For Many CUs, 2004 Turning Into The Year Of The Evacuation

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With evacuation orders coming on top of evacuation orders in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, credit unions have been working to prepare for one hurricane while trying to help members clean up from the last.

Florida, alone, has seen two major hurricanes as well as a tropical storm so far this summer, and this week large portions of the Gulf Coast and south central U.S. will be attempting to begin recovering from Hurricane Ivan.

The Louisiana CU League's Harahan headquarters closed for business-potentially for several days last week, as did numerous credit union offices in the area, according to Sharlene Begnaud, the league's service centers network director, who works out of the Baton Rouge office. She said most of the credit unions in New Orleans, which was spared the brunt of Ivan, had closed.

It was much the same story in Mississippi. "We've been working with credit unions along the coast. With the evacuation orders in place, most have left for shelter, and then they'll check things out when the storm has passed and work to get back up and running," said Mississippi CU Association CEO Charles Elliott. "We have all the contact numbers and cell numbers for all the CEOs of every credit union on the Gulf Coast of the state. Right now, we're just waiting to see what happens. But we've been through this before, and we have disaster plans in place. We've ridden out Cat 3 hurricanes down there, so we'll just have to wait and see."

But for Alabama, the hurricane was a relatively new experience. "We don't go through this kind of thing very often," said Kate Brand, director of public and political affairs for the Alabama league. "We have turned to the Florida league for advice."

Following in Florida's footsteps, the Alabama league set up a block of toll-free numbers that credit unions can use to let members know if they aren't able to open for business. "Forty credit unions are already on board, but unfortunately, that doesn't include any of our credit unions in Mobile, because we just found out about this program [right before the storm] and by the time we were putting it together, those credit unions had already shut down," Brand explained.

The league is also setting up a hurricane relief foundation.

As for Florida, where the evacuation orders have been piling up since Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley came pummeling through within days of each other, and then Hurricane Frances just weeks later, the league continued to deal with post-storm fallout even as the Panhandle was being evacuated.

Early last week, the league reported that its Hurricane Relief Fund had raised $150,967. With $42,000 of that having already been disbursed.

"We continue to receive phone calls and emails promising more funds," said FCUL's Mark Ivester. "The league is grateful for the support that we have received so far in our hour of need, a need that may continue because of Hurricane Ivan."

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