FEMA supply lines slowed by moving evacuees

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

The trucks are on the second runway at Craig Field Airport.

They’re loaded down with supplies and they’re ready to deliver aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

But some truckers are complaining that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is simply spinning their wheels.

“We’re getting shuttled here and there,” said a trucker who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “A lot of us are wondering what’s going on.”

The trucker said the same load of ice has been on the truck since Tuesday of last week and has been driven to Meridian, Miss., Montgomery and Selma without being unloaded.

“There are people down there who need this stuff,” the trucker said. “It’s just very confusing.”

FEMA officials admitted there have been similar problems in the attempt to respond to the vast needs of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“We’ve been down this road,” said William C. Lindsey, FEMA Public Relations Officer. “Right now our logistics teams are out there trying to come up with a better plan to deliver materials to the proper locations.”

Lindsey said the problem is caused by the shifting of the needs of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Evacuees moving from one site to another, or staying only a day in a shelter, essentially makes FEMA’s attempts to deliver them supplies like hitting a moving target.

Lindsey said that reports have come in about shelters with hundreds of evacuees, only to have trucks arrive and find only a few.

“We don’t want to drop a truckload of valuable materials anywhere and all of a sudden there’s no one there to use it,” Lindsey said. “That’s essentially what the issue is.”

Lindsey asked that truckers be patient with his organization.

“We’re getting a hold on (the problem),” he said.

The trucker with the load of ice said sitting and waiting can be a lucrative activity.

Reportedly, truckers get paid $3 per mile, but even more for downtime.

Apparently if a trucker doesn’t move in 24-hours they get paid as much as $600.

“Some of them don’t care. They’ll sit here with this ice until hell freezes over,” the trucker said.

Added to the expense of paying the truckers to wait, is the fuel needed to keep the ice from melting. Refrigeration units on trucks must also be fueled regularly to keep ice and perishables.

Lindsey said FEMA hoped to improve relief efforts.

“This is the largest catastrophe in the country’s history,” he said. “It’s a lot of curves right now that will be straightened out.”