Florida CUs Begin Hurricane Irma Recovery Process
Virtually all of the state’s 136 credit unions remained closed Monday after Hurricane Irma poured more than a foot of rain in several areas of South Florida, such as Palm Beach and Fort Pierce, whipped Naples and Marcos Island with winds of 130 to 142 mph, and knocked out power at more than 6.5 million Florida homes and businesses.
“The League of Southeastern Credit Unions’ disaster preparedness/response team has a conference call scheduled for tomorrow [Tuesday] morning,” LSCU President/CEO Patrick LaPine said. “After that, we will begin contacting Florida credit unions to check on their status and needs. Based on media reports, I assume we will have many credit unions and credit union employees impacted by Irma.”
Three credit unions in Key West, Monroe County Teachers Federal Credit Union, Keys Federal Credit Union and Southernmost Federal Credit Union, closed their shops last Wednesday and they could be closed for quite some time.
Hurricane Irma slammed into the Florida Keys on Sunday morning as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130 mph and surging seawater that flooded streets. Keys residents reported to local and national media that “everything was underwater.”
“Monroe County is closed for re-entry until further notice,” county officials posted on their Facebook site Sunday. “Residents who evacuated should not return until further notice.”
Key West is the government seat of Monroe County.
Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt ordered an Air Force Operations team Sunday to assess the condition of Key West International and Florida Keys Marathon airports. Once the airports are cleared, flights containing humanitarian supplies can begin to arrive in the Florida Keys, he said.
What’s more, major Florida airports in Miami, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa were closed Monday but expected to resume service Tuesday.
In addition to no power, the Florida Keys communities have no safe drinking water or sewer service, state officials reported.
On Monday, Irma was still moving through northern Florida, including Tallahassee and Jacksonville.
“About half the residents in Tallahassee are without power and roads are blocked due to downed trees,” LaPine said. “The League’s TLH office is closed today and tomorrow. Irma’s exact path through Alabama and its impact is still somewhat unclear at this point. The Birmingham office is open for business today. LSCU’s SVP Jared Ross and his family evacuated to his in-laws home in Birmingham, so we will have a member of our executive management team in BHM and out of harm’s way as a contingency.”
Suzanne W. Dusch, vice president of communications and marketing for CFE Federal Credit Union in St. Mary’s, said the management team has been able to maintain communications via texts and started assessing any storm damages Monday in counties where the curfews have been lifted. CFE operates 22 branches throughout central Florida that serve more than 152,000 members.
“Those [branch] managers, as long as they are able and it is perfectly safe, will go and look at those offices and determine which ones are operational and which ones we need to make some assessment on recovery,” Dusch said.
While some credit unions are expected to reopen for business on Tuesday, it may prove difficult for other credit unions to open branches, particularly in areas where roads have been blocked by downed trees and power lines. State officials have asked residents to stay off the streets to allow utility and service crews to work safely as they fix electrical lines and clear debris from the roads, which is expected to take weeks.
Despite the devastating aftermath left behind by a Category 5 Hurricane Irma on the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday, Frederiksted Federal Credit Union, which serves 3,000 members on the western side of St. Croix, and Christiansted Federal Credit Union, which serves 3,300 members on the eastern end of the island, re-opened their branches Friday, according to a prepared statement from CUSO CU*SOUTH.
Nearly a year ago, Frederiksted President/CEO Patrice Canton said the credit union converted from an in-house IT system to a cloud-based solution through the CUSO.
“This was a critical component of our disaster recovery planning, since we no longer had to worry about storing our members’ data in-house,” Canton said in a prepared statement. “We knew that it was being managed at a secure data center, and our members continued to have access to their accounts 24/7 via online banking and text. Internet service was up and down during the storm, but text service remained operational most of the time.”
On Monday, The National Credit Union Foundation activated the online disaster relief system CUAid.coop to raise money for credit union people affected by Hurricane Irma. Credit union supporters in every state can make donations at cuaid.coop.
As donations are posted through CUAid.coop for Hurricane Irma relief, the foundation will coordinate with the Southeastern Credit Union Foundation to distribute money to affected credit union employees and volunteers.