US$100 for water: prices surge as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida
With the Category 5 hurricane expected to reach Florida Saturday morning, shoppers are reporting price hikes for important supplies
United States officials have tried to discourage price gouging ahead of Hurricane Irma’s landing in Florida, but the practice appears as imminent as the storm’s arrival.
On Wednesday, a 24-pack of 500ml bottles of Ice Mountain Brand Spring Water was priced at US$99.99 on Amazon.com from a third-party seller called BestSource OfficeSupplies.
The same product was priced at $9.99 for delivery on Staples.com. Similar cases of Ice Mountain Spring Water ranged in price from less than $8 to $44.90 at 29 online stores.
With the Category 5 hurricane expected to reach Florida Saturday morning, shoppers are reporting price hikes for important supplies.
“We have received hundreds of complaints about alleged price gouging since the hotline was activated Sunday,” Whitney Ray, a spokesman in the Florida attorney general’s office, said.
Watch: Florida residents prepare for worst with Irma
“While I do not have a total at this point, I can tell you that many of the complaints reference water, fuel and Amazon.com.”
Among those bringing attention to inflated prices on Twitter was Daniel A., who says he lives in North Miami Beach.
He tweeted a screen grab of the case of water and said, “Hey @amazon @AmazonHelp, you should monitor the price gauging going on right now ...$100 for 24pk of water that is usually about $10 ???”
— Daniel A. (@TheReal_DannyA) September 6, 2017
Neither Amazon nor BestSource OfficeSupplies immediately responded to a request for comment.
This inflated water price echoes a similar situation, where a case of bottled water cost nearly $43 at a Best Buy store near Houston days after Hurricane Harvey hit.
“This was a big mistake on the part of a few employees at one store,’’ said Best Buy spokesman Jeffrey Shelman at the time.
The office of the Texas State Attorney General has received 2,947 complaints about scams, fraud and price gouging since August 25, most which involved bottled water, fuel, groceries and shelter, said Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.
Among the complaints: $99 for cases of water, $8.50 for a bottle of water and a Houston convenience store charging $20 for a 3.5 litres of petrol (that store was one of nine alleged offenders the office has contacted about possible violations).
With Florida Governor Rick Scott declaring a state of emergency for the entire state, state Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday activated the state’s price gouging hotline.
“Floridians need to prepare now and they should not be inhibited by unlawful price increases on supplies necessary to brace for a major hurricane strike,” she said in the announcement.
Florida state law prohibits extreme increases in the price of essential products needed in an official emergency, such as water, food, hotels, ice, petrol, timber and equipment. Violators are subject to fines of up to $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period.