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North Carolinians Cleared the Shelves Ahead of Hurricane Florence. But Not Everything Sold Out

5 minute read

Growing up in Chicago, I didn’t have much experience with extreme weather.

Sure, there was a snowstorm when I was eight years old that was massive enough to shut down public schools, a rare occurrence in a city proud of its ability to handle snow. And when I was in college, I had some Manny & Olga’s pizza delivered during the massive Snowmageddon storm in D.C. in 2011. But, I’ve never had to prepare for the potential of floods and massive power outages.

So when I needed to find out what you should actually buy in a storm as Hurricane Florence rolled in to Raleigh, I went some officials sources: friends from New Orleans who lived through one of the nation’s most devastating storms in recent history and a federal website.

And while my friend Travis told me to stock up on peanut butter, canned nuts and “three bottles of whisky, at minimum,” the federal government recommends at least three days worth of bread, canned meat and vegetables, bottled water and cereal ahead of an extreme weather event.

Some of those were easier to buy than others. A Harris Teeter near Cameron Village in Raleigh was well-stocked with bottled water. Case upon case of water was shrink-wrapped and set in the center of aisles in the 24-hour store.

But a last minute trip to a Northwest Raleigh Walmart on Wednesday evening didn’t prove very fruitful. As the storm approached, the aisles of several grocery stores I visited were well-stocked with misfit foods, as all of the recommended staples had been cleared out by residents ready to meet the storm.

At Walmart, the bread aisle was bare save for two bags of “Dark Pump” pumpernickel bread, some powdered donuts and a bag of mini bagels. The store had been cleared of canned meats, save for a couple of cans of chopped clams. There were plenty of cookies canned cranberry sauce and maraschino cherries, though.

Chopped clams were also left behind on a shelf at a Food Lion on Wycliff Road and long with a few cans of tiny shrimp, pink salmon and canned roast beef and gravy. A guy named Thomas I spoke to in the store was stocking up on non-perishables.

The Raleigh native didn’t want to give his last name because he works at a competing retailer. His home store ran out of canned meat, but he was able to get some of the stray chicken on the shelves at Food Lion.

Sherri Carroll, who was staffing the customer service desk at Food Lion, said the first thing the store had run out of during the week was bottled water. “Then batteries and propane,” she said. When the store ran low on bottled water, she said, people started buying flavored water.

The store had plenty of jelly, but only a few jars of all natural almond and peanut butter left on its shelves on Thursday afternoon. The federal list recommends “comfort foods,” though, and depending on how you snack the stray jars of Biscoff Cookie butter that were left on the shelf would likely qualify. Charcoal and toilet paper were also low in stock, as were paper plates.

Ronnie Barnes, a Nature’s Own delivery man, said people didn’t even wait for him to put the bread he was delivering on the shelves earlier this week — they just snatched loaves right off of the stacks he brought into stores. “At around 9 a.m., I delivered about $900 worth of bread to a Walmart,” he said. “I went back at noon and it was all gone.”

I mentioned the “dark pump” I saw left on the shelves at the Walmart I visited. “When a hurricane comes, everything sells,” he said.

Vikram, an employee at the Whole Foods on Wade Avenue, said on Monday their sales were “almost Thanksgiving level” with customers wrapped around the store. By Thursday, with news that the impact on Raleigh wouldn’t be as bad as other places in the state, traffic in the store had died down.

You know what really sells in a storm? Alcohol. “If we run out of bottled water, people are going to get sparking. But when we run out of sparkling, people are grabbing the alcohol,” said Vikram who proudly noted that beer and wine sales were higher than they expected, but said he “couldn’t disclose” exactly how many sales they made.

Gloria Jones, a resident of Knightdale, was shopping when I met her at Food Lion. She said she was concerned about the power outages the storm may bring, but “I’m not having an anxiety attack or anything.”

The only things on her list on Thursday: “Beer and wine,” she said. “And maybe some bread.”

Like I said, I’m new to this. And so, I followed their lead and bought some wine.

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