Post-Katrina Tour

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The Credit Union Journal's Associate Editor, Lisa Freeman, joined with the Louisiana league last week to tour credit unions in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Below are items filed from the first part of the tour.

The Good News: House All Gone

BATON ROUGE, La.-Like so many displaced New Orleanians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mark Erhardt, who consults for the Louisiana CU League, is preparing to do something he has never done before in his life: file an insurance claim and meet with an adjustor. "The adjustor has already told me my house is trash, so I guess you can see where this is going," Erhardt said. "Our house was two feet off the ground, and it still had seven feet of water inside." Returning to his house for the first time, Erhardt made a number of eerie discoveries-if it could float it did. The teapot that had been on the stove was found in another part of the house. On the other hand, some things stayed exactly where they had been, which, he said, was even stranger to behold.

"We put some stuff up on the bed, you know, 'just in case,'" he related. "Well, the mattress floated up when the water came in, and nothing fell off of it. When the waters receded, it just set right back down, and when we came back, there was the bed, still made, with all the stuff still on top of it."

Not A 'Hurrication'

BATON ROUGE, La.-When New Orleanians evacuated ahead of Hurricane Katrina, they envisioned what the Louisana league's spokesperson said her newphew had dubbed a "hurrication"-what was thought would be a quick, temporary absence of a few days. Six weeks later, they're still not back. "Ask people what they did before they evacuated," offered Mark Erhardt. "I mowed the lawn. We cleaned the house. It was the same mode of operation as if you were going on vacation." The difference: such preparations were for naught. "Everywhere the water touched is just dead," he related. So much for the freshly-mowed grass and the newly-cleaned house-a house that had seven feet of water inside despite being two feet off the ground.

Strangely enough, Erhardt suggested that in some ways, the fact that his home will be considered a total loss leaves him better off than those homes that sustained enough damage to need significant repair but not enough damage to be considered entirely destroyed. "At least I have closure, I know it's done," he observed. "The people with 18 inches of water in their homes, they have to try to clean that up, and they don'tknow for sure what's going to happen."

Banks Learn From Shared Branches

BATON ROUGE, La.-Credit unions know they're really on to something good when banks try to copy them on something, and such has been the case with the shared branching concept. The Louisiana CU League always believed that its shared branching program was a valuable tool for credit unions, but that was never more clear than in the aftermath of the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "We're seeing small to mid-size banks teaming up and essentially doing shared branching for the first time," said Mark Erhardt of Erhardt Communications, which consults to LCUL.

But while the banks have had to create shared branching piecemeal, the league already had the infrastructure in place, and credit unions and their members were already used to using it.

"Because of shared branching, we had some New Orleans credit unions back in operation practically over night," said LCUL EVP Connie Major. Since the advent of the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, at least eight credit unions have joined the shared branching network, and about 11 more are working toward joining the network.

House A Journalist

BATON ROUGE, La.-Here in Louisiana, when they say "no room at the inn," they're not kidding. When The Credit Union Journal sent a reporter to participate in the Louisiana CU League's Hurricane Tour, the league turned to credit union reps to host the journalist. Hotels are brimming with recovery workers and people displaced from their homes by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

But it's not just wayward reporters seeking shelter. LCUL EVP Connie Major has a veritable menagerie of dogs who cannot currently live with their owners. She and her daughter, who lives right next door, had more than four dogs between them-and that was BEFORE they started taking in other people's pets. LCUL CEO Anne Cochran's standard poodle has taken up temporary residence with Major, as have several other credit unionists' dogs. "I'm the credit union vet, I guess," Major laughed. "Somehow or other, my home became a kennel."

Of course, at the start of Major's new calling, it was assumed the passel of pets would only be there for a couple of days. Now it's looking more like a couple of months. "I think so many people who refused to evacuate stayed because of their pets," Major suggested.

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