By and  on August 29, 2005

NEW YORK — Weather forecasters were predicting a worst-case scenario Sunday as category five Hurricane Katrina barreled toward New Orleans, threatening lives, businesses and properties across a large swath of the Gulf Coast.

Gas prices could be affected, with oil rigs shutting down.

New Orleans attracts 7 million annual visitors and is one of the nation’s largest ports. Retailers took precautions in advance, after heeding warnings from government and weather authorities, and kept closed Sunday. With the hurricane expected to hit between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. today, they could lose weeks of selling, depending on the extent of damage and power outages. Early projections had Katrina swamping much of southeastern Louisiana, leaving residents and businesses without power or sewage for up to six months.

Wal-Mart, by around 1 p.m. Sunday, had 27 stores in the affected area closed, and expected that number to grow throughout the day, according to spokeswoman Sharon Weber. “We closed in plenty of time for our associates to be with their families,” Weber said.

Gap Inc. has 17 Gap, 14 Old Navy and eight Banana Republic stores in Louisiana, which were closed Sunday, according to Kris Marubio, manager of Gap corporate communications. Last week in Florida, 50 Gap Inc. stores were closed and later reopened.

Belk Inc., which has a smaller presence in the area, shut down its two stores in Biloxi, Miss. and Gautier, La., and its Belk unit just outside New Orleans. “People have gone through hurricanes a number a times. It’s been tough on customers and sales associates,” said Steve Pernotto, spokesman. “We evacuated and followed the guidelines set by the state.”

Some other chains that have a major presence in the New Orleans area are Family Dollar, Big Lots, Dillard’s, Gator’s Discount Stores, and Sears, Roebuck. In New Orleans, there are two major shopping centers, Canal Place and Riverwalk.

Last week Katrina killed seven people and left about a million without power in southern Florida when it hit there on Thursday as a category one hurricane. The storm strengthened over the weekend and had sustained winds of 175 miles per hour and a possible storm surge of up to 28 feet as it approached New Orleans.

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