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THE SITUATION ROOM
Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts Continue; New Presidential Polls; Tale of Two Cities; CNN Poll: Very Tight Race in Colorado; Campaigns Begin Final Rush; Live Now: Governor Christie Briefing on New Jersey Recovery; Roller Coaster Dropped into the Ocean; Obama Returns to Campaign Mode; Romney Stops Pulling His Punches
Aired November 1, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, shock is now turning to fury and anger. Searchers on New York City's Staten Island are still finding bodies. Desperate survivors say help isn't getting through. Things are getting more dire apparently by the hour.
The anger is growing in the rest of the city as well. Three days after the storm hit, millions of New Yorkers still have no power, no food. And they face huge lines trying to get anywhere.
And with just five days until the presidential election, we're releasing a new poll from Colorado, a must-win state for both candidates.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
While much of the country, even the presidential race is returning to normal today, we're hearing and seeing misery and growing desperation for millions of people in the Northeastern United States. Here is the big picture as it stands right now.
Hurricane Sandy's blamed for at least 88 deaths in the United States and two in Canada, raising the storm's overall death toll to 157. A little under five million power customers across the Eastern United States awoke to no electricity again. That's down from the nearly eight million when the storm hit on Monday, though.
Some 36,000 people now are signed up for government help from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, who's in New York City, says that's only just the beginning.
But many residents of Staten Island, which was inundated by the storm's tidal surge, say they're getting virtually no help yet. And their desperation is now turning to anger.
CNN's Brian Todd is on the island. He's joining us live.
Brian, tell us what's going on.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're in the New Dorp Beach section of Staten Island right now. This is Cedar Grove Avenue. Look at the devastation behind me. This place is still flooded out even after the waters receded. People just barely able to kind of wade through the water there, try to get to homes and assess damage. You have got a church that's flooded out here to your left, my right.
And our photojournalist, Chris Turner, can pan back over this way down Marine Way. Look down here with just the debris and people just trying to gather things and bring things out and clear their homes of all the wreckage.
What we know now, Wolf, is that the bodies of two young boys who were washed away from their mother during the storm have been found. They were found in a marsh not too far away from here. Now, that brings the death toll we think to a little bit more than the dozen people that we knew of before. Exact numbers, I don't have.
But it's more than a dozen now just on Staten Island who were killed by this. Hundreds of homes have been damaged or completely destroyed. Now we're going to show you some scenes from the devastation and some sound from people that we got who are just shattered by this whole thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some stuff came up into the gate with the water, came up and knocked things down, took things down. I have a couple of cats. They're surviving. They're little kittens.
The water level was up to here. This was the water level. So it touched my first floor. But this was -- you know, and this is old stuff coming out of the refrigerator. There's no power.
TODD: Do you think you can rebuild?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not without any funds, no. Without funds, I will probably have to walk away from my home. I will probably have to walk away from my home.
END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: This is Cedar Grove Avenue on Staten Island, completely devastated. Look at this house here, just collapsed. Roof completely broke down. There's remnants of a stairwell there that may have gone to an attic. That looks like an attic that you're seeing just slanting down over here.
The rest of it is leveled, remnants over here. This is kind of the scene repeated throughout Staten Island. People kind of bringing whatever items they can salvage and just stringing them all over their front lawns just to see if they can just leave them intact for someone to come and pick them up.
The owner told us we could come in and take a look at the damage in his house. You can kind of get an idea of what the storm surge did when it came through here. The shoreline is that way. The owner says the surge came through here. This is his living room, what's left of it. Came right through here. Look at all the debris. Look at everything that was destroyed. This is the living room area. That whole section looks like a kitchen,looks like it was washed out there, debris all over the place. This is a sofa he says almost got tossed out the window. The owner told us that a lot of debris just came rushing through the house and right out the window here.
