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Isaac stalls while CUs wait it out
MADISON, Wis. (8/30/12)--The Gulf Coast states soaked Tuesday night and most of Wednesday by Hurricane Isaac weren't reporting any damages yet Tuesday afternoon. Isaac was still stalled over Louisiana and Mississippi and many credit unions in the area were closed or evacuated.

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) activated its disaster recovery policy Wednesday. (See related story, "Disaster relief activated by NCUA in Isaac's wake," in today's News Now.)  And about 24 hours after it was given a Category 1 Hurricane status, Isaac was reduced to a Tropical Storm.

Credit unions had not reported losses yet and are expected to beginning today. "We do not have any reported losses as of this time," said Phil Tschudy, media relations manager for CUNA Mutual Group, late Wednesday afternoon. "This is not uncommon since Isaac is still over southern Louisiana and most of the area is still under evacuation orders. If there are damages, we'll likely start hearing about them Thursday, which is when our Property and Casualty Claims Team will be calling Louisiana credit unions.  We have adjusters ready to make site inspections in the New Orleans area once authorities allow us to do so.

Tschudy said CUNA Mutual has begun contacting credit unions in Mississippi. "We continue to track Isaac as it moves into upper Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, and we will be contacting credit unions in these areas as needed."

CUNA Mutual would like to hear from credit unions "concerning any problems they are encountering, regardless how small, and about problems other credit unions in their area may be having. Credit unions should call our toll-free emergency number (800-637-2676), which is answered live, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said.

At mid-day Wednesday, Louisiana residents were still hunkered down in the southeastern part of the state, where the Louisiana Credit Union League reported that the storm was stalled.  Damage reports from credit unions were unlikely since many in the area were closed for the storm.

"It's too early to tell as the storm appears to be stalling over the southeastern part of our state," said Lacey Hyer, Louisiana league vice president of communications and public relations, in an e-mail to News Now Wednesday afternoon. "There have been many reports of power outages and potential flooding in some areas, but [we're] not sure just yet. The hurricane is still making its way through," she said. 

The league sent out its newsletter, eNews, Wednesday afternoon with an update. The league, which is in the evacuated area, was still closed but it provided resources for credit unions such as disaster preparedness information and league contacts.  NCUA had also asked that affected credit unions contact NCUA's regional office with status updates at 512-342-5600, according to the newsletter.

The League of Southeastern Credit Unions posted names of several credit unions, mostly in Alabama, that remained closed, and had information about disaster preparation and contacts on its website.

The league also posted a list of 17 ways credit unions can help their members through the aftermath of the hurricane.  Some of the suggestions include establishing an emergency fund, waiving a range of fees, offering personal loans, modifying mortgages with a 90-day deferral plan, rewriting loans to spread the waiver period over the life of the loan, waiving ATM fees and increasing the daily ATM limit, setting up a desk in the credit union lobby to provide insurance claim forms, information about hurricane relief, set up mobile ATMs at closed branches, offering emergency bridge loans to small businesses, and more.

In Mississippi, eight credit unions on the Gulf Coast closed at noon on Tuesday, would remain closed through Wednesday, and were expected to reopen today, said Charles Elliott, president/CEO of the Mississippi Credit Union Association.

Highway 90, a major thoroughfare on the Gulf Coast, was closed from the Biloxi Bay Bridge to the Bay St. Louis Bridge, a stretch of about 25 miles, and was not expected to re-open until late Friday--a development that could affect the reopening of credit unions, Elliott told News Now.

As of 1 p.m.  ET Thursday, no credit unions in Mississippi had reported damages. Elliott said he was not expecting heavy damages, if any, given Isaac's 10- to 11-foot storm surge. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina's storm surge in 2005 was 34 feet, Elliott said.

The Gulf Port area is expecting heavy rains, which could cause some damage, Elliott said.

He anticipated most Gulf Port credit unions would re-open today.

As Hurricane Isaac worked its way up to the Gulf Coast this week, CU*South, a credit union service organization in Mobile, Ala., called on its partners in the Midwest and Northwest for backup support. The network partners in Michigan, South Dakota, and Washington worked jointly to ensure CU*South could continue to service its credit union clients throughout the eastern U.S.

The client service teams at CU*Answers and CU*NorthWest regularly swap phone coverage for staff meetings or to beef up staffing levels, so providing CU*South clients with seamless customer service required only a few simple phone adjustments. 

As further preparation, rollover and connectivity tests were performed during the weekend prior to the storm to ensure that member data for CU*South's 13 client credit unions would be available, accessible and operational if the storm took a turn and knocked the Mobile site out of commission. Testing confirmed the preparations were complete. CU*NorthWest, which has been sharing operations CU*South counterpart for more than a month, was prepared to take over on a moment's notice if needed.

"I've been supporting credit unions on the Gulf Coast since 1983, and have dealt with direct strikes or near misses from at least 15 hurricanes," said Leo Vaulin, CEO of CU*South.  "Never before have I felt so well-protected by the combination of robust planning and partnership support through our network."
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