Flood Puts One CU In The Money-Laundering Biz

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When flooding left Ohio Valley Credit Union officials with a vault full of some $200,000 in dirty money, they did what any respectable business leaders would do-they laundered it.

"It was a sight to see," said Robyn McGuire, OVCU Human Resources and Operations Manager. "Our vault at the Marietta branch was completely filled with dirty water. The teller drawers that still had checks in them from business conducted the Friday before were floating."

Armed with disinfectant and hair dryers, senior staff holed up in the staff training room for seemingly endless hours where they washed and dried each piece of money and balanced the books all over again. "We didn't know what else to do," she said.

Two of Ohio Valley's five branches were among many businesses and residences that suffered extensive damage from flooding here-the worst flood to hit the area in 40 years. Nearly one-third of Marietta was submerged as the Ohio River rose more than 26 feet in a span of 36 hours. Nearly 1,000 businesses and residences reported flood damages.

McGuire said the $76-million credit union did get enough prior warning to remove valuable contents in the basement of its Clarington branch, but nothing could have stopped the muddy water from pouring into its Marietta office-located on the banks of the Ohio River- and leaving a dirty film on everything from furniture and fax equipment to computers, phones and paperwork.

She said staff at first considered themselves lucky when they learned that the water level stopped just "six inches" short of the main floor at its Clarington branch, filling only the basement. Still, it damaged the basement-stored heating and air conditioning system and bowed all of the doors. In addition, ceiling tiles had fallen into the water and created a soupy, slimy mess that took three weeks to clean up. Outside, the drive-thru area was destroyed.

If that wasn't enough, McGuire said, officials were shocked to find that everything in the Marietta branch including "furniture, fax and copy machines, the phone system, computers, files with signature cards in them and everything in the vault" was covered in a film of dried mud, residue of the dirty water that crested at six feet days earlier.

"It made us sad and sick," she said. "We had already spent a couple of days cleaning up the Clarington branch. When I walked into the Marietta branch the following Tuesday, it took my breath away. Everything looked like a big chocolate bar."

McGuire said from Second Street where the Marietta branch and many other businesses are located, water was high enough in places to cover her van. A month later, McGuire said businesses remain closed.

McGuire said she was proud to be part of the management team that spent 17-hour days for several weeks putting things back in order.

"We had a few down moments where we thought we would never get things cleaned up," she said, "But our No. 1 goal was to get back to serving our members. We knew what we had to do, and we did it...Our motto: Just get 'er done."

Staff that wasn't able to help in the offices joined a coalition of other CU volunteers in delivering supplies-some donated by the Ohio Credit Union Foundation-to area residents in crisis. "The Ohio Credit Union League was very supportive to us," McGuire said. "They called and asked how they could help."

McGuire said the CU owes special thanks to Southeastern Ohio Credit Union for lending OVCU office space for three weeks to conduct member transactions."

In addition, she said, she couldn't say enough nice things about Bank Design and Equipment of Waynesboro, Va., which showed up unannounced to help clean up. McGuire said BD&E even got the teller counters from a branch that had been shut down after a 2003 merger and installed them at the Marietta location.

"These people have come in and offered, 'What do you need? We're here for you.' That's pretty incredible, I think. We couldn't have done it without them." She also credited Richard Crothers of Crothers Electric for being onsite nearly everyday. McGuire said she expects it'll be awhile before either credit union branch is completely restored.

In the meantime, officials are looking at ways to avoid similar challenges in the future. Among the top priorities, she said, is optical imaging of documents.

"After the last big flood in 1996, we learned not to put offices in our basement," McGuire said. "Now, we know not to put anything valuable in there."

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