By Serena Solomon, Mathew Katz and Amy Zimmer
MANHATTAN — Stores across Manhattan were rapidly running out of supplies Friday as New Yorkers prepared for the possibility of a big wallop from Hurricane Irene.
Flashlights, batteries, generators and even sandbags were flying off the shelves at hardware. Lines snaked out of ATMs as people tried to get cash. There was a run on bread at popular grocery stores.
City officials announced evacuation orders for low-lying areas of the city Friday afternoon, and many New Yorkers were stocking up to hunker down at home. They were heeding officials' advice to make sure they have such necessary basics [PDF] of at least a three-day supply of water (one gallon per person a day) and non-perishable food, extra batteries and battery-powered radios and flashlights.
A man at the information desk at the Home Depot on West 23rd Street said the chain store was waiting for a new shipment of flashlights and generators. Flashlights at the K-Mart in Penn Station sold out within two hours of opening, a store manager said. At the Gristedes Mega Store at 26th Street and Eighth Avenue, store clerks were putting out extra displays of water.
Twitter users reported empty bread shelves at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Fairway supermarkets on the Upper West Side.
"Looks like there may be a 'bread riot'!!" Tweeted "bgershon" from Trader Joe's.There was also a line out the door at the wine shop of the Union Square location.
Whole Foods announced Friday afternoon that its Upper West Side and Chelsea stores would be closed all weekend after 9 a.m. Saturday.
Chelsea resident Linda Pietrafesa, in her 50s, was buying 10 gallons of water and stocking up on batteries at Gristedes.
"Bloomberg clearly wants us to be prepared," she said. "He woke us up. He scared us. We're so not used to this. No one ever thinks of a hurricane hitting Manhattan."
Pietrafesa was scared of "tall buildings and projectiles," asking, "What happens to all the stuff that can fly off balconies? People are out of town and won't know to put it all away."
New Yorkers are glued to websites tracking Hurricane Irene and have been crowding the Office of Emergency Management's site to find out what zone they live in to determine whether they might need to evacuate and where the nearest shelter is. (The city government's website crashed Friday morning. When it was back up again, OEM warned that "unusually high traffic" would likely slow it down.)
Storm-scared customers swarmed Chelsea's Prince Lumber for supplies. While some bought plywood to board up windows, many more bought sandbags. By the early afternoon, the hardware supplier had sold out of them.
"We've sold 24 skids of sandbags just today," said Phil Dean, who works at the lumber yard. "That's what we normally sell in a good week."
Every skid has 50 sandbags and sells for $122.50. Dean said the store's New Jersey warehouse was also sold out and that the people buying them included factory owners and superintendents who wanted to protect their buildings.
Sheldon Foster, 41 was driving away with ten of the bags for his home in Queens. "I just want to protect my investment," he said.
"My husband said all the Home Depots are out of everything," said Deborah Mamatz, 59, who works in the Flatiron and lives in New Jersey. "Walking into Home Depot, the first thing out of their mouth is 'No flashlights, no batteries.' They aren't even polite about it."
Thinking the "the mom and pop stores" would be a better option, Mamatz then found what she needed at the 727 Hardware store nearby on Sixth Avenue.
Lesley Miller, 68 of the East Village, wanted to be prepared, so she bought cans of food, water, batteries, flash lights and a charger for her iPhone.
"I live in a high rise," she said. "I would have to walk 25 floors down in the dark if the power went out."
But she added: "Most of the people in my building have done nothing. They don't think it's going to happen."
Karla White, 32, a Chelsea resident, was one of those who didn't believe the hurricane would hit the city. Instead of stocking up on dried beans, she was at Gristedes buying frozen dinners and ice cream.
"I'm not worried," she said. "I'll be at a bar. At least it'll be a good party."
A clerk at Bottlerocket Wine and Spirits on West 19th Street near Fifth Avenue, who did not want to give his name, said a few customers had come in stocking ingredients for something dark and stormy — dark rum, ginger beer and lime juice.