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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Discussion with Staten Island Councilman

Aired February 21, 2003 - 11:33   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Do we have Councilman McMahon ready to go.
Councilman, can you hear us?

MIKE MCMAHON, STATEN ISLAND COUNCILMAN: Yes, I can.

KAGAN: Hi, it's Daryn Kagan and Leon Harris here at CNN.

What can you tell us about the situation there?

MCMAHON: Everyone's immediate concern is that this might be an act of terrorism. That's why the panic that went through our community about an hour ago. As we know now, it appears to be more the result of an accident regarding a barge at the facility. We do believe now, as you've been reporting that fire has burned itself out to a great extent. There is a large storage facility right near this barge. We were concerned that the fire would spread there. It appears not to have done so. And there are people who live within a mile of this area and they have been concerned and there have been some evacuations of that area. Smoke is now -- fumes are a major concern. The majority of Staten Island is now covered in smoke. You can see the smoke. We're concerned.

We're advising people not to move their children from school and to stay put, and like you were awaiting to hear from the mayor, who is on his way there. We haven't heard that he's arrived yet.

KAGAN: All right, and, council, what can you tell us more about this facility? This is a fuel storage facility?

MCMAHON: That's correct. It's storage for petroleum and for natural gas. It's been there, you know, for my whole lifetime. There have been some incidents in the past regarding spillage. But never anything of this magnitude. And we -- it's certainly always a concern to have a facility like this near residential areas. And as Staten Island has grown over the last few years people have moved closer and closer, and now it's something we'll have to look at the location of this facility.

KAGAN: We were talking to people who live nearby. They said when they heard an explosion, about 10:10 local time, that was their first thought was, oh, it must be at this facility, that it didn't surprise them to hear explosion.

MCMAHON: Correct. It's something that the people live near. It's something you get used to as well. We're listening for the reports about loss of life, and we're just hoping and praying that everyone is safe, and we do expect to hear from Mayor Bloomberg shortly.

KAGAN: All right, well, we will listen in for that.

Council McMahon, thank you very much.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, I think we have now joining us on the phone another eyewitness. Vonna Foley, we understand, lives about a mile or so away from this Exxon Mobil facility.

Miss Vonna Foley, are you on the phone?

VONNA FOLEY, WITNESS: Yes, I am.

HARRIS: Good morning. Thanks for talking with us. Are you OK? Are you concerned at all about your safety right now at all?

FOLEY: At this moment, I believe I have it contained. But earlier this morning, we were terrified. We were absolutely terrified. My house shook. The amor (ph) shook. Things fell. My husband fell out of bed. My neighbors (UNINTELLIGIBLE). My house literally shook. We thought it was a bomb.

HARRIS: What did you do immediately after that?

FOLEY: I got everybody together. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) get provisions, get close together, to be ready in case evacuation. We saw that there was smoke and billowing fire, and we realized where the fire was coming from. We're familiar with Staten Island, and we realized that it was by the oil refinery and the gas tanks down there, and we were terrified, and we decided that if it was time to evacuate, we'd be ready to leave. It was just terrifying. The smell of the smoke was awful. We were just terrified.

HARRIS: I'm going to ask you this in all seriousness, did you at any time think it was time to pull out the duct tape and plastic sheeting?

FOLEY: No, no, my immediate thought was, first of all, to close all the windows, shut the heat off. The second thing we were going to do is, if anything, we were not going to stay in the house, we would just evacuate and come off the island.

HARRIS: Have you ever been around -- has anything like this ever happened before around you, Vonna?

FOLEY: No, never, never, never anything like this.

HARRIS: You said your son was with you in the home?

FOLEY: yes.

HARRIS: What did he think was going on?

FOLEY: He was terrified. He thought it was a bomb that exploded. The house shook. We thought we got hit by terrorists. I don't mean to start up anything about that. But with all that we've been hearing on the news, something that isn't unlikely. And I have a small child who's 2 as well. And I grabbed -- she almost got hit by the things that fell off the armoire (ph), and I grabbed her. My husband was also home, and as I screamed for my son, and we just got everything together to get ready to leave, and we saw fire engines, and trucks and the police department bomb squads, and they shut off the street on the corner of my house. People just were leaving their homes, and we were just terrified.

HARRIS: Did the police or the firefighters tell you to leave?

FOLEY: No, we were hearing conflicting reports. We heard people coming out and saying that we need to evacuate, then we heard, you know, other things saying, no, stay here, it's going northeast, and then we heard something on Channel 5 News. My sister called us, saying they're telling you to evacuate within a mile radius. She knows where I am.

HARRIS: Is that your son we hear in the background?

FOLEY: That's my daughter.

HARRIS: How old is your daughter?

FOLEY: She's two.

HARRIS: Boy, this has got to be awfully tough for a 2-year-old to try to figure out. I know what it's like for my daughter and son when they were two. Is she OK? Is she going to be all right?

FOLEY: She's going to be fine. My husband is a New York City police officer from Manhattan. He just spoke to his sergeant, and the sergeant said they shut the fuel line off, and there's no more gas going into the fire now. They're not evacuating anybody at this time.

HARRIS: We're glad to know you're safe. Vonna Foley, thank you very much. You and your family be careful, OK

FOLEY: Thank you so much.

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