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Hurricane Rampage

Florida retailers, malls and shopping centers were left battered, flooded and often without electricity by the three hurricanes that pummeled the state one after another in September.

The third and most powerful, Ivan, which bashed the Gulf Coast Sept. 16, was blamed for at least 54 deaths in the United States and many more in the Caribbean. It slammed into Pensacola, Fla., with 130 mph winds that destroyed houses and businesses, collapsed bridges and wiped out phone and electric service.

The hurricane damaged two Simon malls in Pensacola. Cordova Mall and University Mall suffered flooding, power problems, debris on the roof, and downed trees and light poles. Both were closed for several days. Cordova opened with limited hours and no phone service five days after the storm, although tenants were still cleaning up flooded spaces as they welcomed back shoppers. University Mall was to remain closed until a full structural evaluation could be completed, according to Billie Scott, director of public relations for Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group.

Scott says 20 Simon malls were impacted by the first two hurricanes — Charley and Frances — although damage was minimal. Several other REITS with exposure to Charley or Frances had similar reports of cosmetic and landscaping damage.

Storms hurt sales

Often, the impact on sales was greater than the hurricanes' physical destruction. Federated Department Stores, Inc. estimates that Hurricane Frances cost its Florida stores $20 million in sales, reducing September same-store sales by 1.5 percent and earnings by 3 to 4 cents a share in the third quarter.

Like other retailers, Federated was still evaluating the economic and physical impacts of the brutal hurricane season. But the company said in a statement that it did not believe any of its Burdines-Macy's or Bloomingdale's stores in Florida suffered major structural damage in the storms. A handful of stores remained closed six days after Ivan, due to power outages.

Dollar General didn't fare as well. Ten of the discount chain's stores were demolished by hurricanes (see one hard-hit Dollar General in Foley, Ala., above) and several others damaged, according to a report in the Tennessean, which says hundreds of Dollar Generals lay in the path of the three hurricanes.

A company spokeswoman wouldn't speculate on the impact the storms will have on Dollar General's quarterly financial statement.

It wasn't all bad news. Undamaged big boxes, including Home Depot and Loews, reported shipping extra supplies and employees to Florida to cope with the pre- and post-storm business.

“There are two sides to a hurricane, as far as retailing is concerned, at home improvement centers: pre-strike and post-strike,” says Don Harrison, a Home Depot spokesman. “Pre-strike, you're going to sell a lot of plywood. Post-strike, you're going to sell everything else, in terms of hurricane commodities, generators, gas cans, chainsaws, tarps, cleanup supplies, grills, charcoal, bottled water, shingles, roofing felt, roofing nails.”

Harrison says Home Depot anticipates huge demand for wood and building materials, starting in the areas hit by Charley where “they have their insurance checks.”

“To put it in perspective, over the course of the three hurricanes, there were more than 7,000 tractor-trailer truckloads of products involved in resupplying the stores,” says Harrison. It was the the biggest resupply effort in Home Depot's history.

Home Depot froze its prices on hurricane-related merchandise in the strike zones as soon as the storms had names.“You don't want to lose customers by taking advantage of them in a crisis,” Harrison says.

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