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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript

Interview

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COOPER: Well, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey will be meeting with President Obama and Governor Christie later today obviously in New Jersey, as I said, to tour the damage.

I have got the senator on the phone now from Atlantic City.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

What is your greatest concern right now?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, my greatest concern is getting some people who are still trapped like in Hoboken out of their homes, the water putrid with gasoline and electrical wires.

And appreciate that we got the National Guard there yesterday. And then getting power on, we still have close to two million people in the state without power. Power makes a big difference in people's lives and working with utility companies to try to accelerate that process and ask the president to help us with the Department of Energy even to use some of their resources potentially to help us get more power back online.

COOPER: Are you satisfied so far with the response you have seen at the federal and the state and the local level?

MENENDEZ: I am.

I mean, you know, look, I have lived here my whole life in New Jersey. I have never seen anything like this. And so I recognize the magnitude. And so far, you know, we have a close cooperation with the governor, and the president has committed all the resources, signed the highest emergency declaration, has unlocked all of FEMA's assets here.

We have the federal search-and-rescue teams here, in addition to the National Guard. So, so far, so good. It certainly doesn't -- until somebody gets back in their home or gets the light on or can get out of their home because the water has receded or they get rescued, of course it is never quick enough, but we're just going to keep pushing hard.

And I'm proud of everybody. And I have seen some of the best in people today and yesterday,people helping each other, people who lost everything and, you know, instead of worrying about themselves or feeling like victims, out there helping other people.

COOPER: Yes. We just saw images of some guy out in Hoboken with a ski pole basically trying to clear up some of the gutters to help out with some of the flooding, just a citizen doing what he can and that certainly, as you said, we're seeing some of the best in people.

Have you ever seen anything like this, the kind of -- Hoboken's flooded before, but I don't think I -- I have certainly never seen it like this.

MENENDEZ: No, it's never -- Hoboken has the unfortunate problem of being, first of all, below sea level and secondly they have what we call combined sewer systems.

So they get wastewater and regular water through that system. And so that ultimately creates a havoc when there is the type of flooding, but this, you know, 100-year storm makes it an occurrence far beyond anything I have ever seen in Hoboken. I lived there until a couple of years ago. And this is the worst it's ever been.

COOPER: What do you think is the hardest-hit area in New Jersey? Is it Seaside Heights or Seaside Cliffs?

MENENDEZ: Well, it is several parts of the shore area. I was just in Pleasantville before I came over here to Brigantine, where I'm watching enormous destruction from the whole marina and boats that are in the middle of the street.

And in Pleasantville, which is right outside of Atlantic City, I went to a strip with the mayor there, and you have a whole row of these homes, they look like dollhouses because the back ends have been pulled off and just destroyed inside the house.

The shore area hit very badly, Atlantic County very badly, but also places like in Bergen, where I was yesterday, in Little Ferry and some of those places around there, Moonachie, you have tremendous flooding going on. They weren't expecting it. They weren't in the range of who had to be evacuated.

The storm surge created a break on a levee that has never been breached before. And you have -- as the mayor of Moonachie said to me, Senator, I lost my police department, I lost most of my fire department, city hall is underwater, and 80 percent of my community is underwater.

COOPER: Wow.

Well, Senator Menendez, I appreciate you joining us and our thoughts are obviously with everyone in New Jersey right now who is trying to deal with the aftermath of this storm. Thank you for joining us.

MENENDEZ: Thanks so much, Anderson.

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