WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Clearing away the 1.4 million tons of debris at the World Trade Center site is likely to cost $7 billion to $10 billion, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told lawmakers Tuesday.
FEMA director Joe Allbaugh also told members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works the nation needs a central information repository to help disseminate news about bioterrorism threats.
Allbaugh, who said crews already had cleared away 300,000 tons of mixed debris from the New York site, said 1,800 federal workers originally responded to the disaster, 800 deployed from FEMA and 1,000 drawn from other federal agencies.
In a conciliatory session where lawmakers praised Allbaugh and emergency personnel, the FEMA director and former chief of staff for President Bush when he was governor of Texas, lauded the support given his agency by other government groups.
"I can think of no need or want that went unmet by federal agencies," he said.
He said 26 of FEMA's 28 urban search and rescue teams, each composed of between 62 and 72 emergency workers, were dispatched to the Pentagon and World Trade Center sites. Currently, 22 of the 28 task forces are available for other emergencies.
In disasters, the federal government typically provides 75 percent of related response costs while non-federal entities kick in for the remaining portion. But Allbaugh said FEMA is reimbursing state and local governments for all costs associated with the New York cleanup.
Responding to questions from lawmakers, he said his agency did not need any additional authority to do its job.
"We have the ability to respond to additional disasters," Allbaugh said. "The mechanics are in place, just don't sell us short on the money. That's my only pitch."
With regard to bioterrorism, Allbaugh said the nation should "rethink the entire federal approach."
"We've all had a wakeup call. Often times, we find ourselves doing things by rote and we have not done a very good job at catastrophic disaster planning," he added.
Allbaugh said he was "concerned we don't have a joint information center that the federal government operates on a regular basis, one that senators, members of the House and news media (can contact) to get the definitive facts that the American public deserves so richly."
At one point Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt, said the committee on environment and public works is drawing up legislation to set aside part of the airways spectrum to use for emergency information.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., proposed a town hall meeting with Allbaugh and other officials to be aired by all major networks "so everyone can get the same information at the same time."
Allbaugh said he was "deeply concerned about their capability to provide proper counseling to not only victims but rescue workers" at the WTC site.
He stressed that the federal government should reimburse state and local emergency workers for their time and materials.
The committee also heard testimony from a representative of the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department, which responded to the Pentagon attack. A representative from the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District and two members of the Ohio search and rescue team, all of whom responded to the WTC disaster, shared personal stories of their rescue efforts.