Bankers in several western states are starting to assess the damage suffered both by their own institutions and customers now that floodwaters have begun to recede in some areas.
While licking minor wounds of their own from storms that caused the worst damage in as much as 40 years, banks were already developing special loan programs to assist residential and business customers with emergency funds.
"We haven't yet assessed which of our customers are having problems, but we're in that process now," said David C. Broadley, chief financial officer of Sierra West Bancorp, Truckee, Calif.
Damage to residential and commercial properties after almost two weeks of heavy rains, snow, mudslides, and flooding is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. So far, more than 50 counties in California, Nevada, and Idaho have been declared disaster areas, and parts of Oregon and Washington have also suffered heavy damage.
In Reno, Nev., one of the worst-hit areas, floodwaters at one point covered much of the downtown area for two blocks on either side of the Truckee River. Warehouses downtown had an average of about four feet of water and as much as eight feet inside.
Roads into and out of the city were blocked, while the airport was closed for several days by water covering the runways and inundating the terminal. And rising water had reached into residential areas of the city.
"This is the worst flooding we've had since 1955," said Ted L. Wehking, executive vice president of the Nevada Bankers Association in Reno. "There's going to be extensive property damage. Anybody who needs emergency money will find it readily available."
That's the case in Portland, Ore., where U.S. Bancorp announced Friday it would allow customers to skip consumer loan payments and would waive some fees on loans and early withdrawals. In addition, the company is making $15,000 in corporate contributions for Red Cross flood relief.
The damage from the series of storms that struck the region beginning just before Christmas also forced the closure of bank branches in some of the hardest-hit metropolitan areas, including Seattle as well as Portland and Reno.
U.S. Bancorp, San Francisco's BankAmerica Corp., and several community banks in outlying areas of Portland and Seattle closed many branches for at least a day after high winds, snow, and ice knocked out power. Ice storms also caused some closures in outlying areas of eastern Washington and western Idaho.
Elsewhere in the five-state region, branches remained shuttered because roads were washed out or closed and several feet of water in the parking lots kept employees from getting to work. Sierra West's Truckee branch had eight inches of water in it after a nearby creek ran through the building.
"It was probably the worst that we've had in 40 to 50 years," said Kathryn A. Williams, senior vice president of Continental Savings Bank in Seattle. "We were fortunate that it was not a longer storm."
Similar flooding conditions also hit Yuba City, Calif., and surrounding areas, as well as parts of California's Napa Valley.
However, even with the heavy storm damage, enough branches remained open in most areas so that "getting your banking taken care of is not a problem," said Mr. Wehking of the Nevada Bankers.
"For the most part, the banking industry is going to be okay," he said. "The banks, for the most part, are pretty much operating."