A worker restocks water at Target in Royal Palm Beach.
Photo: Kristina Webb/Palm Beach Post
Photo: Kristina Webb/Palm Beach Post

Hurricane Irma is far away, but Floridians are already gearing up

At the Lowe’s around the corner, it was the propane, all gone by Sunday afternoon.

Hurricane Irma is 2,000 miles away and forecasters are saying it’s far too early to tell if Florida is in its sights, but some shoppers in Palm Beach County weren’t taking chances this weekend, depleting store shelves of water, generators and other essentials.

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“We’re the last store left with any water,” said Lowe’s store manager Rob Thompson before loading several cases of bottled water into the back of Roni Diener’s SUV.

Irma remained a Category 3 hurricane Sunday evening, with 115 mph top sustained winds about 800 miles from the Leeward Islands. France, the Netherlands and Antigua all issued hurricane watches for their respective islands, which include Antigua, St. Kitts and St. Martin.

Forecasters say they won’t have an idea until late this week whether Florida could be hit by the storm. The current track has it heading west and then northwest, potentially reaching the Bahamas by Friday. A NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft is heading to investigate Irma, the National Hurricane Center reported.

Regardless, officials are telling people to stock up on supplies.

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted three times on Sunday encouraging people to get prepared, and he had an afternoon phone call with the head of the state’s Division of Emergency Management to discuss the storm.

“As we continue to monitor Hurricane Irma, families should make sure their Disaster Supply Kits are ready today,” he tweeted.

The devastating effects of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey were more on the forefront of shoppers’ minds on Sunday.

At the Home Depot on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard in West Palm Beach, Sherrie Norton speculated that some of the cases of bottled water might be heading to hurricane victims in Texas.

“I would rather it hit us than Houston,” Norton said of Irma.

She wasn’t taking any chances, though, buying paper towels and trash bags.

“I’d rather do this now than have to shop after work during the week,” she said.

Thompson said he was pleasantly surprised by how many people were getting ready early. He suspected seeing the historic flooding in Houston might have scared some people.

He said he was expecting propane to be quickly refilled, with reinforcements of plywood and wingnuts arriving throughout the week.

At the Costco on Northlake, employees said the generators were sold out and water was flying off the shelves by the semi truck-full.

At the Costco in Royal Palm Beach before noon Sunday, an employee directed shoppers to a line to purchase water. As people queued, grumbling, in a line that wound around two aisles, the employee offered some comfort: “The checkout lines stretched back here this morning,” she said. “At least that’s better now.”

At checkout, customers and Costco employees debated the merits of preparing for a storm when Florida was not yet definitely in the forecast cone.

“I don’t think it’s coming here,” one employee said as he lifted a package of paper plates into a cart.

“Is it usually this busy in here on a Sunday?” a customer asked.

“Yes and no,” a cashier replied. “It’s the Sunday before a holiday, and we’re closed on Labor Day, so it would be busy.” She looked up and surveyed her line, which stretched back into the aisles of packaged snacks in the middle of the store. “But this hurricane is just making it even busier.”

Sunday afternoon, the Target at Lantana Road and State Road 7 was quiet. But the water aisle betrayed an earlier rush: One employee stocked gallon bottles of water onto shelves that were empty of any flats or larger containers.

The employee told a reporter the store was not expecting any more water for the rest of the day.

“Maybe in the next few days,” she said. “We’re not sure.”

Staff writers Susan Salisbury and Kristina Webb contributed to this story.

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