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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Jersey Shore Destruction; NYC Slowly Getting Back To Normal; NYC Area Airports Reopen; The Politics of Sandy; Scrambling for Supplies & Higher Ground; NYC Traffic Nightmare After Sandy; 700 Patients Evacuated from New York Hospital

Aired November 1, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're in shock. Everybody is in shock. We never thought it would be this bad, ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no words to put on what happened here, but we've got to start over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Three days since Sandy. Storm victims still reeling and struggling to recover.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And it is five days until Election Day. Both candidates back on the road in the final battleground states.

Good morning to you. Thanks for being with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: Hey everyone, I'm John Berman. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east.

We begin with the latest in the aftermath of that superstorm, the storm that was Hurricane Sandy. New York City is very slowly attempting to inch back to normal today. Some subways and buses will be up and running again this morning and they're free. But most of Lower Manhattan still has no power with temperatures dipping into 30s and 40s. It's cold.

SAMBOLIN: That's going to be really tough for folks. And there are new and very heartbreaking pictures along the Jersey Shore's barrier islands. Houses picked up by the force of the ocean. Some were buried in the sand.

Governor Chris Christie, who toured the destruction with President Obama saying some parts of the shore might never look the same again.

And the storm's death toll has now reached 124 people, with 56 of those in the United States, at least 28 in New York. And close to 5 million customers are still waiting for the power to come back on.

BERMAN: First, the economic capital of our country, slowly getting back to normal this morning, even while facing extreme damage, power outages, and people having to walk hours and hours, just to get to work.

Meanwhile, another hospital lost generator power in Lower Manhattan. Right now, hundreds of people being rushed out of Bellevue at this very moment, after hundreds of others were evacuated yesterday.

Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is live at Bellevue right now. But first, we want to go to Rob Marciano who's down at the Brooklyn Bridge.

And Rob, Governor Cuomo has declared a transportation emergency, which means there'll be no fares for buses, subways, trains. But the problem is there aren't that many up and running today, are there?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No. And yesterday when the buses got running, they were just absolutely jammed full. So by the time they even got to 10th or 14th Street, they weren't stopping because they didn't have any room on them.

There are seems like the Queensboro Bridge, the stop there, take a look at the people pushing and shoving, so a bit of chaos and desperation. A lot of people had to go to work uptown or elsewhere, and I spoke to a number of them that were in fear of their jobs.

I had to lend my phone to a couple, they had to call their boss and verify that they couldn't get on the bus. That's one of the things we'll have to deal with today. Cabs are doubling up, but still not enough of those

The bottom line, the 5 million or 6 million people that typically would be taking the subways are now aboveground. They're trying anyway to get to where they need to go. There are limited subway lines up and running today.

Mostly all of them, actually, are north of 34th Street and the tunnel is close. The bridges by the Brooklyn Bridge, which will have a fair amount of foot traffic, you can believe it, starting now, actually.

If you come over by car, you need at least three people. You'll start carpooling and forcing that so you don't have the gridlock you had yesterday across Manhattan.

BERMAN: That was a sight to behold. So what about the electricity, Rob, the power, still a virtual blackout below 25th Street right now, is it starting to fray people's nerves?

MARCIANO: I think so. You know, it's day three now. Yesterday was still a little bit more of an adventure. People were struggling to find places just to charge their cell phones, but I think as we get towards day three and four, which Con Ed says we're still going to be without power the next couple of days, that's going to fray nerves.

We caught up with a number of people yesterday, some in public housing, who had to actually go for water at local fire hydrants. Here's what one had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has just happened out of the blue, they shut the water down. So we have no water, no light, and we've got to get food, so it's like, it's really, really not a good situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: Some of those people having to lug five gallons of water up and down 15 flights of stairs. So that sort of thing is going to keep going for the next couple of days.

And on top of that, cold air is setting in behind Sandy. We'll see temperatures drop the next couple of days, well into the 30s, near the freezing mark across the storm zone. So surviving through the cold at night will be yet another issue with all the power out -- John.

BERMAN: A tough weekend ahead for all of us in the northeast. Thank you, Rob Marciano. Thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: It is 3 minutes past the hour. Back to the painstaking transfer of more than 700 patients out of New York City's flagship public hospital, Bellevue Hospital Center. Flooding wiped out fuel pumps in the hospital's basement, which is where they power those generators.

Chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has been following the transfer since it began. He is at Bellevue right now. Sanjay, what is the very latest there right now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it is ongoing, Zoraida. It's quite remarkable. You've had ambulances sort of lining up throughout the night. I don't know how well you can see this, but a lot of ambulances, probably about 50 or so.

If you can take a look over here, what happens is, these ambulances, this is just a continuous conveyor belt. They go, drop the patients off at the various hospitals around the city and they keep coming back, picking up more patients, close to 700, as you mentioned, in total.

They expect that they're going to be done around noon today. I should point out, you see a lot of ambulances. There are also some buses as well for the less critical patients. And also, Bellevue is a place that takes care a lot of prisoners.

There were corrections vehicles earlier as well. About 60 prisoners were transported out of Bellevue. It's eerie to look at, Zoraida. You know, I drive by this hospital all the time.

It's always lit up. It's a well-known hospital throughout the entire country, if not the world, and it's just very eerily dark right now, except for these ambulances.

SAMBOLIN: And Sanjay, a lot of people are wondering how this happened. There are two other hospitals that also had to be evacuated. So now there is only one hospital that is up and running. It is in Lower Manhattan and we had advanced warning of the storm. Is there anything that these hospitals should have done differently in your opinion to avoid a situation like this?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I've been asking the same question, one thing, you know the geography of New York, a lot of people are learning that this hospital, as well as Langone Hospital, one of the others that were evacuated, are right on the East River.

That is relevant because they were certainly more subjected to the flooding. You know, I talked to the president of the hospital system here in New York, asked that specific question, and take a listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN AVILES, PRESIDENT OF THE HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION: Well, this was an unprecedented event. We weathered Hurricane Irene 14 or 15 months ago, with the same emergency preparations and it didn't come close to endangering the hospital. This hospital sits 20 feet above sea level so it was are, obviously, not anticipated, that we would get a so storm surge of this magnitude.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUTPA: Hard to, you know, I mean, when you listen to that, Zoraida, you get this impression that you know they put these pumps, they try and protect them from storm surge as much as possible, but despite how much this was anticipated, what you're hearing from him is they could not have predicted this specific thing.

This hospital, asked him this as well, this hospital, they say, two to three weeks before it oppose opens. That's a long time. And this is a place that sees 25,000 emergency room visits a year. So that's going to make a huge impact on this part of the neighborhood.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, unfortunately, there were a lot of hard lessons learned here. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you for spending time with us this morning.

BERMAN: It's 6 minutes after the hour right now. And in Breezy Point, in Queens, residents are shifting through the wreckage of homes that were destroyed in a massive fire during Sandy. At least 110 homes burned in that firestorm.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo saw the devastation himself yesterday. He offered comfort, he tried to, to the families who are now literally picking up the pieces of their lives.

SAMBOLIN: And let's look at some live pictures here of that crane. Once dangling some 90 stories above Midtown Manhattan, has now been secured to that luxury high-rise building it is attached to and they say that it no longer poses a threat.

However, the streets that are surrounding the crane remain closed at this hour. It caused horrific gridlock in one of the busiest areas of New York City. Mayor Bloomberg says the streets will not reopen until the weekend, and that is at the earliest.

BERMAN: New York City airports are back in business. Flights resume this morning at LaGuardia Airport, which is located along flushing bay. You have to look at this, this was yesterday. Both runways were flooded, but they will be operating today, I have to say, impressively fast.

New York City's other two major airports, JFK and Newark, Liberty, they reopen Wednesday. All three airports running reduced schedules.

SAMBOLIN: In just a few minutes, we will head across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey, where most of the city's 50,000 people may be trapped without power, by filthy water and live wires on the streets.

BERMAN: So after seeing the destruction himself, President Obama promised to cut through red tape and speed up the recovery from Sandy. The White House says he's getting a briefing before heading back out on the campaign trail. And he will be in touch with administrators throughout the day today, for progress reports.

Meantime, with just five shopping days left until the election, President Obama and Mitt Romney will both be hitting the final battleground states very, very hard. We've got a look at some new polling in a few of these states.

"The Wall Street Journal"/NBC/Marist poll shows the president with a six-point lead over Mitt Romney in Iowa, a three-point margin in Wisconsin, and a very small two-point edge in New Hampshire.

I'm joined now by CNN political director, Mark Preston, live in Washington. Mark, there's been a lot of talk about the president's handling of Hurricane Sandy and how it might affect this race.

