The floodwater that swept through United Kentucky Bank's Falmouth headquarters destroyed almost everything in its path.
The fast-moving March 2 flood left behind a water-filled vault, files of sopping wet loan records, and a building that will need weeks-maybe months- of renovation.
"It hit so fast, we didn't have an opportunity to get into the bank," said Darin C. Hart, a loan processor at United Kentucky Bank. "Our bank was completely under water."
Even so, United Kentucky Bank counts itself lucky. No one was hurt, and the bank is back in business in a doublewide trailer.
Five Falmouth residents died when the Licking River overflowed its banks. And throughout the Midwest and Deep South, floods, massive storms, and tornadoes have left more than 60 people dead or missing. Many who survived lost everything.
Now bankers, who are trying to restart their own devastated businesses, find themselves playing an intimate role in piecing others' homes and businesses back together. Federal regulators are calling on banks and thrifts to lend money where needed. The agencies are relaxing lending regulations to speed up the recovery process.
"Compared to other people, we've got it made," said David C. Wills, president and chief executive officer of Falmouth's Pendleton Federal Savings Bank from his temporary location on higher ground. "I've been here and on the streets all the time to be with the customers. We're all in the same boat, so we have to work together."
Five feet of water washed through Pendleton Federal's building, ruining all its furniture, walls and floors, and several computers. Mr. Wills saved most of the thrift's files because he grabbed computer hard drives before escaping the floodwaters in his pickup truck.
Now, he's set up temporary headquarters less than a mile away in rented office space. A plywood sign with black and white, hand-painted letters announces Pendleton's presence. His alternate bank location was also under water.
"Make sure you have backups on high ground," Mr. Wills said in a message to other bankers.
Pendleton ordered new forms and was able to start taking loan applications by a week ago Wednesday, only three days after the flood.
Mr. Wills has been using his cellular telephone-his only line to the outside world for more than a week-to contact the Federal Emergency Management Administration about possible low-interest loans. He's hoping that the $30 million-asset thrift can obtain a source of funding to make plentiful loans.
"We've had a lot of customers come in," Mr. Wills said. "They just want to know that we're here."
But the rage of the Ohio River and Licking River in Kentucky has some wondering whether they'll continue to live in flood plains.
Mr. Hart of United Kentucky Bank said the initial shock had everyone thinking about moving away. "We're just trying to be sympathetic to people's emotions," he said. "Some people lost everything."
Brenda Martin, chief executive officer of Ripley National Bank, said she wouldn't even consider moving the bank's office out of downtown Ripley, Ohio, despite the ever-present threat of flooding from the nearby Ohio River.
"Two banks really anchor the downtown businesses," she said. "I don't think at this point, we can just abandon that."