FLOOD HURTS SOME STORES IN GEORGIA

MACON, Ga. -- Heavy rains and flooding caused disruptions in supermarket shopping patterns last week here and in other parts of southwestern Georgia.Like an eerie rerun of last summer's flooding in the Midwest, operators in the Deep South find themselves confronted with stores surrounded by or inundated with rainwater, or lacking running water. Highways are under water or otherwise closed, and many

MACON, Ga. -- Heavy rains and flooding caused disruptions in supermarket shopping patterns last week here and in other parts of southwestern Georgia.

Like an eerie rerun of last summer's flooding in the Midwest, operators in the Deep South find themselves confronted with stores surrounded by or inundated with rainwater, or lacking running water. Highways are under water or otherwise closed, and many consumers are living in shelters after leaving their homes, either temporarily or permanently.

Operators affected by the situation include Bruno's, Cub Foods, Publix, Winn-Dixie, J.H. Harvey and Kroger. A number of stores sustained some damage and a few were shut.

Demand in southwestern Georgia was running high last week for milk, bread, canned goods, ice, disposable paper products and bottled water -- both for drinking and to use for flushing toilets.

There were no reports of product shortages.

According to Judy Burge, manager of community relations for the Atlanta division of Kroger Co., Cincinnati, "This flood is different from the one in the Midwest because that one involved flooding of farm lands and flood plains, while we're seeing cities of 50,000 being inundated with water."

Despite the intensity of the problems, sales were off only slightly in affected areas, retailers told SN, and only a handful of stores have been forced to close.

It has been raining on and off in Georgia for about two weeks. Serious problems developed after July 4, when Tropical Storm Alberta parked itself over the state, dropping 21 inches of rain in some areas in just 24 hours.

That touched off flooding, as rivers overflowed and dams burst, followed by the shutdown of many highways, including Interstate 75, the major north-south conduit through the state.

"And it's not over yet," said Barry Robinson, executive vice president, operations, for J.H. Harvey Co., Nashville, Ga. Robinson said.

Local rivers are still cresting and many bridges may have to be inspected before the roads they connect can be reopened.

"It could be several weeks at best before the waters all recede and something close to two or three months before things get back to normal," Robinson said.

With last week's reopening of Interstate 75 and some other highways, delivery schedules are returning to normal for all operators. During the worst of the flooding, drivers often were forced to drive hundreds of miles out of their way to find open roads for alternate routes.

In one case, Burge said, a Kroger delivery from Atlanta to Perry, Ga., south of here, which normally takes three hours, took 33 hours during the first day of flooding.

For Kroger the most serious problems have occurred here, where the chain operates four of its 105 Georgia stores. While three did not experience any problems, a fourth store was closed for 12 hours several days ago until flood waters surrounding the store subsided, Burge said.

To meet heavy store traffic and to keep shelves stocked with high-demand staples, Kroger has been bringing extra employees from its Atlanta-area stores to the affected areas. Three local employees who lost their homes have not missed a day of work, she added.

Of Harvey's 38 stores, 12 are in areas affected by the flooding, Robinson said. However, the impact has been minimal, he noted, with power outages for a few hours at two locations and minor flooding at one.

"Given our store locations, it's really miraculous that we escaped major damage," Robinson told SN.