At this house, they're just trying to get as much stuff out of the house as possible. The homeowner's right over here. She says she doesn't think she can salvage any of this stuff. Again, a scene repeated throughout Staten Island. She says this is her 8-year-old son. They were in here and they rode out the storm together. She says this is the first time he's been out of the house since the storm hit. He's just been so terrified.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People just got out in time. We got to move our cars. We lost three cars. We have nothing. I don't know how you bounce back from something like this.
TODD: Now, just to give you an indication of the force of the storm and what it did to this neighborhood, you see this big red container behind me, looks like some kind of container, truck container, that hit that house and damaged part of it.
This is where it came from. The owner of the house told me it came from around the area of that green fence right there. That big container knocked from that fence across that church parking lot over here to the house, damaging the house. Another big red container he said knocked into the house and kept going down the street. That was the force of this storm.
Another big problem in this neighborhood and throughout Staten Island apparently is that the cavalry until today really didn't come. Residents of this neighborhood and the borough president, they were very angry. They told us that until today no relief agencies had shown up, no federal or state government agencies, relief agencies, had been on the ground here.
Now, we have been told in the last couple of hours that FEMA has now been on the ground here and that the Red Cross has shown up. They're apparently at a school not far from here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do they have an explanation, Brian, what's taking so long? Staten Island is obviously a major borough in New York City. What's the problem? Why isn't the help on the way?
TODD: Well, you know, we haven't gotten an official explanation from some of those agencies yet. But what I can tell you is that the transportation issue around here is pretty drastic.
I mean, the roads are snarled. There are roads that are blocked by police blockades. There are roads that are blocked by downed trees. There are huge lines for gas on Staten Island, as there are all over the New York/New Jersey area. That could be one key reason why some of these agencies haven't gotten on the ground here yet.
And frankly some of the awareness what exactly happened here on Staten Island didn't start to come out until today.
BLITZER: Well, it's been coming out. We had some of it yesterday. Obviously, the extent was unclear. But it's clearly a disaster by anyone's definition. Brian, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on what's going on, on Staten Island.
Joining us right now on the phone is a longtime Staten Island resident, Michelle McComb. She and her family got out of their house just before the floodwaters inundated everything.
Michelle, tell us what happened to your house and to your community.
MICHELLE MCCOMB, RESIDENT OF NEW YORK: Well, my house, everything was fine on Monday, Wolf. We were calm.
And then my son looked out the window and he said, mom, dad, do you see all this water? My 11-year-old. And we looked and I walked out the door, and Wolf, it was like I was at the beach. The water was coming down like a tidal wave. I could not believe it and my husband was like, oh, my God, we have to get out. We have three dogs.
We all grabbed a dog. My son left in his pajamas. We got to our car, which was just down in our driveway. The water was up to the tires. So we ran to a neighbor and then we went to my mother's who had power. And we came back the next morning and my whole basement, the water went up to the ceiling. My refrigerator was floating.
How a refrigerator floats is beyond me. But coming back, the devastation in my neighborhood was unbelievable. There were people's furnaces on other people's lawns. We saw ice chests from like stores that they keep ice on people's lawns, trees down, out with power. Just total, total devastation. Never in my life.
I live a mile from the beach. How did that water get to my house? To me, I think it was a tsunami.
BLITZER: Can your house, Michelle, be salvaged now? What do you need to be able to move back in there?
MCCOMB: Well, we are definitely not ready to move in. It was sewer water and it was ocean water, saltwater. So, saltwater has destroyed all our electrical. We have to have all that redone.
My house has no power. If we were -- got power back, we can't even turn it on because it's contaminated. We right now have some missionaries from my church are here, I have about 40 people helping us just clear out stuff. My son slept down there, that was his room. He lost everything. I just found his baby book. And I started hysterical crying.
But we lost everything, Wolf. And they're helping us take down the drywall, all the insulation because it's all contaminated. We had a koi pond in my backyard. All the fish are dead. I have a four-foot above-ground pool. The water went up to three-and-a-half feet. We have the water line on the pool.
