CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Katherine Peralta | The Charlotte Observer) - At the Publix in South End, the bottled water shelves in aisle 13 were almost completely emptied out Thursday night, days before Hurricane Irma's anticipated landfall in Florida.
You'll find similar scenes at other nearby supermarkets, even though Irma's impact on the Carolinas is anything but certain. Shoppers are stocking up on necessities like water way ahead of time in an event of a shortage – they know that despite being 150 miles from the Atlantic, Charlotte isn't immune to hurricanes.
Anytime there is a hurricane, water is the first thing customers buy, said Kimberly Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Publix, a chain all too familiar with hurricane prep since it's based in Lakeland, Fla., about 35 miles from the Florida Gulf Coast.
Several Publix stores in Miami had already run out of water earlier this week, and one even started rationing gallons and pallets per person when a shipment arrived Tuesday, according to the Miami Herald.
"Some of our Charlotte area stores do have water, yet available quantities will vary by store. We are working hard to replenish water as fast as we can," Reynolds said.
The company's other area stores are well-stocked with other "hurricane supplies," including non-perishable foods, flashlights and batteries, she added. Publix stores are also staffing up certain stores, depending on the need: "It is all hands on deck," Reynolds said.
The Department of Health & Human Services sent out a memo Thursday morning advising those who could be affected by Irma, especially people with medical conditions, to have enough drinkable water on hand to last for several days after the storm. Freezing containers of water now could also help keep food and medications cold if the power goes out, HHS says.
Food Lion stores have similarly been experiencing heavier-than-normal traffic already this week. Customers are stocking up on items like bread, ice, canned meat, water, charcoal and batteries, spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown said.
The Salisbury chain will continue to work closely with vendors to make sure in-demand products are available and restocked, she added.
"We are providing additional shipments of water, food, batteries and other items to our stores to help ensure product availability for our customers, as well as preparing our stores to minimize any impact from Hurricane Irma," Phillips-Brown said.
Customers reported limited supplies of bottled water at Harris Teeter stores, such as the one on Morrison in SouthPark.
The grocer has similarly gone into hurricane-prep mode: Plans are already in place to re-open "as safely and quickly as possible" any stores that Irma may force to close temporarily, for instance, spokeswoman Danna Robinson said. The chain will update customers with store closures on its website, she added.