In what looked like hurricane preparation time in Florida, frantic shoppers cleared the shelves of two Walmart stores in Louisiana Saturday night.
But this frenzy had nothing to do with any imminent weather threat.
Rather, two Walmart stores — one in Mansfield and the other in Springhill — allowed shoppers to purchase their wares during a Electronic Benefit Transfer card system outage, when card limits – and balances – weren’t showing up.
Hence, the free food frenzy, which came to an abrupt end around 9 p.m., when the cards started reflecting balances again, KSLA News 12 reported.
According to the station:
[Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd] explained the cards weren’t showing limits and they called corporate Walmart, whose spokesman said to let the people use the cards anyway. From 7 to 9 p.m., people were loading up their carts, but when the cards began showing limits again around 9, one woman was detained because she rang up a bill of $700.00 and only had .49 on her card. She was held by police until corporate Walmart said they wouldn’t press charges if she left the food.
Lynd says at 9 p.m., when the cards came back online and it was announced over the loud speaker, people just left their carts full of food in the aisles and left.
“Just about everything is gone, I’ve never seen it in that condition,” said Mansfield Walmart customer Anthony Fuller.
The report described overflowing shopping carts full of perishables simply abandoned in the stores:
There was, however, a huge mess left behind. Pictures and videos obtained by KSLA News 12 show aisles packed with shoppers emptying the shelves in Springhill. Another video shows what appear to be at least dozens of overflowing carts left abandoned in the aisles at the Mansfield store, against the backdrop of emptied shelves in the meat department.
Walmart employees could still be seen putting food from the carts away as late as Sunday afternoon. “I was just thinking, I’m so glad my mom doesn’t work here [Walmart] anymore, that’s the only thing I could think about, those employees working, that would have to restock all that stuff,” said O.J Evans who took cell phone video of the overflowing shopping carts at the Mansfield Walmart.
Evans believes it was natural human reaction that led people to fill up their carts during the glitch, but Walmart shoppers Stan and Judy Garcia feel very differently. “That’s plain theft, that’s stealing that’s all I got to say about it,” said Garcia.
Police departments in both cities confirmed to KSLA that they were called in for crowd control and theft prevention, but said there were no arrests or “unruly behavior.”
The station asked Walmart how much money they lost, both in purchases made with cards that didn’t show limits and perishables left out in shopping carts.
“We did make the decision to continue to accept EBT cards [and purchases on WIC and SNAP] during the outage so that they could get food for their families,” Walmart spokeswoman Kayla Whaling said, adding that Walmart was “fully engaged and monitoring the situation and transactions during the outage.”