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Local Stores Prepare for Hurricane Irene, Water and Batteries Selling Out

Residents raced to Walmart and Big Y Thursday to stock up on emergency supplies, food and water.

For the volume of locals rushing to stock up on emergency supplies Thursday in preparation for Hurricane Irene’s visit, the supply of water, batteries and flashlights became slim pickings by late day at the Avon and Big Y as demand grew.

Not to fear. The stores are expecting more shipments as needed and both will be open throughout the weekend. Big Y and Walmart officials said that the stores will only close if the state or federal government order an evacuation.

“Very seldom do we close,” Don Yensen, store director of the Avon Big Y, said.

On Wednesday, Big Y employees had a meeting to plan ahead for the storm and company distributors are also planning to deliver more products to the stores from water to milk and bread over the next few days.

More employees were called in to Big Y Thursday to accommodate double the normal customer flow and there will also be more staff Friday and Saturday, Yensen said. Mornings and early afternoon are the busiest times to visit Big Y, he said, though for the most part there has been “a steady flow of a lot of people,” according to Bruce Butler, Big Y reserve store director. Yensen expects Sunday to be a slower day as the storm hits its climax. Less workers will be on-duty so most of the staff can stay off the roads.

Butler said the storm is definitely a “conversation piece” between employees and customers.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency Thursday evening, urging Connecticut residents to prepare emergency kits in the event of power outages, restricted access to tap water and the possibility that stoves, ovens, microwaves and refrigerators are unavailable.

He and the newly consolidated Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection recommend having at least one gallon of bottled water “per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation.” As a result, Walmart shelves that held bottled water earlier in the day were empty, and many cashiers and customers talked about how it was remarkable that the water was already gone. There was more water available at Big Y, though it was going quickly. Customers swarmed the employees restocking the water shelves to pick up cases.

“It really doesn’t hit the shelf,” Butler said.

Yensen said that 13 pallets, comprised of 40 cases each, was on the way early evening Thursday and more was expected the next day, as well as other needed supplies. Kayla Whaling, Walmart spokeswoman, said that more products were being shipped to distribution centers to restock local stores if necessary. The closest distribution centers to the Avon location are within 200 miles away in New York and Pennsylvania. 

Battery racks were also sparse at Walmart late afternoon Thursday. AA batteries were sold out, but AAA were still in stock. Toward the back of the store, the flashlight supply was running low, though there were still Cinderella children’s flashlights, small flashlights, head flashlights and large floodlights. Walmart carries battery-powered radios, but the Avon location was sold out Thursday, Whaling said.

Walmart normally increases the supply being shipped to stores during natural emergencies, Whaling said, to make they have what they need, and Walmart also donated supplies to help with relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 and Hurricane Gustav along the Atlantic coast in 2008.

People also were buying a lot canned foods from Big Y, as well as ice and coolers, Yensen said, which is advisable in the event the power goes out and refrigerators are not working. Coolers were almost gone by 5:30 p.m.

Other locals were even buying comfort foods, “anything you can stay home and watch the TV with,” Yensen said.

There is a similar frenzy at Big Y after the first winter storm as people come in to make sure they have enough food before the next storm, Yensen said. People also buy more during that period than they have been purchasing to prepare for Hurricane Irene.

“It’s more centralized on water now,” he said, in comparison to the winter months, and in the winter people buy more of a variety of things.

The storm forecasts “intensified” since Yensen first arrived at work Thursday morning, and Butler said that higher volume of customers was a “prelude to what we’ll see over the next couple of days."

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