CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Janet Napolitano
Date: Nov. 2, 2012
Location: Unknown

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BLITZER: But the economy clearly is issue number one. I just want to alert our viewers, Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, has been in Staten Island touring that devastated area. I think she's going to be speaking to reporters shortly.

In fact, here she is right now. Let's listen in.

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JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We know that Staten Island took a particularly hard hit from Sandy.

And so we want to make sure that the right resources are brought here as quickly as possible to help this community, which is so very strong recover, even more quickly.

Just to give you a sense of an overview, it's been mentioned that this was a large storm. The area that Sandy covered was roughly the size of Europe. We had major disasters in a number of states that President Obama already has declared, emergency declarations in a number of states that have been declared.

We have seen some huge impacts on things like the availability of power. And with, of course, the loss of power comes attendant losses on things like gasoline. So all of these things, all of these issues being worked now as the community comes back and as we work to support Con Ed and other utility companies in getting the grid back on.

We have over 75,000 survivors in New York and New Jersey who now have applied for disaster assistance already. Almost $15 million is already on the street. This is assistance directly to individuals. That spigot is going well.

We have what are called disaster recovery centers. A disaster recovery center is kind of a one-stop-shop. It's where you can go and get the information about what assistance you can get, what the housing situation is, how you handle unemployment, if you need help with your kids in school, all the kind of associated issues that happen during a major disaster.

But we have five open today in New York, one in Connecticut. Even more will be opening over the weekend and by Monday. As of yesterday, more than 7.1 million liters of water and 1.6 million meals were positioned to be delivered into New York. More than 1.6 million liters of water and a million meals have been transferred to other states to supplement their existing inventory.

We have established a base at the Floyd Bennett Field here in New York. That's where we're bringing all the food and water. That's where the National Guard picks it up and takes it out to the delivery centers around the boroughs; 657 housing inspectors are already on the ground here helping individuals look at their houses, make a decision as to whether the house has any possibility of being restored or whether it's a total loss.

We have 3,200 FEMA personnel working this storm in the Northeast. And more are on their way; 11,800 National Guard already are deployed in the impacted states. And we expect more to come.

As was mentioned, 258 Red Cross shelters have opened. Nine federal search-and-rescue teams have been deployed, supplementing state and local efforts. And they have searched more than 3,300 structures in Queens and 870 structures here in Staten Island.

With respect to other assets that are coming in, we all know that power remains the fundamental issue. You should know that President Obama has said that all of the federal government is here to help. And that means the Department of Defense. And the Department of Defense yesterday was airlifting utility crews with their equipment here to New York, to New Jersey and other places impacted by the storm. And more of those airlifts we anticipate to be coming over the coming days.

There's an 800 number people can call, 1-800-621-3362, 1-800-621-3362. You can go to disasterassistance.gov. You can go to m.fema.gov. Or indeed if you go to a disaster recovery center, all of the information you need to find out about the assistance you are entitled to can be found.

And as was mentioned, people are now going door to door. One of my concerns -- I think all of our concerns is as the temperature drops with power still out in many neighborhoods, making sure that everybody is safe and if they need to get to a warm place that we're able to do that.

So, a lot of work ongoing. A lot more left to do. But the food, the water, all the assets coming into this area of the country, coming into New York. Governor Cuomo's been a great advocate, and coming into the borough of Staten Island. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're going to continue to monitor Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security. She's been touring the situation in Staten Island. You see the president of the borough of Staten Island, Molinaro, right behind her.

We're going to be speaking with Janet Napolitano later.

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BLITZER: The Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is seeing the devastation for herself on this day. She's been touring the hard- hit Staten Island area. She's now joining us live.

Madame Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You bet.

BLITZER: You know, the devastation has really been eye opening to a lot of us. And you just toured Staten Island with the borough president, James Molinaro.

He told us this yesterday, I'm going to play a little clip and I want you to let us know if you've responded to what he said. Listen to this.

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JAMES MOLINARO, STATEN ISLAND BOROUGH PRESIDENT: There were no answers for these people. Some of these people that came into shelters, their homes have been destroyed the night before. They have no place to go. I need answers. These people need answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, he was speaking to Anderson Cooper. Did you give him answers today what was going on?

NAPOLITANO: Yes, I think so. And we have brought terrific resources to bear here in Staten Island from FEMA volunteers to the Red Cross, shelters are open, food and water's being distributed.

We're already getting money out to individuals to help them with temporary housing. You know, we are providing as much information as we can. We literally have people now in the shelters going person to person answering their questions.

