for the residents here in Lindenhurst. It's going to be a long morning tomorrow as well. Back to you.

BLACKWELL: Jason Carroll, thank you very much for that. This is going to be a long night, words from Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley earlier tonight. And now, thankfully, the storm is moving out of the area, and the worst is over for Maryland. But Maryland remains under a state of emergency. And we're getting word that a power outage at Pawtuxant (ph) Water Reclamations created an active raw sewage leak in Howard County.

According to state officials, there are a total of about 365,000 power outages in Maryland. Of course, we're watching that leak of raw sewage. We'll get updates on that.

Massachusetts also under a state of emergency. Severe wind is the big concern there; 354,000 people are without power right now. There was criticism after last year's Hurricane Irene. Remember that? But the governor said utility and power companies will be working together to be more efficient.

You see this video of that boathouse that succumbed to the winds and water of Sandy. Schools in Boston were closed. And all public transportation was suspended today.

And the streets are flooded, and in a lot of places the water is still rising.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. New Jersey, for instance, only one of the areas that is still getting pounded. New reports, new details all straight ahead as we take you through the night, Early morning hours.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: These are pictures out of Ocean City. Now Ocean City, Maryland or New Jersey? All right, Ocean City, New Jersey here. You can see the storm surge that's moved in anywhere between five feet and twelve feet in some parts along the Jersey-New York coast. That's where we saw roughly 12 hours ago. Pretty remarkable images there.

Right now, however, that Superstorm Sandy moving further inland. It's leaving behind all the flooding in the northeast. And as it moves into the higher elevations, lots of reports and pictures of snow. West Virginia in particular is being hardest hit right now.

And sitting on top of a West Virginia mountain in whiteout conditions, I understand, tracking this storm is well-known storm chaser Reed Timmer. All right. So Reed, usually you're chasing tornadoes. This time it looks like you're finding yourself in whiteout conditions. Best describe where you are.

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER: Yes, we're about five miles east in east of Elkins, West Virginia. And our altitude is about 780 meter, or over 2,000 feet. And I bet we're getting -- four -- three to four- inch per hour snowfall rates. We're seeing thunder, lightning throughout this event at the same time as the snow. There probably is at least a foot and a half up here right now. I wouldn't be surprised if we get double that through the whole event.

And it's just starting to get windy right now. And the snow's very heavy. And trees are going to start coming down and power's going to be lost.

WHITFIELD: So we're looking at some live images from you and your crew there in West Virginia just outside of Elkins. So you elected to be there to witness this storm in the form of a snowstorm or is there another explanation?

TIMMER: Yeah, this is definitely -- we were planning on being here for the snowstorm. And that's one thing that makes Sandy very remarkable and unique. There's no storm like it. And it was a tropical system that merged with a trough in the mid-latitude westerlies. and it basically created this super north eastern, like a north eastern on steroids that's injected with all this heat and energy from the tropics.

And now it's being dumped on the Appalachians in the form of snow and blizzard conditions. And the roads are almost impassable here. People leave their homes, they're definitely doing it at their own risk because it's very dangerous out here.

WHITFIELD: Now, people in West Virginia, Ohio, and parts of North Carolina were all expecting they were going to get snowfall with this storm because of the early reporting from forecasters. But the kind of snowfall that they're already witnessing there somewhere in the realm of three feet? Is this about what people were ready for and were bracing for there near Elkins?

TIMMER: Yeah. I mean, I think that people here are accustomed to nor'easters but nothing of this magnitude. And while it is three feet of snow, it's also three feet of very heavy snow. It's almost like concrete because it's just below freezing. And it's sticking to all the trees. And when we sit here with the car turned off you can hear these like shotgun blasts going off in the distance. And that's actually as trees are snapping and toppling over from the weight of the snow.

So it's definitely the real deal out here. And the worst blizzard I've ever chased. We chase much more than just tornadoes. We chase hurricanes, winter storms, and pretty much any form of extreme weather.

WHITFIELD: All right. Reed Timmer, thank you so much. Be safe. Appreciate the images and your reporting from there.

So torrential downpours, whipping winds, flooded roads, this kind of snowfall, it's a little bit of everything. Actually, it's probably too much of everything.

