As the impending Pacific Gas & Electric power outage closed in, customers stampeded hardware and grocery stores to seek out essential disaster supplies: generators, gas cans, flashlights, batteries, canned foods and lots and lots of ice.
“It was chaos. It was definitely a run all at once,” said Danica Toledo, manager of Tractor Supply in Sonora.
As of Tuesday every Tractor Supply in Grass Valley, Jackson, Auburn, Lodi, Oakdale, Angels Camp and Sonora were sold out of generators, said Brad Graham, assistant manager in Angels Camp.
The Sonora branch was out of generators by 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. They thought they sold their last the night before, but found three in storage before opening and four people at the door waiting for them, Toledo said.
They sold all three and the one person who did not get one drove to Oakdale to get theirs.
David Mattson of Forest Meadows was outside of Tractor Supply in Angels Camp after he was notified they were all out of generators. He said it was finally time to get one, and added he was just as concerned about the threat of fire as the outage.
“I think this is the future,” he said. “It’s like a match waiting to go off and it can happen anywhere. You’ve got to be prepared for both,” he said.
Kyle Sage of Angels Camp filled up a half-dozen large gasoline containers at the station north of Angels Camp on Tuesday afternoon.
“All we’re really worried about is the freezer full of meat,” he said.
He and his wife have two children at home, aged one and five. He said the gas will not only power the generator for his home, but also his recreational vehicle.
“I don’t know what is going to come of it, better to be prepared I guess,” he said.
Jessica Bowman of Murphys, the current girls varsity soccer coach at Bret Harte High School and the former owner of Murphys Irish Pub, recalled a previous outage when all of her meat and prepared frozen food was destroyed by a summer outage.
She was able to salvage her vegetables and beer kegs in the fridge using dry ice and keeping the door closed for two days, she said.
“It was devastating to me as a small business,” she said.
Bowman said she was not seeking a generator for her home, but instead stocking up on 25 two-and-a-half gallon jugs water, ice and prepared food to eat in case the outage lasts for many days into the weekend.
“The first thing I did was buy a ton of water in big jugs. That's the most important thing I think you can do,” she said.
While also bringing out her LED candles, flashlights and batteries, Bowman said she was prepared to protect her house from intruders.
“I think that's important when you're living in a rural area to protect your home when the power is out as alarm systems will not be working,” she said.
Business employees said most customers have been hospitable, but some were angry.
Toledo said, “some people are really sweet about it, but others are like, ‘how did you run out already?’”
The Sonora branch sold all 27 of their gasoline-powered generators in stock: 13 of the $900 model, five of the $700 model, and 9 of the $480 model.
On Tuesday morning, she said they were almost out of gas cans, and had plenty of batteries and flashlights in stock. She said many people were also purchasing animal feed in the case of an extended outage.
The Angels Camp store sold all 18 generators Tuesday afternoon. They expect more in on Monday, said manager Ridvan Arslan.
Graham said a shipment of 15 was expected in Grass Valley, though customers throughout the Mother Lode were continuing to call the stores and ask about their availability.
Management of Tractor Supply in Sonora and Angels Camp say they will be open on Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., even if the power is turned off.
But they will operate under tight and darkened restrictions if so, only a limited amount of customers will be allowed in the store at a single time, and the customers will be escorted by staff with flashlights to the items they are seeking.
Generators will be used to operate the registers, though cash is preferred.
“I still run the business the way we run the business,” Toledo said.
Lowe’s Home Improvement in Sonora was out of generators since Monday morning, an employee said, noting most customers were seeking items related to power supplies.
An employee at Glory Hole Sports in Angels Camp said the stations today were no busier than on a typical summer day. They plan to be open on Wednesday and be powered by a generator.
Outside, PG&E employees filled up a large company vehicle with gasoline and a few containers. They explained their equipment also needed to be in working order on Wednesday.
At Price Co. in Sonora, customers packed in canned foods like chili and also dry ice. At Treats True Value General Store in San Andreas, customers went for the power outage essentials: water, ice, batteries and gas cans.
One woman at the register had something else to stock up on — “candy!” she said.