U.S. companies hustle to re-staff, reopen after Sandy

NEW YORK/CHICAGO Tue Oct 30, 2012 11:50am EDT

Few bottles of water remain on the shelf at Trader Joe's supermarket in New York October 28, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Few bottles of water remain on the shelf at Trader Joe's supermarket in New York October 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

NEW YORK/CHICAGO (Reuters) - Hurricane Sandy may have devastated the East Coast on Monday, but the water-logged wheels of commerce keep turning, storm damage or not.

As cities from New York down to Washington began to dig out from the historic destruction brought by Sandy, companies scrambled on Tuesday to assess their facilities with an eye toward reopening as soon as possible.

At least 15 people were reported killed along the Eastern seaboard by Sandy, one of the biggest storms to ever hit the country, which dropped just below hurricane status before making landfall on Monday night in New Jersey.

With the holiday season quickly approaching and tourists unlikely to be dissuaded from shopping, retailers in particular were hurrying on Tuesday to get back to business.

Luxury department store Saks Inc SKS.N said it would reopen on Tuesday three of the stores that it had to close because of Sandy, including stores in greater Washington and Philadelphia.

The retailer's flagship on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, which generates about 20 percent of company sales, along with five other stores in New Jersey and Connecticut, are set to reopen on Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.

Saks said it would not be coordinating transportation for employees.

"In the NYC store, many associates live nearby, and we can operate the store with lower staffing levels if needed," a representative said.

Similarly, Macy's Inc (M.N) said its iconic Herald Square flagship store in Manhattan, and others in the city and in parts of New Jersey, would stay closed on Tuesday. Others in the East will open through the course of the day.

"The determining factor is if the store and shopping center have electricity, and if associates are able to get to work," a Macy's spokesman said, adding that the company had 195 stores closed all or part of the day Monday, about a quarter of its footprint.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) had 267 stores closed as of late Monday night due to the storm. By Tuesday morning, that was down to 168, with plans in progress to reopen some stores on generator power.

The world's largest retailer said none of its facilities had been seriously damaged and there was no disruption of holiday planning.

DRUGMAKERS SEEK ALTERNATIVES

Drugmakers, heavily concentrated in New York and New Jersey, were also laid low by the storm. Novartis AG (NOVN.VX) said all offices in the area would remain closed Tuesday, as did top insulin maker Novo Nordisk. (NOVOb.CO)

GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L) said it had implemented a continuity plan to ensure medicines would continue to be distributed, especially given the numerous airport closures still in effect. But the company also said there was sufficient inventory in the supply chain to avoid serious disruptions.

Relatively high amounts of pharmaceuticals move by air, since drugs are light and high-value items, meaning companies like GSK have to arrange road transport in the meantime.

Multiply a decision like that by a few dozen or even hundreds of companies, and Sandy could actually end up being a boon to the trucking industry despite the short-term costs of widespread road closures.

"In the long run, however, the effect is clearly positive, perhaps close to $1 billion, because resupply and rebuilding generates freight growth and because trucking is the mode of choice for time-sensitive resupply," said Noel Perry, managing director at transportation consulting firm FTR Associates. (Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York and Jessica Wohl in Chicago; additional reporting by Martinne Geller and Lynn Adler in New York, Toni Clarke in Boston, Ben Hirschler in London and Allison Martell in Toronto; writing by Ben Berkowitz; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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