CUs-But Not Members, Employees-Escape Isabel

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Credit unions from the storm-torn Mid-Atlantic region reported having "dodged a bullet" when Hurricane Isabel caused extensive flooding, wind damage and power outages.

"We're happy to have weathered the storm as well as we have," said Virginia CU League CEO Rick Pillow. "As far as damage to credit union facilities are concerned, we really dodged a bullet. One of the credit union CEOs I spoke with from the Tidewater and Hampton Roads areas (which took the full brunt of the storm) said if that was a Category Two (on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, where five is the most devastating) he would not want to be around to see a three or a four."

Some Still Not Heard From

The league was careful to note that although the overall outcome for credit unions in the state was good, there were still some credit unions it had not heard from at press time due to phone lines being down in some areas.

"We can't say that every credit union is up and running, but the situation is improving hour by hour," said VCUL SVP-CU Development David Miles. "There are still some credit union members out there without account access. But there doesn't seem to be any overwhelming damage to credit union facilities. Most problems at this time are the result of power outages, where core systems, phone lines and ATMs may be out. There are select branches open in the Virginia Beach-Tidewater area."

Pillow noted that the league's shared branching network still had one branch down but that at least four others had been brought back online at press time. While credit union facilities fared well, the league has reason to believe that some CU employees and-or members may have lost their homes in the storm, but there had been no official tally of such instances.

Until there's been a better assessment of what has been lost, the league will hold off on creating a fund for victims of the storm, but Pillow said that is a distinct possibility.

The situation in North Carolina closely resembles that of Virginia. "We've been really lucky as far as credit unions are concerned," said North Carolina CU League CEO Larry Johnson. "We really dodged a bullet."

Damage To Employees' Homes

At press time, the league still hadn't heard from one credit union in Elizabeth City and another one in Windsor due to power outages and phones lines being down. Johnson pointed to the state's largest credit union-State Employees CU-as an indicator of how well credit unions in the area had fared. "They've got 20 or 25 branches in the area, and all have had power returned to them except for two," he said. "I think we have several credit union employees whose homes were destroyed or damaged, trees falling on houses, that kind of thing. But for the most part, credit unions are all right. Most of the damage was in the Outer Banks, which were just devastated by the storm, but the credit union family is not out there."

NCUA Activates Policy

NCUA has activated its disaster relief policy to assist credit unions and members in areas where offices and homes were damaged and destroyed by Hurricane Isabel, following the Federal Emergency Management Agency's decision to designate Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. as eligible for aid to stricken residents requiring assistance.

The regulator said it will encourage CUs to make loans with special terms and reduced documentation to members whose homes and property were damaged and will guarantee lines of credit for CUs through the NCUSIF and the Central Liquidity Facility. In some cases, routine CU exams will be rescheduled, as well.

Alexandria, Va., home to NCUA, suffered extreme flood conditions in the wake of the storm, and the agency had to reschedule its monthly board meeting.

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