With Hurricane Irene barreling toward Morehead City, North Carolina, Tim Guthrie thought of protecting all of his possessions -- even his frozen food.
“We want to make sure we can keep the freezer going,” Guthrie said, while loading a $799 gasoline-powered Briggs & Stratton generator into his pickup truck at a Lowe’s Cos. store down the road from his home.
The 50-year-old joined Americans stocking up on flashlights, plywood and food to brace for the Category 3 hurricane that may make landfall in North Carolina on Aug. 27. Irene is forecast to then head north to New York and New England and may cause as much as $20 billion in overall economic losses, according to estimates by Kinetic Analysis Corp.
“Millions are potentially going to be losing power from North Carolina all the way up to New England,” said Chris Hyde, a meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The anticipation for Irene may boost sales for retailers such as Lowe’s, Home Depot Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp., Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as shoppers flock to stores to prepare for wind and rain damage and possible limited access to food or water.
“If the hurricane doesn’t do damage to the stores where they have to close for an elongated period of time, you’ll see a benefit to sales,” said Poonam Goyal, a retail analyst for Bloomberg Industries. “People are going to stock up on necessities.”
That was the case at a Home Depot in midtown Manhattan as shoppers picked through a shrinking supply of Maglite flashlights. Store employees had erected a folding table bearing yellow rain suits for $14.96 and glow sticks at $4.99. Shopping carts filled with batteries and even more flashlights added to the makeshift display.
“My mom called this morning and asked if I had a flashlight and water,” said Lacey Blue, a 30-year-old from Astoria, Queens, with a Maglite in hand. “This probably isn’t going to happen, but I should have a flashlight anyway, so it’s no big deal.”
At an Ace Hardware Corp. store in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, crowds were “growing by the hour,” according to Jerry Webster, a clerk at the store. Customers began lining up at 7 a.m. yesterday to pick up essentials like duct tape and sandbags. Today, there was a “feeling of excitement in the air,” he said.
Home Depot has been sending what it described as “pre-strike” items such as water, tarps and batteries to meet surging demand along Irene’s expected path, said Russ Householder, emergency response captain for Home Depot.
The retailer is now adding extra goods to stores in New York and Rhode Island with emergency supplies to prepare for the weekend.
“A lot of our consumers are panicking,” Householder said.
Lowe’s has done likewise, sending out more than 200 truckloads of chainsaws and bottled water to fulfill shoppers’ needs, said Karen Cobb, a spokeswoman for the Mooresville, North Carolina-based retailer. The company has been monitoring inventory levels and using past hurricanes to estimate demand. Lowe’s and Atlanta-based Home Depot declined to estimate how much storm preparation could boost sales.
Back at the Lowe’s in Morehead City, 11 power generators were on display at the front of the store. At the other end of the store, workers loaded plywood for $12.97 apiece into a line of trucks, vans and cars.
“I’m buying five sheets, for now,” said Sheli Nix, 31, to cover windows of her home on Bogue Sound. Her mother, daughter and other relatives arrive today. “We’re going to have a house full and are taking precautions.”