We get a glimpse of what Americans think of this handling in a new poll from ABC News/"Washington Post." It shows 78 percent of likely voters approve of the president's response, 44 percent say they approve of Mitt Romney's reaction.

Neither candidate is seeking to politicize this were tragedy overtly. But it really does beg the question, how could this affect this race?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, John, you know, it certainly puts the president in the position of being a commander in chief and being the leader at the time of a crisis. And in many ways, he's gotten a lot of support of one of Mitt Romney's top surrogates, and that's the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

And just yesterday we saw President Obama and Chris Christie in New Jersey surveying the damage. In fact, let's listen to what Chris Christie had to say about the president and what the president had to say about the New Jersey governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: I cannot thank the president enough about his person concern and the compassion for our state and for the people of our state. I heard it on the phone conversations with him and I was able to witness it today personally.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the people of New Jersey recognize that he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESTON: And you know, John, we don't like to politicize these times of crisis, no question. But I got to tell you, this is a political consultant's dream, to have the president next to one of Mitt Romney's top surrogates.

And as you said, we are back in earnest right now in the campaign trail. President Obama will be going to Wisconsin, Colorado, and Nevada today.

Mitt Romney in the state of Virginia and of course, Joe Biden, Paul Ryan, Bill Clinton, Marco Rubio, and many others fanned out across the country right now. As you said, we are in the closing days of this very, very tense campaign.

BERMAN: it really was a remarkable picture of the president and the New Jersey governor yesterday and I think a refreshingly bipartisan picture to a lot of Americans. All right, Mark Preston, live in Washington, always great to see you. Thanks for being here this morning.

At the bottom of the hour, we'll get to analysis of the campaign's final days from our political experts in residents. CNN contributor and Republican strategist Ana Navarro and Richard Socarides, a NewYorker.com writer and former senior adviser to President Clinton.

And in just five days, five days, it will finally be election night in America. CNN's live election coverage will begin at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

SAMBOLIN: And in Sandy's aftermath, thousands of people in Hoboken, New Jersey are trapped in a nasty flood. The effort to get them help or get them out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fourteen minutes past the hour.

Scrambling for supplies and higher ground after Sandy. National Guard troops are helping to get thousands of people stranded in Hoboken, New Jersey, to safety. They are trapped in very dangerous floodwaters, filthy, sewage-filled, with the potential of live power lines as well.

HLN meteorologist Bob Van Dillen is in Hoboken.

And, Bob, we know you spoke with the mayor there who said, yesterday, about half of the city's residents could not get out of their homes. What is the latest now? BOB VAN DILLEN, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the latest now, brand-new information coming up, which is great news, the floodwaters in Hoboken are gone. They drained the city streets last night, everything is now dry. That's the good news. But yesterday morning at this time, different story.

Now, the National Guard is behind me right now. Yesterday morning at this time, they were in the same spot, where their trucks were idling with all their troops in the back, ready to break out at first light, pick up the peopled that needed to be evacuated, and bring them back to this area, which is a staging point. This morning, different story. The trucks are here, they're not idling and I haven't seen a single troop. So, that is some good news.

The bad news is, though, we still have no power and it's colder this morning. Temperatures in Hoboken, about 42 degrees, the skies have opened up. It is now a cool one.

But yesterday morning at this time, the people who were evacuated just happy to be out. In fact win talked to one guy. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRASHANT GABODIA, EVACUEE: We couldn't survive on one night without, you know, food, water, without electricity. So -- I mean, we had to leave, no matter what. So we had no milk for this guy, so we just had to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN DILLEN: Yes, and that really was the story from just about everybody that I talked to yesterday. They were running out of supplies. They didn't realize it was going to get that high, the water. The water was essentially waist deep.

And, like you said, that water was filled with sewage, it was filled with fuel, with floating debris. It was just plain old dangerous. Not only that, open manhole covers are a possibility. You fall into one of those, you're not going to come back out.

So, it was just dangerous. So the National Guard with big trucks pulled out a lot of people.

Now, this morning coming in, the other story besides being out of power is the lack of gasoline. Our truck is about a quarter of a tank right now coming from Newark to Hoboken. We tried to go into one of those 24-hour gas stations, the lined wrapped all the way around the corner, it looked to me there was probably a two maybe three-hour wait, by the time you get it, it might even be tapped. But the police were there trying to hold order with that situation as well -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Just a total mess. And we're still concerned about those falling temperatures.