BLITZER: Has anybody from FEMA or any of the authorities been around there? National Guard?
MCCOMB: No National Guard. We are above the boulevard. Below the boulevard, Wolf, people have lost their homes. There is nothing left. They have found bodies down the block.
So I know the devastation there is a lot worse. We're lucky we got out alive. My car -- we couldn't get my second car out. That's totally gone. You could look in and you could see water in the cup holders.
We got in touch with FEMA. The guy was going to come last night. He could not get onto Staten Island. Traffic is horrific. Besides the downed lights, we have trees everywhere and floods. FEMA's supposed to come tomorrow. We called all the insurance people, as much we could do on our end.
BLITZER: Our reporter Brian Todd does tell us that the American Red Cross is on the scene. Have you seen them on Staten Island?
MCCOMB: No. I have not seen the Red Cross. But like I said, I'm not in -- we got flooded out, but there are people that have lost their homes. And there's nothing left.
BLITZER: There are people who have lost their lives, including two boys whose bodies were found today.
MCCOMB: Exactly. Exactly.
BLITZER: You're familiar with not only the devastation, but the death especially on Staten Island.
BLITZER: Were you at all prepared for what happened there?
MCCOMB: Not at all, Wolf.
BLITZER: Did anyone give you an indication this was about to unfold?
MCCOMB: Not at all. We are not even in an evacuation zone. We are zone B. And we were not told of anything. In fact, it was so calm, Wolf. I said to my husband, I think I'm going to go to bed. It was so calm, just a little wind.
All of a sudden -- if my 11-year-old didn't look out the window, we would not have known until the water started to come up. But he said, mommy, look at the water.
BLITZER: Yes. Your congressman, Michael Grimm, has described Staten Island right now in his words as a mini-Katrina. Is that your sense as well?
MCCOMB: Katrina? Yes.
MCCOMB: I know how those people in Katrina feel. I really do. I always -- my heart went out to them. But until you go through something like this, you cannot understand the magnitude of this.
My friends have come to help me. They said, Michelle, we looked at your yard because we have all the stuff in the yard. They said, Michelle, if we didn't see this with our own eyes, we would never believe it.
BLITZER: And it's hard to know when power will be restored. Mayor Bloomberg said the ferry service will resume in the next day or so. He says full service by Saturday, the ferry from Staten Island over to Manhattan, New York. But who knows what's going to happen.
MCCOMB: I don't know.
BLITZER: Our heart goes out to you, Michelle, and your family.
MCCOMB: Thank you so much. I'm a big fan of yours, Wolf. It's a pleasure to speak with you. You know, I have to put it in perspective. We have our lives and I have my children. And, you know, it's just stuff like my kids say. But when I find my son's baby book, it rips at your heart strings. But I'm grateful that we're here.
BLITZER: Yes. And I like your attitude. You got to take a look at the positive side, even though you have lost a lot of physical possessions, you have your family, you have your health.
MCCOMB: Exactly. That's right.
BLITZER: You know what? You and everyone else, you will come back out of this misery.
MCCOMB: We will, Wolf. I'm a breast cancer survivor, two years. And I know God will help me and help us get through this. God bless you and all the people that are suffering right now. My heart and prayers go to everyone.
BLITZER: Michelle, thank you. Michelle McComb is a resident of Staten Island.
While the situation's desperate on Staten Island, life remains incredibly difficult for millions in other parts of New Jersey, other parts of New York, other parts of Connecticut. We have the very latest on efforts to reconnect the power, get the subways running again. The devastation, though, continues.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Manhattan Island, the commercial heart of New York City, remains a tale of two cities. Look at this -- the southern part of the island is on this left side of this photo from a CNN iReporter. It's still in the dark. While the lights shine brightly atop the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers of Midtown.
CNN national correspondent Deborah Feyerick is near the Brooklyn Bridge in Lower Manhattan with an update on what's going on there.