BLACKWELL: Too much of everything. And more is coming, unfortunately. As we said, the snow, Sandy dumping a lot of snow. Let's get these pictures. These are from West Virginia. We just saw what Reed was showing us live. But these are the blizzard-like conditions in the town of Snowshoe. This Superstorm continues. And our coverage of it continues throughout the night right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, images right now. The president being briefed on this Superstorm Sandy. You can see the daylight hours there. At the time, it was Hurricane Sandy making landfall roughly 8:00 p.m. in the New Jersey, New York area. And here the president is with his team getting briefed.

BLACKWELL: And you know, for days we've been talking about how big this storm could be, the potential for this storm. And it lived up to all of the estimates. And it lived up to all of the forecasts of being a behemoth. And it's still happening right now.

Unfortunately, Sandy is as bad as it is, maybe even worse than some thought. Damage estimated to be in the billions. You can see here the power of the storm in New Jersey. Scenes from Hoboken, this car crushed. At least 13 people dead in New York alone, 6.5 million people without power. Twenty three states under high wind warnings and advisories of some sort.

And CNN estimates that the damage from just the wind -- not the water, just the wind, above three billion dollars. And remember, the storm has already killed 67 people in the Caribbean.

WHITFIELD: And then take a look at this, at what's become a fairly typical scene, roads flooded and cars nearly, you know, engulfed by all that water. About eight hours ago, this historic Superstorm did make landfall over the most populated area of the United States. Wind damage, power outages, storm surges, inland flooding, even snowstorms are threatening the lives and homes of 60 million people from Virginia to Massachusetts.

BLACKWELL: And imagine living under this, the crane that just swings back and forth over West 57th Street in New York. On the right, we've got a picture of daylight, what happened after it snapped. On the left, you see the way it was supposed to look as it was in the proper position before it snapped. And now it's just swinging in the wind.

WHITFIELD: Now they have kind of what's called a collapse zone. So an entire seven-block area has been cordoned of so that no one could walk anywhere near it, because they really don't know. It's very precarious. They don't know whether that crane will continue to swing, because, you know, we're talking about wind gusts of roughly between 20 and 40 miles per hour that knocked it into that position. And you still have some pretty sizable wind gusts now.

Not really sure if it's going to stay in place, what they're going to be able to do. So they've cordoned off that area.

BLACKWELL: They've got to clear that area. So let's go to meteorologist Ivan Cabrera. He's with us now on Superstorm Sandy. Where is Sandy right now?

CABRERA: Sandy is inland right now. And so that is certainly some good news here. We are done with it as far as it being a hurricane here. But we do have a classic north eastern under way. So it is inland. We are no longer going to be talk about a storm surge as we head through the day tomorrow. We'll be talking about tides coming together.

Not only has this been a perfect storm, this has been a more perfect storm. The Earth, the Moon, and the Sun even all aligned together to make this a more perfect storm. We'll get to that in a second here.

But as far as the latest, again, it is inland now. But the worst is not over for some areas across the interior, because we're talking about very heavy rainfall that's going to continue throughout the overnight hours into tomorrow, even the potential, by the way, for severe weather heading up into New England with some thunderstorm activity there.

And then of course you saw Reed there in the mess that is the middle of a blizzard here, as the hurricane married this upper-level disturbance here. And now we're talking about significant accumulations, upwards of two to three feet. And absolutely, that snow is coming downward.

Temperatures at the surface are into the lower 30s. So it's that snowman-making snow. Having lived in Boston for 10 years, I can tell you that can cake easily those power lines and create additional power outages. And then of course there's the blinding event as a result of these winds that are still going to be gusting anywhere from 25 to 50 miles an hour.

You combine that with heavy rainfall, you combine that certainly with snow, and you're going to be talking about whiteout conditions that will continue. High wind warnings in effect from the entire New England area all the way into the mid-Atlantic and down as far south as Atlanta, where we've here had gusts upwards of 45. That's going to calm down for today. And conditions will be a little better for the northeast.

But for the interior here, this is again going to be a long duration event, because we're going to be dealing with some very gusty winds and the potential for flooding as well along the shores of the Great Lakes.

