South Florida stores order drinking water, hurricane supplies as jittery locals empty shelves

Shoppers were cleaning out the bottled water aisle Monday afternoon at the Walmart Supercenter at 3200 NW 79th St.
Shoppers were cleaning out the bottled water aisle Monday afternoon at the Walmart Supercenter at 3200 NW 79th St. Joey Flechas

South Floridians swarmed local stores Monday, emptying shelves of drinking water and other supplies as Hurricane Irma strengthened to a Category 4 storm.

If South Florida remains in Irma’s forecast cone, the region likely won’t begin feeling its effects until Friday, according to models from the National Hurricane Center. That leaves plenty of restocking time for stores like Sunset Harbour Publix, where a manager told shoppers supplies would be replenished on Tuesday.

Still, with Hurricane Andrew’s 25th anniversary and the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas fresh on their minds, South Floridians took advantage of the Labor Day holiday to hit groceries including Milam’s in Coconut Grove, where a sign beneath the shelf that usually contains drinking water read, “additional hurricane supplies are delivering sometime tomorrow morning.”

Monday, shoppers said they were hitting stores early to beat last-minute crowds that generally flood stores just before a storm is expected.

Some stores were able to keep pace with the surge of early birds. At a Publix in Miami’s Morningside neighborhood, shelves still held ample supplies of bottled water at midafternoon, and workers were refilling them through the day.

Morningside shopper Dan Zimmer said he’d been awakened by a call from a friend in Kendall, who said his own neighborhood stores were packed and water was in short supply.

When he arrived at the Morningside Publix he decided to stock up. “I figured I might as well get ahead of it,” Zimmer said — he still had some supplies left from last year’s preperations.

“It’s gonna get crazy and I’d rather get it done before there’s more people and it’s chaos,” said fellow shopper Mike Kizek. “If I waited, then all that would be left is cans of tomato sauce.”

Some other local stores weren’t as amply supplied.

Drinking water was sold out Monday at the Walmart Supercenter at 3200 NW 79th Street; Walmart’s public relations spokesman said the company had decided not to comment on storm supplies, saying “they are focused primarily on ensuring smooth operations and want to avoid a rush on stores.”

At Sunset Harbour in Miami Beach, water was sold out Monday afternoon; a manager told shoppers it would be restocked Tuesday. The story was the same at Milam’s Market in Coconut Grove and the Target in Midtown Miami.

William Diaz, a front end coordinator at a Publix in Coral Gables, said the store was expecting another shipment of water by the end of the night.

“Even if the truck doesn’t arrive before we close, we should be stocked up and ready to go when we open [Tuesday],” Diaz said.

At home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, store spokespeople said that the businesses are monitoring the storm and have plans to meet demand.

“Once a storm like Irma is spotted, we quickly alert stores in the potential strike zone and start mobilizing supplies to the area. Many of those supplies come from distribution centers where we’ve pre-staged loads of hurricane supplies ahead of the hurricane season, including our hurricane distribution center in Lakeland, Florida,” said Home Depot spokesman Matt Harrigan in an emailed statement.

At Lowe’s, the store’s communications team said the business will send critical supplies to Florida but they are also still providing supplies and aid to Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“Today we have shipped more than 325 truckloads of product to Florida in preparation for the storm. We continue to expedite shipments so our customers can properly prepare for an event. Our Command Center is keeping a close watch on Hurricane Irma and updates to its path,” said spokeswoman Sarah Lively in an emailed statement.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

Miami Herald staffers Douglas Hanks, Joey Flechas and Rick Hirsch contributed to this report.

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