Tornadoes Across South Wreak Havoc, Spur Credit Unions to Action
The misery index for credit union managers, employees and members who survived the April 27 sweep of killer tornadoes across seven states was no less than that shared by most residents.
But in a quirk of fate, the amount of property damage to credit unions proved less than expected. And initial reports showed no CU employee suffered personal injury, though that was not the case for members.
"We did dodge a bullet," declared Phil Boozer, marketing manager at the $1.1 billion America’s First FCU of Birmingham, Ala.
Still, the trauma suffered by CU employees who lost loved ones, homes and vehicles in hard-hit communities across Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri proved trying for the industry.
By week’s end, the National Credit Union Foundation said its online CUaid disaster fund to aid CU victims in the South had topped $30,000 and said it was "an amazing amount collected in such a short period of time." That compares to sums contributed during the initial phases of the Haiti earthquake, which eventually brought in $500,000 in line with a campaign led by the World Council of Credit Unions.
Donated funds, equipment and supplies continued to pour in late last week from CUs and their trade groups outside of the South, providing comfort to peers in hard-hit Tuscaloosa, Cullman and other northern Alabama and Mississippi communities as a collaborative CU drive emerged to shoulder the grief and help pick up the burden of restoring operations.
Pen Air FCU in Pensacola, Fla., said it shipped more than 1,200 bottles of water to Alabama communities and lent a mobile branch to Community CU of Gadsden, which saw its Rainsville branch demolished.
Pen Air said President/CEO Ron Fields personally drove the first round of supplies to Tuscaloosa and the CU set up collection drop-off points for additional supplies.
"Pen Air is just trying to help out those who need it during this terrible time," Fields said. "The spirit of Pen Air’s members and employees has always been one of community and this is no exception."
With its employees telling their own tales of surviving the tornado huddled in bathrooms of its building, the $33 million DCH CU of Tuscaloosa, Ala., reopened on generator power for the first time last Monday after being closed for three days.
"Two DCH employees lost everything they had in the tornado," noted Michael Bridges, vice president of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions. Bridges and league President/CEO Patrick La Pine met with DCH and CU leaders to assess recovery efforts.
DCH, using shared branching and having set up a mobile center in a hospital cafeteria, extended $125,000 in $500 emergency loans. Similar emergency programs were being set up by other Alabama CUs, a number of which reported their employees suffered loss of loved ones and property. In Pennington, Ala., an employee of NAHEOLA CU lost his home and both cars, said the league.
At DCH, the 17 employees will not soon forget the 10 minutes they spent huddled in two bathrooms as 150 mile per hour 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, as she recounted the hours spent on the property.
"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," said Boyd, whose CU is located blocks from its sponsor, the Druid City Hospital complex. "Every one of us had our vehicles damaged," she added.
By week’s end, many of the Alabama CUs, which were without power since the storm hit, were gradually seeing electricity restored.