Forty-eight hours after the storm tore into Louisiana and Mississippi, major marketers are scrambling to assess the safety of their employees as well as the physical damage to their physical infrastructures, at the same time they support relief efforts in what has become one of the country's most deadly and costly natural disasters.
As they did in response to the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia at the beginning of the year, Wal-Mart and other marketers have already plowed millions into relief efforts and have set up conduits for customers to give to those efforts.
Wal-Mart has contributed $1 million to the Salvation Army and another $1 million to the American Red Cross, donated two stores to the state of Louisiana to use as shelters and has sent truckloads of water and ice to devastated Jefferson Parish. It's also set up a grant program for employees and set up a hotline so employees can contact the company about their needs. It's also helping place employees at other stores.
"This is a unique situation which calls for unique solutions," Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said 50 of its stores, including Sam's Club, were closed at mid-day today, down from a high of 125. She couldn't say whether any of those stores were complete losses.
"We're going to see some major damage, that's inevitable," she said.
As power is restored to areas on the periphery, more retail outlets are coming back online. But major retailers and restaurants, including Wal-Mart Stores and Burger King, had scores of stores down at mid-day today as they geared up programs to help employees with supplies or cash assistance.
120 Burger King stores closed
Burger King had 120 stores closed today, down from a peak of 180. But of those still closed, more than half are in or around Biloxi and New Orleans.
"We have large trucks staged with nonperishable goods for Burger King employees," said a Burger King spokeswoman. "As soon as we're able to get into devastated areas we'll be trucking [items] in."
Lowe's, the home improvement chain, on its Web site said it had activated an in-store customer donation program to support the American Red Cross and will match customer donations up to $1 million.