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Y2K fuels a surge in generator sales

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

The Y2K rush is on.

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Home centers like Home Depot and Lowes are selling out of gas-powered electric generators faster than new shipments of the devices can be reshelved.

Apparently, customers are concerned that their homes will be without electricity when computer clocks roll over to Jan. 1, 2000.

"Last year, on average, we sold about one generator each week - usually to general contractors and small businesses," says a spokesman for Home Depot. "But nowadays we sell anywhere from one to five units per day. It's homeowners concerned about Y2K power outages. We're having a difficult time meeting the demand."

Here's what some consumers are predicting: Next January 1 (or soon thereafter), segments of the nation's electrical grid will fail due to computer malfunctions. If this occurs, experts agree that power will not be out for prolonged periods of time - and then, in only scattered areas of the country.

Portable gasoline-powered generators sell for anywhere from $500 to $1,200 and produce 500 to 7,000 watts of electricity. One gallon of gas can generate enough electricity to operate a few small appliances (or one large one, like a refrigerator) from six to 13 hours.

"The mere possibility of being without power for an extended period of time is clearly a scary thought," says Rick Cowles, who is an electric utility expert and runs a Y2K preparedness Web site.

"No lights. No heat. No running water. These are basic and life-essential services that most residents of industrialized nations are ill-prepared to be without," he says.

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The Federal Emergency Management Administration and the American Red Cross have issued an alert for citizens to begin preparing for "possible disruptions" in 2000.

Although both organizations say that generators may be good to have, they do not consider the devices essential.

Here's what the Red Cross recommends if you have to use a generator:

*Make sure to connect refrigerators and other appliances directly to the generator. Use only heavy-duty extension cords.

*Don't run a generator in the basement or anywhere inside your home as exhaust fumes can be harmful.

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