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CBS-TV Evening News (6:30 PM ET)
Oct 29, 2003


Financial toll the fires are taking on California

DAN RATHER, co-anchor: Even as the fires burn on tonight, many residents who suffered losses are wondering: What happens after the fires are finally put out? How much will it cost to rebuild? And where will the money come from? CBS' Sandra Hughes is looking into that tonight.

SANDRA HUGHES reporting: What does California need most right now? Money. With his state ablaze, California's governor-elect was in Washington today asking for federal relief. And the question was asked: Could this be the major disaster Arnold Schwarzenegger, the candidate, said was the only way he'd raise taxes?

Governor-elect ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): I think we should let it play out and see, really, what the damage is.

HUGHES: For the 2,000 structures that have burned, it's estimated it will cost $642 million just to replace them, not including contents. These fires have already surpassed the $1.7 billion price tag of the 1991 Oakland fires, and the long-term impact to businesses lost and tourism in places like Lake Arrowhead is incalculable.

Some here in California may be wondering when the locusts arrive: first, the energy crisis, then the state's budget deficit ballooned to $38 billion and then the recall election cost more than $50 million.

Insurance experts predict these fires won't cost the state as much as the 1994 Northridge earthquake because so far no major infrastructure has been destroyed.

Mr. DOUG HELLER (Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights): It's going to be expensive. I mean, we can't deny that. But it's not going to break the state. We're--we're going to get through this.

HUGHES: And Heller reminds everyone that in much of the state life and work carry on, even though it may be under a cloud of smoke. Sandra Hughes, CBS News, Simi Valley.

RATHER: I'll be back with more from the still hot and dangerous Southern California fire zone a little later in the broadcast. Right now here's John Roberts in New York with other developments in the day's news. John.

JOHN ROBERTS (Co-anchor): Thanks, Dan.

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