updated 9/3/2004 11:30:21 AM ET 2004-09-03T15:30:21

Hundreds of supply trucks rolled into Florida to help restock shelves at home improvement retailers as customers rushed to buy everything from plywood to generators in preparation for Hurricane Frances.

Some stores in Florida have remained open around the clock. Managers at The Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Companies Inc. reported lines forming outside some stores and people waiting in parking lots for stores to open.

At some Home Depots, the nation's largest home improvement retailer, officials have handed out free pizza and water to keep weary customers happy.

"We are having trouble keeping up with all of the trucks coming and going," Paul Raines, Home Depot's vice president in charge of operations in Florida, said Thursday as he toured stores in Palm Beach County.

Home Depot and Lowe's, the nation's No. 2 home improvement store chain, would not provide sales figures or customer numbers, but a Home Depot spokesman described the rush as "unprecedented." Atlanta-based Home Depot has about 130 stores in Florida. Mooresville, N.C.-based Lowe's has 65.

For instance, a Home Depot in Florida City, ground zero during Hurricane Andrew 12 years ago, more than doubled its daily sales Tuesday, running out of generators and plywood and pushing $50,000 worth of lumber out its doors on that one day alone.

Home improvement stores in Florida also got a big boost in sales in the wake of Hurricane Charley in mid-August. Home Depot's chief financial officer, Carol Tome, said at the time that stores in the region were seeing as much as a "fivefold increase in one day" in sales.

Meanwhile, Lowe's spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said the chain's command center in Wilkesboro, N.C., has been "open and going strong" since Tropical Storm Gaston came through. The center's objective is to strategically distribute emergency preparedness items to stores in the path of a storm.

Lowe's has shipped 200 truckloads of supplies to Florida since Monday. "And we have another 100 truckloads of plywood reaching the stores," she said.

Right now, generators are in tight supply because Lowe's shipped 25,000 of them to Florida after Charley hit.

Ahearn said there have been some long lines at stores in southeast Florida, where customers were waiting for shipments of plywood to arrive. At some locations, customers were taking numbers to guarantee their place in line.

"At one store in Fort Lauderdale, we got 1,000 sheets of plywood yesterday afternoon and within 30 minutes it was all gone," she said. "People were waiting for the truck to arrive."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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