A branch of the $4.8 billion Citizens Equity First Credit Union in Washington, Ill., became a command center for the Washington Fire Department shortly after a tornado Sunday devastated the central Illinois city of about 15,000 people, killing at least one resident and destroying up to 500 homes.
(Left, CEFCU's Washington Member Center on a quieter day.)
Washington is about 10 miles from Peoria, where CEFCU is headquartered, and many of its residents are CEFCU members, the credit union said.
“CEFCU Member Centers were not damaged by the recent severe storms in Illinois,” read a post on the cooperative’s Facebook site on Sunday. “However, the CEFCU Member Center in Washington is being used as a staging location by the Washington Fire Department. Please keep this community in your thoughts, as they are dealing with significant damage.”
The tornado hit Washington at about 11 a.m. on Sunday. Safety officials continue to assist residents, cleaning up debris and working to repair broken water mains, downed power lines and gas leaks, according to local media reports.
“Our member center has a large parking lot and is outside of the major damage area in Washington, so I think it was a very convenient, high-profile area for everyone to meet there,” said Sue Portscheller, vice president of marketing for CEFCU. “But that only lasted for a short time (a few hours). The group (has since) relocated to the Washington Fire Department.”
Portscheller said about five CEFCU employees have lost their homes. The credit union fears members also have lost homes.
“I would say about 75% of the homeowners in the Washington area are CEFCU members, so we have a strong connection as well as a number of employees who live in the Washington area,” said Portscheller. “So this is very close to the hearts of the people there.”
Washington Mayor Gary Manier estimated that from 250 to 500 homes were either damaged or destroyed, The Associated Press reported early Monday.
CEFCU is the largest credit union in central Illinois and serves nearly 300,000 members. It is the only credit union with a branch in Washington, according to Portscheller.
None of CEFCU’s 20 branches or ATMs throughout Central Illinois has sustained any damage. However, the branches in Washington, Chillicothe and Eureka remain closed and 13 ATMs were not operating because of the power outage.
The credit union is working with a vendor to set up a generator to restore power to the Washington branch to provide for the cash needs of members and employees. Meanwhile, members are being directed to other branches and ATMs.
CEFCU senior management held an early morning meeting Monday to assess the needs of employees and members. The credit union has initiated a special response team to assess the financial issues of members and take care of their immediate needs for payment cards, checks and longer term needs such as loan payments.
“We will be taking donations at all of our member centers in central Illinois for the American Red Cross,” Portscheller said. “We at CEFCU will be giving a $100,000 donation to the same. They are saying what they (storm victims) need is cash right now. A lot of people are going to have to live elsewhere for three to six months while they are able to rebuild.”
Tornadoes also ripped through parts of Indiana and Kentucky.
The $786 million Purdue Federal Credit Union in West Lafayette, Ind., reported on its Facebook page on Monday that its branch in West Lafayette was temporarily closed Monday.