HOUSTON -- Credit unions across areas of south Texas ravaged by Hurricane Ike were still picking up the pieces last week, hoping the backup generator would continue working and helping affected employees and members of hundreds of credit unions to recover.
The eventual property losses were expected to be staggering and as CUNA Mutual Group put it, "the damages will be far greater and more widespread than almost all other Category 2 hurricanes we've seen in recent years."
"Ike's large size has resulted in losses from south of Galveston through Louisiana, and although many dealt with minor roof, sign and water damage, we are seeing some substantial losses ranging from major roof damage to large flood claims," said CUNA Mutual.
At mid-week and with power still out in large cities like Galveston, Beaumont and parts of Houston, there remained 47 Texas CUs considered "nonoperational;" regulators still had not been able to contact a handful of area CUs as of press time.
"Remember, that no one is allowed back yet to Galveston and places like Orange and certain areas of Houston to even assess damage," Harold Feeney, Texas credit union commissioner, said.
Though contact was made, no one has been able to assess damage at the $9 million Galveston Government Employees CU, the lone CU on the island, because of city orders to stay away, according to Feeney.
Like scores of other CUs in the devastated zone, Galveston Government found a makeshift site in a county building, some distance from the island as still other CUs in destroyed coastal towns utilized shared branch centers to serve members.
Of the 47 nonoperational CUs, the NCUA identified 32 federally insured CUs in that group along with two that still have not been contacted. These CUs were not identified, but the NCUA said in a statement that "looking at member numbers, this means that 89% of affected members have access to at least some services."
The NCUA concluded, "this is a major accomplishment given that Texas media is reporting that over 2.1 million residential customers are still without power."
Some CUs that rode out the storm amid flooded lobbies, ripped-out roofs and missing employees were ready to share their stories (see related article, page 4).
"Thank God my board had the wisdom after Hurricane Rita in 2005 to buy a new $140,000 generator, and I know that's money that isn't earning us anything, but let me tell you what a smart decision that was," declared Kim Heinze, president/CEO of the six-branch, $242 million Mobiloil FCU in Beaumont. Power has been out for most of the city since the storm hit Sept. 13.
Apart from restoring member services, the CU also spent the week assisting employees who suffered heavy losses to their homes from flooding and wind damage.
"With four feet of water and little fishes at my home in Bridge City, my problems were minor compared to some of my staff," said Heinze. She noted also the goodwill the CU managed to generate from businesses that relied on the CU for services while banks were closed.
"Let me tell you that even though we don't have a business relationship, the manager of a CVS pharmacy, which stayed open, could not say enough in gratitude about us since we got him dollars he needed urgently when his bank was closed," said Heinze.
She explained how even though staff couldn't access the vault because of the power outage, they raided a cash dispensing machine to get stacks of dollar bills for the pharmacy.
And in Alvin, Texas, Gary Davis, president/CEO of the $70 million Chocolate Bayou Community CU, called his CU's recovery "amazing" after half the roof was torn off Sept. 13.
"We did not lose our processor, and it's a miracle that we were able to make a hotline recovery connection and are back up and open, and so we can offer basic services for now," said Davis. The temporary roof was installed within days. "We're simply blessed. We have nothing to complain about since the Lord took care of us."
Chocolate Bayou was able to operate with sharply reduced staff, based on employees who stayed behind. "I think we started with about a third of our 120 employees, and today we're up to maybe half," Heinze said last week.
While Texas coast towns took the brunt of the storm, 70-mile-per-hour winds and rain did spread as far north as Columbus, Ohio, where the Ohio Credit Union League reported a dozen CUs shut down after losing power Sept. 14-15.
CUNA Mutual in Madison said access restriction orders in the impact zone continue to "hamper our claims inspection teams, although we have been able to get to many of the most severely impacted credit unions," Media Relations Manager Phil Tschudy said.
Considering that many CUs remain without power and unable to inspect their facilities, CUNA Mutual said it does expect to see a rising number of claims this week.
"Our catastrophe adjusters will be visiting all locations reporting major damage," said Tschudy.
Many of those even hardest-hit CUs moved quickly to waive payments and provide loan relief to members with Texas Dow Employees CU in Lake Jackson posting ads and radio messages headlined, "We'll Get Through It."
One ad read, "After Hurricane Carl, TDECU helped your mom and dad and even your grandparents get back on their feet" and losses then "were huge but we all got through it together."
"We're going to get through this one, too," promised TDECU. "We're TDECU your credit union. Our doors are open to help you get what you need especially now."