Bob Van Dillen, live in Hoboken for us -- thank you for that report.

BERMAN: Obviously, so much help is needed on the East Coast. If you're watching this right now, you're seeing this devastation and you want to help, go to CNN.com/impact. We have a lot of tips there, you can see what you can do.

And, of course, it is the final push before election day right now, just five days away. We're not just talking about the presidential race.

SAMBOLIN: Shelley Adler is a Democratic congressional hopeful in New Jersey. We followed her as she balanced a campaign and a family of four boys in this edition of "Road Warriors."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHELLEY ADLER, (D-NJ) CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm Shelley Adler and I'm a candidate for Congress in New Jersey, third congressional district. I've been campaigning since January 30th.

I wanted to continue the legacy of my late husband and our family and our belief in public service. We are constantly on the road. We're trying to meet people all the time. We make phone calls to people. We go to events where people might be.

So nice to meet you!

It's very important to go door to door.

Anything happen in school today? I keep in touch with my kids during the day by phone or by text.

I'm good, how are you?

Campaigns are very much a group effort. It's sort of a battle mentality in the sense that you become close quickly.

Being in Congress requires a tremendous amount of travel. I'm fortunate to live in an area which would allow to travel back and forth on a daily basis. I'll go from here to home to see my children and then I will go to a debate with my opponent.

I'm looking forward to having some sleep on November 7th. Thanks for coming along with me on my road to Congress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: I'm tired watching.

BERMAN: All right. Eighteen minutes after the hour right now. As we've been saying, so much help is needed for people now facing the huge financial burden of trying to rebuild their lives after Sandy. We're going to tell you what hurricane victims should know about their insurance deductibles, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Minding your business this morning, U.S. stock markets closed mixed yesterday, after being shut down completely for two days because of Superstorm Sandy. And U.S. stock features are trading lower this morning, too, indicating futures will open lower at 9:30 a.m. Eastern.

SAMBOLIN: And Christine Romans is here to talk about the long lines for gas in the Northeast. This is astounding, when you look at the video, and it just goes for miles.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, it does go for miles. And police, the local news report have that police are at a lot of these gas stations, breaking up fights, keeping people from cutting in line, you know, cutting in line is something that really causes a lot of problems when you've been waiting for two hours to get gas.

The issue is not necessarily a gas shortage, you guys. But there's not power at some of these pumps, and you've got about half of New Jersey and New York's gas stations closed right now.

I mean, you can see it. If you're out driving, you can see the cones in front of so many of these gas stations, they're just not open for business.

Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, says that a hundred generators from FEMA are coming. They've got a whole bunch of diesel oil that's going to be coming, because we're talking about filling up our cars. These governments are talking about keeping sewage treatment plants open and getting generators to a lot of places.

So, we think we've got it bad, we're trying to make sure that just the infrastructure of these big states is being, you know, is being taken care of. And it's a really, really big deal.

BERMAN: You've been tracking insurance deductibles, the issue of people getting money after this storm. What's the latest there?

ROMANS: The latest here is that the state regulators are saying, your hurricane deductible will not be triggered. When your hurricane deductible is triggered, it means you don't pay the $500 deductible you think you have on the damage to your home, you pay more like a percentage of the value of the home. It can be up to 5 percent in some states. That's $15,000, on the $300,000 house. Not the $500, you thought.

Cuomo -- Andrew Cuomo, the New York mayor -- New York governor -- saying, no, those hurricane triggers will not go into effect, you will just pay your deductible. So that will save, if this really does happen, that will save homeowners in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, tens of thousands of dollars. So that is a very big development on the insurance front.

And I can tell you that, right now, you've got armies of insurance adjustors, armed with ladders and tape measures and clipboards, who are ready to start taking these adjustments and assessments of your property. SAMBOLIN: How are the insurance companies going to feel about that, though?

ROMANS: That's a really good question. You know, an insurance industry spokesperson told us that premiums have been rising for several years now because of the higher cost of rebuilding in these areas, where -- that are storm-prone, and also because of the increased frequency of storms since 2005, so premiums have already been going up. My guess would be it means premiums will keep going up.

BERMAN: All right. What's the one thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: The one thing you need to know about your money is the jobs report will be released, as scheduled, tomorrow. That will be the last big piece of economic news about your money and your job situation before the election. Oh, yes, there's an election on Tuesday. That happens tomorrow. That jobs report, we will get it for sure.

