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Hurricane Maria’s Aftermath Could Last a Month and Keep Retail Shut Down

WWD

By: Sharon Edelson

The one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria have devastated Puerto Rico.

The double blow of deadly hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico this month, and will likely be the costliest weather events of the year, with retail impacts estimated at $4.8 billion in lost purchasing power, according to Planalytics, exceeding Irma’s $2.8 billion in negative impacts to Florida ‘s retail economy, and the $1 billion in lost retail sales resulting from Hurricane Harvey in Houston and its surrounding environs.

More than a week after Maria on Sept. 21 ripped through Puerto Rico, leveling buildings, knocking down power lines and flooding roadways, the majority of the island remains without power. The category four storm hit the U.S. territory just two weeks after Hurricane Irma lashed the island, leaving more than half of Puerto Rico the dark.

President Trump has been criticized for his slow response to the crisis in Puerto Rico, which some said failed to match his support for victims of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

The Taubman Cos.‘ Mall of San Juan remained shuttered on Friday, after originally closing on Sept. 19 due to the storm. “We’ve heard from all of our staff and are relieved and thankful to know they’re safe,” a spokeswoman for the shopping center developer said. “Our incredibly dedicated management team is diligently working to restore operations as soon as possible. Since it’s very hard to tell when we’ll have the full resources and manpower needed to reopen, we are not yet ready to comment on an opening date.”

The mall had water intrusion into some areas of the building, and on the building’s exterior, the spokeswoman said, adding, “Our landscaping and signage were significantly disrupted. However, the center’s inside common area doesn’t appear to have been impacted.”

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which operates 48 facilities in Puerto Rico including stores, two distribution centers and a satellite headquarters, employs nearly 15,000 associates across the island. The retailer has been able to reopen 20 Wal-Mart stores and seven Sam’s Clubs, along with almost a dozen pharmacies on the island.

“We continue to work toward assessing the status of our facilities in Puerto Rico as we’re safely able to access them,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman. “We recognize the need for access to food, water, fuel, medication and other critical items for our customers and associates. We’re planning to reopen facilities very thoughtfully, most likely under limited hours and with metered access, to control lines and ensure a safe environment.”

Wal-Mart, which has logistical expertise, is working to react to the needs of consumers in creative ways. For example, the retailer is utilizing corporate jets to get emergency insulin to the island to meet the critical needs of pharmacy customers, said the spokesman.

“First and foremost, our thoughts are with our employees and their families during this time,” said a spokeswoman for Nordstrom Inc., which operates a store at the Mall of San Juan. “Our store remains closed and we are currently assessing the damage. Our leaders continue to reach out to their employees to stay connected and understand what support they may need.”

Maria’s impacts on Puerto Rico’s economy — which has been suffering through more than a decade of recession — could be as high as $95 billion, according to Moody’s, which estimates $40 billion in lost economic output due to flooded roads and lost power, and property damage totaling $55 billion.

“The impacts from Irma and Maria, which was the bigger storm, is greater than Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, because with the latter two, consumers had a place to go,” said Evan Gold, executive vice president for global services at Planalytics. “You could get out of the area or get out of town, so purchasing shifted,” Gold said, noting that seven million to 10 million people left Florida before Hurricane Irma hit. There’s been no such luxury for Puerto Ricans, “so they’re out on a lot of purchasing,” he said.

“The aftereffects of Hurricane Maria will linger in Puerto Rico for 30 days, if not longer,” Gold added. “The gross domestic product of Puerto Rico isn’t big, but the duration will make the impacts bigger. We’re basing our $4.8 billion projection on the duration and lack of alternatives for shopping.”

Gold also pointed out that 100 percent of the island’s population is still in the dark. “This is going to be a big and long recovery period,” he said. “That number may go up, depending on how long it takes. We didn’t change our projection for Hurricane Harvey because infrastructure came back relatively quickly.”

Target Corp. said it doesn’t operate any stores in Puerto Rico; however, the retailer said it donated on Thursday $100,000 in cash and products to aid residents of the island impacted by Hurricane Maria. The donation includes cash grants and in-kind product donations to local and national nonprofit partners, including Save the Children, to aid international recovery efforts. “We’re working to get products such as food, water, baby supplies, toiletries, cleaning supplies and more to impacted residents,” a spokeswoman said.

Wal-Mart committed $5 million in support of Hurricane Maria relief efforts, building on the previously announced commitments by Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Foundation, bringing the total to $35 million for assistance in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

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