Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Plywood, supplies fly off shelves as St. Petersburg prepares for Irma

ST. PETERSBURG — As news of Hurricane Irma's growing fury spread on Tuesday, residents scurried to prepare for the approaching Category 5 storm.

Home Depot supervisor Dominique Mennette described the scene at his store at 2300 22nd Ave. N as "chaos." Two truckloads of plywood arrived, but it wasn't enough to satiate the sudden demand of homeowners to protect their property. Other supplies also rapidly disappeared.

"As soon as we're bringing in plywood, it's gone," he said. "Generators, gone. Batteries, gone."

More trucks are on the way, he said.

Michael Sponaugle, 40, and Ryan Pines, 34, the owner and manager of Buya Ramen, were there to buy plywood to board up their Central Avenue restaurant.

"Anytime you have a potential loss of business, it's much easier for us to be proactive," Sponaugle said. "Most of the early preparation is for fear of running out of materials."

Later in the week, he said, they plan to buy more supplies depending on the trajectory of the hurricane.

Gaje Everson, 23, was born and raised in Florida. He's lived through hurricanes, but said he's never seen one that looks like Irma. He was waiting to buy plywood, but also needed to stock up on sandbags and water.

"For the people that aren't from here, Harvey is probably scaring them," he said. "People who have lived here are a little more invincible. But a few hundred dollars and some time is worth the peace of mind."

Lee Sanders, 48, waited in line waiting for a new truckload of plywood to be unloaded at the store.

"The early bird gets the worm," he said.

Two windows of his Old Southeast home aren't hurricane proof, he said, and he wanted to make sure they were covered before the storm turns toward the bay area.

"I've been here almost 20 years and lived through a lot," he said. "This is just another one. We'll figure it out."

Levi Harris, 49, also waiting in the plywood line, said the reality is there's only so much residents can do to prepare for a storm of this magnitude.

"Category 4 or 5 is a wipeout," he said. "In case it hits, at least we'll have the windows covered to keep stuff from coming in."

Jordan Angel, 35, recently moved to Greater Pinellas Point from Arizona.

"This is my first hurricane," she said.

So far she had bought plywood for her windows and a generator. Next on her list was food and water.

A similar frenzy unfolded on the other side of 22nd Avenue N outside Lowe's.

Ben Miller, a customer service associate, sat next to empty shelves once full with plywood.

"It's been crazy," he said. "There's a feeling of panic in the air. I think Harvey is fresh in everyone's minds. I'm glad people are taking the time to be prepared. I think the feelings and emotions are going to continue through the week."

At the nearby Wawa on 25th Street N, customer service supervisor Brittany Whalen said the store sold out of water and gas cans earlier Tuesday.

"It's crazy today," she said, "and there's been craziness at the pumps all day. I don't think it's going to slow."

Robbie Mead, 27, plans to stock up on sandbags, water and food. He was born and raised in Florida and has lived through other hurricanes. But seeing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas has convinced him to take Irma very seriously.

"I don't want to lose everything I own," he said. "I'm just trying to figure out if we have to get out of here."

How much stronger can Irma get, he wondered: "They going to make a Category 6?"

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