In preparation for Hurricane Irma, Sumter-area shoppers have hit the grocery stores and home-improvement stores in droves the past couple days, according to store managers.
As of late Thursday, National Weather Service forecast models projected Irma to move into South Carolina on Monday night.
Bread, water, milk and canned meats and other items have been the big sellers by far at area grocery stores. Bottled water is topping the list for shoppers, according to many stores. On Wednesday and Thursday, store managers said they were selling one to two pallets of bottled water per hour - sometimes more. A pallet generally contains about 70 cases of bottled water, with 24 or more bottles in a case. That translates to average sales for each store of about 2,000 bottles of water per hour.
About noon Thursday, Adam Stewart, assistant store manager at the Piggly Wiggly on Calhoun Street in the downtown area, said customers were buying water four to five cases at a time.
Stewart said his store began to see an influx of shoppers Wednesday afternoon - shortly after Gov. Henry McMaster declared a "state of emergency" for South Carolina as a precaution with Irma.
Stewart said he planned ahead by ordering extra pallets of water all last week and had 26 pallets in stock when his store opened at 6 a.m. Thursday. If he runs out today, he said his next water delivery will be Saturday and advised customers to get there early Saturday.
At the Piggly Wiggly on Broad Street, Assistant Store Manager Daniel Pack said the shopper frenzy at his store began Wednesday morning. He said he was out of bread and water at his store between noon and 1 p.m. Wednesday and expected the same on Thursday.
Pack said he will get in shipments of both items today and Saturday and also advised customers to get to the store early if they need supplies.
He said he thinks local shoppers decided to buy food supplies early after seeing all the recent coverage of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, and it put many people on edge.
Chad Craven, store manager of Food Lion on Guignard Drive, said his store first saw the ramp up in customers Tuesday morning. He said he thinks many Sumter residents are taking every precaution necessary because of their memories of Hurricane Hugo's devastation of the area in 1989.
"I was only in the seventh grade at the time, but I figure a lot of old-timers in Sumter remember Hugo and are taking this pretty seriously," Craven said.
Residents also hit the home-improvement stores early this week, according to Lowe's employees. Generators, chainsaws, water, gas cans, propane tanks, flashlights, plywood, tarps and batteries all were big sellers, according to Assistant Store Manager Victoria Hudson.
Hudson said the retailer ran out of generators last weekend, received 27 more on Tuesday and sold them out within a couple hours that day.
The store plans to get more shipments in by Saturday.