Tornadoes Strike 6 CUs, Countless Members

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Six credit unions here were damaged in storms that spawned a swarm of tornadoes that ripped through the nation's midsection and killed 40 people last week.

Credit unions that physically went unscathed, meanwhile, were scrambling to help members and employees who lost homes in the disaster.

A band of storms tore through parts of Missouri, Kansas and Tennessee, leveling whole towns while leaving neighboring areas essentially untouched. Of the six credit unions that sustained damage in Tennessee, all but one-P&G Jackson Employees FCU, which was located at a Proctor & Gamble site-are already back up and running at their original locations, according to CUNA Mutual Group's Sydney Lindner. CUNA Mutual insured all six of the affected CUs.

Credit unions in the other affected states were luckier than some of their Tennessee counterparts, reporting no significant damage to their own facilities, but they are bracing to help members and employees reclaim their lives.

In Missouri, Joplin Metro CU has at least 12 members whose homes were destroyed or sustained significant damage, and some of those members had home equity loans on the credit union books. At press time, JMCU was still ascertaining how it should handle those loans, according to the Missouri CU System.

Another Joplin-based credit union, Central Ozarks CU, was accepting handwritten insurance checks from members desperate to begin rebuilding. "They are prepared to help members anyway they can," said MCUS' Mica DeLong, who added that one Springfield CU reported making a donation to the local Red Cross to help out with the situation there.

Health Care CU, Kansas City, Kan., was bracing to hear how many of its members may have lost homes or sustained damage in the storms, according to Kansas CU Association's Becky Harwick. "There was a tornado that did a lot of damage out by them, so they assume that a lot of their members probably suffered some damage," she reported.

"We are trying to identify which members need help," said Mark Kolarik, CEO of Kansas Teachers CU, Pittsburg, Kan. "We had one family that came in and the only thing they had left were the shirts on their backs."

Two KTCU employees also felt the impact of the storms. "One lost her house, but the insurance is taking care of her," Kolarik related. "The other one, the tornado was headed straight for her house, and she was inside it, and they had no basement to ride it out in. But then, when it was about 50 yards away, the tornado bounced up in the air and flew right over the house, so they just sustained some damage, and insurance is taking care of it."

The credit union itself, like the town of Pittsburg was unscathed by the storms, but in towns no more than five miles away, the destruction was dramatic. "It was like a giant lawnmower just came down from the sky and leveled everything," he related. "It tore giant trees out by the roots, it just mowed down entire houses and buildings."

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