Jacquie Stephens has lived through too many South Florida storms to face hurricane shopping at Publix or Costco again.
“Shopping there during a storm is very Lord of the Flies,” said Stephens, a Philadelphia native who moved to South Florida 35 years ago. “People will fight you for those last rolls of toilet paper and bread. You see accidents in the parking lot from people fighting over a space and then they send their kids inside to sit on water.”
So as Hurricane Irma bears down on the U.S. mainland and local stores see their H20 shelves running bare, Stephens turned to an option only possible in the digital age: Amazon.
By Friday at the latest, two pallets of bottled water plus cleaning supplies, canned vegetables and granola bars should arrive at her West Palm Beach home, which she shares with her husband and six dogs. All for $68.
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“If there’s an easier way to do it, and to keep us off the road and out of traffic, I’m willing to try it,” Stephens said.
On social media, many Florida residents say they, too, are using an alternative to the grocery-store hurricane run: ordering emergency supplies online while there is still time for mail workers to deliver them.
Irma’s increasing threat to the United States spurred South Floridians to hit local stores on Labor Day to stock up on hurricane supplies, depleting shelves of drinking water and canned foods.
Amazon, which offers a two-day Prime delivery service, is selling hurricane supplies — though some were at a steep markup. One seller was offering packs of water for nearly $40, while others were selling bottles for upwards of $20. Price gouging during emergencies is illegal under Florida law.
When asked if the state’s anti-price gouging law would apply to an Amazon vendor based outside of Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray said, “If a business is selling an essential commodity to persons who are using it in Florida as a result of the emergency, the business may be subject to Florida's price gouging law.”
In a statement, Amazon said it is “actively monitoring our website and removing offers on bottled water that substantially exceed the recent average sales price.”
“Lower priced offers are quickly selling out, leaving higher priced offers from third party sellers,” it added. “If customers think an offer has substantially exceeded in price we encourage them to contact Amazon customer service directly and work with us so we can investigate and take the appropriate action.”
Area stores are already working to restock supplies before storm conditions are expected to hit Friday. A manager at the Sunset Harbour Publix in Miami Beach told shoppers Monday that the store expected to replenish its supplies of water the next day for those who wanted to purchase more.
Tyler Von Harten, an undergraduate meteorology student at Florida State University, said he urged his South Florida family to stock up online.
“I knew there would be a mad rush to the store and you might literally go to five or six different stores to get what you need,” Von Harten said. “That could take hours of valuable preparation time.”