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French Version

Beirutis remain calm but stock up to prepare for worse days ahead

Pushing a shopping cart laden with bottles of water, canned food and bread, Ghassan Matar was among thousands of Beirutis who flocked to groceries and supermarkets throughout the city to stockpile food and other necessities Friday.

The Lebanese authorities have been urging the city's residents to stay calm and not to hoard food, which they fear could trigger a spate of panic buying. However, the general mood that pervaded many of the stores was not one of panic, but rather calm, stoic resignation.

"Things are still OK, but it's going to get worse," Matar predicted. "We're not worried now, but a food shortage is going to come eventually, so we are just preparing."

"We're also buying food for our extended family in Broummana," added his fiancee, Michaela Godora. "They told us that the stores there are already empty, and they couldn't find anything."

Another shopper at the Monoprix store in Achrafieh said he was not yet worried by the escalating situation, but added that his family in the Aley region was having problems obtaining vegetables and bread.

"Some of my friends and I are buying supplies for them now, and we'll find a way to get it to them," said 28-year-old Moher Mahi.

"I think it's always intelligent to cover all the bases," said American June Rugh, who was among the thousands of tourists still stranded here. "If most veteran Beirutis, who have been through so much before, are stocking up themselves, I don't think I'm just being neurotic."

As Beirutis rushed to stores to prepare for the worst, many businesses reported running out of several items. However, prices of bread, water and other commodities have so far remained unchanged.

"Yesterday, we had to bring in more bread three times, and today we have already had to do so four times," said "Fatimah S.", a store employee of Brothers' Market in Hamra.

At the nearby Smith's supermarket, business was even brisker.

"We sell about 25 packets of Arabic bread a day, but we have sold about 200 today and yesterday alone," said store manager Rima Fakih.

"It's not just bread and water people are buying, but also milk, cheese, rice, canned food, flashlights and batteries," she added.

Despite the uncertainty and chaos currently plaguing the country, Fakih said that the store would remain open no matter what happens in the coming days.

"We have always stayed open, even during the last war," said Fakih. "We even slept in the store then sometimes."

Many businesses stayed closed Friday, and Beirut's normally bustling streets were eerily deserted. Those stores that did stay opened said they were running on generators, after Israeli air strikes Thursday night disrupted the city's power supplies.

While the intensifying violence in the Middle East pushed oil prices above $78 a barrel, amid fears of an oil-supply disruption in the region, gasoline prices in Lebanon remained stable. Long lines of vehicles could be seen at several gas stations across the city on Thursday, but calm returned Friday and it was business as usual at many gas stations.

"We usually sell about 16,000 liters of gasoline a day, but yesterday we sold about 45,000," revealed a gas station employee in Achrafieh who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity. "Today, it was back to normal."

"Prices haven't gone up yet, because the gasoline prices only change every Wednesday morning," said Aref Shehayeb, a manager of a gas station in Gemmayzeh.

However, he added that he expected prices to increase in the coming week.

Beirut 15-07-2006
Ian Lye
The Daily Star

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