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Hurricane Irma makes it tough to stock up, find a hotel or even book a flight

Stephanie Rivera, 26, unloads her groceries and her 16-month-old child, Diego Rivera, from her Costco shopping cart on Tuesday in east Hillsborough County. She said lines stretched to the back of the store, and she could not find any bottled water inside. [Jonathan Capriel | TIMES]
Stephanie Rivera, 26, unloads her groceries and her 16-month-old child, Diego Rivera, from her Costco shopping cart on Tuesday in east Hillsborough County. She said lines stretched to the back of the store, and she could not find any bottled water inside. [Jonathan Capriel | TIMES]
Published Sep. 6, 2017

Preparation for a hurricane isn't cheap. Gas prices are already spiking after Hurricane Harvey and bottled water is hard to come by more than four days before Hurricane Irma is expected to reach Florida. Here's the latest if you're trying to buy supplies, find a hotel room or even book a flight out of Tampa Bay:

Hotel rooms still available, but booking up in Hillsborough:

Hotel rooms in Hillsborough County are starting to book up as locals and residents from South Florida cities are looking for shelter away from the coastal areas, said Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel Motel Association. "As we're getting additional clarity on the movement of Irma, reservations are picking up," Morrison told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday. "Our challenge is making sure that we're positioned to safely protect our guests and employees."

If Irma's path continues to move east and away from the Tampa Bay area, hoteliers expect reservations to start filling up more quickly, especially by the weekend and through early next week, said Cristina Duschek, a spokeswoman with Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County's tourism marketing agency.

"At the same time (hotels) are seeing some cancellations. In some cases it's a wash because of the cancellations, which are mostly for next week though some for today and tomorrow," she said. "We anticipate figures are likely to change as the storm moves away from us and Tampa Bay becomes a safer holdout spot."

No delays yet, but flights hard to come by:

Meanwhile operations are mostly normal at Tampa International Airport as of Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Emily Nipps. There were few routine cancellations and delays at the airport, mostly due to Hurricane Harvey in Houston, she said. Otherwise there wasn't much increased activity at the airport.

The inaugural Icelandair flight from Reykjavik, Iceland, is still expected to arrive in Tampa this evening and make its historic first take off back to Reykjavik on Thursday, Nipps said.

Previous Coverage: Tampa International Airport has landed another international flight: Reykjavik, Iceland

"We would like to remind people that the airport is not a designated shelter. Our roads will be flooded as well in a direct or even a partial hit," Nipps said. "We don't have the capability of treating people with medical needs or providing food and water. This isn't the greatest place to look for shelter."

Nipps also warned that booking a flight out of TIA likely isn't the best evacuation plan, either.

Locals in the Tampa Bay area are reporting issues booking flights out of the Tampa airport to most destinations this week. Flights are either completely booked, unavailable or very expensive. A couple of flights on Delta to the Chicago area taking off on Thursday would cost more than $1,500 round trip, according to booking searches on travel websites like, and even on Delta's website. No flights appear to be available on Allegiant Air this week out of St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, according to the airliner's website either.

Cruise sailings canceled:

The Royal Caribbean Empress of the Seas ship, which is based at Port Tampa Bay, has changed its itinerary for a voyage this week due to Hurricane Irma, a press release says. The ship was originally scheduled to arrive on Sept. 9 at Port Tampa Bay but will now arrive mid-morning on Sept. 8. Passengers will have the option to leave the ship a day early or stay on the ship while it's in port in Tampa. No new passengers will be able to board as the Saturday sailing has been cancelled.

Stores working to keep supplies on the shelves:

Retailers across Tampa Bay are trying to replenish supplies like bottled water, plywood and other merchandise that is flying off the shelves at stores across the region. Some Publix Supermarkets are limiting bottled water to two packages per person or four per family in an effort to share supplies evenly. Some local gas stations are reportedly selling bottled water packages for $8 a pop.

"Our warehouse and distribution centers' water supply is at full capacity and stores are receiving deliveries throughout the day and night," said Dwaine Stevens, a spokesman for Publix. "We're monitoring the storm track and working with our warehouse and distribution centers' to ensure our stores have water, batteries, hurricane supplies and essentials to serve our customers. Supplies are ordered early so warehouses are well stocked should a storm threaten during hurricane season."

Walmart and Amazon are reporting shipping delays for online orders due to overwhelming demands. Walmart stores have suspended all grocery pick up services at stores in Florida for the duration the storm, said Regan Dickens, a spokesman for Walmart. He added that Walmart has sent 800 truckloads of bottled water to Florida, which began arriving at local stores last night. Walmart stores are restocking shelves by the hour, with the greatest need coming from the southern areas of the state and extending north.

"While some stores may sell through product quickly, our supply chain and merchandising teams are working to ensure stores are replenished as quickly as possible," said Matt Harrigan, a spokesman for the Home Depot. "We began shipping pre-staged loads of hurricane supplies from distribution centers to stores in the potential strike zone late last week and we'll continue to do so through the end of the week."

Contact Justine Griffin at or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.