TODAY   |  October 30, 2012

FEMA director: ‘We are still in response mode’

Craig Fugate, director of FEMA, says the organization’s top priority remains safety and search-and-rescue operations as states from West Virginia to Connecticut continue to experience the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a live look at stonington, connecticut, as we continue our coverage of sandy and the storm's widespread damage up and down the east coast . it's estimated to have damage as much as $20 billion. craig fugate is the administrator of fema, the federal emergency management agency . mr. fugate , good morning to you. nice to have you here on what is a busy morning.

>> yes, it is.

>> i know you're just getting a handle on the scope and magnitude of the damage here, but if you could characterize it, how bad is it?

>> it's bad enough that based upon calls with both governors from new york and new jersey, the president took the increasing step of issuing major disaster declarations to improve assistance for those individuals heavily hit. they can call 1-800-261-fema or go to disaster.gov. we're still dealing with a lot of impacts. focus on new jersey and new york, we've got connecticut and pennsylvania and others as far to the west as west virginia dealing with a blizzard so this is very much a response operation. things are still occurring. the storm is not over, but, again, based on this, the president took extraordinary acts to turn on even more assistance in some of the hardest hit areas, and we continue to work with other governors to increase the amount of assistance we're providing.

>> there's so much going on here. there's the rain and snow and power outages. what is your top priority this morning, your top concern?

>> safety. search and rescue operations that are under way, again, on the federal side, the u.s. coast guard is our lead federal agency . we've dispatched several of the urban search and rescue teams with swift water capabilities. again, because it's still raining, and now with the blizzard in west virginia , our concern is primary life safety, and then we'll start getting to the critical infrastructure. we've had hospitals, nursing homes impacted, power outages. the list of things is enormous. first thing is keep people alive, keep people safe, rescue those in danger.

>> are you able to even estimate how many people might be stranded and in need of a rescue at this hour?

>> no. i don't real very those numbers. again, we're working through the governors' teams on what additional assistance. the governors have called out their guard. they have a lot of their own capabilities. we're augmenting that, but right now our goal is to make sure that as these needs are identified, resources that have already been moved into the region, are there supporting the governors' teams.

>> before i let you go, i have to ask you. there was an alert declared for the oyster creek nuclear power plant in new jersey because of too much water intake. do you know what became of that? is it secure?

>> yeah. right now there's no imminent threat of releases. there's no protective actions around the plant. we're working very closely with the nuclear regulatory commission for that and any of the other power plants that are in the path of this storm. again, that is one of those issues that we work very closely with the plant operators, nuclear regulatory commission to ensure all steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the plants. some of these reporting requirements do those in the severity of the storm that they have to make those notifications based upon conditions that. does not mean that they are in an imminent threat at the plant. it means they have to report these because of the severity of the storm.

>> fema administrator craig fugate , good to have you this morning, thank you.

>> thank you.