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The FEMA ice follies

NBC investigates the ice situation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As Lisa Myers reports, FEMA ordered plenty of it, but getting it to those in need has been chaotic.
/ Source: NBC News

Initially, after Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, was slow in getting ice and water to victims. NBC News decided to look at the ice situation now, as a microcosm of the relief effort, and found that FEMA ordered plenty of ice — but getting it to those who need it has been chaotic.

Outside New Orleans, Lori Rosete waited an hour to get ice to preserve food and chill her mother’s insulin.

“We just need this to keep coming,” said Rosete, “and do what we have to do, you know? Ration until we can't ration no more.”

Friday, NBC News located hundreds of trucks full of ice sitting around the country: in Maryland, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Some had been on trips to nowhere for the past two weeks.

Elizabeth Palmer is a truck driver in Carthage, Mo.

“We really don’t understand,” said Palmer, “why FEMA is sending to all these different locations and just putting us in cold storage.”

Dan Wessels’ Cool Express ice company has worked with FEMA for years. He says he's never seen anything like it — only one-third of his trucks have actually unloaded the ice that FEMA ordered.

“The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing,” said Wessels. “The right hand is telling us to go to the left hand. We get to the left hand, they tell us to go back."

For example, one truck of ice left Oshkosh, Wis., on Sept. 6, and went to Louisiana. Then it was sent by FEMA to Georgia but was rerouted before it arrived to South Carolina, then to Cumberland, Md., where it has been sitting for three days at an added cost to taxpayers so far of $9,000.

Multiplied by hundreds of trucks, this sort of dispatching could mean millions of dollars are being wasted.

"From a trucking aspect, I'm happy. Keep it coming," said Wessels. "From a taxpayer aspect, it's sick."

A FEMA official says, in the rush to respond to Katrina, the agency ordered too much ice. Rather than let it melt, they sent it to other parts of the country to be ready for the next hurricane.

But Wessels says FEMA just ordered more ice and re-routed some of his trucks again — to Idaho.

Lisa Myers is NBC’s senior investigative correspondent.