Businesses Prepare For Hurricane Season

The onset of hurricane season - a source of anxiety for many coastal residents - also marks the beginning of busier times for those who sell items like sandbags, self-heating meals and bottled water.

"Our business certainly picks up during hurricane season,'' said Tim Hartlage, a sales manager for Heater Meals, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, which provides packaged self-heating meals.

"One of our objectives of our company is to have a product available for the victims of a hurricane.''

Heater Meals distributed 150,000 meals last September during Hurricane Isabel, Hartlage said.

The Hurricane season started Tuesday and runs through November. Forecasters predict three major storms for the Atlantic during the June-through-November hurricane season, which begins Tuesday.

Hurricane forecaster William Gray and his team at Colorado State University predict 14 named storms, with eight developing into full-blown hurricanes. The three major storms would have wind speeds of at least 111 mph.

Tropical storms get names once they reach 40 mph. A storm becomes a hurricane when winds reach 74 mph.

Local businesses such as sandbag suppliers and hardware stores order extra products for their shelves. J&M Industries, a sandbag distributor based in Ponchatoula, produces millions of sandbags each year for hurricane season.

"We stay busy seven days a week, 24 hours a day during the hurricane season,'' said Mark Arnold, vice president of the company. "I don't take any vacations.''

Arnold said the company makes the sandbags and distributes them to state, city and parish agencies.

"We prepare and stock up with millions of bags just in case that it's needed,'' Arnold said.

Ray Arizi, owner of Ellzey Marine & Hardware in Venice, said his business spends $15,000 in July on hurricane supplies, the largest order of the year. Batteries, flashlights, shovels, chain, cable, water, rubber boots and cleaning supplies are some of the items the store buys for the season.

Most customers don't purchase supplies until there is a threat, Arizi said.

"People hardly buy anything until something is in the water,'' Arizi said.

Arizi said he would rather there be no hurricane.

"I just thank God that it doesn't come here and I go on with my life,'' Arizi said.

Parish emergency officials encourage communities to buy supplies early.

"Most people wait until the last minute to buy supplies,'' said Michael Deroche, director of the office of homeland security and emergency preparedness for Terrebonne Parish.

"People need to take the warning and buy supplies now.''

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)