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CUs pick up the pieces in tornadoes aftermath
MADISON, Wis. (5/2/11)--Credit unions in several Southern states have either begun to pick up the pieces from last week's swarm of tornados and flooding or are standing ready to help. So far, no significant new damage was reported Friday by credit unions in Alabama, which bore the brunt of the damage and deaths. But employees of a number of credit unions there have experienced damage to their homes. "We have reached all of the credit unions in Alabama," said Mike Bridges, vice president of marketing and communications at the League of Southeastern Credit Unions (LSCU). "While most are not affected, of the new ones we contacted, very few have had any problems. Many are seeing the power come back on in certain areas, but a few are continuing to keep branches closed until the power is restored," he said Friday. A day earlier, the league had reported that two credit unions sustained major damage. "We have been helping Community CU of Gadsden and Druid City Hospital (DCH) CU of Tuscaloosa secure mobile branches so they can continue operations," Bridges told News Now. "Pen Air FCU in Pensacola is lending its mobile branch to Community, since it completely lost its Rainsville branch, while DCH has tree damage to its facility and Alabama CU is loaning its mobile branch. "Right now we are still working to assess the needs of credit unions such as generators and things like that. As you would imagine, there are many stories of those affected. A few employees of various credit unions have sustained personal damage," Bridges said. Shared-branching, which proved itself during Hurricane Katrina, also saved the day in Alabama and other states. Credit Union Service Centers (CUSC) has 118 locations in Alabama, and "nearly all were open following the storm," said a press release. It said its shared branching services saved business. "Many credit unions struggled to keep branches open with power being out to nearly 400,000 residents. Shared branching locations allowed those affected by the storms to continue delivering services to members." "While shared branching is extremely convenient to members for routine access to their credit union, members in hard hit areas of Alabama are realizing the benefit shared branching offers during times of disaster," said CUSC Board Chairman Patrick La Pine. "The network also benefits members that are displaced or needing to travel during this difficult time." Many credit unions alerted their members to shared branching locations. DCH CU--just one of a number of examples--redirected its members in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and North Alabama to credit unions within the shared branching network and helped them to use surrounding outlet locations for their access. Websites also provided key communication to both members and employees, and enabled some to share stories and offer assistance or tell who needed help. The website of Alabama CU, Tuscaloosa, informed members it is offering 0% annual percentage rate (APR) disaster loans up to $1,000, with the first payment due in 45 days and repayment up to 120 days. It announced its "rolling branch" outfitted with a branch lobby and an ATM would be at Cullman office Friday to assist members needing cash and service. The Cullman area had been without electricity since Wednesday. And it gave updates on which branches were closed and which were operating with regular business hours. It said several branches would not open "until further notice." Alabama CU also gave information about employers posting payrolls and offered to use payroll data provided on the last payroll and credit them in advance of receiving payment from the employers "in an effort to assist, as much as possible, persons affected by Wednesday afternoon's damaging storms." The site also served as a message center for employees. They shared who is accounted for, who is displaced, who needs help, who is offering to truck in supplies, and how members were grateful for the credit union's help. "Offices that were able to open are reporting busy activity, and grateful members have said, 'Now's when we need you.' One staffer said, "Every member has a story--for some, they've lost everything they had." A poignant example came from a staffer at the Fairhope branch who received a call from a mother who had received her debit card in the mail. She was on her way to pick up her son and his girlfriend, who lost everything in the tornado. The debit card was not yet activated. She had left with no cash. She asked if the credit union could rush the card activation "so that it will work for me now. I have to get gas." The staffer got in touch with member care, got back with the member and told her to "stay on the phone with me while she tried her card and made sure it worked." The member was grateful. It "made me realize once again why I truly love working at Alabama Credit Union," the staffer said. Wider efforts of help will be available soon, said the league. LSCU is initiating its Disaster Relief Fund through its Southeastern Credit Union Foundation. "We are sending out the grant request documents and pledge form if any credit union would like to donate." It will have more information about the fund once it determines what physical needs, such as desks and computers, will be." It also is having discussions with the National Credit Union Foundation, and will provide more information once the league has visited the affected credit unions this week. (See related story, "CU disaster assistance activated for tornado areas" for an update.)
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