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Southern Commissaries Brace as Bonnie Cometh

By Bonnie Powell
Special to American Forces Press Service

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., Aug. 26, 1998 – If predictions hold true, Hurricane Bonnie will visit the East Coast at about noon Aug. 26, packing 115 mph winds and torrential rains. This time -- and whenever hurricanes threaten -- commissaries in the Southeast stock up on supplies for customers.

"Generally it's food you need to camp out," said James Hull, chief of store operations for the Southern Area of the Defense Commissary Agency. "Charcoal, batteries, and anything disposable such as paper plates and plastic utensils are big items."

"The No. 1 item we stock up on is water," said area Vice President Chet Boutelle. "In fact, before hurricane season we try to order an additional truckload of water at stores in hurricane areas so we have enough on hand. Then after the season, we let it dwindle down again."

The commissary version of field rations is also on the stock up list. That includes canned meats and spreadables. "Anything you can eat without cooking, basically," Boutelle said. "Several of the stores, such as Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, actually have special hurricane display areas with items such as water, candles, batteries and food."

"We've gone through this before," said Lois Pack, commissary officer at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. "Two years ago we had two of them. We were five days without electricity!" Calls to bread and bottled water suppliers were high on his contact list, she said. Cherry Point had another problem: The store is undergoing major renovations, and the contractor needed to cover and protect his work areas, Pack added.

Even inland commissaries like Fort Bragg, N.C., are getting ready

for the storm. "Mainly water and batteries," said North Carolina Zone Manager Bonnie Kanitz.

Hurricanes are nothing new for Southern Area, Boutelle said. The area has comprehensive contingency plans because many of its 55 commissaries are in hurricane target areas -- Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The alert to stores went out days ago before anyone knew when, where or if Bonnie would come ashore, he said.

The commissaries have hurricane procedures down pat, Boutelle said. That includes protecting food stocks in the stores in case of power outages. "We lock up as much of the frozen food as possible in the walk-in freezers. It will keep for several days if there is a power outage," he explained.

Commissaries in danger areas stay open as long as possible to serve customers, Boutelle said, "But we really try to watch who can stay and who must go. If we wait too long to close, we could put our employees in jeopardy. We won't do that."

(Powell is the commissary agency's Southern Area public affairs officer.)

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