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Floridians face empty grocery shelves, rationing as Hurricane Ian nears

Florida braces as Hurricane Ian strengthens
Hurricane Ian strengthens as Florida begins evacuations 03:16

Floridians are rushing to stock up on basics like water and food ahead of Hurricane Ian, prompting one Publix supermarket to ration its supplies of bottled water. The grocery chain said it authorized stores to limit customer purchases of water and other essentials as the violent storm approaches coastal areas in the state. 

One Publix grocery store in St. Petersburg, Florida, is limiting households to buying two 24- or 32-packs of individual bottled water per day and four 1-gallon water containers per day, according to local CBS News affiliate WTSP

Hurricane Ian is on a path to hit Florida as a major hurricane this week. Forecasters expect it to intensify rapidly and to become a Category 4 hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico Monday, before striking the west central coast of Florida on Wednesday. Consumers often rush to buy water and other staples ahead of major storms, which can cause shortages on store shelves.

"As we continue to monitor Ian, Publix locations may limit quantities of items, such as water, to best serve the majority of our customers," a Publix spokesperson said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. "We have seen increased purchases on items such as bread, water, batteries and canned goods, just to name a few."

On its website, the supermarket is encouraging people who may find themselves in the hurricane's path to stock up on emergency supplies and food items, including water, powdered drinks, dried fruit, peanut butter and jelly, and baby formula. The chain has not yet capped purchases of bread, batteries, canned goods or other items for which it is seeing higher demand as Hurricane Ian barrels toward Florida.

Empty shelves in the water aisle greet shoppers at a supermarket in Kissimmee, Florida, on September 26, 2022, as people brace for the arrival of Hurricane Ian. Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images

Shelves at another Tampa Bay-area Publix were sparse, with only individual bottles of water remaining, according to WTSP.

Residents of Clearwater are also making storm preparations, lining up for sandbags, which can prevent flood water damage, and clearing grocery store shelves. And Floridians are lining up at the pump, according to CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.

One South Florida resident told CBS station WFOR-TV that she tried to stock up on water but was unsuccessful and left local stores empty-handed.

Southeastern Grocers, which owns supermarket chains Winn-Dixie, Fresco y Más and Harveys Supermarket and operates more than 500 grocery stores across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, said it is also seeing surging demand for items like bottled water, batteries and cleaning supplies, according to WTSP.

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