Relief just melting away

September 26, 2008 12:45:54 PM PDT
Dozens of trucks loaded with ice and food were left parked. The drivers have been waiting, some for a week, for orders on where to go. And in other areas, we've learned that FEMA has let truckloads of ice melt. It's a frustrating situation for many people in our community struggling for the basics, and we are demanding some answers. ROAD TO RECOVERY: How you can help | School closings | Person locator | Important phone numbers | Assistance from FEMA | Filing a claim | Latest power numbers

You paid for the thousands of dollars worth of ice and food; basic needs meant for victims of Hurricane Ike that are not being given to people who need it most. The trucks are parked at the FEMA staging center at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

On the corner of Short and London Street in southeast Houston, the Diaz family is struggling. In their small, powerless house, ten people are living off of the food they can fit into a cooler. They're running electricity from a neighbor's extension cord to power a single box fan.

"So if somebody drove by with ice, what would you do?" we asked.

"Ask for it. We need it," said Yessica Diaz. "We all desperately need ice."

And yet, just a few miles away, there is literally tons of it going to waste.

There's truck after truck contracted by FEMA, all full of ice and they're not helping anyone. Some truckers we saw at Reliant brought their loads from Delaware and Virginia. And they've been parked there for three days.

"You think you would have delivered it by now," we said to one truck driver.

"Well, it all depends on where they call for it to go," he answered.

Other truckers we spoke with got here from Iowa and DC eight days ago.

"How many trucks are waiting here you think?" we asked trucker Bryan Weaver.

"No idea," he answered.

"A lot?"

"Yeah, a few hundred probably," he said.

"And what do you do while you're waiting?"

"Read, talk, visit, smoke cigars," he said.

What they may not know at this staging center is what FEMA told us today. The unused food and water will go back to Dallas for storage. But the ice they can't pawn off to charities by September 30 will be sent to San Antonio and melted.

Some of it's already gone. Forty-three-thousand pounds of ice per truck, each of which cost you, the taxpayer, $9,600, unused and evaporated.

"It's possible that they've overreacted a little and brought more supplies than were necessary," said Weaver. "I just hope that all the people that need stuff are actually getting it."

Yessica Diaz would argue that's not necessarily happening.

"How hard is it to find ice?" we asked her.

"It's very hard for us because every time we go to the nearest places, they say, 'Oh, we don't have none'."

FEMA says the lost ice is the cost of over-preparing, and that it is cheaper to melt it than to keep it. If you have an organization that could use the ice in large amounts, FEMA originally recommended you call the city lines. But they are now working to set up a better phone system. We'll let you know when that number has been designated.

Keep your family safe this hurricane season. Check our complete tropical weather preparation guide


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