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Retailers in Coastal Texas Close Doors as Rita Looms

GALVESTON, Texas -- As Hurricane Rita churned through the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, retailers in or near its predicted path through Galveston, Texas were selling out of basic supplies and shutting their doors in anticipation of the worst.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. said that 23 of its stores and distribution centers were being closed in anticipation of Hurricane Rita, as the unpredictable storm stood at Category 4 intensity yesterday. Wal-Mart said 64 facilities were likely to be shut by evening.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer, which has been deeply involved in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, said more than 100 of its facilities were within a 120-mile radius of where Rita is expected to make landfall.

Meanwhile, San Antonio, Texas-based H.E. Butt Grocery Co. was busy ordering additional supplies of bottled water, canned vegetables, and canned meat to serve its nervous Texan customers.

Local reports quoted an HEB spokeswoman as saying that the retailer has switched production at one of its plants from primarily milk to solely bottled water. HEB did not return calls placed by Progressive Grocer.

HEB is also preparing for disaster recovery along the Gulf Coast and in the Houston area, according to reports. Stores are poised to dispatch employees to help with cleanup efforts, and a mobile kitchen is ready to be put to use.

The hurricane is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday.
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