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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – For the West Palm Beach-based staffers of Credit Union Times, last week started with apprehension and fear over the arrival of Hurricane Frances and ended in relief and inconvenience. With its main office located in South Florida, Credit Union Times was in the crosshairs of Hurricane Frances. In what was one of the slowest moving hurricanes in history, the apprehension built over about a week and continued even after the hurricane made landfall as it just about stalled over the South East coastline of Florida pounding away with at times 100-mile plus winds. All of Credit Union Times staffers in the West Palm Beach area rode out the storm at their homes or with friends or relatives and virtually all had the same thing to say about the storm – “I couldn’t imagine what a Category 3 or 4 is like.” They agreed that riding out a Category 3 or 4 storm would not be an option after experiencing the weaker Category 2. Fortunately, Credit Union Times’ staffers were unhurt by the storm, though most sustained damage to their homes or property. Frances produced at times frightening gusts that easily knocked down trees and signs. The unique aspect of this hurricane was that it lingered for hours. Unlike Hurricane Charley, which stormed through the state at 25-plus miles per hour just three weeks earlier, Frances was often moving at 4 miles per hour and local meteorologists suspect it was even slower when it made landfall. In the hardest hit areas like Vero Beach, located north of West Palm Beach, roofs were ripped off. Screened-in patios, which can be seen in just about every neighborhood in South Florida, were also hit hard with the aluminum frames bending and screens tearing under Frances’ strength. The intracoastal waterway was littered with adrift boats and beachfronts had significant erosion. By far the worst inconvenience from the storm was the lack of power. At press time, some 500,000 residents of Palm Beach County were still without power and most without phone service. With South Florida’s humidity and stifling heat, residents overheated quickly and refrigerated food spoiled fast. Ice was in big demand but not so readily available. In the days immediately following the storm, Palm Beach County officials placed a 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew on all residents and asked residents to stay off the roads unless necessary. Driving conditions were hazardous due to downed trees, dangling powerlines and flooded roadways. With most traffic signals not functioning, drivers were asked to obey the rules of a four-way stop at intersections -compliance with that rule seemed to vary greatly from driver to driver. Gasoline was at a premium. Most stations had gas, but could not pump due to lack of power. For those that were operating, it was often cash only. Ironically, there were other stations where it was credit card only. With most ATMs out of cash or without power, cash was scarce. The debit card became a powerful tool to get cash back at supermarkets and major retailers. One irony that did show some normalcy was good old cookouts. There were probably just as many barbecues on this Labor Day as there would have been on a normal Labor Day as residents hurried to barbecue their meats before they spoiled. From a production standpoint, Credit Union Times was certainly hindered. With no phone lines or Internet access from the office, it was difficult for the West Palm Beach editorial staff to track down stories. Fortunately, staff reporters located in other states and a team of correspondents throughout the country were able to shoulder the load. For a look at the effects the Hurricane had on credit unions see story on page 1. [email protected]


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