Irma threat leads to empty store shelves

Published 7:44 pm Friday, September 8, 2017

Notice any empty shelves at the grocery store this week?

Shoppers up and down the East Coast — Beaufort County included — flocked to the nearest stores to pick up those familiar staples of hurricane preparation: milk, bread and water. With Hurricane Irma originally forecast to head toward eastern North Carolina, residents wanted to be ready.

Kelly Fields, store manager at Piggly Wiggly on River Road, said there was no widespread panic, but he did see a noticeable influx of customers.

“Some, but not an exorbitant amount,” Fields said. “We’ve had an increase of people trying to prepare slowly, I guess is the best way to say it.”

He said the most popular products are canned goods, followed by water and bread.

More recent predictions show Irma shifting west, clipping the westernmost part of North Carolina. Still a Category 4, Irma is plowing toward Florida this weekend before heading north.

Because those forecasts are now showing a more favorable prediction for eastern N.C., Fields said that influx of customers from earlier this week began to taper off Friday.

“Today was less intense than yesterday,” he said Friday afternoon.

Food Lion on John Small Avenue has had trouble keeping certain shelves stocked because of the rapid increase in demand, according to a store supervisor who requested that his name not be used.

“At the moment, just water. We’ve been having issues keeping that stocked,” the supervisor said of this week’s most popular products. “I know we recently got an emergency shipment of that.”

He said the store did not have to utilize extra staff during shifts, but employees were busier and working close to capacity.

Donnie Smith, owner of Smith’s Food Pride in Chocowinity, said water was also the most popular choice for his customers this week.

“They’ve just been buying different things. They’ve been buying more water,” Smith said, adding that canned foods, such as pork and beans and Vienna sausages, also saw an increase in demand. “At the beginning, it was a little bit heavier traffic.”

Smith said business largely went back to normal Friday, but he planned for another water shipment to come in Saturday in case Irma shifts east again.

“It doesn’t mean it’s going to go that other way,” he said.