Grocery stores struggle to keep water on the shelf as Irma approaches

Grocery stores are struggling to keep water on the shelves as forecasts increasingly suggest Hurricane Irma may hit the Keys and South Florida.

Local officials began issuing evacuation orders Tuesday afternoon for Monroe County, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said some coastal areas of Miami-Dade could expect similar orders as early as Wednesday. He urged people throughout the county to prepare their hurricane supplies and in addition to buying water, to fill up as many containers as they could from their faucets.

“Just open your tap,” he said. “It’s safe to drink.”

That didn’t stop crowds of people from rushing grocery stores across the region, trying to buy up gallons and pallets of water at Publix stores and Costcos. One Publix in downtown Miami ran out of water before noon, and eight pallets of water at the Publix at 1920 West Avenue sold out within hours, a manager said. Several Publixes in Miami Shores and Miami said they had already run out of water for the day.

Caitlin Granfield, a freelance journalist who has contributed to the Herald, said she and her husband spent hours looking for water in Miami Shores as they and their 1-year-old son prepared for the hurricane. An Aldi near her home was sold out, and a Publix a few blocks down was rationing gallons and pallets per person when a shipment arrived Tuesday morning, she said.

The shelves had already been emptied, but “right as we were in the checkout, I heard one of the store employees telling another customer that a truck of water just arrived and to go to the back,” Granfield recalled. Delivery managers began handing out the rations straight from the truck to customers who lined up, she said, allowing only two gallons per person.

“The energy is very real right now,” Granfield said. “Just after seeing the devastation that happened in Texas, this is really an eye opener we should take seriously.”

Some Publix stores, including the Miami Beach location on West Avenue, are expecting new shipments Wednesday morning, though customers should call their nearest store to find out if and when supplies will arrive.

Drug stores, gas stations and office supply stores may also still have water when grocery stores run out. Local officials have urged people preparing to ride out the storm at home to fill up their bathtubs with water ahead of time for drinking and bathing.