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<p>CU Times Overseas Correspondent NEW SOUTH WALES, Australia – Staff of the Credit Union Services Corporation of Australia, Ltd. (CUSCAL) are among the volunteers who have joined the cadres of over 20,000 personnel and 60 aircraft involved in fighting about 100 fires that have ravaged New South Wales since Christmas Day. According to USA Today, the fires cover a 1,250-mile area, and officials said about half of the original fires were deliberately set. The fires are considered to be the worst in Australia in 30 years. Rob Nicholls, CEO of one of Australia’s largest credit unions, Endeavour/Advantage, and a member of the World Council of Credit Unions Board of Directors, said the smoke has drifted almost as far as New Zealand. The fires have been named the `Black Christmas Bushfires.’ CUSCAL spokesman Peter Hansen said league personnel who have volunteered their services have been given leave, as have those whose homes are in danger of being burned. At press time, Hansen said no credit union had sustained any damages. Hansen said CUSCAL will be making donations to relief efforts, and other credit unions are expected to follow suit, although none have yet announced formal programs of interest rate reductions. Nicholls pointed out that the hardest hit businesses will be the insurance companies. One woman – a credit union member with her papers, photos and packed suitcase ready in the event that she had to be evacuated – commented that the United States has given $25,000. Australia banks, reputed for their high profit margins and reduced services, have joined in relief efforts too. WESTPAC Bank, for example, is offering victims 4.25% loans if they need to rebuild their homes as part of the bank’s effort to help victims get back on their feet. The bank also promised to waive processing fees and to give a quick turnaround on loans. Commonwealth Bank and ANZ Bank are acting as depositories for donations. Weary firefighters got a bit of help from a heavy downpour over the January 5th weekend that dampened some of the worst blazes, however firefighters cautioned this is still high summer down under and high temperature and windy conditions were still in the forecast. At press time, there was still no end in sight to the raging fires. Eighty fires were reportedly still burning out of control. The devastated area is larger than greater London. Despite the large space affected only about 170 homes have been lost. Two hundred other buildings and miscellaneous cars and caravans have been reported destroyed. The monetary damage is estimated at US$ 35 million, the worst in Australia’s history. Similar fires in 1994 cost about US$28 million. The amount is expected to climb. U.S. credit unions interested in donating to the relief efforts should call +616209910279319 or +616262410280156. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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