Still Picking Up The Pieces New Orleans' '06 Storm Preparations Slowed By '05 Restorations

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It is nine months after Hurricane Katrina blasted through Louisiana and Mississippi, and yet photos taken just days ago look like they were taken right after the storm hit.

Welcome to the Big Easy, where residents who have returned are still picking up the pieces, and praying that another storm won't come barreling through to throw everything to pieces again.

"I finally moved back into my home three weeks ago," said Anne Cochran, president of the Louisiana Credit Union League. "We have a POD [portable on demand storage unit] in our driveway of things to move back into the house, and I just dread it. The restoration of our house-it still doesn't feel like home-is far from complete, but it's livable."

Returning home, Cochran has discovered, is a bittersweet experience. "The trip from my house to the office is different from the trip I had been making from Baton Rouge, where I was staying," she related. "It may have been longer, but it was brighter. Now, I go through these areas of desolation. There's just a lack of life. It's eerie. And it was one thing to be here just for work, but now I'm back in it full time. I didn't realize how sheltered from all of that I had become in Baton Rouge."

All of Louisiana's credit unions have long since been up and running, but some have only just recently returned to their own facilities. In fact, one credit union, Claver FCU, still has not. "They were operating from a house before the storm. I'm not sure if the reason they're not back in that house is storm-related or if it's because it had been decided that the house was going to be used for something else," Cochran explained. "But they are operating out of Barbers & Beauticians CU in Metairie, and they would really like to get back closer to the community."

And one credit union simply chose not to return. "The manager is in Houston and has informed us the credit union is not coming back, it is going to merge," she said.

Some credit unions have decided not to reopen certain branches because the population simply isn't there, and may never return.

Credit unions continue to work with NCUA after insurance claims checks and FEMA checks have distorted their ratios and triggered prompt corrective action (PCA).

Back in December, Cochran met with Louisiana's two senators urging them to pass PCA legislation to help provide relief to storm-battered credit unions. "I was very concerned," she offered. "But then NCUA made a commitment to work with credit unions where it was clear that the capital issues were storm related, so I decided not to push that [with lawmakers] any further. I'd rather save that for when we really need it."

So far, Cochran said, NCUA has stuck to that commitment, noting in particular that she has heard great things said of the agency's economic development specialists. "I can't say credit unions are 100% happy with NCUA, but for the most part, they're working well together," she said. "You know, sometimes it's just a personality conflict."

Moreover, none of us are at our best when we are under extreme stress.

"And that's the thing I want people to understand," Cochran said. "Even nine months later, life here is still not normal. Things are very stressful. You're not living in your own home, or you are living in your own home, but the home that used to have three people living in it is now housing nine people. People who weren't animal lovers are living with other people's pets. This is not easy."

But there are also victories. "St. Bernard's Parish, as you know, was one of the hardest hit," Cochran said. "Well, I'm very excited to tell you that St. Bernard Parish School Board Employees Credit Union has just moved back in, just last week. That is just such a wonderful achievement and such a wonderful statement to the residents of that parish. It says, 'we are coming back to life.'"

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