Share with our viewers, Deb, what are you seeing? What are you hearing?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it's so remarkable because yesterday when we were coming in from Breezy Point, Queens, we saw exactly that same image of where all of Wall Street, Manhattan, plunged into complete darkness. It was just so eerie.
And we've been talking to a number of people today. And what they're telling us is what people are experiencing in all of the hardest hit areas specifically supplies. People are running out of food. They've already had to throw out everything they had in their refrigerator, the meats, the milk, cheeses, obviously the ice creams, things that began to spoil.
We were at a grocery store today. They have lost millions of dollars in food they tell us because they had to get rid of all of their meats, also their milks. The store shelves in that particular area were empty. They were hosing everything down and cleaning it just to make sure that when they do get power, that they're going to be able to freeze all the products they have.
Take a listen to these folks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: Explain to me. We see a lot of empty shelves here. Don't be afraid (INAUDIBLE) also -- we just see a lot of empty shelves here, how much did you lose?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost -- well, company-wide we've lost millions already. Not just this store. A few stores have been affected by the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. So --
FEYERICK: Did you expect it to hit so hard? I mean, how much food did you have when that hurricane came?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we have thousands as far as food in between dairy and meat department, you know, there's a lot of money thrown away. A lot of money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: And you know, Wolf, we asked him about how many pounds, how many pounds do they estimate that they threw away. They say between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of food, simply spoiled. It rotted. We were talking to people who had restaurants. They had actually organized to have a garbage company come and pick up the food. And you could just smell the sort of putrid rotting smell of all that food that's had to be thrown away.
Now, the government has set up certain centers where they are handing out food, but some of the folks we spoke to, they simply can't get to those particular locations. Their hallways are plunged into darkness. They're having to walk up, you know, 15, 16, 17 stories high whenever they leave their apartment. So some people are just hunkering down for the duration or making sure they sort of time their trips in and out.
Here at the Brooklyn Bridge you see these folks walking across the bridge. Look, the one good thing about Manhattan is that a lot of people are used to public transportation. They're used to walking. Don't have a lot of cars per se.
So they are able to do different forms of transportation. But in those other areas, Wolf, where they can't get gas for their cars, where their power hasn't been restored, with the temperature falling, it's going to be a significant problem with folks trying to figure out how they're going to keep warm, where they're going to go -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Significant problem is an understatement. It's -- and a lot of that sort of calm reaction is now turning to frustration, even anger and outrage over the amount of time it's taken to get things at least off the ground a little bit. All right. Thanks very much for that, Deb.
We're awaiting new reports from our crews live along the New Jersey coast.
We're just getting in also the results of a new CNN poll and one of the all-important swing states, Colorado.
Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're going to get back to superstorm Sandy aftermath in just a minute. First, just in to THE SITUATION ROOM, we're ready now to release a brand new CNN/ORC poll in the critically important swing state of Colorado.
Look at this, it shows a very tight race. President Obama at 50 percent, Mitt Romney at 48 percent. That effectively is a dead heat given the poll's 3.5-point sampling error.
CNN's chief national correspondent John King is in Colorado. He's in Denver for us right now.
John, you're taking a closer look at this poll. What else are you finding?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, because of that dead heat, you can feel the intensity as both campaigns try to gin up turnout including in the early voting period which ends tomorrow here in Colorado. Both candidates right now doing well where they need to, you might say a slight edge for the president.
Let's look at, I'll show you what I mean. In Denver and Boulder, those are two biggest urban areas in the state of Colorado, more Democratic voters. Look at the big lead for the president, nearly 30 percent -- 63 percent for the president, 34 percent for Governor Romney in the urban areas of Denver and Boulder. That's the big advantage the president needs to keep for turnout that just for the percentages, but by turnout on Election Day.
Then the critical Denver suburbs, they tended to side close elections in the state, again a smaller but a significant advantage for the president in the Denver suburbs -- 53 percent to 45 percent for Governor Romney. And if you look at the more rural, the more conservative, the rest of Colorado, that's why Governor Romney's in this race. He's getting 55 percent of the vote to 43 percent for the president in the rest of the state.
