By  on August 30, 2005

NEW YORK — Hurricane Katrina paralyzed retailing in much of the South on Monday as it swept through New Orleans, into Mississippi and Alabama, and headed toward Tennessee.

Retailers said the number of stores they were forced to keep shuttered continued to rise throughout the day, and that they were unsure when they could assess property damage and revenue losses.

More than 80 Wal-Mart stores were closed in Gulf Coast states as of Monday, compared with 27 on Sunday, but the company's Emergency Operations Center is working 24/7 with its Southeast distribution centers, standing by as the storm passes to send truckloads of product to communities as stores reopen, the company said in a statement.

Wal-Mart said it would accept emergency relief donations at its 3,800 stores and through its Web sites.

Gap said about 45 stores stayed shut Monday, compared with 41 on Sunday. J.C. Penney as of Monday had 25 stores closed or closing early, in what Penney's spokesman Tim Lyons called "a rolling process" of determining when and where to close stores.

Macy's has kept its two stores in New Orleans closed since early Saturday, but the next set of Macy's that could be affected are the five in Memphis. "We are taking the appropriate precautions," including boarding up stores and making sure employees go home and prepare themselves, said Jim Slewzuski, a spokesman for Macy's parent Federated Department Stores.

Saks Inc. closed a Saks Fifth Avenue in New Orleans; an Off 5th outlet in Destin, Fla.; two Parisian stores, in Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., and three Club Libby Lu units. A Saks Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sustained some roof damage last week, but reopened. Among the precautions Saks Inc. takes are boarding up stores, piling up sandbags and moving merchandise to higher floors, according to Julia Bentley, spokeswoman.

A Simon Property Group spokesman said two Florida properties in Pensacola, Cordova Mall and University Mall, were closed Monday, while General Growth Properties said it was waiting to learn when authorities would let their teams assess affected properties, which include Riverwalk Marketplace in New Orleans and Oakwood Center in Gretna, La. General Growth also operates the Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, but that was expected to be less impacted, according to a spokesman.The 42-unit Harold's, based in Dallas, closed units in Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge on Sunday and Monday. "I'm sure this will affect us because we're a small business," said a spokeswoman. "We don't know when they'll reopen." The Baton Rogue store is in a strip center and could be damaged, she said.

Big Lots, based in Columbus, Ohio, closed about 30 of its 1,550 stores on Monday. "It's too early to know the situation store by store," said Kent Larsson, senior vice president of marketing. "In certain areas, the store manager or district manager isn't allowed to get to the store because the area is evacuated. We have no idea when employees can go back. It will be 24 hours before we really know. Stores east and west of New Orleans are the most affected. We will make sure that our associates are safe and have what they need and will get to our stores as soon as we're allowed to."

Sears, Roebuck said Monday there were 14 Sears and 23 Kmarts closed and stocked its stores with merchandise for hurricane relief. "Late last week, we sent 1,000 generators to stores available for sale Saturday," said Chris Brathwaite, spokesman. Sears, he said, also will send 20 truckloads of generators to affected stores once roads reopen. Kmart already sent pallets of food and water to the stores and plans to send more of the same, plus batteries and flashlights, once roads are open.

"We're still watching it along with everybody else," said a Dillard's spokeswoman. "We have no information on closures. We won't know anything until tomorrow when people get in and look at things."

Katrina plowed into New Orleans early Monday morning with 145 mph winds and rain flooding homes. Also, winds ripped away power and parts of the Superdome, where thousands took refuge.

Devastation is expected to be vast, but the full force of the storm passed just east of New Orleans, hitting land in the town of Buras. From Sunday to Monday, Katrina was downgraded to a category four hurricane, from category five. Authorities said there could be a storm surge of 15 feet in New Orleans, versus earlier expectations of around 30 feet. The Bush administration said it was weighing whether to tap into its emergency oil stockpile of 700 million barrels of oil to give refineries in the Gulf Coast a temporary supply of crude oil until tankers and oil platforms resume deliveries. Crude oil prices soared to record highs of more than $70 on Monday on fears of severe disruption to production, but prices settled at $67.20 as the hurricane's force was downgraded, according to the New York Mercantile Exchange.The ports of New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., were shut down on Monday, though neither is critical for apparel and textile imports, according to industry sources. Two of the largest ports in the region for inbound Asian containers carrying large volumes of such goods are Miami and Houston, but they escaped the full brunt of the storm.

— With contributions from Sharon Edelson, New York, and Kristi Ellis, Washington

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