Generators started flying off the shelves on Tuesday as meteorologists predicted Hurricane Laura could strengthen, veer west and bring damaging winds to Houston.
With the city reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, this new tropical foe stirred fear of widespread power outages at a time when many are stuck at home.
Lest they be caught off guard by what is shaping up to be a serious storm, masked shoppers shouldered their way through aisles looking for battery packs, flashlights, canned goods and more. Anything that might make a spell without power more tolerable.
Customers also readied to bolster their windows and homes to withstand hurricane-force winds. Dwayne Myers, store manager at C & D Hardware in the Heights, said people came in droves on Tuesday to buy things such as weather stripping, gas cans, charcoal, duct tape and rope.
“We’re actually doing, like, Saturday numbers right now,” he said, staring down a long line of customers at the register.
At the Lowe’s in Spring Branch on Tuesday morning, shoppers claimed remaining generators by sitting on them. As word spread that more were coming, a line of anxious customers grew.
To head off surging demand, Home Depot shipped 170 truckloads of hurricane supplies to stores in Texas and Louisiana, said Melanie Payne, the company’s regional director of operations. Those shipments included popular items such as generators, batteries and plywood.
“When a storm is approaching, our focus is to get the products in the stores and to stay open as long as it’s safe,” she said.
As more people board up windows to stave off damage, Payne said the demand for plywood extended beyond coastal stores.
“We have seen heavy demands for plywood,” she said. “Obviously that demand was driven by the coastal stores but it has trickled into the Houston market.”
Both Home Depot and Walmart were preparing hurricane command posts on Tuesday to monitor areas impacted by the coming storm and to see where more supplies might be needed.
“We definitely have seen an uptick in business in some key areas where the community is working hard to prepare,” Payne said.
Sales on items such as toilet paper, bottled water and batteries are on the rise at area Walmart stores, said Robert Arrieta, a spokesman for the retailer.
“We stay closely connected to our operators in the field to help ensure we’re stocking the appropriate items,” Arrieta, said, “keeping track of shipments and moving product to areas where we anticipate there will be the greatest need before and after a storm.”
Major grocery chains are ordering hundreds of cases of apples, potatoes and other staples, said Brent Erenwert, chief executive of produce distributor Brother’s Produce. “Everyone’s scrambling in panic because they’re going to be stuck in their houses.”
H-E-B is working with vendors to restock shelves to meet increased customer demand, said Lisa Helfman, director of Public affairs for H-E-B in Houston. Staple items include water, bread, batteries, nonperishable foods, baby formula and ice.
She said hurricane preparations happen year-round at H-E-B, where generators stand ready in the event of outages. The retailer also has hurricane-specific inventory in several warehouses across the state for use after the storm.
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