But as you know the state well, Wolf, the president is here today. Governor Romney is due back on Saturday. The president we're told is likely to come back at least one more time. Paul Ryan is here today. That says it all. Both campaigns know that this is a very competitive state to the end.
The suburbs are the key areas. Make this point before I throw it back to you, 1.3 million people have already voted in the state of Colorado. I talked to the secretary of state today, he says that's probably about half of the electorate and you can still again vote until tomorrow. So, he believes more than 50 percent of the votes will be cast before Election Day and they're already starting to count them. We were watching some of that process in just a few moments ago in downtown Denver.
BLITZER: Are we getting any indication on how the independent voters are moving right now?
KING: It's a critical question because this state is roughly evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans, independents or unaffiliated voters. If you look at our poll, our poll shows a dead heat. And look at this, 49 percent of the independents go for President Obama and Joe Biden, 47 percent go for Governor Romney and Paul Ryan. Moderate voters who tend to live in the suburbs, many of them independents, 60 percent for the president to 38 percent for Governor Romney.
So, if you're looking at this poll and thinking what is Governor Romney need to improve on in the final days? He probably needs to boost his numbers with independents if he wants to get over the top. I can tell you in talking and e-mailing with both campaigns today, Wolf, they agree with our numbers. They would have it more of an exact tie as oppose today a statistical tie for both campaigns. That's why the candidates are back here so often.
They view Colorado as a dead heat and both need the nine electoral votes here. If you look at the path to 270, Colorado would help both candidates greatly get to the winning finish line.
BLITZER: As close as it appears to be, could be a long night counting the votes in Colorado. John, thanks very much.
A number of other swing state polls from other news organizations also show a very, very tight race. Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger taking a look at some of these other numbers. Colorado obviously important. Florida, Virginia, certainly Ohio.
But look at these numbers. This is from the new NBC/"The Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll in Iowa: Obama, 50 percent, Romney, 44 percent. Much closer in New Hampshire: Obama, 49 percent, Romney, 47 percent, within the sampling error. Wisconsin similarly 49 percent, 46 percent.
These states are pretty important as well.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Every state. All of these battleground states are very important. There are different permutations to get to that all important 270 in the Electoral College for each candidate. You look at a tiny state like New Hampshire which is so close, four electoral votes, Wolf, but it's the last place Mitt Romney is going to visit before he goes home to Boston to vote. The president's going to be there.
This could be the difference in the Electoral College. If you look at Iowa and Wisconsin, two other numbers you just threw out there. Iowa and Wisconsin, very important part of the president's firewall in the Midwest.
For example, should he lose Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin very important. Same thing with Ohio. Both of them -- both those states important to both of these candidates. And, of course, Wisconsin -- in Wisconsin, that may be one of the reasons Paul Ryan was chosen because the Romney campaign knows how important that state could be to them as insurance, if you will, that they could get to 270.
BLITZER: The president went there earlier today.
BLITZER: A significant where they are underscores how important -- you know, you're looking at all of these ads they're doing all the speeches, the rallies, the messages, they're putting out final arguments as they say. Is there any one thing, though, that you think could tip the balance?
BORGER: Of course. Turnout, voter enthusiasm, intensity -- that's what all of these rallies are about. The president and Mitt Romney go to these rallies, try and get voters to the polls to vote early, to give them a sense of momentum that they're winning in their state. That if they go to the polls and vote, they're going to be with the winner. That's why early voting as John was talking about in the state of Colorado is so important, because what these campaigns want to do now, Wolf, is bank as many votes as they can, that they can depend on before you get to Election Day. So when you see the amount of people voting in Colorado, when you see the amount of early voting going on in Florida, you understand how important organization is to getting the turnout that you need.
