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Hurricane Floyd Leaves Mark on Commissaries Worldwide

By Bonnie Powell
Special to American Forces Press Service

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., Sept. 22, 1999 – A record number of U.S. military commissaries closed as Hurricane Floyd took aim at and traveled up the Atlantic Coast states.

Installations in Florida began ordering mandatory closures Sept. 13 as the state braced for Floyd. More than 25 commissaries, some as far north as Delaware and New Jersey, closed in a domino effect. Most stores in South Carolina and eastern North Carolina shut down early Sept. 15 in anticipation of Floyd's U.S. landfall on the states' shared border later that day. Virginia Tidewater stores in the Norfolk area closed as Floyd barreled up the coast Sept. 16.

The worst of Floyd skirted Florida, so all but the store at Patrick Air Force Base reopened the morning of Sept. 16. None in the state suffered serious storm damage. The Patrick store had been closed all week coincidentally for remodeling and a computer system upgrade, and the mandatory evacuation delayed that work.

"You name it, it could happen," said James Perleth, manager of Zone 3, which includes all the stores in coastal Georgia and South Carolina. He closed his stores Sept. 15 and 16.

"Road conditions could cause problems for distributors, any stores that lost power for any length of time might have to restock frozen or chilled food -- so distributors might run short of certain items," Perleth said. "There is the risk we might not be able to get everything back on the shelves immediately."

The stores at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., and Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point, N.C., reported power outages, but were back in service Sept. 17. The store at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., reported water damage from a leaking roof and through the weekend was in the thick of a flood zone. The flooding contaminated water on base and in the surrounding area.

"We ordered truckloads of water, but with the roads the way they are, there's no guarantee we can get the trucks in," Seymour Johnson Commissary Officer Jim Black said Sept. 20. "Saturday we could only get two workers in the meat department, and the commissary deputy went back to wrap meat to serve the customers!"

With the range and power that Floyd presented, the usual stockpile of supplies might not have been enough. In the afternoon of Sept. 15, for instance, Norfolk Assistant Commissary Officer Gus Prbyla noted customers had polished off five pallets of bottled water in the morning and demand was still high. Complications included Hurricane Gert and Tropical Storm Harvey, forming in the Atlantic and the Gulf with destinations unknown.

Stores in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area all reopened Sept. 17, although agency Zone Manager Jimmie Estes reported that the area around Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth had no water supply and might not for days. The commissary had sold six pallets of water by 9 a.m. Sept. 17 and two additional truckloads had been ordered to restock the store for customers.

Flooding in the Defense Commissary Agency's New Jersey processing center brought down its entire debit card network. From Friday through the weekend, debit card customers worldwide were out of luck. Commissaries still accepted cash, checks and credit cards, though.

Store customers who rushed to buy supplies found some shortages in storm-damaged areas. Even though stores reopen as installations permit, the first days always prove hectic ones. Commissaries in hurricane areas routinely stock additional supplies such as water, canned meats and Meals-Ready-to-Eat, as well as flashlights and batteries.

The Defense Commissary Agency operates 291 grocery stores worldwide as a non-pay, quality-of-life benefit to military personnel, retirees and their families. According to agency officials, patrons generally save up to 30 percent, and a typical family of four that uses the commissary regularly can save up to $2,000 per year.

(Bonnie Powell is the public affairs officer of the Defense Commissary Agency Southern Area-Eastern Region, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.)

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