Banks in South Florida are rushing to set up makeshift check-cashing facilities for residents desperately short of cash after last week's hurricane.

In Miami and Dade County, "the need now is for cash," said Lela Musser, First Union Corp.'s operations manager in South Florida.

Special Branches

Among the steps taken:

* Both Barnett Banks Inc. and Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union have set up temporary structures in the most severely damaged areas of Dade County. Lask weekend, Barnett trucked in five modullar shells, similar to those used on construction sites.

First Union rented 12 mobile homes. Four are parked around the county, while the others move around to large corporations to cash payroll checks.

* Orlando-based SunBanks Inc. is arranging to have three mobile branches in neighboring Georgia sent to the Miami area. Robert Coords, chairman and chief executive of SunBanks/Miami, said the branches are the size of recreational vehicles and are equipped with banking equipment and an exterior teller window.

Living Day to Day

The demand for mobile branches underscores the need for cash in the Miami area, where an estimated 150,000 people are living in temporary shelters and must buy food and other necessities on a day-to-day basis.

Barnett said it opened its temporary branches in response to an emergency request from Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Both Barnett and First Union said they were committed to cashing personal checks of non-customers in the temporary branches. Barnett set a $25 limit on checks from other banks; First Union allows up to $500, at the branch manager's discretion. Both banks will cash government and payroll checks and insurance checks up to $5,000.

Barnett set up its 30-foot-long modular branches on cinder blocks Sunday night. Spokesman Russell Hoadley described each unit as an empty shell that the bank furnished with folding chairs, a card table, adding machine, cellular phone, and auxiliary generator for lighting.

Tight Security

The units are staffed by three to four Barnett employees. National Guard troops and U.S. marshals provide security during business hours.

Cash is brought to the temporary branches by Brinks armored cars and stored in cash boxes during the day. In the evening, the armored cars retrieve the cash boxes.

Both banks are employing armored cars to supply their temporary branches with cash and to pick up cash boxed in the evenings.

First Union's mobile homes are less roomy, since they were designed as family living quarters. "It's the first time we've ever described a branch by how many people it can sleep," said spokesman Jeep Bryant.

As a result, First Union is approving checks outside each unit and allowing customers inside to collect their money.

Because the First Union branches are truly mobile, the bank has a fleet of them visiting corporate customers to cash payroll checks. Last week, for example, the mobile branches visited three Miami-area hospitals.

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