And we'll be opening up several more centers throughout Staten Island where people can go and find out all of the benefits to which they are entitled. So the borough president and I had a great meeting today.

We met with some of the other leadership of the borough. I think things are in sync moving forward. It's a tough situation. It's going to be tough until power is restored and gasoline becomes available. Those two things are related.

It's going to be a cold weekend. But nobody should be lacking for shelter. Nobody should be lacking for food and water and health care and all the necessities of life as we work through the power situation. That's what's on our mind. It's life safety. It's public safety and recovery.

BLITZER: There was a lot of warning about this storm. And there are some complaints that there was not enough stuff, if you will, generators, water, food, shelter, prepositioned on Staten Island in advance. Did you have the proper material, the proper shelters, whatever prepositioned, ready to go?

NAPOLITANO: Yes. Preposition, you have to remember that we didn't quite know where this storm was going to hit. And you don't want to preposition in an area that's going to be hit by the storm.

So we picked an area right outside the likely storm zone and have been moving all of that material, the food and the water, into the affected area immediately so that for example into the Manhattan, Staten Island, New York City area, a million meals, more than a million liters of water.

And that's going to keep coming. That's going to be a steady flow. And in addition of course we work with our partners in the Red Cross and with the National Guard on distribution. So we were very well prepositioned.

BLITZER: But the stuff is only beginning to arrive today. Is that right?

NAPOLITANO: No. No, no. No. Stuff began arriving on Tuesday. But all of the centers and the places of distribution were not established right away. Those took a little time to get up and running.

But they're up and running now and even more are coming. So now we're in the process of working our way through the storm. You know, President Obama said whatever resource we can give and put into this cause, we are to do so and to lean forward. And that's exactly what we're trying to do.

BLITZER: I want to bring into this conversation if you don't mind, Madame Secretary, the borough president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer. You know, he's got a disaster on his hands below 34th Street in Lower Manhattan right now.

NAPOLITANO: Right.

BLITZER: You have an opportunity right now, Mr. Stringer, to speak to the secretary of Homeland Security. She oversees FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Do you believe, Mr. Stringer, that the stuff you need -- you painted a pretty horrific picture of what's going on right now without power, without electricity, without gasoline in Lower Manhattan. Do you believe that the material is on the way right now? Has it arrived?

SCOTT STRINGER, MANHATTAN BOROUGH PRESIDENT: Well, we are seeing the role of the federal government in action. As I mentioned earlier on this show, I was on a call with Governor Cuomo, President Obama and local elected officials.

And the president as the secretary said, said we're going to bring the full strength of the federal government to help in this. We see that already. There is a great collaboration between the governor, the president, the secretary and Mayor Bloomberg and all of us to try to get resources in.

Nothing I've learned in life runs totally smoothly. But when you have a commitment of resources, when you see the National Guard with hot meals banging on doors beginning that process in earnest, I think it bodes well for the future of our city.

We just need to work real hard because as I mentioned earlier, yes, we are in a dire situation. Hopefully, the lights will go on in a lot of Manhattan tonight. But even beyond that we're going to have to work very hard.

But we have a partner in the federal government. Barack Obama has made it very clear that this city is going to get his attention. The fact that the secretary is in Staten Island, was in Manhattan with the governor the other day working with Congress people, they are everywhere that we need them to be.

BLITZER: You want to say anything to the president of the borough of Manhattan, Madame Secretary? What's on the way, what the folks in Manhattan can expect in the days to come?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I think the number one thing is power in Lower Manhattan. And associated with that is getting the tunnels pumped out so that they can be used again. So the Army Corps of Engineers has been moving in lots of pumps to help with that.

I think the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was being pumped out as we speak. That has 43 million gallons of water in it and the tunnel's over a mile long. These are huge pumping process.

But Con Ed told us today they thought they'd have power on for Lower Manhattan by tomorrow morning. And I think, Mr. President, you would agree with me that will be a great relief when those lights go back on.

BLITZER: One final question and I know you have to go, Madame Secretary. If you want to weigh-in on this dispute in New York City whether the marathon should take place this weekend, the mayor, Mayor Bloomberg says yes. The borough president, Mr. Stringer, says no. What do you think? Is it appropriate to have a marathon like that under these circumstances?

NAPOLITANO: Look, that is a decision for the local authorities to make. We will work through whatever it is we have to work through to get life necessities out there, food, water, shelter, work and getting power restored, work with utilities, getting gasoline available. That's going to be my focus for the next 72 hours.

BLITZER: Madame Secretary, good luck. Thanks so much for joining us.

NAPOLITANO: You bet. Thank you.

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