BLITZER: We did our poll of polls, our CNN average of likely voters, their choice for president. Look at how close it is. This is nationally likely voters, Obama 48 percent, Romney 47 percent. That's very, very close and there are some intriguing possibilities if you study that number.
BORGER: I know. If you talk to Democrats, they'll say this is the tipping point for the president. If you talk to some Republicans, I was talking to a Republican strategist today who made the case that perhaps -- and I don't want to scare anyone about this, we've been through this before.
That Romney could win in the popular vote and lose in the Electoral College in which case President Obama would be re-elected. That's also a clear possibility. There's also a possibility that in all these tight races that we have seen in these battleground states that they could all tip in one direction -- in either direction, either candidate.
And that this election might not be close at all in the end in the Electoral College because of the battleground states. So we don't know, but there are a lot of different permutations out there about how this could go election night.
BLITZER: We'll find out in five days.
BORGER: We will.
BLITZER: Gloria, thank you. Let's get back to the aftermath of Sandy. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is now in Moonachie, which has been very hard hit. Let's listen in to see what he is saying.
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE, NEW JERSEY: I, yesterday, spoke to 12 of my governor colleagues around the country, Republicans and Democrats, all of them agreed to send workers to New Jersey to restore power.
The president gave me his word yesterday that it was going to take them too long to drive here that he would send C-130 transport planes to load their equipment and themselves and fly them to New Jersey.
We've met with FEMA this afternoon with all the utility company executives and I told them that they weren't leaving the building until they gave FEMA the list of personnel they would need in order to get power restored much more quickly than what they've announced publicly so far.
And as I left here -- I left Trenton today to come here, I can tell you that I was told by my staff that those meetings as to JCPL were successful and completed and hopefully by the time I get back to Trenton, the PSGE meeting will be successful and completed and those resources already headed to New Jersey. Bob McDonald of Virginia is sending 1,500 workers from Virginia. John Kasich in Ohio is sending 700 workers from Ohio even though they have challenges in Ohio that they are dealing with right now.
Governor Kasich ordered the sending of 700 people and they are on their way to New Jersey now. Governor Lapage from Maine sending people down. Governor Patrick from Massachusetts sending people from Massachusetts even though they're still dealing with some problems.
He said, Chris, I saw what happened to your state. Your problems are bigger than mine. I'm sending my guys down there. So we've had cooperation. You're going to see the results of that because the power will be restored much more quickly than it would have been otherwise because of these new people.
I also directed the New Jersey Natural Gas today to have the natural gas system turned off from Mantoloking to Island Beach State Park effective immediately. As you may have seen in some of the news reports, there were frequent fires burning in that fire especially in Mantoloking.
It's simply too dangerous a situation and we needed to create a safe environment on the barriers as possible. And this will help ensure fires are not created that do not run without our ability to put them out.
We had too much destruction of property there. And it was going to be too dangerous to get electrical workers on to the island as long as we still have gas running in a system that's obviously become extraordinarily unstable.
You saw -- if you've seen any of the film from that stretch between Bay Head and Island Beach State park, there are literally homes in the middle of Route 35 knocked off of their foundations and gas fires burning throughout that area of the Jersey Shore.
Certainly the most devastated part of the jersey shore from Bay Head to Seaside Heights. And so we ordered the closing. That's going to mean New Jersey Natural Gas is going to have to rebuild the entire system from Mantoloking to Seaside Heights.
But I could not take the risk to life and to further property just to save some money for New Jersey Natural Gas. So we ordered it closed. It is closed immediately as of now. And they'll work with FEMA to begin to process of rebuilding that system.
People are coming home need to be very careful since the natural gas will be emitted into the air. So you'll smell that methane smell from natural gas. There's nothing dangerous about it, but we have to get all the gas out of the system.
Once it's closed down, that will be pumped out of the system as well. People who live in that area will detect the smell of that methane smell. It's not environmentally dangerous. We've worked with the DEP and BPU to ensure that and it will clean out that system. So we can have people come there safely and begin to restore power on the barrier islands. A few updates on our progress specifically ACE is expected to have all power back up on the mainland, you know, by tomorrow night.
