The branch of Prairie State Bank in Haysville, Kan., looked like a mangled dollhouse after a deadly tornado tore through the small Wichita suburb that is its home last week.
The east wall and roof of the 15-year-old building were ripped off by the wind, exposing rooms filled with shingles, twisted steel, and pieces of insulation.
"The facility is between being totally wiped out or only partially wiped out," said Newton Male, chairman of the $185 million-asset bank and former Kansas banking commissioner. "I think we have a 50-50 chance of saving it."
Mr. Male is one of many bankers trying to pick up the pieces after the devastating tornadoes leveled buildings in Kansas and Oklahoma last Tuesday. The storms killed dozens, injured hundreds, and caused property damage exceeding $1 billion. (See related story, page 12.)
Bankers spent the week assessing the destruction not only of their facilities but also of their customers' homes and businesses. They also lent a hand by clearing debris, distributing cash, and organizing relief funds for victims.
"It's just like a rotary mower came through," said Robert H. Croak, president of $250 million-asset First National Bank of Midwest City, Okla. "It makes you sick to drive past those damaged areas."
Mr. Croak estimated that 800 homes and more than a dozen businesses, including two car dealerships and five motels, were demolished in his community.
First National, however, proved to be a safe haven during the storm. About 85 people, including Mr. Croak's family, took shelter in the bank's basement as the storm swirled.
No one was injured, and the bank suffered no external damage, but one of its automated teller machines at a nearby ballpark was apparently whisked away by the nearly 300-mile-per-hour winds.
"It's just gone," Mr. Croak said. "We have no idea where it is."
Oklahoma City-based BancFirst Corp. also lost an ATM, at an outlet mall in Stroud, Okla. The $1.6 billion-asset company's Stroud branch sustained some damage to its roof as well.
In Mulhall, Okla., a branch of Guthrie-based Oklahoma State Bank was ordered closed by Bank Commissioner Mick Thompson after the structure was severely damaged by a tornado.
But the branch remains open-as a command post for the Red Cross.
"The bank is the only thing standing in town. It's the only stable structure," said Yvon Hancock, a Red Cross volunteer who was answering the phones at Oklahoma State and doling out aid packages to residents last week.
Other banks across the two states were also helping their employees and customers get back on their feet.
Nine employees of Chickasha (Okla.) Bank and Trust spent last Tuesday helping four customers who had lost their homes. The bankers sifted through rubble and recovered what they could of the residents' belongings.
"Our customers needed help," said Lindel E. Pettigrew, president of the $75 million-asset bank. "As a banker, I think that's part of our job."
Mr. Pettigrew said his bank will eventually help the customers rebuild by offering low-interest loans and deferring some payments, if necessary. Chickasha Bank and Trust also will make sure victims are registered to get aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said. (President Clinton has declared Oklahoma and parts of Kansas a federal disaster area.)
First National of Midwest City has made cash available to its eight employees whose homes were lost in a tornado. The bank, which estimates that as many as 350 customers suffered property damage, has emergency counselors available for employees or customers who need help coping.
The bank also transferred more than $100,000 to its two branches at Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City so it will have cash on hand to pay U.S. military and National Guard people who are protecting the damaged areas from looters.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Bankers Association set up a fund for its members to help Oklahomans victimized by the storms. Contributions will be turned over to organizations that are providing relief.
Bankers said it may be years before all the damage is repaired. Some communities were hit so hard that they do not have enough temporary housing for the thousands who lost their homes.
"We're not really concerned about banks making loans because there's nothing to loan on yet," said Mr. Thompson, the Oklahoma bank commissioner.
Added Chickasha Bank and Trust's Mr. Pettigrew, "You just can't imagine the mammoth task of putting all of the pieces back together."