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Sandy Brings Blizzard Conditions To W.Va.


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. As superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast with rain and wind, she also brought blizzard conditions to much of West Virginia. Earl Ray Tomblin is the governor of West Virginia, and he joins us on the line to talk about his state.

Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Now, this would be a little early, I would imagine, for snow there in West Virginia, and you're getting quite a lot of it.

TOMBLIN: It is a little early. We do have some high elevations in our mountains and our ski areas, and we are getting a lot, I think, at Snowshoe Resort. In Pocahontas County, we have over two feet of snow, and it's still coming down there. And, of course, folks from that area are very pleased with it, because last year they had very little snow, which interrupted the ski season.

But, you know, throughout the rest of the state, we're getting snow - a heavy, wet snow from one end of the state to another, after a day of - almost a day and a half of rain from Hurricane Sandy. So we're getting kind of a three-way punch here with the rain, the heavy snow and the high winds that we received overnight, and are still receiving in some areas.

MONTAGNE: We have been talking, of course, all morning about some really terrible damage done by the storm along the East Coast. How much of what you're getting there in West Virginia is damaging?

TOMBLIN: A lot of it is. Right now, we have nearly a quarter of a million customers out of power. And because of the heavy snow, we've got - a lot of the leaves are still on the trees, so a lot of trees have come down, bringing down the power lines. The high winds are also causing problems with the power lines. But at this time, we've had at least three days notice and were able to prepare for this event much more than we were in previous events.

We were able to strategically place our Department of Highways' snowplows and so forth around the state, call up our National Guard to have them ready to go. Our power companies were - had already requested and received several hundred workers to come in from other affiliates in other states to be prepared for this snowstorm. And so as we're continuing to receive snow today, those assets are in place, and we should be able to handle the situation, get people's power back on in a relatively short period of time.

There will probably be remote areas where it may take a little longer, but I think we are prepared for this event, as widespread as it is all across the state.

MONTAGNE: And at this point in time, have you been receiving or promised federal assistance?

TOMBLIN: Yes. We requested FEMA assistance yesterday. That was approved overnight, and so we're very thankful to FEMA for approving that so quickly to allow us to, you know, be able to use the assets that we need to get people's life back to order.

MONTAGNE: Earl Ray Tomblin is the governor of West Virginia. Thank you very much for talking to us.

TOMBLIN: OK. It was good talking to you, Renee.

INSKEEP: As West Virginia deals with snow inland, people in New York are dealing with water which washed several feet deep over large parts of Manhattan. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke a short time ago.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: In addition to the lives we lost, the damage we've suffered across the city is clearly extensive, and it will not be repaired overnight. The two biggest challenges facing our city going forward are getting our mass transit system up and running and restoring power.

INSKEEP: Each of those challenges will take days, the mayor says. Deirdre Parker of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reports seven subway tunnels in and out of Manhattan flooded.

DEIRDRE PARKER: I don't think we've faced a natural disaster with such unprecedented damage. We will have to look at if there's debris on the tracks, water damage. And our maintenance workers are going to have to walk, you know, every inch of track, making sure that it is safe. So it's a big, big job to come back.

INSKEEP: Lots of flooding in a subway system that runs on electricity. NPR's Zoe Chace has been moving about the island of Manhattan all morning long. She's on the line one more time.

Zoe, good morning.


INSKEEP: So having spent time down by South Street Seaport in Manhattan and walking over to the Hudson River and seeing so many other parts of lower Manhattan, what impressions stick with you now?

CHACE: Well, I want to actually say that I'm back in Midtown now, and I heard someone say it's really a tale of two cities in Manhattan. And it is. When you're in Midtown, you don't feel that the storm has been such a devastation. In lower Manhattan, it's so obvious now that it's light outside. It's incredible. There's all of this stuff, basically, littering the streets.

There's garbage cans. There's mannequins. There's clothing. There's all kinds of pieces of people's lives and businesses that are all over the streets. And that's because the floodwaters came right up over the tip of Manhattan, washed up really high - possibly six to seven feet high in some places - and just carried all kinds of things around lower Manhattan.

Of course, the power is out there, as well. So it's really hard for people to kind of pick up the pieces and figure out what to do next. In Midtown, that's not the experience. There's power here. It's not as devastating. There wasn't a flood. So it's two different New Yorks, but, of course, the subways are closed all over the place, so it's hard to get around.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Now, we saw the images overnight of water, as you said, several feet deep on many streets.

CHACE: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: But is it clear to you that the flooding went quite a few blocks inland, as well?

CHACE: It's actually not clear to me how far up it washed. It's really not. You can tell immediately when you go right down to the water that it just slammed right over the tip of Manhattan. Also, Red Hook in Brooklyn, this black water came right up over the shores in Red Hook and washed a lot of stuff away, as well.

But it's hard for me to tell exactly how far in it goes, and I think there's a little bit of a delay in some major assessments with the city, just because it's in such a state of flux right now.

INSKEEP: Now, we heard earlier today that below 39th Street - which is right around Midtown Manhattan. It's not quite the middle of Manhattan. So we're talking about the lower third, at least.

CHACE: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: Below 39th Street, that there was no electricity. That is still the case, I trust, as we head toward noon Eastern Time.

CHACE: That is pretty much the case. There's a couple places with generators. One of them is Goldman Sachs. They seem to have electricity. They're way downtown. Another one is NYU dorms I saw were running with a little bit of electricity. But it's that spotty.

Oh, yeah, New York University. Just, it's that spotty. It's really - there's no traffic lights. I'll say that. So it's really actually dangerous to navigate your way around. And people are breaking a lot of traffic laws and just kind of going wherever they think they need to go - the wrong way down one-way streets. It's a little bit hectic. But when there's no electricity, a lot of the basic business of a city runs into trouble, and people have to improvise.

INSKEEP: NPR's Zoe Chace in Manhattan, thanks for your work this morning.

CHACE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And let me just bring in very briefly NPR's Elizabeth Shogren, because she's been tracking power outages today.

How many people have lost power in New York?

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Well, there are two million customers, but a customer could represent many, many more people. So there are millions of people without power in New York, and the power companies say it could be a week or even 10 days before some of those people get power again.

INSKEEP: That's two million in New York state. Now, how many if we look across the East Coast? Because so many states have been affected, here.

SHOGREN: Across the East Coast, there are more than eight million customers. That could include millions more people, and they could be without power for many more days.

INSKEEP: Does this count as a record event for a lot of these utility companies?

SHOGREN: Yes. Many utilities said it was a record. In fact, Con Edison, the big utility in New York City, said this is three times more than their previous record.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Elizabeth Shogren in our studios here in Washington, D.C. We want to leave you - for the moment, anyway - with a final image. It comes from NPR's Joel Rose. He's been reporting from New Jersey, which was hard-hit. There was flooding that he saw near the Jersey shore.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: You know, I think I'm seeing the ocean, honestly, just lapping up onto the roadway here. The dividing line kind of is the railroad tracks that are a couple of hundred yards away from the beach. If you're on the beach side of those railroad tracks, you're pretty much underwater.

INSKEEP: And he went on to say if you're on the other side of the railroad tracks, you're OK. Railroad tracks in New Jersey, one of many arbitrary dividing lines Sandy has drawn across the East Coast, lines between those who are dry or not, with power or not, safe or not. The Associated Press says 33 people reported dead. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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