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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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BLITZER: This is all that's left of more than 100 homes in Queens in New York City. Among those who lost everything, a United States congressman.

And Congressman Bob Turner of New York is joining us now.

Congressman, we're so sorry to hear about this huge, huge loss. I know all of our hearts go out to you and your family, your friends, your loved ones. Tell us what happened and how you learned about what happened.

REP. BOB TURNER, HOME BURNED TO GROUND IN SANDY: Well, so we could -- I could see the flames from a single house, but with 60 and 100 miles an hour gusts of winds. It didn't take long for conflagration to start, and because of the tidal surge, no emergency vehicles could get there for a couple of hours. It's -- it took on a life of it's own. And as the tide receded the fire department, both the volunteers and the New York City did a wonderful, heroic job of getting in -- getting water on this.

BLITZER: You had evacuated earlier. Is that right?

TURNER: I evacuated later, later than I should have, maybe, but I was glad I was there.

BLITZER: You saw the flames engulf your own home?

TURNER: No, I knew which way they were headed, so I was out of harm's way at that point.
BLITZER: This is all that's left of more than 100 homes in Queens in New York City. Among those who lost everything, a United States congressman.

And Congressman Bob Turner of New York is joining us now.

Congressman, we're so sorry to hear about this huge, huge loss. I know all of our hearts go out to you and your family, your friends, your loved ones. Tell us what happened and how you learned about what happened.

REP. BOB TURNER, HOME BURNED TO GROUND IN SANDY: Well, so we could -- I could see the flames from a single house, but with 60 and 100 miles an hour gusts of winds. It didn't take long for conflagration to start, and because of the tidal surge, no emergency vehicles could get there for a couple of hours. It's -- it took on a life of it's own. And as the tide receded the fire department, both the volunteers and the New York City did a wonderful, heroic job of getting in -- getting water on this.

BLITZER: You had evacuated earlier. Is that right?

TURNER: I evacuated later, later than I should have, maybe, but I was glad I was there.

BLITZER: You saw the flames engulf your own home?

TURNER: No, I knew which way they were headed, so I was out of harm's way at that point.

BLITZER: That whole area had been evacuated. You say it took at least two hours maybe longer for firefighters to reach the scene, but by then, what, dozens and dozens of homes have been burned?

TURNER: That is correct, and there is no way that the engines could get through what was about five feet of water on the road.

BLITZER: Were you able to take anything out of the home before you and your family left?

TURNER: No. So a lot of good memories went up in spoke, but still got them between my ears so --

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: So all your family photos and your --

TURNER: Yes, that kind of -- kind of great stuff. But -- and, you know, my heart goes out to many of my neighbors that don't have the number of options that do I, and this is a very tough time for them. But some of the emergency services and both FEMA and the city of New York on the scene have been very helpful. And we're trying to get an emergency center set up in the Rockaways. This is a big area and also covers a lot of Brooklyn, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach. Terrible devastation and water damage. A lot of problems in the Rockaway, but --

BLITZER: It's awful, it's awful indeed, and it's heartbreaking. Have you been back to your neighborhood?

TURNER: Oh yes. yes.

BLITZER: And so when you walked around and you saw these dozens and dozens of homes, your friends, your family's homes, destroyed, give us the emotional feeling that went through your mind.

TURNER: It is just heartbreaking. And while I was there, the mayor came by and City councilwoman -- Speaker Quinn, and we had -- the mayor had a mutual friend whose house was destroyed and we were watching some people just coming in even though they knew what happened. When they saw it, it was just awful.

BLITZER: How long have you lived in Breezy Point?

TURNER: Both as a summer and full-time resident, about 32 years.

BLITZER: Thirty-two years in this one community. And I know it's a special community and special people live there, tell us a little bit about your neighborhood. TURNER: It's a beach community that is about 100 years old. It's close knit, and because it's in the middle of a state park, of a national park, Gateway, and on a peninsula, it's kind of (INAUDIBLE) community is such that everyone just about knows everyone else. And over 2,000 homes on Breezy Point.

