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KATRINA'S IMPACT: Safety, Security Issues Acute; Retailers Ponder Fiscal Fallout

The pumps are churning across the flooded lands of the Gulf Coast. As the deadly waters recede, however, challenges to authorities, residents, and business owners remain at critical levels. The urgency of protecting hurricane victims from disease reached new heights yesterday, as New Orleans officials said that floodwater has been contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Bottled water vendors, including Trinity Springs, and many grocery retailers, have shipped donated bottled water to the affected areas, while relief agencies work diligently to provide safe, clean water.

Another kind of safety and security crisis, tied to the prevention of losses and the dangers of looting, continues to be top-of-mind for business operators in hurricane-ravaged areas. The National Retail Federation, a Washington-based trade group representing multiple retail channels, said it is working with the Department of Homeland Security to try and maintain as safe an environment as possible.

"We worked with the Department of Homeland Security prior to Hurricane Katrina hitting Florida, to assess which retailers had significant operations and how they might be impacted," Joe LaRocca, NRF's v.p. of loss prevention, told Progressive Grocer. Of course, that was before the hurricane changed its course and returned, to smack into Louisiana and Mississippi as a category 4 hurricane.

Since the devastation of last week's direct hit along the Gulf Coast, NRF has been connecting government agencies with retailers in affected areas, to help restore commercial gas, telecommunications, and electricity to retailers wherever possible, LaRocca noted.

Several retailers, meanwhile, are offering their parking lots as command centers for law enforcement, which not only does the government a service, but also helps cut down on looting, LaRocca said.

LaRocca also said that the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) have released a National Emergency Resource Registry at to help businesses know what the affected areas need most. The Red Cross, among other groups, have been using the list.

99 Cents Only Stores Giving Away Products to Hurricane Victims

Commerce, Calif.-based 99 Cents Only Stores, which operates stores in Texas, Arizona, California, and Nevada, said yesterday it will give away three kinds of free items (food, toiletries, or children's items) to each customer with a valid Alabama, Louisiana, or Mississippi state license at all of its Texas locations. The program will be in place throughout the month of September, and will be extended if necessary, the company said.

99 Cents Only Stores is also sending canned foods, toiletries, and children's items to the Houston Food Bank; matching 100 percent of cash donations made by its associates, up to $99.99 per associate; and collecting monetary and product donations in its stores.

Retailers Begin to Assess Financial Impact

Although in many cases it's still too early to tell how extensive the damage from Katrina is, several retailers have already issued statements warning that the affects of the storm are likely to cast dark clouds over their upcoming earnings reports.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart said yesterday that while it expects to be within its sales projections for September, the aftermath of Katrina could hurt its final performance. Wal-Mart said its sales last week showed greater gains in food than in general merchandise, and that sales in the South were greater than in other regions.

The company added that 17 stores remained closed.

Wal-Mart also said late last week it has activated an Online Emergency Contact Registry to which customers and associates can e-mail, and search for, messages regarding family and loved ones. The system can be accessed in the retailer's stores, or from personal computers. Wal-Mart will also offer free check cashing in about 126 stores in the hurricane disaster area for an initial two-week period.

Leading drugstore chain Walgreen Co. said 49 of its stores impacted by the storm remain closed. The Deerfield, Ill.-based retailer said it expects to incur an "indeterminable" amount of expenses in its fourth quarter, due to losses of inventory, property, and equipment.

More Corporate Donations Pledged

Boise, Idaho-based Albertson's, Inc. has pledged $10 million in aid to the victims of Katrina, including $9 million in water, food, and general merchandise from its hunger relief fund, as well as a $1 million cash matching fund to match donations from customers and associates. The chain said Friday that it worked closely with the Red Cross to determine what was needed most for hurricane relief.

Sheboygan, Wis.-based Fresh Brands, Inc. has launched a program at all Piggly Wiggly and Dick's Supermarkets grocery stores in Wisconsin to raise relief funds for The American Red Cross to benefit the victims of Katrina, as well as recent tornadoes in Wisconsin. Customers may make donations of $1, $5, or any amount. The stores will accept donations as long as the need exists, Fresh brands said. In partnership with its independent storeowners and vendors, Fresh Brands will also make a $100,000 donation to the Red Cross.

San Antonio, Texas-based regional powerhouse HEB is working with America's Second Harvest Food Banks to coordinate donations of supplies. The retailer has contributed more than $100,000 worth of product to shelters.

Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans is running a checkout donation program, and has made a $100,000 corporate contribution to relief efforts.

Yesterday, Food Lion continued its involvement in relief efforts by sending truckloads of drinking water, food, and supplies to the Convoy of Hope Relief Center in Slidell, La. Food Lion, its employees, and vendor partners donated the products. The vendors include Snyder Chips, Lance, Clorox, Vlasic Pickles, and Schulze & Burch, makers of Food Lion brand toaster pastries.

Assisting hurricane victims closer to home, Food Lion is donating and sending a truckload of water, diapers, and hygiene items to the Charlotte Coliseum, where hundreds of Gulf States evacuees are now living.
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