Take a look at the tides coming up, Fredricka and Victor. We're going to be watching this closely. The next one coming up for Battery Park, as you know, 9:07 a.m. The last one -- had never recorded 13.33 feet at Battery Park. We did it with this Superstorm. That record is likely going to stay in the books, hopefully for a very long time.

WHITFIELD: And a late high tide there in New Haven, Connecticut for noon eastern time. You know, what's remarkable here too is even though it's now over land -- it was a hurricane, Hurricane Sandy as it made landfall -- it doesn't keep its name anymore, does it?

CABRERA: No. At this point we're just calling it Superstorm Sandy. In fact, the National Hurricane Center has written their last advisory as of the 11:00 p.m. advisory yesterday. So we're now in a mid- latitude cycle situation here, a cyclone now that we call nor'easters here. It's just it does have that tropical steroid injection of a nor'easter with all that energy coming down from the south.

WHITFIELD: And the reason there for those high tides, you're going to explain.

CABRERA: This is the deal here. The sun, earth, moon align. We get this twice a month when we get the New Moon or the Full Moon. Worst case scenario as far as timing. We had the high tide come in during the full moon yesterday. And of course what that means is that you get additional pull. You get the sun and the moon and the gravitational pull aligning here. So you get this bulging that happens on either end of the planet here. Right?

This is obviously exaggerated here. But we get that additional pull. And so the high tide is higher and the low tide is lower here than we normally get. And that's why the flooding was made worse through Battery Park. Now, what I will say is that we're not expecting any storm surge at this point. So this tide is coming in at 9:07. That is not going to be coming in with a storm surge with a land falling tropical or post-tropical cyclone.

As I showed you, this thing is inland now. We are going to still have some gusty winds, and so we are going to see the potential for some minor coastal flooding, some splash over there, but certainly not going to be like what we saw yesterday.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Fascinating stuff. Ivan, thanks so much.

CABRERA: Sure.

BLACKWELL: Well, New York City firefighters are dealing with more than just Sandy. They're also dealing with a massive fire in Queens. Jeff Pegues from our affiliate WABC -- he was on the scene when nearly an entire city block caught fire. And I spoke with him earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Jeff, thanks for being with us. Tell us exactly where you are and what you saw as this all started.

JEFF PEGUES, REPORTER, WABC: I'm at a place called Rockaway Park. And this is a part of Queens, essentially an island that's wedged between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. And it's south of Brooklyn, south of Manhattan. And with the storm at high tide tonight, both Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean converged.

And there was water -- it seemed like the water was everywhere. But then another problem popped up, and that was a major fire. There was a fire in this area of Rockaway Park that was consuming not only businesses but apartment buildings as well. And this is a flood-prone area.

And yet there were still residents here. They hadn't heeded the calls to evacuate. They were here. They were going to ride out the storm. But then this fire happened. And then members of this specialized New York Fire department unit had to go in and rescue them.

And I saw these guys. There were about five to 10 of them. They were wading through high water. They had a zodiac boat with them. And they had to scale some of these buildings to get to some of the people who were trapped in their apartment buildings as this fire was spreading.

And because of the high water, the fire department couldn't get their hoses and any water on these fires, just because it was at the height of the storm. So these members of this specialized unit had to go in without all that, wade through the high water, scale some of these buildings, break through windows, get into these apartments, and then usher some of these residents down into the water and then walk them through the water to higher ground.

And there wasn't a lot of high ground to find, but they were able to find some. And they got these people out. We're talking maybe as many as 30 to 40 people rescued over the course of about three or four hours.

Right now, as the water has receded, the fire department has been able to get water on this fire. So they're hoping that it doesn't spread further. But one firefighter was telling me that they think maybe as many as four, five buildings have already been consumed by this fire.

BLACKWELL: Jeff, you say that they're trying to get water on the fire. That leads me to believe it's still burning right now. Is that true?

PEGUES: It is still burning. And the danger is of course that it will continue to spread with the embers blowing in the wind. There are some other fires popping up in the area. And the concern is if they don't get this thing under control and soon, it could spread, causing even more damage.