And all power back up on the barrier island parts that they cover by Saturday night. So Atlantic City electric folks have begun to send their linemen to central and northern New Jersey because there's very little work left to be done in that area.
We'll have, as I said, a number of people coming from all across the country. We'll continue to update you as they arrive in New Jersey. And you're going to see trucks from, you know, states as far away as Alabama and Mississippi in New Jersey over the course of the next couple days.
Governor Bryant from Mississippi and Governor Bentley from Alabama also sent people up here. You'll see their trucks. The second thing we have to do is get people to traverse on the roads again. We're seeing some traffic come back.
We're working to clear the roads as quickly as possible. Commissioner Simpson deployed all his assets, over 800 employees at DOT have been working around the clock, literally without sleep for the last three days to try to clear our roads.
Monday night, 463 state roads were blocked or closed completely. As of now we have that down to 20 state roads. So they've done an extraordinary job. All the downed trees have been removed from the roadways of state roads with the exception of the ones that involve downed power lines.
We don't let the DOT guys touch those. Not safe for them to do it, but utility companies have to come in and do it. Now I've instructed DOT to talk to the county OEMs to deploy DOT resources to help the counties with any county roads they have yet been able to clear.
Massive work unfortunately in the coastal area including large sections of Route 35 is ongoing and will probably take days if not weeks to complete.
BLITZER: All right, the governor of New Jersey Chris Christie updating us on what's going on in his state. Obviously, he's working very hard trying to organize what's going on.
What's impressive all these other governors sending equipment, sending personnel to help in this cleanup with the disaster in New Jersey and New York and elsewhere. We're going to continue to monitor what Governor Christie is saying. We'll get back to that.
Also, a few weeks ago people would have headed to the Seaside Heights area in New Jersey to play some games, ride the rides. But right now many of those attractions, they are in the Atlantic Ocean. Coming up next, we're going to get a firsthand close-up look at this extensive damage.
BLITZER: Sandy devastated the iconic beach town of Seaside Heights, New Jersey, a town that relies on beach tourism. Today, we're getting a look from space that really shows the scope of the damage.
This GOI image shows what it used to be and the pier highlighted here is the popular casino pier as it was two years ago. But look at it now. Look at this. The end of it is completely gone. The rides are now in the ocean.
CNN's Michael Holmes is joining us now by nearby Toms River, New Jersey. Michael, you saw the destruction firsthand. Describe it to our viewers.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's catastrophic, Wolf. Yes, we went to casino pier, we also went to the nearby fun town pier. And, yes, casino pier is 300 meters out into the Atlantic. And now it is just gone.
The roller coaster, the slide jet roller coaster familiar to so many people, the pier disappeared from under it and it fell into the Atlantic where it sits remarkably intact given what it's gone through.
Extraordinary scenes, and you know, for Americans who aren't familiar with it, of course, this is a touchstone place. This is a place that is summer for so many Americans who have gone there because their parents went through who now take their children there and now it's all gone.
Anyone who's watched "The Sopranos" or "Jersey Shore" or listen to a Bruce Springsteen song, they've heard about the New Jersey boardwalks, 16 blocks of them, are either splintered or they've been undermined or buckled and they will all have to be replaced.
Sixteen blocks worth of that famed boardwalk. The roller coaster was gone. There were 38 other rides and attractions on that pier. Over at the fun town pier we spoke to a businessman as he stood on the stand under where his business used to operate.
That whole section of pier gone. It's an extraordinary and heartbreaking sight in many ways, Wolf. Goodness knows how many tens of millions of dollars or more it would take to repair.
BLITZER: And they're going to have to start at some point. We hope they get the job done. Michael, thanks very much. Michael Holmes on the scene for us.
There's much more ahead on the storm recovery. Both presidential candidates also are out of the campaign trail today full time. They have new closing arguments.
