Latest vanishing Florida species: the ice cube

t was once the standard sarcastic reply of a generation of American parents when their Baby Boomer children said they wanted a pony or a battleship or a house made of gumdrops and cake frosting: “There are people in Hell who want ice water.” But this week in South Florida, which without electricity in mid-September is the spitting image of Hell, the aphorism turned literal: Everybody wants ice. And they aren’t gonna get it anytime soon.

With ice factories up and down the state shut down by Hurricane Irma — including one of South Florida’s biggest, in Davie — and emergency-services forces like cops and hospitals getting most of what little supply remains, ice cubes might as well be made of gold.

“Our freezers are still working, and we still have some ice,” said Jenny Fayad, co-owner of Miami distributor Emergency Ice. “But tomorrow or maybe the next day, we’re going to run out, and then the closest place we can buy ice is Tennessee. Tennessee! Can you believe it?”

Of the 15 or 20 mayor ice suppliers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, some learned that their entire inventory literally melted away over the weekend when their electricity died. Others sold out quickly on Monday as frantic buyers called in with big orders.

Resupply won’t be easy. Several of South Florida’s ice factories were knocked out by high wind and floodwaters, and won’t be back in business anytime soon.

“In these natural disasters, we do everything we can, but it’s hard to get things back up and running smoothly,” said Darren Boruff, vice president of Dallas-based Reddy Ice, which had several Florida factories — including a huge one in Davie — knocked out. “There’s a long checklist of things you’ve got to do first. The startup process, unfortunately, takes a while.”

The Davie factory can turn out something between 8 and 10 tons of ice an hour when it’s running at full blast. But before that can happen, Reddy Ice has to reestablish a stable power supply, test its water, and then test the ice itself.

The startup process is all too familiar to Reddy executives, who just went through the same thing with factories in the Houston area scrambled by Hurricane. (Reddy is one the country’s biggest ice suppliers, operating in 31 states.)

“It took us several days to get back to get the facilities running again there,” said Boruff, who was reluctant to set a precise timetable for the return of the Davie plant. “We implore people to be patient. We have employees who were storm victims as well.”

Another local factory, belonging to Opa-locka-based Florida Ice Corp, is still operating — but well below capacity. Using a generator rather than the Florida Power & Light hookup that was knocked out by the storm, the factory is producing 170 to 180 tons a day rather than its usual 250 tons a day.

And that could drop some more. “We’re having trouble sourcing diesel fuel for the generator,” said Pacheco. “That thing requires a lot of fuel to put the kind of power we need.”

Meanwhile, most of the ice that is available is going to hospitals and police and fire departments — with a chunk reserved for FP&L repairmen, who are working around the clock to restore the power grid, without which the ice companies can’t do anything at all.

“We’ve been able to send out a little bit to grocery stores and some other old customers,” said Kathy McCorkle of Miami-based McCorkle Ice. “A load is going out to Flanigan’s right this minute. But new customers, they just don’t stand a chance right now.”

In particular, she said, an order for 45,000 pounds of ice from the U.S. Virgin Islands isn’t going to be filled anytime soon.

“God bless those people,” McCorkle sighed. “But anything we get right now is staying right here in South Florida.”