BLACKWELL: And it might be too soon to know this because all this is still going on, but about the 30 to 40 people pulled out, are there any other people still missing and the condition -- the conditions of those people who were pulled out? Have you gotten any information about that?

PEGUES: Well, as far as the rescuers that I've spoken with, they think they've been able to get everyone out who was in the path of the fire. I've seen as folks come out. There don't appear to be any serious injuries. Maybe minor injuries, nothing too serious.

So firefighters believe that they were able to get to these people before it was too late.

BLACKWELL: Any idea yet how this fire started?

PEGUES: Well, at the height of the storm, it was high tide, about 8:00 here. The water was coming up. The wind was howling. It was blowing. Maybe sustained winds around 70 to 80 miles per hour, according to some of our meteorologists. And as a result of that, you know, there were power lines that were popping.

And some of these firefighters that I spoke with suspect that maybe it was electrical, maybe it had something to do with some of the power lines in the area getting blown around as a result of the storm.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jeff Pegues with WABC there in Rockaway Park where that block in Queens is on fire. Jeff, thank you. >

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And incredibly, it is indeed still on fire since your conversation with him.

BLACKWELL: Still on fire.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. And we're learning now, and you're getting a Google map kind of image of Rockaway Park. Now, remember, this was an area that Mayor Bloomberg said should be evacuated. That was one of that zone a areas. All the Rockaways evacuate.

So now you've got this fire. You've got 50 homes in all, which is an extraordinary number, that have been devastated, ruined from this fire.

BLACKWELL: Fifty homes completely gone, 10 still on fire. And this is from the New York Fire Department. That's where we're getting this, a Tweet from that department. And you mentioned just a few moments ago that this is similar to what we saw during Katrina.

WHITFIELD: That's right. Hard to grasp.

BLACKWELL: Homes on fire.

WHITFIELD: And then you've got homes on fire. You saw it in New Orleans with Katrina, these just spontaneous explosions involving homes. And unfortunately, you've got all this water, and firefighters and first responders can't get that water --

BLACKWELL: Yeah. To use it to put --

WHITFIELD: to put on the fire. It's a dangerous situation for them. And this is exactly what the mayor was trying to warn people about. Don't put your first responders in danger.

But this is the situation here. We're going to have much more of our continuing coverage of this Superstorm next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, Sandy is no longer a hurricane. It is a super storm. And it is crippling New England still and parts of the mid- Atlantic.

BLACKWELL: Yeah. A lot of people still dealing with this, causing massive flooding, especially along parts of Delaware's coast.

WHITFIELD: That's where Gary Tuchman is on the ground, Rehoboth Beach. Holding down the fort there. Still looks like it's still raining a little bit -- just a little bit of rain -- I mean just a little bit of wind, correct?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the wind is -- we still feel the wind, Fredricka. But the rain has finally stopped. It really was raining for two days straight and very hard at times. Right now, I'm walking on the boardwalk here in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It's not as famous as the Atlantic City, New Jersey boardwalk, but it's an important part of the fabric of the city.

Tens of thousands of people come here every week in the summer to go on vacation, Rehoboth Beach. It's actually a very small town. Only 1,300 people live here year round, but tens of thousands in the summer, every single weekend, many of them from nearby Washington, D.C. and Baltimore and Philadelphia. And the boardwalk has survived relatively intact.

The people here in Rehoboth consider themselves very lucky. Here's what we know here in Rehoboth Beach. There's some flooding. Some homes have been flooded. Some cars have been flooded. Some roads have been flooded. We're also learning statewide here in Delaware, the Blue Hen state, they call it -- they also call it the first state, because it was the first state to ratify the Constitution. We are being told that 45,000 customers are without power statewide.

And this is a small state. You're talking about only one major city, Wilmington. You're talking about four beach towns here, Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Finrock Islands. So 45,000 people without power after the storms came through. In addition, we're being told that 30 roads are either impassable or are partially blocked.

So that's relatively good even though it's a relatively small number compared to New Jersey and New York City. New Jersey and New York City in that direction. Only 45 miles away, that's where the center of this hurricane passed. But the weaker part of the storm hit Rehoboth Beach. And that's why they seem to be luckier here.

The big news, the most important news here, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, the state of Delaware, it appears there are no casualties, no deaths, no injuries. And that is awfully good news for this area.

