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Published: Friday, 4/1/2011

California shoppers stocking up for disaster

LOS ANGELES TIMES

California Surplus Mart manager Ovi Lalo shows emergency supplies of food and water that have seen brisk sales in Hollywood, where shoppers are in the mood to buy after hearing of Japan's disasters. California Surplus Mart manager Ovi Lalo shows emergency supplies of food and water that have seen brisk sales in Hollywood, where shoppers are in the mood to buy after hearing of Japan's disasters.
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LOS ANGELES -- The people want gas masks, flashlights, batteries, iodine tablets, and machetes. And Ovi Lalo is their reluctant supplier.

Mr. Lalo has run California Surplus Mart in Hollywood for 34 years, and he said he always sees an increase in customers right after earthquakes and other natural disasters.

But this time, he said, customers seem more ravenous than usual.

He's not the only one. Companies selling nuclear fallout bunkers and survival pods said they have experienced an increase in inquiries since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Home Depot reported a run on supplies such as first-aid kits, batteries, and masks. Online sites that sell survival kits are backed up for days.

Mr. Lalo has set up an earthquake preparedness section in the back of his store, past the ski masks, long underwear, and studded belts. It has pouches of water that have a shelf life of five years, the 6-inch blocks of food that contain 3,000 calories, and first-aid kits in red backpacks.

Lacy Murrell wanted a hazmat suit, but Mr. Lalo doesn't sell them -- or think anyone needs them. Ms. Murrell said, "I've been watching this 'round-the-clock since the tsunami. We may see some radiation in the not-too-distant future."

Packets of water with a five-year shelf life are among the hottest sellers. But gas masks and chemical suits have seen a huge sales increase too, even though many sellers say such buyers are overreacting. Packets of water with a five-year shelf life are among the hottest sellers. But gas masks and chemical suits have seen a huge sales increase too, even though many sellers say such buyers are overreacting.
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Larry Hall of Florida is selling spots in a yet unbuilt survival condo in Kansas -- $900,000 for half a floor in a compound that will go 14 stories underground. Mr. Hall said he received 368 inquiries in one day after the tsunami. Typically, he gets maybe two a day.

Mr. Lalo has spent a good deal of time recently on the phone, trying to order more iodine tablets, first-aid kits, and camping supplies at the same time that other retailers nationwide are doing the same thing.

Along with people shopping for disaster gear, Mr. Lalo's store still had its regular customers buying boots, jackets, wool hats, and other provisions for regular life.

They included actor Colin Farrell, who was browsing the Dickies trousers aisle. "I am preparing for the disaster of getting caught in society without a pair of pants," he said.



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