by Peter Mertz
CARBONDALE, the United States, March 15 (Xinhua) -- A cool, crisp Sunday morning, with temperatures just above freezing, greeted a horde of anxious shoppers outside the only grocery store in Carbondale, a tiny town with about 7,000 residents in the western state of Colorado's Rocky Mountains.
Carbondale is located 50 km west of Aspen -- an extremely affluent ski resort destination, with the average price of a home above 4 million U.S. dollars, and also the playground of billionaires, Hollywood actors, and wealthy athletes and entertainers.
Unlike transient Aspen, Carbondale is where many who work for the wealthy live.
"We don't know what to think," local resident Tracy Henry told Xinhua. "We don't want to run out of food."
It was still dark when a line started forming outside the doors of Carbondale's City Market at 7 a.m. local time, an hour before the store opened. Then came the mad rush.
"Pure bedlam," a City Market manager told Xinhua. "We had to restrict people because there were fights breaking out over supplies inside the store."
COVID-19 had suddenly hit the sheltered towns that dot Colorado's famous Rocky Mountains. With 10 confirmed cases in Aspen, Colorado saw 72 people infected and one death last week, health officials reported.
Across towns, church services were canceled, sports and recreation centers were closed, and businesses were operating on reduced staff and schedules.
"This place has never been this dead. I don't know how we can stay in business if this keeps up," said Becky Riley, a manager at the Bonfire Coffee Shop on Carbondale's main street.
On Friday in Denver, capital of Colorado, shoppers emptied grocery store shelves, straining supply chains, and two days later, the same was seen in towns across Colorado's remote western slope.
The Colorado Retail Council (CRC), which represents about 500 stores of the state, told media on Friday that the supply chain "isn't broken, so customers should only buy what they need and wait for the rest."
"This is particularly unusual for a town that has only 7,000 residents," Chris Saber, a local rancher, told Xinhua. "This is a sleepy, western town, so to see this sort of reaction is hard to believe -- people panic so easily."
Early morning shoppers told Xinhua they were fearful that supply chains from China would be delayed, and it might be weeks before they saw some basic necessities back on the shelves.
"Things are out in our part of the state more slowly than the big population centers -- it is so unusual to see people behave in such a frenzied way," local resident Josh Raymond said.
Raymond said the U.S. administration's delayed response to the pandemic has triggered the sudden panic: "The president suddenly changed his tune and called it a national emergency. Then everybody freaked."
The first grocery store items to vanish last week were face masks, sterile wipes, disposable gloves, hand-sanitizer and toilet paper, City Market officials said.
"We do not know when our next delivery truck will get here -- they say the warehouse in Denver is empty, and we're low on the delivery schedule," a store manager said. "It's day by day."