LOS ANGELES: Government agencies and the insurance industry are still tallying the cost of devastation from last week's earthquake, but federal and state officials agree that it may be the most expensive natural disaster in American history. James Lee Witt, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the cost of replacing the buildings that had been destroyed and repairing the damage to structures, highways and water and power systems might exceed the previous record of US$30 billion (about HK$231.6 billion), caused when Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in 1992. Aides said Mr Witt based his projection on the thousands of people who have so far applied for federal disaster relief and the widespread damage the earthquake caused in a densely populated area. But other officials warned that it was far too early to announce any damage total, because estimates from the insurance industry were not expected until next week and city inspectors were still going door-to-door in many neighbourhoods, trying to assessthe damage. Even the count of the number of people killed and injured has changed. On Monday, officials revised the death toll to 56, down from 57, without an immediate explanation for the revision. They also said the quake had injured 8,335. And while the US$30 billion figure was put forth by the State Office of Emergency Services and then cited by Governor Pete Wilson at the weekend, state officials emphasised that it was simply a rough estimate intended to convey the severity of the situation. Some acknowledged that the final figure might be closer to US$15 billion. ''These are extremely rough estimates that are being held out to help describe the magnitude of the situation,'' Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for Mr Wilson said. The initial estimate was generated last Wednesday by EQE International in San Francisco, a forecasting company hired by the state to project the earthquake damage. It estimated the cost of damage as being in excess of US$15 billion, through a computer model that uses figures from past earthquakes and information about population density and construction. Cindy Shamrock, chief deputy director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said the number was then doubled to take into account additional damage that might occur from aftershocks. Ms Shamrock said the state wanted to provide estimates that would help people grasp the severity of the situation and would not hinder relief efforts. ''If you understate the problem, then people will be confused about why you are asking for so much in resources,'' she said.