BERMAN: A big release, 8:30 tomorrow.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: See it live, here, on CNN.

ROMANS: If you have electricity.

SAMBOLIN: No kidding.

BERMAN: Twenty-five minutes after the hour right now.

And hundreds of hospital patients on the move after Sandy. The massive effort to get them to a hospital with electricity. We'll tell you all about it, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Stranded and powerless. Three days after Sandy, frustration and desperation sets in.

BERMAN: No rest for the candidates. Every hour counts, with just five days left in a razor-close election.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you with us this morning.

BERMAN: We begin with the latest on the aftermath of Sandy.

The city that never sleeps is trying to get moving again. Some subways and buses are up and running again this morning and they're free, but they're very limited. And there is a carpool requirement to get into Manhattan. SAMBOLIN: And battered beyond recognition. New heartbreaking pictures along the Jersey Shore's barrier island. Houses picked up by the force of the ocean. Some are buried underneath all the sand.

Governor Chris Christie saying the Jersey Shore of my youth is gone.

BERMAN: The storm's death toll has now reached 124 people with 56 of those right here in the U.S., at least 28 in New York, and close to 5 million customers are still waiting for the power to come back on.

SAMBOLIN: And it's going to be another very slow go in New York this morning, with more unprecedented bumper-to-bumper traffic expected. Limited subways and buses will be running and they will be mobbed. They are freeway today.

Take a look at this. A tale of two cities for you: a photo of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, lights out on the Manhattan side, lights on, on the Brooklyn side.

And right now, at Bellevue Hospital, patients are on the move after backup power failed. We're talking to a doctor who knows about disaster. That's coming up next.

But first, we're going to go to Rob Marciano. He's at the Brooklyn Bridge.

And, Rob, Governor Cuomo has declared a transportation emergency. And that means, there will be no fares for subways, trains, and buses. But many of the bus and subway lines are not yet up and running. Is that right?

MARCIANO: Yes, that's true. And the few that are up and running were jammed full. Yesterday, there were issues with buses that weren't even able to stop and pick people up. Even scenes like this, near Queens, the Queensboro Bridge station, where there's actually people pushing and shoving, just trying to get on. There's some bit of desperation.

A lot of people had to get to work. I talked to a number of people, one of which borrowed my cell phone to say, can I call my boss and tell him I can't get on the bus? There's no way for me to get to work.

So, I think this is going to be echoed again today. Subway lines, though, will be running north of 34th Street. So, that may alleviate this issue because we have 5 million to 6 million people who typically take the subways were aboveground yesterday and a lot of foot traffic as you imagine as well.

We're by the Brooklyn Bridge, where there will be a fair amount of foot traffic again today, but you need three people or more if you're going to be driving over the bridge, because that's one of the problems yesterday, Zoraida, huge gridlock here in Manhattan, because people were trying to get around by car.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm sure there are going to be police nearby enforcing that, right?

MARCIANO: Yes. And going out of here, you're fine.

You know, the other issue, Zoraida, is the power. We're in day three now, nerves are getting a little bit frayed. We caught up with a lot of people yesterday who went to a public housing project and this is what the one gentleman had to say to me about what he's struggling with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: How's this blackout, storm been treating you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe even more sicker than I am, I'm trying to make it to the first floor with all the heavy stuff that I've got, thanks to my fiancee. I'm out of breath.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: So that was his first trip down the stairs. You can imagine if you're incapacitated or unhealthy or elderly and you live on the 15th floor of one of these buildings and don't have any food or water, at some point you've got to go down those stairs. So, day three now, and day four will be tomorrow likely without power in this area, there's going to be some serious health issues, unfortunately.

And on top of that, Zoraida, as we go through the weekend, temperatures will continue to drop, it's going to be colder at night, temps will approach freezing. So without the power, without the heat, that's going to be another matter of survival going forward. Back to you.

SAMBOLIN: It's just terrible. Your hearts go out to all of those peoples.

Rob Marciano, live for us, thank you very much. John?

BERMAN: All right. This morning at this very moment, more evacuations from another hospital here in New York. Bellevue Hospital is moving more than 700 patients after the storm caused generators to fail. Now, as of our latest count last night, there were still about 260 people still to be moved today.

