WASHINGTON – Three major hurricanes in just over a month have strained the resources and staffing at the government's disaster relief agency, the director of preparedness said Wednesday.
"The agency is stretched to the limit. There's no question about it," said David Paulison of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search). "This is one disaster after another, but it's not beyond our capacity to handle."
Paulison said FEMA still has about 5,000 people in Florida helping with recovery efforts from hurricanes Charley and Frances. Some of those workers will assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan (search), which is expected to come ashore somewhere along the Gulf Coast on Thursday morning.
"We want people on the ground as quickly as we can, within eight to 12 hours, or 24 hours at the latest," Paulison said. He said much will depend on the conditions in the affected areas after Ivan passes through.
Agency officials did not have estimates on exactly how many workers would need to be sent out for Ivan. The agency does have six urban-and-rescue teams of about 35 workers each ready to go where needed.
Six other teams of doctors, nurses and other medical staffers have gone to Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama (search).
FEMA will hire local workers as well. The agency hired and trained about 1,800 people for community relations assistance with Charley and Frances.
The government is prepared to move in some 600 refrigerated trucks of ice and water. An additional 17 trailers were heading to Mississippi with generators, cots, blankets, home repair kits and other supplies.
President Bush asked Congress for $3.1 billion on Tuesday to help Florida and other states affected by the earlier hurricanes. Bush said he would seek additional aid later.
The hurricanes also have dealt a significant financial blow to the American Red Cross.
Patrick McCrummen, director of disaster public affairs, said the organization estimated that Frances and Charley alone will cost about $70 million -- the cost of providing food, shelter, medical care and other services. So far, the Red Cross has raised about $40 million, through donations from the public, foundations and corporations.
McCrummen appealed to the public for more financial help. "We have a big bill for Frances and Charley, and it's going to be a big bill for Ivan as well."