Businesses eye quick recovery effort after Gustav

Businesses are poised to begin repairs and cleanup Tuesday in Gulf Coast areas battered by Hurricane Gustav.

Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Home Depot and other retailers will send out teams to check dozens of closed stores and start reopening them.

State Farm, the largest home and auto insurer in the region, has extra agents and mobile claims offices en route to battered neighborhoods.

Entergy, Louisiana's biggest electricity supplier, expects to begin clearing debris as long as wind speeds stay down. As of Monday evening, more than 750,000 of its 2 million Gulf Coast customers had lost power. Most of the outages were in Louisiana. Entergy has 9,000 workers in the area or en route, many from other utilities.

Retailers also stand ready to send hundreds of trucks — stationed before the storm in cities out of Gustav's path — packed with cleanup supplies into affected areas. On Monday, Home Depot had almost 200 ready to roll.

Before the hurricane's arrival, retailers loaded up stores with other goods, including tarps and generators. By Sunday night, Wal-Mart had sent in 871 truckloads of storm supplies.

It also stocked stores with items to speed reopening, including dry ice to keep perishables cold if power was lost, and extra dumpsters to handle spoiled goods, says Jason Jackson, senior director of emergency management. Wal-Mart closed 108 stores, including some Sam's Clubs.

Gustav's weaker-than-expected punch helped retailers execute emergency plans. But executives also say they were better prepared than ever, their planning honed by previous hurricanes.

"We've gotten pretty good at this," says Bob Puzon, a vice president for Home Depot's southern division.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it built a spreadsheet detailing the type of fuel — propane, gas or diesel — used by each store generator so the right kind would be delivered right away. After Katrina, that didn't always happen, Puzon says.