Monday, October 03, 2005


The Ice that saw America

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 - When the definitive story of the confrontation between Hurricane Katrina and the United States government is finally told, one long and tragicomic chapter will have to be reserved for the odyssey of the ice.

Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes, that is, intended to cool food, medicine and sweltering victims of the storm. It would cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and most of it would never be delivered.

The somewhat befuddled heroes of the tale will be truckers like Mark Kostinec, who was dropping a load of beef in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 2 when his dispatcher called with an urgent government job: Pick up 20 tons of ice in Greenville, Pa., and take it to Carthage, Mo., a staging area for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Kostinec, 40, a driver for Universe Truck Lines of Omaha, was happy to help with the crisis. But at Carthage, instead of unloading, he was told to take his 2,000 bags of ice on to Montgomery, Ala.

After a day and a half in Montgomery, he was sent to Camp Shelby, in Mississippi. From there, on Sept. 8, he was waved onward to Selma, Ala. And after two days in Selma he was redirected to Emporia, Va., along with scores of other frustrated drivers who had been following similarly circuitous routes.

At Emporia, Mr. Kostinec sat for an entire week, his trailer burning fuel around the clock to keep the ice frozen, as FEMA officials studied whether supplies originally purchased for Hurricane Katrina might be used for Hurricane Ophelia. But in the end only 3 of about 150 ice trucks were sent to North Carolina, he said. So on Sept. 17, Mr. Kostinec headed to Fremont, Neb., where he unloaded his ice into a government-rented storage freezer the next day.

"I dragged that ice around for 4,100 miles, and it never got used," Mr. Kostinec said. A former mortgage broker and Enron computer technician, he had learned to roll with the punches, and he was pleased to earn $4,500 for the trip, double his usual paycheck. He was perplexed, however, by the government's apparent bungling.

"They didn't seem to know how much ice they were buying and how much they were using," he said. "All the truckers said the money was good. But we were upset about not being able to help."

Full story here at

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