At 8 a.m. on
Wednesday, as New Orleans filled with water, Wal-Mart chief executive
H. Lee Scott Jr. called an emergency meeting of his top lieutenants and
warned them he did not want a "measured response" to the hurricane.
"I want us to respond in a way appropriate to our size and the
impact we can have," he said, according to an executive who attended
the meeting. At the time, Wal-Mart had pledged $2 million to the relief
efforts. "Should it be $10 million?" Scott asked.
Over the next few days, Wal-Mart's response to Katrina -- an
unrivaled $20 million in cash donations, 1,500 truckloads of free
merchandise, food for 100,000 meals and the promise of a job for every
one of its displaced workers -- has turned the chain into an unexpected
lifeline for much of the Southeast and earned it near-universal praise
at a time when the company is struggling to burnish its image.
While state and federal officials have come under harsh criticism
for their handling of the storm's aftermath, Wal-Mart is being held up
as a model for logistical efficiency and nimble disaster planning,
which have allowed it to quickly deliver staples such as water, fuel
and toilet paper to thousands of evacuees.
During a tearful interview on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Aaron F.
Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs,
told host Tim Russert that if "the American government would have
responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis."
"They were ready before FEMA was," he said.
H. Lee Scott for director of FEMA?
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