FEMA, National Hurricane Center set stage for Sandy

Oct 29, 2012

With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard, state and local governments are scrambling to coordinate emergency responses with federal officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate and National Hurricane Center director Dr. Rick Knabb held a conference call this afternoon about what comes next.  WAMC’s Ian Pickus reports.

Hurricane Sandy has closed schools and businesses across the Northeast, and most air travel and mass transit are halted as the region braces for high winds and floods. Evacuations and power outages are already widespread with landfall expected along the New Jersey coast sometime this evening.

The freak storm has mobilized communities to open shelters and urge preparedness among residents, as power companies warn that electricity could be out for days. The region still hasn’t rebuilt completely after last year’s Irene and Lee storms, which caused massive flooding and devastation. Now, the Northeast could be in for more of the same over the next several hours.

With landfall just hours away, Dr. Rick Knabb, the director of the National Hurricane Center, says Sandy shows no signs of weakening, but instead appears to be living up to its historic billing.

"It's going to be a long duration event, and we are expecting wind-wise hurricane force gusts," he said. "Those conditions will last in some areas into as long as Tuesday night or Wednesday morning."

FEMA administrator Craig Fugate says the seven states that have declared states of emergency — including New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania — are now in close touch with FEMA to provide emergency supplies to hard-hit areas.

According to Fugate, emergency declarations put states in line to receive from FEMA water, food and assistance in connecting with private sector donors.

"We can start releasing to them for their distribution commodities, generators or other products that are there," Fugate said. "The first step is to make sure that we can release product to them as they are requesting it."

Of course, with the country a week away from a presidential election, as well as Congressional and local races, voting could be thrown into a state of chaos. Fugate says while that’s a legitimate concern, FEMA will not take the lead on any electoral decisions.

"We'll be in a support role," Fugate said.

But for now, tracking Sandy’s path – and whatever devastation it leaves in its wake — is a waiting game.