FEMA Chief: Recovery Will Take Years

The pounding of three major hurricanes in Florida during the past five weeks will require a long-term rebuilding effort comparable to the 1994 Los Angeles area earthquake (search), the nation's top emergency official said Saturday.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) Director Mike Brown likened the response to Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan to the Northridge, Calif., earthquake, saying the recovery would require extensive repair to highways, bridges and power lines. The Los Angeles area sustained the brunt of the 6.7-magnitude quake that led to $15.2 billion in damages for insured property losses.

"This will be like a Northridge earthquake. This will be a long-term recovery project because we have so much infrastructure to rebuild," Brown said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Insurance experts put damage from Hurricane Ivan (search), which nailed the northern Gulf Coast with 130-mph winds and major storm surge Thursday, at anywhere from $3 billion to $10 billion. Charley and Frances had combined estimated insured damages between about $11 billion and $13 billion after striking Florida in the last month.

Brown said he expected more than $5 billion in supplemental funding to be spent on the recovery efforts in Florida and other states hit by the storms. He said the combination of storms since mid-August has heightened concerns of overwhelming fatigue among residents trying to rebound from a hurricane season that does not end until Nov. 30.

"When you think about these three hurricanes, the continuing rains and storms, and just the heat, people are going to get worn out," he said. "I worry about that more than anything else."

Comparing the three hurricanes to other natural disasters, Brown recalled communities that took a year to rebuild from devastating tornadoes. But for Floridians who have braced for a seemingly unending parade of hurricanes, the storms have led to irritability and storm fatigue, he said. "They look at the forecast and they see what's going on and that has to mentally just kind of wear them out."

Brown said FEMA remains firmly committed to recovery in every region of the state that sustained damage, rejecting complaints by some residents in southwest Florida rebuilding from Charley that recovery work has been slowed by responses to Frances and Ivan.

"We have all those same people working all those same disasters," he said. "We're not taking anything away from the peninsula to serve up in the Panhandle (search)."

Brown credited Gulf Coast governors for their calls to evacuate as Ivan bore down on the region, saying evacuations saved lives. He said the triple-whammy has taught residents elsewhere to be prepared for hurricanes and other natural disasters.

"I have friends making fun of me about disaster kits. That's not really funny business — that's serious," Brown said. "And when you think about not having power for two or three days or two or three weeks, those disaster supply kits become very critical; that allows first-responders to do a job more effectively."