On May 29, 1982, a tornado hit Marion, Illinois, killing 10 people and destroying over 300 homes and 50 businesses. Due to the work of manager Harold Robinson, all customers and associates were in the middle of the store, where they suffered only minor injuries. Lee Scott, former CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., said that “Walmart’s role in solving problems in society goes back … to a tornado that occurred in Illinois back in the early 1980s … Sam Walton looked at that store, gone, and the tent, and he gave instructions to lower the prices on Spic-and-Span and mops and sponges and buckets … everything you needed to get your life back in order as a homeowner in that town.”
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in southeast Louisiana, devastating communities along the coast. As these people worked to rebuild their homes and lives in the aftermath of the storm, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation worked together to deliver the water, food, and clothing they needed.
Former Walmart CEO Lee Scott said that he “saw a company utilize its people resources and scale to make a big and positive difference in people’s lives … This was Walmart at its best.”
Doug McMillon said of Walmart’s response, “As always, our associates made the difference. They did not have to study what the community needed– they knew what their families and friends needed. And they did what was right.”
In 2015, for the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon announced a $25 million donation by Walmart to support global disaster response efforts over the next five years.
International Disaster Relief
2004 - Today
In 2004 and 2005, Walmart’s disaster relief program ventured outside the United States for the first time. To help those suffering after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the company collected $7.3 million in donations from customers and associates around the world. Additionally, the Walmart Foundation donated $2 million to the International Red Cross. Former President Bill Clinton, then the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Relief, said “I am so grateful to Wal-Mart, its customers and associates for their generosity towards the victims of the devastating tsunami that tore apart so many families and communities in December…It sends a signal of concern that will itself provide hope to those who are still struggling to rebuild their lives. I’m proud that this global company from Arkansas is helping so many people who live so far away.”
Since 2004, Walmart has been involved in relief efforts for many international disasters, including the 2011 Japan earthquake, 2012 flooding in Argentina, and the African Ebola epidemic.
Reflections on Walmart’s Response to Katrina
By Lee Scott, Walmart CEO, retired
For several years prior to Hurricane Katrina, the Walmart leadership team had been struggling with the challenges that came with being such a large company. Every mistake seemed to be magnified. Every misstep a new opportunity for our detractors to criticize Walmart. We became defensive and mounted an aggressive outreach program. But the truth is we were not very effective; as always, it took our associates to show us the way forward.
Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the U.S., and our associates took action. They bulldozed through destroyed stores to reach needed medicine for customers. They swam across flooded canals to open stores for emergency workers, dispensing boots and under garments to tired and dirty early responders. They also loaded trucks with water, food, and first aid supplies and arrived in New Orleans and elsewhere before any government action was even contemplated.
"Our Size Allowed Us to Make a Difference"
What these associates really did, though, was show the company and the world that Walmart’s size was in fact a positive. Our size allowed us to make a difference when a difference most needed to be made. Their actions caused management to ask: “How can we be that Walmart, the Walmart we were during Katrina, all of the time?”
That question led us to our efforts in sustainability. Our size was an advantage. Our relationships with our suppliers an unmatched asset. We knew that Walmart could make a difference. We could make our products and our stores more sustainable and do so without making our associates choose between the environment and their pocketbook.
A Journey That Started with Associates
What a wonderful journey this has been for the company and the associates. All started by associates who knew that at Walmart we have both the freedom and the responsibility to do what is right for their customers and their communities.