WHITFIELD: That is good news. But there is inconvenience instead, by way of power outages, right?

TUCHMAN: Yeah no, question about it. The problem with the power outages -- we've been talking about this. This is a very important point to stress. It's a very cold evening. And the people without power, most of them don't have heat. And it's a very cold night. So obviously, we all want them to get their power back as quickly as possible, because usually we always deal with power failures in hurricanes. But usually, the weather's very hot, people are hot. That's not good either. But they can find ways to get cool.

But it's very hard to spend a cold night would no heat inside your home -- inside your house or your apartment.

WHITFIELD: Absolutely right. Gary Tuchman, thanks so much, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

So as predicted, the damage from Sandy, it did come in fast. And it could be days before we know the full extent of the damage in so many locations.

BLACKWELL: All up and down the east coast. Really 23 states involved dealing with the wind. Even here in Georgia, we're feeling it. Rescues up and down the coast. More pictures, more live coverage, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: Sandy has been relentless. And the death toll is going up. Unleashing extreme winds and dangerous surge, and now causing whiteout conditions inland.

WHITFIELD: I know. Unbelievably, now more than 2.1 million people in New Jersey are without power, not because of snow but because of rain and high water. Police say at least three people have died from fallen trees. And two of those deaths in Mendham Township, about 30 miles west of New York City. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie repeatedly warned residents about the potential dangers earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm very disappointed in the fact that some decided to disregard my instruction, in fact my order. And I'm concerned that it might lead to the loss of life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Also, reports of homes flooded under several feet of water and several rescues have been under way, including those stranded in their cars while they were trying to escape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm scared to death. So many people are going to die today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Authorities are working to evacuate hundreds of people from west Atlantic City, where waters are dangerously high as well.

So we've been talking quite a bit about New York City. That's the -- of course, the highest population area that's been affected by this storm. And we want to give you a visual of the problem facing some city commuters in just a few hours.

There will be no commute really. Look at the bridges and the tunnels that link Manhattan to the outer Boroughs. Many are closed across the city. Few details are available at this time about any morning commutes or even how businesses, if businesses would even open.

And seven New York City subway tunnels are now down due to all the flooding. Well, earlier overnight we talked to the MTA spokesman, Kevin Ortiz, just how bad things are looking for commuters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN ORTIZ, MTA CHIEF: Hurricane Sandy has really wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, pretty much impacting every Borough and every county in the region, as a result of downed trees and loss of power. And obviously, as you can see there, you know, severe flooding in tunnels, rail yards, and bus depots as well.

The seven subway tunnels that you referred to that we've seen serious water infiltration are the under-river tubes in the East River, that essentially carry a large number of riders to and from Manhattan and Brooklyn. So we're in the process of trying to assess the extent of the damage down there just to -- in order to begin the recovery process.

BLACKWELL: I'd imagine there are pumps trying to get this water out. Are these pumps working? And I'm sure it may be too early to say when things will be up and running. But is there a no sooner than date that you know of?

ORTIZ: No, it really is difficult to predict the amount of time that it's going to take to pump water from these flooded tunnels, bringing equipment as well as adjoining stations back into service. It really does depend on what we see down there with regards to the height of the storm surge and how rapidly, you know, we can pump water out of there.

You know, we've got pump rooms. We've got portable pumps. We've got pump trains. But that being said, it's still going to take some time to get the water out of there. And depending on what we see, it can range anywhere between 14 hours to four days just to get water from these tunnels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So again, trains will not be running in many parts of Lower Manhattan. And it's still difficult to know how the rest of the subway system is being impacted by this, because you've got so much water, many feet of water that have flooded some of these tunnels. And it's also meant that it has also impacted the electrical, the power grid there in Lower Manhattan, which affects so much of all of Manhattan and the other Boroughs.

BLACKWELL: And for the rest of the east coast, dealing with the snow and the water and the wind, it's still going on. And how will it affect the election and how will it affect transportation?

I mean, this is going to be -- already has been a historic storm. But our coverage will continue now.

WHITFIELD: I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Victor Blackwell, thanks so much for working together overnight.

"EARLY START" begins right now. .