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Seven years later its dand233jand224 vu on Gulf Coast
MADISON, Wis. (8/29/12)--Seven years after Hurricane Katrina came ashore on Aug. 29, 2005, New Orleans and Gulf Coast credit unions faced the beast again--this time in the form of Hurricane Isaac.

The Category 1 Hurricane Isaac made first landfall near New Orleans at 6:45 p.m. ET Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane. Category 1 is defined as a storm with winds of at least 74 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

By comparison, Katrina was a Category 3 hurricane that killed more than 1,800 people and displaced 250,000, according to Bloomberg.com (Aug. 28). When the levees broke, 80% of the city and hundreds of credit unions were flooded.

The area got a soaking last night with high winds, flooding and a test of the city's post-Katrina $14.5 billion flood-control systems and improved levees. Storm surge was reported at nearly 10 feet above the normal high-tide levels as early as 9 p.m. Tuesday by the Weather Channel--while most of the hurricane was still off shore.

The slow-moving, massive storm was expected to dump about 20 inches of rain along the coast in southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and Alabama, and the extreme western Florida panhandle during the night Tuesday and early today.

Credit unions and some leagues in four states--Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana--reported closures as early as Monday afternoon as their areas prepared for the hurricane while it was still a tropical storm.  Isaac didn't reach hurricane status until about noon Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Florida was dealing mostly with flooding from when the earlier Tropical Storm Isaac passed through.

Credit unions had begun preparing last week and many began closing Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, staying open as late as possible to meet the cash needs of their members.  By noon Tuesday, more credit unions were added to the lists of closures, especially those in the evacuation areas of Southeast Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.

In Pensacola, Fla., eight banks and credit unions closed, including Pen Air FCU and Gulfwinds FCU, reported local newspapers (pnj.com Aug. 28). That area was already saturated with a soaking in June from Tropical Storm Debby.  Businesses and homes in much of South Florida were dealing with power outages in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, as well as squalls spanning from the hurricane's volatile northeastern edge. Much of South Florida was also under flood and flash-flood watches.

The League of Southeastern Credit Unions, which serves Florida and Alabama, added these closures Tuesday to its earlier list reported by News Now yesterday:

  • Mobile (Ala.) Educators CU, all branches closed, re-opening to be determined (TBD);
  • Alabama Telco CU, Mobile branch, re-opening TBD;
  • The Infirmary FCU, all branches closed until Thursday;
  • America's First FCU, Mobile branch, re-opening TBD;
  • Members First CU, all branches closed until Thursday;
  • Degussa Employees FCU, main office closed until Thursday;
  • Army Aviation Center FCU, all Mobile branches, re-opening expected today; and
  • Florida State Employees FCU, all branches, re-opening TBD.
Staff at the Louisiana Credit Union League, which is closed because it is in an area that was evacuated, is keeping contact with credit unions and advising them to check its website for information. It also has noted the value of shared branching during closures in disasters. In Katrina, shared branching saved the day for many credit unions and their members, providing access to accounts during closures.

Mississippi's Credit Union Association, with offices in Jackson, plans to be open to assist credit unions. Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson said residents were prepared for heavy rain and strong wind gusts today. The coastal town of Gulfport, Miss., was hard hit during Katrina and expecting large storm surges from Hurricane Isaac.

Even though Isaac isn't expected to pack the wallop that Katrina had, its size means that inland areas can expect especially heavy rains and flooding as the storm moves inland through southern states and into the Ohio River Valley. Credit unions in those areas will be on the alert for flooding and power outages.

CUNA Mutual Group will be in contact with impacted credit unions through its Property and Casualty Disaster Claims Team. Policyholder credit unions with damage claims can contact CUNA Mutual at its toll free emergency number, 800-637-2676. The number is answered live, 24/7.
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