NewsHour‘s Ray Suarez spoke with NJ Today‘s managing editor and anchor Mike Schneider to get a ground report on how people in the Garden State are coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Up and down the New Jersey coast, towns begin what is expected to be a long process of recovery and rebuilding in the wake of devastating destruction from Hurricane Sandy. Ray Suarez spoke with Mike Schneider of NJ Today about the challenges for New Jerseyans in the affected communities.
Suarez: Mike, is it really starting to dawn on people now just how badly the state was hit?
Schneider: I think so Ray. The fact is that you go through this kind of psychological roller coaster as the storm approaches and people gear up for what they believe is coming and they live through the actual event itself and then the next day or so they get outside and they take a look around and realize what exactly has happened. In this case, there was no way to anticipate what was going to happen because the destruction on this level has never occurred in this state before. It’s the worst storm in the history of New Jersey. And according to some people maybe in fact one of the worst storms to ever hit the United States.
Suarez: How are the people in the worst damaged areas managing to get the basic necessities of everyday life — food and shelter?
Schneider: It’s tough and it varies. In some of the more urban areas, you’ve seen swift boat crews that actually go out and rescue these people and take them to shelters where they will be fed and where they will have a place to sleep. And depending upon what level of shelter they go to they might be able to get home sooner rather than later. But at this point, if you’re from the barrier islands, the ones that are the hardest hit down the shore, Gov. Christie had issued an executive order telling everybody to get off the beach — his famous phrase — but some people didn’t, much to the governor’s consternation, and in fact they’re kind of trapped there right now. Some of them had been rescued as well. The governor, at this point, is talking about lifting some of the travel bans in some select communities. Curfews remain in effect for all of those communities, however. But for many of these people it’s a case of getting to family or friends or shelters and hoping that those necessities will be there for them at that place.
Suarez: Was today the day when a lot of people got to really take stock of just what they had lost, their first look at their homes?
Schneider: Well it’s interesting that you should say that Ray because so many people don’t have power. It’s hard to say how many know exactly how widespread this damage has been. Gov. Christie took a tour yesterday of more of the inland areas before his encounter with President Obama and he went to a town called Sayreville where he went door to door meeting with the people who came out to talk to him. He was bolstering their spirits, but in some cases, there were people who broke down and cried and he became more than the chief executive of the state and he became the consoler in chief, if you will, and that is a story that repeated itself a number of times later in the day. The governor and President Obama took a helicopter rider over the area from Atlantic City to an area called Brigantine ultimately, one of the areas the governor told people to get out, and in many case they didn’t. And he kind of jokingly but firmly let them know … not that he was not happy with them but that he would give them a break this time around. It’s not a big state geographically but it’s a very densely populated state and it’s a very diverse state when it comes to geography as well. The Highlands took a tremendous hit because that’s where the winds seemed to be the strongest and trees came down and power is out there, and there is no telling when it will be restored. Along the shore, of course, you’ve seen some of the damage that occurred there. Where once stood houses, there are now waves in some cases. And then, you go up farther north in New York City across the Hudson. From that, you have paces like Jersey City and Hoboken, places that are populated with an awful lot of people. In fact, those two cities are referred to as the most densely populated areas in the United States and they were under water. They simply did not expect that level of damage and destruction to come their way. And for a lot of those people, they had to be boated out as well. There’s no telling when they can go back.
Suarez: You touched on it just briefly before, but I want to talk a little bit more about the restrictions because often post-flood areas are dangerous to be in. There are things in the water you can’t see. The houses themselves have gas leaks, sometimes electricity problems. Are there tight controls on who can get in, who can get out and how long they can stay?
Schneider: Absolutely, Ray. In some of these communities, the restrictions remain in effect. No getting on, no getting off. In some places, the governor didn’t have to issue that order. Bridges are out in a number of communities as well. But in some of the video you’re seeing behind me right now, they’ve had some enormously dangerous encounters with gas leaks. Just this afternoon, one of the gas companies — New Jersey Natural Gas — announced that it was cutting off the gas flow to that area to try to stem some of those fires. As a result, I presume some people with gas service might lose that gas service for a while. But in places like the ones you’re seeing behind me right now, there are no people who could use the gas service there because no people could basically stay there. You’re taking a look at places that were lovely beach side communities, bay side communities. And now basically houses lifted off their foundations and surrounded by the beach.
Suarez: Michael Schneider is with us from New Jersey. Nighttime temperatures dropping tonight, Michael, so it’s probably going to be pretty cold for those people trying to shelter in their homes. Thanks for joining us.
Schneider: Thank you Ray.