More than 270,000 individuals and families sought federal aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency during this record year of hurricanes, the agency reported last week.

FEMA's director, James Lee Witt, said 1999 was "an extraordinarily busy year" as his agency handled relief programs involving five major hurricanes, a rash of wildfires, 14 major tornadoes, summer floods and Y2K-related preparedness.

According to FEMA, President Clinton declared 55 disasters, making victims in 37 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands eligible for federal aid during the year.

The federal government earmarked $1.1 billion for disaster relief in 1999, including $604 million for hurricane recovery, much of it related to damage from Hurricane Floyd that centered on the Carolinas. The five hurricanes resulted in 19 disaster declarations in 14 states and the Virgin Islands, FEMA said.

The five hurricanes topped the previous high of four and the 19 disaster declarations eclipsed the previous high of 11, both in 1985, FEMA said.

Hurricane Floyd was responsible for 13 of the hurricane-related disaster declarations and $514 million of the assistance, half of it to North Carolina.

Other costly FEMA disaster recovery efforts involved damage from winter storms and tornadoes across the South and in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, and summer floods in the Dakotas.

The massive tornado that struck Oklahoma City was the most costly, accounting for $97.7 million of the $187 million in FEMA relief for tornado recovery.

The agency said 273,180 individuals and families sought federal disaster relief in 1999, including 212,800 who experienced hurricane damage.

Costliest Disasters in 1999

Hurricane Floyd, September $6.0 billion

Eastern drought, summer $1.0 billion

Oklahoma-Kansas tornadoes, May $1.0 billion

Arkansas-Tennessee tornadoes, January $1.3 billion

SOURCE: FEMA