BETTY ANN BOWSER: From the air, the blue tarps tell the story. More than three months after an unprecedented series of four dangerous hurricanes struck Florida, hundreds of thousands of homes still have only a sheet of plastic to protect them from the elements.
Losses totaled more than $42 billion. One in five homes was damaged. A record 1.5 million people filed claims with their insurance companies.
More than a million also sought help from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. So many people were left homeless that FEMA had to set up the largest direct housing program in its history, a program that continues today.
BRAD GAIR: Currently, we have 12,000 families in mobile homes and travel trailers, and when you think about it, three-to-four people per family.
We've essentially built a city for 50,000 people stretched across the entire state, and we're the managers of that.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: On this block alone in Vero Beach, FEMA set up travel trailers for four families whose houses were declared uninhabitable by the county.
This central eastern part of Florida took a one-two punch, with Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne coming ashore in less than three weeks.
JUDSON McKNIGHT: We can go down and check the measurements and make sure we allowed for enough.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Not only did the federal government have an unprecedented response, so did insurance companies.
Judson McKnight is a catastrophe claims adjuster for State Farm Insurance Company. His company alone has had more than 350,000 claims. Most of those properties have been inspected by an adjuster, but now new problems have developed.
JUDSON McKNIGHT: The price is constantly updating due to supply and demand issues, both materials and labor.
So, typically, an estimate that we've written someone in late September immediately after the storms, those prices are no longer valid in today's market place.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That's created a real problem for homeowners.
NATE McCOLLUM: What do we have to do today?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Nate McCollum is the emergency management coordinator for Indian River County.
NATHAN McCOLLUM: Insurance companies are recognizing here's what should be paid and then telling everyone, "we'll give you the money later on for the actual cost if it is truly $10,000 instead of $5,000."
While this may sound confusing, it's very real to the people because they have to put up the extra money until the insurance company reimburses them, and most people are not prepared to do that.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Prices for repairs and construction have doubled in some cases. There are also shortages of roofers, contractors, shingles, fencing and drywall.
And Vero Beach homeowner Marilyn Gagnon thinks it could be a year before her life gets back to normal.
MARILYN GAGNON: It's horrible. It's horrible. You just don't know what it's like until you've done it. I've been dealing with FEMA, I've been dealing with the Small Business Administration, my insurance companies, roofers.
I've tried aluminum companies. There's a shortage of aluminum. I may not get my front porch back. They're talking seven months for an estimate.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Some contractors and roofers say even with the demand they're not making more money.
Vero Beach roofer Angelo Arcure had to recruit these workers from Georgia to get jobs done. He has three times the amount of business since the hurricanes, but says higher prices are hurting him.
ANGELO ARCURE: Everything's going up. Insurance went up, liability insurance. The worker's comp went up and the shingles have gone up at least eight to ten dollars.
We might make $5,000 on a job now where we would only make $3,000 before, but we're still only making $1,000 profit on it, you know what I mean, because of all the price increases.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But the biggest financial burden thousands of Floridians have suffered are large and sometimes multiple insurance deductibles.
NATHAN McCOLLUM: In Florida a few years ago, the state legislature allowed insurance companies to allow up to a 2 percent of the value of that policy as a deductible.
So if you have a home that's worth $100,000, your deductible may be $2,000 or $3,000, depending on what your policy says.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And in the case of Vero Beach area residents with two hurricanes hitting within three weeks of each other, that meant many residents had two deductibles, one for each event.
The Florida legislature last week provided major financial relief for homeowners facing multiple insurance deductibles, but there's been little relief for the local economy, which has suffered. And the citrus industry was dealt the strongest blow.
Half of all the grapefruit worldwide comes from Indian River County, the area that surrounds Vero Beach. The two hurricanes have Florida's citrus growers reeling. 63 percent of the grapefruit and 27 percent of the orange crops were lost.
GEORGE HAMNER, JR.: Normally, these trees would be full of fruit. If you see in here, there's nothing. These have not been picked; they're untouched.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: George Hamner, Jr., is a third generation grower and packer. He says normally after a hurricane, citrus trees go through a growth spurt.
After Frances, they did. But the second hurricane, Jeanne, killed most of that new growth, so Hamner and other growers don't know what to expect.
GEORGE HAMNER, JR.: We're not seeing a lot of that new growth now. Also, we're going into the winter time when the trees go dormant, and we don't normally see new growth now anyway.
So it's a little uncertain as we come out of the winter months as to whether the spring, with the warmer weather, will go ahead and we'll have a big, you know... the tree's energy will allow it to grow more and have new growth and bloom.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The winter tourist season starts in less than a month. But the only major resort that is up and running is the Vero Beach Disney resort which reopened in November.
Disney Vice President Jim Lewis says the resort recovered quickly because it was built to survive.
JIM LEWIS: We build to codes that are higher than what the state requires. This particular property was made to withstand wind speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, and so we're very fortunate from that regard.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Less fortunate are people like Vero Beach homeowner Nancy Small. This is the first time in 37 years she won't be in her house for Christmas. She's trying to get into the Christmas spirit by decorating her temporary home, a tiny travel trailer. But it's hard.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: What kind of a Christmas is this going to be for you?
NANCY SMALL: Sad. Different. It's just different. You don't know where you're going from here.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Is that the hard part? Just the uncertainty because of not knowing what's going to happen?
NANCY SMALL: Yeah, and if I'm doing the right thing? Redoing? Or you don't know what to do?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: So many decisions and nobody to help you make them.
NANCY SMALL: Yeah. It's hard, but we'll survive.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Single parent Eagle Tousey and his four children are also trying to get into the Christmas spirit. Tousey is disabled with arthritis.
He's trying to save every penny so that when the FEMA trailer is no longer there, he will be able to afford housing for himself and his kids. So this year, he won't be able to be Santa.
EAGLE TOUSEY: That's a rough thing, you know. I've always provided for them and got for them and there won't be nothing from daddy. You know, later on in the year, yes, maybe we'll be able to get something, but absolutely nothing right now.
GIRL: It's sad because we used to have our good Christmas, Christmases all the time, but, you know, since the hurricanes, it's kind of weird.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: What's it going to be like having no presents for Christmas this year?
BOY: We have each other.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: You have each other. Does that mean a lot?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: All over the state, people like the Touseys are trying to recover. But the big question now is how fast? The new hurricane season starts in June.