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Thursday, September 8, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Northwest retailers weigh disaster damage

Seattle Times staff reporter

Retailers based in the Northwest are assessing damage to stores caused by Hurricane Katrina while taking steps to ensure the welfare of their employees.

Some, along with other local companies, are also donating cash, supplies and services to hurricane victims.

The Idaho-based grocery chain, Albertsons, closed a dozen Louisiana stores.

"There's a lot of cleanup, a lot of mess," said Danielle Killpack, spokeswoman for the nation's second-largest supermarket chain.

Although she would not disclose estimates of the damage, Killpack said, "Obviously, it was significant."

There were no reports of deaths or injuries among Albertsons employees, but many lost their homes, she said. The company is providing resources for those employees, such as clothes, water, food and toiletries.

It is also donating $9 million to the Red Cross, and plans to match customer and employee contributions up to $1 million.

Coffee-giant Starbucks closed about 25 stores in the area, mostly due to concern for employees, said spokeswoman May Kulthol.

"We are still evaluating and assessing stores in the area," she said. "Right now, the highest priority is the safety of our partners."

About 15 employees work at each Starbucks branch. To help them cope with the disaster, Starbucks is offering cash grants of more than $1,000 on an as-needed basis.

Starbucks also donated 30,000 pounds of ground coffee, 235,000 bottles of water, and 9,600 bottled drinks to support relief teams.

Outdoor-apparel chain Eddie Bauer closed three stores in the region. It's still too early to know the impact, said Elizabeth Borrelli, director of public affairs.

Issaquah-based Costco Wholesale, which does not have stores in Louisiana but operates in surrounding states, is getting plenty of business.

People have been stocking up on bulk products at the wholesale outlet, said CEO Jim Sinegal, as well as taking advantage of the wholesale-priced gasoline.

Costco itself has been running needed supplies like diapers and water to the area, too.

"We're trying to help out however we can," Sinegal said. "It's tough to imagine anyone across the nation who isn't touched."

Washington Mutual's closest banking centers are in Texas and Georgia, and none was closed, said spokeswoman Darcy Donahoe-Wilmot.

The bank is halting late fees and negative credit reporting for 60 days for mortgage customers that live in the affected areas.

"The last thing they need to be worrying about is their home loan," she said.

Local companies that are aiding the relief effort also include:

• Bellevue truck manufacturer Paccar has pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Fund.

• Seattle-based Shurgard Storage Centers is offering packing materials and space in its facilities around the country to assist disaster-relief organizations. The company's "Storing For Hope" program allows charities to use vacant storage space for up to six months to stage shipments bound for disaster victims. The company will match employee contributions, as well.

• Nordstrom has donated $250,000 to the Red Cross.

• REI is giving $50,000 and matching employee contributions up to $50,000.

• Alaska Air Group, parent of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, is allowing its customers to donate frequent flier miles to the Red Cross. For every 5,000 miles customers give, the company will kick in 1,000 miles, as will Bank of America. The air carrier is also matching employee contributions up to $25,000.

Seattle Times reporter Ben Romano contributed to this report.

Christina Siderius: 206-515-5066 or csiderius@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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