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Napolitano: 'Literally Having People Go Door-To-Door'


Fixing the fuel shortage is a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security which, through FEMA, is leading the federal response to Hurricane Sandy. Late yesterday, we spoke with the secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, after she had toured the storm damaged areas of Staten Island and Long Island. We asked her about the biggest challenges hindering the relief effort.

SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO: I think right now our number one concern is still life safety. Some of that relates to power. In some of these areas it's going to take some more time to get power restored; that's what the utilities tell us. So we are literally having people go door-to-door to check on people, make sure they're safe, make sure they have or know where there is a warm place to go should they choose to do so.

Power relates to gasoline because without power the gasoline stations can't pump. So we are working that issue as well, trying to put up information about where there is gasoline available. And also, encouraging people to use mass transit and other kinds of vehicles that are available now.

MARTIN: I understand that your department has temporarily waived a rule that will allow foreign oil tankers, coming from the Gulf of Mexico, to get into ports in the Northeast to help boost fuel supplies. Can you help us understand what kind of difference that will make, how much fuel will be brought in, and when people in these affected areas might actually see an impact at the pump?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I think they'll see fuel coming in now unimpeded by any provision of what's called the Jones Act. We wanted to make sure that that was not a limitation on our ability to get fuel into New York Harbor. And we also have the Coast Guard working literally 24 hours over Tuesday, Wednesday night to get the harbor cleared enough so that fuel barges and tankers could get in.

Now, we have problems. We have problems because many of the terminals into which the fuel is deposited have been damaged. So those repairs are underway. The fuel lines have been seriously damaged. One or two of those are supposed to be up and running tonight or tomorrow. And then we've got to get take her trucks to get gasoline product out to gas stations. The trucks are available but the gas station, as I mentioned earlier, until they have electricity can't pump gas. And, in fact, I think there's a lot of gasoline in the tanks in New York and New Jersey. We just don't have the ability to get it pumped out just yet.

MARTIN: You've been to Staten Island where residents, many have said that they have been forgotten or that's how they feel. Lots of people still dealing with flooding. They have no flood insurance. They're now looking for shelter. What can you tell us is being done to specifically address their needs?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I've been on Staten Island and we have brought a lot of resources on to Staten Island. So that problem has been alleviated. Now, in terms of housing, we want to first look at apartments that may be available for people because that's the most comfortable, stable thing to have as housing. Next to those, we've identified hotel and motel rooms that could be made available. So we'll look at those two sources of housing first.

And we're already assembling the list and setting up the recovery centers throughout Long Island, Staten Island, throughout the five boroughs, throughout New Jersey and other places hard hit by the storm; places where people can go. If they don't have phone or Internet, they can go to these sensors and get assistance on finding housing.

MARTIN: Homeland security Secretary Janet Napolitano, thanks so much for taking the time.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.