The midwestern floodwaters are wreaking havoc on banks unlucky enough to be in low-lying areas.

Though no banking institutions has been driven out of institutions has been driven out of business, thousands of bank employees have had to vacate officers threatened or Mississippi River system.

In one extreme case, Buffalo Saving Bank of Buffalo, Iowa, had to vacate its building as water lapped up against sandbags outside. The $25 million-asset bank has been operating out of a nearby school, according cashier Mike Matthys.

Sandbags are the only reason the main office of Farmers and Merchants Bank in La Grange, Mo., has kept dry. "The only way you can get there is by boat," said Patrick Curry, a legislative assistant with the Missouri Bankers Association, who spoke with Farmers and Merchants executives on Thursday.

The flooding hit Iowa units of Minneapolis-based Norwest Corp. particularly hard. Some 1,400 employees were displaced from offices in Des Moines.

"We've been trying to keep people out - there's gasoline floating in the water from God knows where," said Mark Oman, president of Norwest Mortgage, the nation's third-largest mortgages originator.

Last weekend, water filled a campus of four one-story building to depths of 2 1/2 to four feet, Mr. Oman said.

The offices are in the River-point complex, near the confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. Some 700 people worked there in executive offices and finance, accounting and mortgage servicing units.

Mr. Oman said operations were moved to other locations with minimal disruption to customers. Through Wednesday of this week, loan processing volume was normal, with the mortgage company taking applications for $600 million of mortgages and funding $360 million, he said.

About a third of the employees were moved to a Norwest credit card facility in West Des Moines, away from the flooding.

Mortgages servicing operations were moved to servicing centers in Minneapolis and Springfield, Ohio. Processing of Mortgage applications are handled for the unit by Computer Power Inc. in Florida, and were unaffected.

No Water for Sprinklers

At its 25-story bank building in downtown Des Moines, Norwest had to relocate 700 employees - not because of floods, but because the city's water purification system was contaminated, and the water was turned off. With sprinkler systems disabled, the entire downtown was unsafe to work in.

Lynn Horack, president and chief executive of Norwest Bank Iowa, said it activated a long-standing contingency plan that entailed moving employees and equipment to West Des Moines, and other locations.

The million checks processed daily by the bank are being flown to Minneapolis, Mr. Horack said.

Bankers Trust Co., a $580 million-asset bank in Des Moines, was forced to scatter some 140 employees from a 34-story headquarters building among eight offices elsewhere in the metropolitan area.

Late Opening

The bank uses a service bureau, Newtrend, for computer processing, which was unaffected. But the move forced the bank to open two hours late on Monday morning, according to chief executive Mike Earley.

Fortunately, business has been slow.

"People aren't borrowing for homes or cars right now," Mr. Earley said. "They're more focused on other matters."

Pumping Out the Vault

Other banks that had to close downtown Des Moines offices included Boatmen's Bancshares, which has its headquarters downriver in St. Louis, and Firstar Corp. of Milwaukee.

Employees at Mercantile Bank of Illinols, Alton, have been pumping "seepage" from the vault in the bank's main branch for the last eight days.

"It's a 24-hour job, so we've been switching off. Officers work the night shift [on the pumps], other staffers work the day shift," said David E. Haggard, an executive vice president in administration at the subsidiary of St. Louis-based Mercantile Bancorp.

The main branch of Omni Bank in Hull, Ill., which houses all data processing and item processing operations, is situated only a few hundred yards from the town's levee.

Fearing the worst, president Ivan E. Wharton, who has been sleeping in the main branch for the last eight days, had most of the contents of the main branch moved to another office on higher ground.

Since Omni's backup computer processing site, a data center run by Bank of Calhoun County in Hardin, Ill., is already flooded, Omni was forced to move its operations elswhere.

Making Do

Omni is currently using a 30-foot trailer as a loan office. Check and data processing equipment are at a branch 75 miles from the main office. The bank's three automated teller machines were taken out of service, gutted of their computer innards in anticipation of the levee breaking.

Canton State Bank, Canton, Mo., evacuated its main branch and is operating out of a local college.

Relief may be days away. According to the National Weather Service, the Mississippi crest is moving south at a rate of only three to five miles an hour, its progress slowed by continual rainfall.

The crest is expected to reach St. Louis on Monday at a record 45.5 feet. k

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