Bellevue Hospital is a couple blocks south of NYU Langone Medical Center, which was also evacuated, leaving just one hospital open in Lower Manhattan, and that's Beth Israel.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK: They didn't think the damage was that bad and we did have a generator going and the National Guard helped carry fuel up to the roof, because that's where the fuel tank was and they were running out. But the bottom line is when they got into the basement. They realized there was more damage. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: A lot of questions about this right now. Joining us now to talk about this is Dr. Erwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and a professor at Columbia University Mailman Center of Public Health. He has studied how hospitals handled Katrina. He knows everything, really, about disaster preparedness.

And, Doctor, I have to ask you this. We've seen a lot of businesses, big businesses like Goldman Sachs, big buildings downtown on generator power. They're up and running.

Why not a hospital?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, MD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Well, it's not clear why not a hospital.

And one of the problems here is initially, years ago, we had generators in the basements of hospitals, which is obviously something that doesn't really work, because when they get flooded, the generators go out. So they moved the generators up to higher elevations, but they leave the fuel pumps down in the basement. And those fuel pumps are susceptible to flooding.

It's just a detail that turns the out to be extraordinarily important when the time comes to actually use those generators.

BERMAN: Seems like a crucial detail right now. The president of New York City's Health and Hospital Corporation was asked by CNN's Erin Burnett last night, if hospitals were ready for this. Let's listen to his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN AVILES, PRESIDENT, NEW YORK CITY HEALTH & HOSPITALS CORP.: Well, this was an unprecedented event. We weathered Hurricane Irene 14 or 15 months ago, with the same emergency preparations and it didn't come close to endangering the hospital. This hospital sits 20 feet above sea level. We're actually 15 feet higher than NYU Hospital next door, because the terrain just rises slightly here. So it was, obviously, not anticipated that we would get a storm surge of this magnitude.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I have a couple of questions about this right now. First, let me ask you, how do you think they're handling the evacuation?

REDLENER: Well, the handling of the evacuation, the performance by the hospital staff, the first responders, the National Guard, is extraordinary. These are exemplary performances by professionals who know what they're doing and really do care about getting the job done right. So there's nothing to fault about the heroism and the actions of the individuals on scene. It was tremendous.

BERMAN: But, now, I've talked to you before natural disasters, and you are constantly calling for people to be prepared. Be prepared for the worst. How is it that these hospitals, it really doesn't seem that they were ready for this type of disaster -- should they have been more prepared?

REDLENER: Well, I think what should have happened was, there should have been a more detailed engineering look at how the whole system works, to make sure that not just the generator, but everything that needs to feed into the generator, specifically, in this case, the fuel pumps were protected from the inevitable flooding that happens in a coastal storm, especially for hospitals in zone A.

And this is just one of the things that it fell through the cracks, but it turns out to be a critical detail. And one of the things about planning for disasters is you've got to imagine everything, possibly, that could go wrong and then try to address it before it happens.

BERMAN: You know, after something like Katrina, how can things fall through the cracks?

REDLENER: It's hard to say. We have big bureaucracies that are managing the preparation of hospitals and other vital parts of our infrastructure, and, it's just one of those things that did not happen. You know, it's one of the many, many lessons that should have been learned from previous disasters. They're called wake-up calls.

They end up being like snooze alarms. Everyone gets excited during the moment of the crisis and then we get a lot less focused afterwards.

BERMAN: Dr. Irwin Redlener, always great to see you. He's the director of the National Center for Preparedness. Thanks very much.

REDLENER: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Still ahead, after surveying the damage from Sandy, President Obama heads back out to the campaign trail for a final push on the battleground states. Our political experts will weigh on what the president and Mitt Romney have to do in these final five days.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Joining us right now with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Lots to talk about this morning.

Continue to talk about the aftermath of Sandy. The recovery process has begun, but nearly 5 million people are still in the dark and, of course, it's getting cold outside.

Limited relief is on the way, though, in New York City. Limited subway service is returning this morning. We've got live reports from all over the city, and in New Jersey as well.

People are still stuck in flooded communities. The National Guard, though, is in and coming to the rescue. We'll talk this morning to one man who was brought to safety in Hoboken, New Jersey. His wife, eight months pregnant, with young kids.

Just five days away from the presidential election, President Obama, Mitt Romney, are hitting the swing states hard, trying to get votes there. How will the storm affect their campaigns? We'll talk about that with Congressman Elijah Cummings, Senator Bob Menendez, and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, our guests this morning.

