First Bank of Elwood crossed the Missouri River two weeks ago, accomplishing interstate banking not by law or acquisition, but by disaster.

The small Kansas bank moved its operation across the Missouri's swollen breadth to St. Joseph, Mo., when the town of Elwood, situated on a spit of land jutting into the river at the northeast corner of the state, was deluged on July 25.

"We had to get approval from the Kansas bank commissioner and the Missouri bank commissioner and from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.," said First Bank president Robert Means, whose family owns most of the bank.

"But they were all very understanding. It's weird because we're a Kansas-chartered bank, and we're over here in Missouri."

Only Kansas Bank Put Out

First Bank is only one of many banks that have suffered from flooding in the Midwest.

Only two banks in Kansas, however, were physically affected by the flooding along the Missouri River, and First Bank was the only one displaced, according to the Kansas Bankers Association.

First Bank had been having dampness problems all summer because of the heavy rain, Means said.

But on July 25, water rushed into the building when the town's levee, visible from Means' office a half-mile away, gave way.

Didn't Miss a Day

"We were given a half-hour to evacuate," Means said. By the end of that day, he said, the water reached 10 feet 6 inches on the first floor.

Means and his staff had planned for the worst. Means had already shopped for a new site on higher ground in St. Joseph. By 10:30 p.m., most of First Banks' equipment and records had been moved into an empty former savings and loan branch in St. Joseph.

By 11 a.m. on July 27, with its computers up and running, the bank opened for business in Missouri and was offering limited deposit services.

"Most of our employees had relocated to St. Joseph to escape the flooding anyway," Means said.

"We were proud that we were able to open on Monday. We didn't even miss a day. We took it as a challenge."

Eager to Get Home

First Bank could be in Missouri for a while. Although the water has receded, and First Bank's building was been drained, it will take two months, Means said, to dry the place out and finish revovations.

"It's pretty much a gut job," Means said. "We have cleanup crews going, and we may be able to move in before the actual work is done."

Means is eager to get back into Elwood, population 1,275, and start rebuilding.

"One thing is for sure," he said. "No matter what, our bank is going to be a leader in getting back into this town."

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