Area gas stations and grocery stores are staying busy as residents make preparations for Hurricane Irma. While there is still some uncertainty about Irma’s impact on Savannah, a lot of residents are playing it safe after their brush with Hurricane Matthew last October.
“We’re prepping and trying to see what the news says and whether we’re going to go or not,” said southside resident Donna Angeloff, who was filling up her car at the Kroger on Mall Boulevard on Thursday morning with friend Paulette Beebe.
“(During Hurricane Matthew) we went to Pensacola, Florida, which is where it didn’t go,” Angeloff said.
The friends said they’re taking Hurricane Irma a little more seriously than Hurricane Matthew by buying more food supplies and loading up on ice in an effort to prevent food from spoiling like last year and making plans for pets.
“I’ve got two cats that I’ve also got to try and get in their carriers. That’s always a challenge,” added Beebe.
If the friends do evacuate, they might head back to West Florida or to the north Georgia area.
A few pumps over, Tasha Hopson was dealing with much of the same as she filled up her car.
“It’s really a headache,” said Hopson, who lives with her elderly mother.
“I think it’s more serious than (Matthew). We don’t have a choice; we don’t have anywhere to go. Especially with my mom being elderly, I don’t know what to do. It’s stressful. ”
The Kroger station was receiving more fuel around lunchtime on Thursday and, while the station was a bit busier than a normal day, the lines to get gas were moving smoothly with most pumps having only a couple of cars waiting in line.
Ryan Chandler of Colonial Oil, a subsidiary of the Colonial Group in Savannah, said the company started preparing for Irma on Thursday and have robust hurricane and disaster recovery protocols in place that prioritize fuel loading racks’ availability and enable them to accommodate volumes to support Coastal Georgia’s evacuation.
“Although we understand that some local retailers have experienced temporary outages related to a rush of residents filling up their tanks in preparation for evacuation, at this time, our fuel supply is adequate to support the Coastal region’s needs,” said Chandler.
Colonial’s offices will close Friday at 1 p.m., but they plan to keep the local Savannah fuel loading facility operational as long as trucks are safe to load and deliver fuel.
“We have significant experience with disaster recovery, and Colonial has already positioned the assets and resources required to recover and resume operations after the impact of the storm,” he said.
Jeff Bush, chief operating officer for Parker’s, said the demand for fuel in Savannah and surrounding coastal Georgia communities is unlike anything they’ve seen before and, while they are experiencing outages periodically at some locations, the company is getting fuel deliveries as quickly as possible to meet the demand.
“We’ve doubled our drivers and the trucks pulling fuel and are doing the same with our vendors selling various items that our customers need. We’re also boarding up stores and are searching for hotel rooms for our employees,” Bush said.
“One thing we’re not doing is increasing our profit margin on the sale of gas. We’re not price gouging. We have a commitment to our customers and to the community that we uphold every day.”
Bush said stores will remain open if they have electricity and people to work, but encourages drivers to look for stores that aren’t along main evacuation routes that are more likely to have fuel. Simply put, if you see a station with fuel, stop and get what you need.
“Just like we saw with Hurricane Matthew, some roads were not passable due to flooding and trees that were down. That can affect the delivery of fuel in our area. We’ll be up against that again with Hurricane Irma,” he said.
“Drivers will be prepared to provide fuel for the influx of traffic when people return after the evacuation. We’re going to do everything possible to be ready for them when they return and to offer the fast, fresh, friendly service that our customers appreciate at Parker’s.”
Inside Kroger, the shelves were for the most part fully stocked and employees were adding more products around the store, which was good news for Kelsey McKinston, who was getting supplies with her boyfriend and his son.
“Right now we’re kind of playing it by ear, but as soon as they say go, we’re going to evacuate,” she said, adding that they would most likely be heading to the Atlanta area.
McKinston evacuated for Hurricane Matthew last October, and she’s not taking any chances this year either.
“Some people think they aren’t going to evacuate, but this looks a lot worse than Matthew did last year and some people said if it’s only category one we’re going to hang out. But if they say evacuate, I’m evacuating,” she said.
“We’re trying to get water, food and just the essentials we’ll need.”
Irma’s impending arrival has already spurred school closings and canceled numerous events throughout next week, but Kroger stores around Savannah are still receiving shipments. Store officials said they are continuing to monitor the storm and government guidance and have no plans to close at this time, according to a statement from Mary Loy Kroger, Associate Communications and Engagement Manager for Kroger Atlanta.
“At this time, we do not have any plans to close our stores. We are closely monitoring the hurricane, as well as any government issued evacuations. In the event of a mandatory evacuation in Savannah, Georgia, we will follow all guidance provided from the government authorities,” she said.
In the event of an evacuation, the company has plans in place to work with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to ensure passes for transportation teams and associates to access the stores and get them back in working order.
“Kroger stores in south and middle Georgia are being impacted heavily as Florida evacuees seek safe haven in Georgia. Providing support for the communities we serve is a priority for Kroger,” said Felix Turner, corporate affairs manager for Kroger’s Atlanta Division.
“We are working tirelessly to ensure we are able to replenish our affected stores as quickly as possible, so that emergency supplies are available to both evacuees and residents.”
Area Food Lion and Bi-Lo stores are following the same protocol and, along with receiving regular shipments, are also providing additional shipments of hurricane essentials like water, food and batteries.
“We are experiencing increased traffic in our stores. Customers are purchasing items generally needed to weather a hurricane, including bread, ice, canned meat, water and other household items such as charcoal and batteries,” Courtney James, communications specialist for Food Lion said Thursday.
“We are making sure we have products on the shelves for our customers, taking precautions to protect our associates and stores from the storm, and working to mobilize our associates to support any potential recovery efforts after the storm.”
Joe Caldwell, corporate communications manager for Southeastern Grocers LLC, which operates Bi-Lo, said stores in southeast Georgia continue to be under high demand as shoppers prepare for Irma, but they don’t have any store closings planned currently.
“We will continue to stock our stores and keep them open as long as we can do so safely for our associates. Our associates are our most valuable assets, so we’ll use safety as our first and most important guideline when making decisions about store closures and resupply efforts,” Caldwell said.
“While we don’t have any store closings in the Savannah area at this time, we expect to come to those decisions in the coming days.”