The 17 employees of the $33 million DCH Credit Union of Tuscaloosa, Ala. will not soon forget the 10 minutes they spent huddled in two bathrooms of their building April 27 as 150 mph tornadic winds shook the structure, shattering windows and scattering debris.
“We saw the tornado coming across the street and we quickly split up into two groups,” recalled Brandy Boyd, an accounts representative. “We were all in shock after the tornado passed as we saw the devastation, a whole home subdivision destroyed behind the credit union and nearby businesses ripped apart. And every one of us had our vehicles damaged.”
DCH, located just blocks from its Druid City Hospital sponsor, is now operating without normal phone service and still on emergency generator power. It reopened Monday with the help of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions, which brought up staffers from its Birmingham and Tallahassee, Fla., offices to restore operations.
There have been no reports of CU employees in Alabama reporting personal injury but perhaps a score have counted large property losses on homes and cars as this week they also began mourning the loss of loved ones. More than 320 people died in the tornado outbreak that swept the South, the majority in Alabama and 40 in Tuscaloosa alone.
“We did have one of our employees, a real estate processor in Pratt City, tell us how she held on to a heater in her sister’s home and had gone there to get out of the way of the storm but ended up right in it,” said Phil Boozer, head of marketing at America’s First FCU of Birmingham.
The employee ended up losing her own home to the storms, he said noting that one other America’s First employee also lost a home. Despite those losses, “there’s no doubt credit unions dodged a bullet,” said Boozer.
Like a handful of other branches in scattered parts of northern Alabama, the Cullman facility of America's First resumed operations Wednesday using normal power after being on generator electricity since the storm hit.
“The TVA did seem to have more problems getting the power back on as compared to Alabama Power in Montgomery and Birmingham,” said Larry Morgan, the state’s new top CU regulator who visited DCH and other state-chartered CUs in Tuscaloosa and nearby areas on Tuesday.
In a separate development, the National Credit Union Foundation in Madison, Wis., said its online disaster relief program has already collected donations topping $30,000, which officials described “as an amazing sum in just three days.”