BLITZER: After spending most of the last three days monitoring the response to Sandy, President Obama returned full time to the campaign trail today. And he picked up an important endorsement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is traveling with the president. She is joining us now live from Las Vegas. How does it feel for the president to be back out on the campaign trail, Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the president has adopted a new tone after the superstorm Sandy out on the campaign trail.
He is talking about civility and bipartisanship, how Democrats and Republicans come together in the wake of a storm, that politicians in particular both parties work together, a veiled reference to no doubt his work with Governor Chris Christie in these past few days.
And gone is his attack line on Governor Romney, that tag line Romnesia we heard for so long. No mention of it in his first stop in Wisconsin today. Instead this was the sole way he made a sharp dig at Governor Romney earlier today, Wolf, take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In the closing weeks of this campaign, Governor Romney has been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up these very same policies that failed our country so badly. The very same policies we've been cleaning up after for the past four years and he is offering them up as change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Wolf, the rest of his remarks were mostly focused on the contrast message, his vision for the economy versus Governor Romney's. And he really closed by emphasizing what he called cynicism.
The cynicism in his view of Governor Romney's policies he said that Governor Romney is making a bet that Americans will try to vote for a cynical view that Americans want to go back to what didn't work in the past because they're just so sick of the squabbling.
That's also the title of a new ad that the Obama campaign is releasing today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we'll stay in close touch. Jessica Yellin is out on the campaign trail covering the president in these final five days.
Governor Romney is also back in full campaign mode. He's not pulling any punches. His new line of attack, Jim Acosta will have that next.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney is himself back in full campaign mode today in Virginia. Here's CNN's national political correspondent Jim Acosta.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the truce is over. After dialling back his criticism of President Obama in the immediate aftermath of superstorm Sandy, Mitt Romney has shifted back into campaign mode.
And the GOP candidate has unleashed some new eye opening lines of attack.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney turned battleground Virginia into a battlefield ending a two-daybreak from the campaign's fireworks with some new verbal cannon shots aimed at winning the last five days of the race.
ROMNEY: I know that the Obama folks are chanting four more years, four more years, but our chant is this, five more days. Five more days is our chant.
ACOSTA: Romney then mocked President Obama for saying he may create a new secretary of business in his second term to consolidate the number of federal agencies offering loans and support to American companies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama says he may appoint a secretary of business --
ACOSTA: In a new ad and on the stump, Romney said the proposal equals more government.
ROMNEY: We don't need the secretary of business to understand business. We need a president who understands business, and I do.
ACOSTA: Romney will carry that message on a final swing state sprint to the finish that moves next to Wisconsin and Ohio before hitting four more battlegrounds, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada, all on Saturday.
In Florida, the Romney campaign quietly launched a new Spanish language TV ad that links Mr. Obama to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and the daughter of Cuba's Raul Castro.
The ad appeared to be aimed at driving pro-Romney Cuban-American voters to offset other Latinos who largely support the president.
In Ohio, Romney is still running ads accusing the president of sending jobs of bailed out car companies, GM and Chrysler to China.
Nowhere in the ads does it mention Romney opposed the auto bailout. GM officials blasted the spot to a Detroit newspaper saying no amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country.
With polls showing President Obama receiving high marks for his handling of superstorm Sandy, it's unclear how much the race has changed. Hoping to recapture the momentum he had before the storm, Romney recycled a line of attack he used pre-Sandy.
ROMNEY: He's been out talking about how he's going to save Big Bird and then playing silly word games with my last name, or first and then attacking me day in and day out.
ACOSTA: The storm also interrupted Romney's closing argument which he was supposed to start delivering last Monday. Instead, he has five days left to make his case against a president who has emerged from Sandy perhaps now tougher to beat -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta on the campaign trail with Mitt Romney. Devastated barely begins to describe what happened to Staten Island, New York, in the wake of superstorm Sandy.
In just a few minutes, we'll go there live as residents who lost everything try to figure out where they will go.