FEMA Says No to Ice For Hurricane Survivors

"When a state has a need for ice that they're not able to provide on their own, we'll provide that ice through partnerships with missions," said the spokesperson, pointing to the current situation in Texas in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been charged with ice delivery. She also said states can apply for reimbursement for ice from FEMA, although relief workers and watchdogs say that logistical issues are not helped by money that comes after the fact.

Smilowitz takes issue with both points, countering, "It's contrary to the whole purpose of FEMA… Just the fact that FEMA is involved means the disaster is over the head of the state."

And Womack, who recalls having to tell Hurricane Katrina victims that there wasn't enough ice for them, strongly opposes the new policy, calling it "a lifesaving issue." He said that because neighboring states have to contract out their plans for ice, they are essentially competing against each other in the face of disaster.

"We would get into bidding wars with contractors and we may not be able to purchase as much as the larger states," said Womack. "Our state and probably a lot of other states need the assistance of the federal government in purchasing and distributing ice."

Womack, who coordinated Mississippi's resources following devastation by Katrina, said FEMA needs to think in terms of safety, not dollar signs.

Congress, officials and oversight agencies, he said, must recognize that adequate disaster relief requires financial commitment.

"I would like them all to acknowledge that you do have to spend money to be totally prepared," said Womack.

'Desperate' For Ice

"We have small babies who don't have ice, who don't have water," says one Texas Gulf Coast resident struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

"We need ice over here ASAP so that we can store this insulin," says another, whose 83 year-old parents depend on the temperature-regulated medication numerous times a day.

In the matter-of-fact words of one more resident, "We need ice desperately."

They are just three of over 80 calls the DAP has received on its hotline since Ike hit last week, at least a third of which, says Executive Director Ben Smilowitz, pertain to the issue of not being able to get ice.

"The people on the ground don't know who's doing what," Smilowitz said.

Now, as confusion escalates in Texas over who is in charge of ice and how and where survivors can get it, an unlikely group is stepping in to take on the duty that has traditionally belonged to the federal government.

Sam's Club President Doug McMillon responded Wed. to a plea from Houston Mayor Bill White for donations of ice in case rations run out this week.

McMillon said, "'Where do you want it, and how much?'" said White's Director of Communications Frank Michel. "Anywhere we can get ice, we're making that appeal."

White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced Tues. that they would take the lead in distributing supplies to survivors after reports that thousands of Houston residents stood in line for hours for emergency food, water, ice and tarps at disaster relief sites while trucks filled with supplies sat in empty parking lots.

This type of confusion, says Smilowitz, is reminiscent of relief after Hurricane Katrina and is exacerbated by FEMA's new "failed policy," in which the agency only steps in when "the state's response falls through."

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