Tuesday, September 16, 2008

CUs now dealing with Ike's aftermath

DALLAS (9/15/08)—Credit unions in Texas and Louisiana—those that could get to their branches--were hoping to begin assessment soon of damages wrought by Hurricane Ike during its 24-hour surge through Galveston and Houston, Texas, and Lake Charles and southwestern Louisiana Friday and Saturday.

However, the Texas Credit Union League said Sunday night that authorities were allowing only search and rescue personnel into the areas.

"Downtown Houston area is closed except to authorized personnel," said Richard Grady, league vice president of marketing, public relations, and communications. The phone lines for affected credit unions to report in their status have been quiet.

News Now learned the status of several credit unions from their websites. One credit union, El Paso Corporation FCU, said it would be closed today because of window and water damage to its sponsor's building. It expected to reopen Tuesday.

Mobiloil FCU said two of its six branches in the hurricane affected area would be open today.

University FCU said it's Galveston branch is closed. "When officials allow access to Galveston Island, UFCU will promptly assess the condition of the Postoffice Street branch."

Houston Police FCU's website said its Travis Branch would open today, but its Memorial Drive and Willowbrook branches are closed.

Beacon FCU said that most of La Porte and the surrounding areas are still experiencing power outages but all ACH transactions had been posted. "Our offices are still closed and will reopen as soon as possible."

Hurricane Ike was 600 miles wide including its outerbands--twice as wide as a "normal" hurricane. It made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane at 2:10 a.m. CDT in Galveston, bringing with it 13-foot surges, 12 hours of high winds up to 104 mph, flooding, and extensive property damages. In Chambers County alone, 50% of the home were severely damaged.

As of Sunday, at least nine people were dead and many others were missing. Millions of people were without power indefinitely, including 90% of Houston, where the wind blew out 50% of the windows in the state's tallest building, the JP Morgan Chase building. Of the area's 36 oil refineries, 13 were shut down, and the closures were already hiking gas prices at the pump.

In Texas alone, more than 176 credit unions were in 10 cities in the hurricane's direct path. They included 122 with headquarters in the city; the total doesn't include branches. Of the total, 54 credit unions that are headquartered elsewhere had at least one branch in the cities impacted.

The breakdown of credit unions in the cities:

Baytown, one credit union and a branch of four other credit unions;
Beaumont, 10 credit unions, with branches from seven others;
Clute, one credit union;
Galveston, five credit unions and one branch;
Houston, 86 credit unions and 34 branches;
La Porte, four credit unions and two branches;
Lake Jackson, one credit union;
Lufkin, four credit unions, one branch;
Orange, five credit unions and four branches; and
Port Arthur, five credit unions and one branch.

Two southwestern parishes of Louisiana—Cameron and Jefferson parishes—also bore the brunt of sea surges and wind damages. They included 32 credit unions and 10 branches of credit unions in other cities. Cities hit the hardest included:

Abbeville, one credit union;
Crowley, one credit union and one branch from another city's credit union;
Jennings, three credit unions;
Lafayette, 15 credit unions plus three branches;
Lake Charles, nine credit unions and five branches;
Morgan City, one credit union;
West Lake, two credit unions and one branch.

About seven hours after it made landfall, Ike turned into a Category 1 storm and began churning through Texas, Arkansas, and the Midwest. It will affect weather for credit unions across the U.S. this week.

"Ike remains an extremely dangerous storm that will continue to cause flooding and wind damages over the next several days," Phil Tschudy, media relations manager for CUNA Mutual Group, told News Now Sunday.

"The long duration of high winds, compounded by heavy rains, has and will continue to cause problems for credit unions. Those problems will include flooding, structural damages to buildings, power issues, and limited communications.

"Our Credit Union Protection Claims staff reported that, as of Saturday afternoon, areas hardest hit were not yet accessible," Tschudy said.

"Over the next several days, authorities have indicated they will prevent anyone from coming into the impacted areas so they can concentrate on search and rescue operations. Because of this and problems with communications, we do not expect to be able to assess the impact this storm has had to credit unions, or to contact them before Monday."

CUNA Mutual has arranged for its catastrophe adjusters to go on site to check with policyholders it can't reach by phone or who have not contacted CUNA Mutual.

"We encourage credit union policyholders with damages to contact the CUNA Mutual Disaster phone number (800-637-2676), which is answered 24/7," Tschudy said.

Credit unions in the impacted areas will be dealing with several issues this week, both immediate and for the long-term:

Getting to the credit unions to assess damages and their needs. Damages expected include wind damages such as peeled rooftops and windows out and water damage from the surge or flooding.

Coping with power, communications and utility outages. More than two million people and businesses are without power, said the league's Grady. Power is not expected in may areas for weeks, as transmission towers and power poles need to be installed first, he said. The city's water supply also had some problems Saturday, according to Houston Mayor Bill White in a press conference Saturday (CNN.com Sept. 13).

Working with a shortage of credit union staff as employees address the damages to their own homes and their family's needs, or have difficulty getting to work because of road blockages from debris, flooding and washed-out highways.

Providing alternative service to members needing emergency cash and loans. While members can access ATMs, shared branches and online banking, the power outages made it unclear how many services are working. Credit unions took cautions before the hurricane hit to check their business continuity plans to ensure minimal interruption of service.

As of Sunday night, it was not known which credit unions would be operating today. Thursday--before the storm hit--most credit unions had said they would open today.

courtesy of cuna.org

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