That's all ahead right at the top of the hour. We'll see you then.

SAMBOLIN: Lots ahead. Thank you.

All right. It is 42 minutes past the hour. The power of Hurricane Sandy was felt on Staten Island, across the harbor from Manhattan and Brooklyn. The island's south shore took a beating from the storm surge.

Check out the damage in the Great Kills section, and now there's more danger in the water. A northern New Jersey oil facility has leaked 336,000 gallons of fuel along the Arthur Kill, the tidal waterway that separates Staten Island from New Jersey.

And we have some stunning images to show you out of Connecticut. CNN iReporter George Du Pont shot these boats. They're piled on top of each other at a boatyard on Bluff Avenue and there are other homes nearby.

George says he has lived in this area for about 30 years and he has never seen anything like this. He had to travel a few towns over to send us these images, because he did not have any power at home. Simply amazing.

We really appreciate the time and effort you took to do this for us. Thank you. John?

BERMAN: Back to politics right now this morning. The president met with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday to survey the damage in that state. The two men, normally political rivals, expressing mutual respect for one another.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state. And I heard it on the phone conversations with him, and I was able to witness it today, personally.

OBAMA: I think the people of New Jersey recognize that he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back, even stronger than before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That's really more than respect. It was kind of a stunning level of admiration right there. And now with the election just fife days away, the president is back on the trail today, making stops in Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada. Mitt Romney also on the road with an appearance this afternoon in Virginia.

I'm joined this morning by senior Clinton advisor and NewYorker.com writer, Richard Socarides. He's here in the studio with me this morning. Sadly far away in Miami, Republican strategist, Ana Navarro.

Hi, Ana. Good to see you down there.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good to see you.

BERMAN: I want to start with the pictures that we saw yesterday of Chris Christie and Barack Obama, the president, because they were stunning. What is stunning about them is they are so different than what we've seen. There was a level of bipartisanship there. There was, as I said, a stunning level of administration there.

I have a strange question for both of you. I'm wondering if you can both give me the thought bubbles. What were these two men thinking politically, as this was going on?

Richard, you first.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: I mean, I think both Governor Christie and President Obama were probably thinking about what they could do for the people of New Jersey. I mean, these guys are in office, because their care about people, both of them. Both of them think that government can help people and lift them up. And this is a time of great tragedy, of great suffering for people, and I'm sure that they were both united in the desire to help and the desire and the belief that government can help people in this situation, which it can.

BERMAN: Ana?

NAVARRO: You know, I agree with Richard on this, John. This disaster is just too great for them to be thinking about anything else. I will tell you, the thought bubble, I think, on a lot of other people's heads was, "Are we seeing things?" You know, this would have been an unimaginable image and exchange just a week ago. These guys have been very strong, you know, have waged very strong criticisms against each other. Just this week, Governor Christie was scheduled to be all over the country, campaigning and being a very strong surrogate for Mitt Romney.

But, you know, sometimes things happen, and Sandy is one of those things, that come to remind us all that there are things in life that are more important than politics, more important than partisanship, and that call for unity. Even if it is five days before such a close and big presidential election.

BERMAN: Americans really do seem to like what they're seeing when it comes to this level of bipartisanship. ABC News/"Washington Post" poll asked a about the president's job approval rating of how he's handling the disaster right now. Look at that -- 78 percent say excellent or good. Just 8 percent, not so good or poor. Mitt Romney, it's not his job to handle this disaster right now. He has just a 44 percent approval rate; 21 percent say they disapprove.

I know it's not political. I know they may not be doing this for politics, guys, but there is an election just five days away. So Ana, does this help the president?

NAVARRO: Well, I think it certainly doesn't hurt. But it is a double-edged sword. It has taken him off the campaign trail. It also has taken Mitt Romney off his game a little bit, because he can't be waging strong attacks against President Obama while President Obama is being president in the middle of this crisis. So it has changed the dynamics of the race.

But it's also given President Obama a chance to look presidential, be presidential, be not only Commander-in-Chief, be Comforter-in-Chief, which is a big part of the job description for president. For Romney, John, it's a little more difficult, because, as you say, he's got no specific responsibilities when it comes to this. And so he needs to be sympathetic. He needs to be involved. He needs to be concerned. And I think he's doing the right thing by not criticizing President Obama, by not criticizing Chris Christie for this unity, show of unity with President Obama, and just sticking to campaigning.