BLITZER: And I'm told a lot of firefighters, police officers live in that neighborhood, is that right?

TURNER: Historically when the community was first -- major development was 1929, and the only people that had any money after the depression were cops and firemen, and some of these are now a third generation or descendants of city workers, so it has that unique flavor to it.

BLITZER: How are your neighbors holding up?

TURNER: They're a tough group, they really are. This is sad. They're a prayerful group. They pray for each other and they help one another. And now we're thinking about rebuilding.

BLITZER: Really? You think that neighborhood can be rebuilt after all this devastation?

TURNER: I can guarantee it.

BLITZER: And you're going to try and you're going to -- your home, you want to rebuild your home right in that lot where it was?

TURNER: Yes, and you know because of the extent of this, I don't know if we can have 100 individual projects, we might have to figure out as a community how we're going to do this, but we'll get through it. And it is a co-op, so people have the site rights, and they own their homes, so, but collectively we'll work something out here.

BLITZER: We wish Congressman Turner and all of his family and his friends, all of his colleagues over there, only the best in rebuilding that beautiful community.
BLITZER: That whole area had been evacuated. You say it took at least two hours maybe longer for firefighters to reach the scene, but by then, what, dozens and dozens of homes have been burned?

TURNER: That is correct, and there is no way that the engines could get through what was about five feet of water on the road.

BLITZER: Were you able to take anything out of the home before you and your family left?

TURNER: No. So a lot of good memories went up in spoke, but still got them between my ears so --

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: So all your family photos and your --

TURNER: Yes, that kind of -- kind of great stuff. But -- and, you know, my heart goes out to many of my neighbors that don't have the number of options that do I, and this is a very tough time for them. But some of the emergency services and both FEMA and the city of New York on the scene have been very helpful. And we're trying to get an emergency center set up in the Rockaways. This is a big area and also covers a lot of Brooklyn, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach. Terrible devastation and water damage. A lot of problems in the Rockaway, but --

BLITZER: It's awful, it's awful indeed, and it's heartbreaking. Have you been back to your neighborhood?

TURNER: Oh yes. yes.

BLITZER: And so when you walked around and you saw these dozens and dozens of homes, your friends, your family's homes, destroyed, give us the emotional feeling that went through your mind.

TURNER: It is just heartbreaking. And while I was there, the mayor came by and City councilwoman -- Speaker Quinn, and we had -- the mayor had a mutual friend whose house was destroyed and we were watching some people just coming in even though they knew what happened. When they saw it, it was just awful.

BLITZER: How long have you lived in Breezy Point?

TURNER: Both as a summer and full-time resident, about 32 years.

BLITZER: Thirty-two years in this one community. And I know it's a special community and special people live there, tell us a little bit about your neighborhood. TURNER: It's a beach community that is about 100 years old. It's close knit, and because it's in the middle of a state park, of a national park, Gateway, and on a peninsula, it's kind of (INAUDIBLE) community is such that everyone just about knows everyone else. And over 2,000 homes on Breezy Point.

BLITZER: And I'm told a lot of firefighters, police officers live in that neighborhood, is that right?

TURNER: Historically when the community was first -- major development was 1929, and the only people that had any money after the depression were cops and firemen, and some of these are now a third generation or descendants of city workers, so it has that unique flavor to it.

BLITZER: How are your neighbors holding up?

TURNER: They're a tough group, they really are. This is sad. They're a prayerful group. They pray for each other and they help one another. And now we're thinking about rebuilding.

BLITZER: Really? You think that neighborhood can be rebuilt after all this devastation?

TURNER: I can guarantee it.

BLITZER: And you're going to try and you're going to -- your home, you want to rebuild your home right in that lot where it was?

TURNER: Yes, and you know because of the extent of this, I don't know if we can have 100 individual projects, we might have to figure out as a community how we're going to do this, but we'll get through it. And it is a co-op, so people have the site rights, and they own their homes, so, but collectively we'll work something out here.

BLITZER: We wish Congressman Turner and all of his family and his friends, all of his colleagues over there, only the best in rebuilding that beautiful community.

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