MARRERO, La. — “Ya’ll have ice? We want ice!”

The call came from the second-floor landing of an apartment building in Marrero, La., its brick facade crumbled into the parking lot, where truck driver Wayne “Slim” Christen and four others had taken up residence after Hurricane Katrina.

A week after the storm turned their suburban New Orleans neighborhood into a ghost town, a week in which the temperature topped 90 degrees day after brutal day, Christen and his friends ranked ice right up there with food and water: An essential. A necessity. “You’ve got to have it,” Christen said.

The human body can last only a few days without water, slightly longer with no food. Theoretically, it could function in perpetuity without ice.

But storm victims — suffering under the Louisiana sun, the sweltering nights with no air conditioning and only the hope of a breeze -know better.

In the words of Algiers resident Nicholas Beninate, “Ice is like gold.”

Water keeps you alive, Beninate explained; ice keeps you sane.

“Ice by itself, ice in water — anything cold,” he said. “It gives you a burst of energy. Inside the houses at night, it’s 105 degrees. Ice is the thing.”

In Katrina’s immediate aftermath, ice was almost impossible to find across much of the metropolitan area. Most had been snatched up before the storm even hit, by people hoping to keep their perishable food cold until the power came back up. The little that was left was plundered by looters or authorities who “requisitioned” supplies from grocery stores and other outlets.

Recently, it has rolled in by the truckload, to the point where some areas now are overflowing with ice.

Ice-filled tractor trailers lined up in a Belle Chasse parking lot – far in excess of what Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle said is needed for the small numbers of residents still in his parish.

But in neighboring St. Bernard Parish, largely cut off from the world for most of the last week, Maj. Jimmy Pohlmann of the sheriff’s office said there was no ice at all for the past week. The first ice arrived Sunday when a relief contingent crossed the Mississippi River on a ferry and forded 3-foot deep floodwaters to deliver two trailers of ice.

To put that delivery in perspective, the contingent delivered only one trailer each of food and water.

Even in parishes where ice is suddenly plentiful, getting to it can be a problem. In Jefferson Parish, the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up a single distribution center for ice on each side of the river, at the Transit Facility at the corner of Saints and David drives in Metairie and at the Alario Center in Westwego. For those without vehicles — or the fuel to power them — those distribution sites might as well be on the moon. Some people hitch-hike to the sites. Others carpool or try to convince those with cars to pick them up some ice, too.

For Christen and his four friends at the Marrero apartment building, the mood appears to swing according to the contents of the coolers on which they prop their feet. When they’ve got ice — and their beers, sodas and waters are cold — the friends are all smiles and laughs. When the ice runs out, they are glum and depressed.

In the first few days after the storm, police largely turned a blind eye or even supervised looting for basics such as food and water. Christen and Bryan Bowden, one of his friends at the Timberlane Apartments in Marrero said they got their supplies from the nearby Breaux’s Market on LaPalco Boulevard.

Christen said he was grabbing a bag of ice at a Walgreen’s when his supply was cut short as police started cracking down.

“We were getting food and water and ice,” he said. “Things we needed. The cop came in and said he was going to arrest us. I said to the cop, are you going to arrest us for taking a bag of ice?”

Their supply cut off, the Timberlane crowd had to wait several more days, until a friend drove to Vacherie, in St. James Parish, to get more ice.

The friend bought them two bags. By the time he got back, it had melted to one, Christen said, and that was gone by the end of the night.

Over the weekend, they hit the jackpot: 6 bags, 10-pounds each, from a relief group that set up shop at a decrepit shopping center on Ames Boulevard for a few hours. They filled up two coolers with ice to spare, cranked up some country music on a portable stereo, chilled some drinks and acted like they were on top of the world.

“You sure you don’t want something? Beer? Coke? Kentwood water?” Christen asked a visitor.

“I’ve finally got ice and I’m not jealous with it. I’ll share with anybody.”

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