BERMAN: He has to watch one of his top supporters and surrogates, Chris Christie, gushing over the president. That can't be completely easy, Richard.

SOCARIDES: Well, and you know, what you saw from both these men yesterday was that good government was good politics. It was good politics both for President Obama and for Governor Christie. I mean, Governor Christie is governor in a state that's overwhelmingly Democratic. To have him there with the Democratic president, helping people, it worked for both of them. And as Ana knows, politicians from both parties have a lot in common. I mean, these guys have a lot in common. They're both, you know, the president is head of the country; the governor is head of a big, important state. They have a lot in common.

BERMAN: All right. Richard Socarides, New Yorker.com, former adviser to Bill Clinton, thanks for being here. Ana Navarro, always great to see you. Next time, let's do it in person. Thanks, guys.

SAMBOLIN: That would be great. Thank you.

48 minutes past the hour. Every vote counts, especially during this presidential election. So we asked some early voters to share their stories, the issues that matter most to them, who they voted for, and why they voted. We are calling them votergraphs.

First up, Richard Moore of Orlando, who's supporting President Obama, and he said he voted early because he's a poll clerk and cannot vote on Election Day. His big issues: the economy, taxes, and education as well.

And this is Mitt Romney voter Didi Smith. Well, she sent us a picture of her adorable granddaughter, Aria. Thank you for that. She said she voted early because she wanted to avoid all the long lines. Her issue, number one, the economy.

BERMAN: You can send us your votergraph and pictures of your grandkids. The address is CNN.com/earlystart.

SAMBOLIN: It is 49 minutes past the hour. Still ahead, the victims of Sandy, and the sometimes razor-thin margin between life and death. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: 52 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. At least 56 people in the United States have died as a result of Superstorm Sandy, 36 right here in the Tri-State area. CNN's Anderson Cooper has a closer look at some of the victims of this massive storm.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" (voice-over): Jessie Streich-Kest and her close friend Jacob Vogelman were out for what her family says was a quick walk in Brooklyn Monday night. They were walking her dog, Max. Neighbors say an enormous tree suddenly was uprooted by the force of the storm and pinned them both beneath its weight.

Jessie was the daughter of Jon Kest, the executive director of a New York City advocacy group, New York Communities for Change. On its website today, Jessie was eulogized as an amazing young woman. She was just 24 years old. Her dog, Max, was hurt but survives.

Lauren Abraham was a makeup artist, also 24. In her Queens neighborhood of Richmond Hill, the storm brought down a power line and it began to spark. The streets were drenched with rain and somehow Lauren touched the line, according to police. Rescuers were unable to reach her for half an hour.

On the flood-ravaged streets of Staten Island, an off-duty police officer began taking his family to safety from inside his home. 28- year-old Artur Kasprzak faced floodwaters racing into his house. According to an official police account, he had taken seven people, including a 15-month-old, from the attic to safety, and was going back in to check the basement. He never came out. His body was recovered 12 hours later.

And as those same floodwaters surged through Staten Island streets, an absolutely horrific event unfolded. According to the "New York Daily News", a mother had managed to unstrap her two children, Brandon, age 2, and Connor, age 4, from their car seats as the water hit their SUV. Police would only confirm to CNN that the two children are missing. The mother's sister told us that the mom knocked on doors for help, but was turned away.

But there were hundreds of rescues throughout the storm that led to happier endings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, your feet are going to be right there. Go ahead.

COOPER: In Northern Virginia, this little girl was inside an apartment building when the roof blew off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: What did it sound like when that roof blew off?

PEGGY FOX, RESCUED GIRL: It sound like it was cracking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Wow, very scary. Did you have any idea what was happening?

FOX: The fire department came and knocked and told us to evacuate because the roof was going to fall and then I - then I started getting scared. And I started hurrying up and packing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: That was our Anderson Cooper reporting. And coming up, how you can help those in the heart of the disaster zone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Thousands of people will wake up on shelter cots this morning. Take a look at this. These are scenes from Toms River, New Jersey. About 9,000 people in 13 states spent Tuesday night in Red Cross shelters. The good news, donations to the Red Cross are starting to pour in. Well over $11 million so far.

SAMBOLIN: And if you would like to help, go to CNN.com/impact. All kinds of information there for you on what you can do to make a difference for all of these people that are in such dire need.

BERMAN: We encourage you to check it out. That is all for EARLY START this morning. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.