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    Gulf Coast Braces for Gustav

    Tropical Storm leaves 16 dead as it heads toward southern states.

    By W.B. King

    NEW YORK -- Hurricane Gustav was downgraded to a tropical storm Tuesday night as it passed over Haiti – however, not before reportedly leaving16 people dead. Analysts said the storm is expected to gain strength as it moves west into open warm waters over the next 24 hours.

    "Gustav is shaping up to be the biggest hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Katrina and Rita in 2005, with significant impacts to consumers and business," David Frieberg, marketing director for Planalytics Inc., told CSNews Online. "Convenience stores in the affected areas and along the evacuations routes will see heavy traffic in advance of the storm over the next several days."

    As the storm moves from the Caribbean and heads north toward the Gulf of Mexico, Frieberg said Gustav will build in intensity and become a major hurricane with a possible category three or higher rating. The exact track is still yet to be determined although the highest probability for landfall will be between the Florida/Alabama border (Mobile Bay) and the Texas/Louisiana border (Houston/Galveston), he noted. Landfall is expected on either Sept. 1 or 2.

    "We’re hoping to let our jobbers know before the governor announces a mandatory or voluntary evacuation," Louisiana Oil Marketers and Convenience Store Association executive director, Natalie Isaacks, told CSNews Online. "What plans operators have [for an emergency] should already be in place. We all learned from the last time," she added, referring to Hurricane Katrina.

    Since the storm is on the path of major oil and natural gas producing rigs in the Gulf, pricing has been impacted with oil futures selling three dollars higher per barrel than at the start of the week. Planalytics reported Gulf refinery personnel are currently being evacuated.

    "Anticipate demand spikes for gasoline, food, drinks, ice, batteries, and other necessary items and consumables," Freiberg told CSNews Online.

    "Bottled water companies, ice companies and other consumer packaged goods companies that we work with have been staging inventory in the region to meet the increase level of demand," he said, adding that property protection items and evacuation items will also be in high demand.

    In event of a severe hurricane, operators should limit the number of items consumers can purchase, and enlist extra security, Isaaks told CSNews Online. She also encouraged store owners to keep as little cash as possible in the register and schedule cash pick ups before the weekend. If c-store operators decide to evacuate, she recommended locking down tanks and wrapping pumps.

    When asked how business owners and residents are reacting to the approaching storm, she told CSNews Online, "It seems like people are taking it more serious this time, as they know it could be a category three storm. The state seems more organized, too," she continued. "We hope it doesn’t hit but the storm has to go somewhere."

    Planalytics will be hosting a 20-minute webcast today at 1 p.m. to provide storm updates. For details, visit: www.planalytics.com.

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