Shopping up a storm before Hurricane Irene

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If you enjoy planning a great party, then figuring out all of the details of hunkering down and weathering a hurricane was your forte this week.

Since the forecasters have called this one all along, online lists, emails and news blasts helped people decide what to do, how to do it, what to buy and how to manage it – and the inventory in local stores verify that.

Food and emergency supplies seemed to be in high demand for everyone on Thursday and into Friday. Bread shelves were wiped out in the supermarkets, but smaller stores like Tilton Market in Northfield still had a decent inventory late Thursday.

Even the Wawa in Northfield had bread, but the sign on the milk coolers said they would have a delivery after midnight, and to come back.

By 6 p.m. Thursday evening the girls behind the deli counter at Tilton Market were beat, but still smiling and definitely still slicing and scooping for the customers that waited their turn.

Kathy Tomasini of Egg Harbor Township has weathered many pre-blizzard panic shopping days in her eight years at the deli. Asked which is worse from her vantage point, a blizzard or a hurricane, Tomasini said it was the hurricane, hands down.

“People are planning on this being a longer duration, so they are stocking up,” she said. “We have been non-stop since 10 a.m.”

I picked up enough lunch supplies to feed my family of five, plus any guests we would probably add through the next day or so. I also picked up ground beef for chili, just about the perfect food for a windy, rainy day.

Genuardi’s in Egg Harbor Township was out of bottled water by 9 a.m. Thursday, so I headed over to Sam’s Club in Pleasantville, where pallets of bottled water were coming out on a forklift with customers cordoned off waiting to put a few into their cart. I picked up one case of water.

While at Sam’s I picked up the essentials for a lot of cooking: two economy packs of chicken breasts and boneless thighs, two boxes of Jack Daniels pulled barbecue chicken and a large box of Boca burgers. Possibly I should have also gotten the industrial size of Tums as well.

While shoppers were making sure they had enough water to get them through, liquids of another nature were in demand as well. Both Canal’s at Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township and Bootleggers in Northfield were doing a brisk pre-hurricane business, with parking lots jammed and customers leaving with bottles and cases of their favorite alcoholic beverages.

Target in Hamilton Commons did its part to remind customers of what they might need to make the time pass should the power go out. Employees stacked up games able to be played by candlelight: Yahtzee, Monopoly and Sorry, along with plenty of decks of cards for people ready to play real solitaire should their computer go down.

I was not alone in my completing my mental checklist of what we have and what we need should we be unable to leave our home for a few days – catteries, crank radio, candles and matches, keeping cell phones charged and plenty of dog food and rain gear.

According to disaster experts, it was time to fill my tank as well as my wallet. Possible evacuation could mean long lines of traffic. Running out of gas while trying to escape ahead of the storm would be a huge problem.

An extended power outage would render ATMs useless. The Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management suggested residents plan to have some cash on hand for expenses.

The Bank of America ATM in Northfield was already out of cash on Friday morning, so it was off to the PNC in Genuardi’s for a withdrawal. Six people were ahead of me in line, all making withdrawals, and all asking for small bills. The teller said they were keeping a close eye on the cash on hand to ensure that every customer would get what they needed.

We secured or moved everything we could outside and moved sensitive electronics to a better spot. By early Friday evening I thought we were set, then realized the last-minute items that I had forgotten: ice, extra milk, and something to warm all the food that I had to cook. They were all items that it seemed others had remembered to pick up… and none to be found. Thank you to the Ace Hardware in Northfield for the last nine Sterno warming candles.

On Saturday morning, while the rain was steady but not torrential, a trip to the Wawa in Northfield brought a pleasant surprise. There was an ample supply of milk and bread, and the staff carried on business as usual, making hoagies and brewing pots of coffee for the 20 or so customers. Longtime Wawa associate Karen McElwee told each customer to stay dry as they headed out the door.

So, Irene, we weren’t happy you came our way, but judging from the lines at stores around the region, South Jersey was well prepared to cook and eat its way through the storm.

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