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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Credit unions in Florida have begun digging out and cleaning up in the wake of the state’s second major hurricane in under three weeks. On August 13 Hurricane Charley, a relatively compact category 4 storm, came ashore on Florida’s West Coast, hitting the communities of Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda and Fort Myers hard. Authorities have blamed Charley for at least 27 deaths in the state. By contrast Hurricane Frances, a much larger but weaker storm, came ashore on Florida’s East Coast, hitting some of the state’s most populous areas. However, also unlike Charley, Frances’ wide slow moving track killed fewer people and did relatively less property damage, a fact that one credit union CEO remarked was itself relative. “You know, people have been trying to one up each other on damage. Charley was worse than Frances, Port Lucie’s worse than Punta Gorda, and like that,” said Robert Delaney, CEO of the $108 million Gold Coast FCU, headquartered in West Palm Beach. “But the bottom line is whether or not you have power,” he said. “We have become very dependent on electricity and things down here degrade very quickly when you don’t have it.” Delaney spoke to a reporter from his office in West Palm Beach which remained without power on September 8, but which had air conditioning, computers and Internet access, thanks to a $100,000 generator that the credit union brought on site. “Best $100,000 we ever spent,” Delaney said, crediting the machine, which runs on diesel fuel, for helping keep the credit union serving its members in the wake of the storm. Gold Coast’s other branches had not fared quite as well and he acknowledged that, based on the most current available information, Gold Coast may be the most damaged credit union in the state. Delaney reported that four of Gold Coast’s five branches suffered significant water damage along with some structural damage, a fact he attributed to the CU having more branches in the most heavily damaged area than almost any other credit union. In addition to the damage that the main office took, the credit union reported that its Belle Glade branch had significant water damage, the Fort Pierce branch had both water and roof damage and that the roof had been removed from then Port St. Lucie branch and the building may have been destroyed. “I haven’t seen it myself but I have sent assessment teams,” Delaney said. “They tell me that parts of our roof are gone and that the ceiling tiles on the inside are sagging so much that you can’t open some doors,” he added. “In addition to the water damage.” Ironically, the one branch which did not suffer any damage is at the airport in Stuart, Florida where the actual eye of the storm came ashore. Delaney reported that the branch had been secured by authorities as part of the process of securing the airport. Delaney reported that the credit union would bring a modular building into the site until the building is repaired again and that it intended to keep a branch at that site which, he said, has been a very good site in the past. Gold Coast may be the credit union with the worst damage because, on the whole, credit unions around the state did not fare that badly from the storm. In other parts of Florida power appears to be the deciding factor behind when credit unions re-opened after the storm. Media reports have put the total number of people left powerless by the storms at 2.5 million at the worst point. Neither the $66 million Credit Union of Palm Beach County, headquartered in West Palm Beach and the $5.3 million Boca Raton Employees Credit Union, headquartered in Boca Raton, appeared to have phone service as of the start of business on September 7, but the $631 million IBM Southeast FCU reported that it was open for business in most of its branches. Some of the branches which are housed in IBM buildings that were shut down were naturally closed, reported marketing manager Alex Yarnell, and a branch in the Tampa area is closed to a power outage and possible flooding problem. Jill Davis, senior vice president of marketing for the $727 million MidFlorida FCU said all of its 15 branches spread across four mid-Florida counties were open for business on September 7 and that a few branches had opened to help members on Labor Day. As with Charley, NCUA moved quickly to try to offer some relief to the most severely impacted credit unions. Under its disaster relief policy NCUA will encourage credit unions to make loans with special terms and reduced documentation, the agency said. Credit unions in the effected areas which are facing routine examinations will have those examinations rescheduled and will be able to guarantee lines of credit through the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund. They will also be able to access loans though Central Liquidity Facility to meet their liquidity needs. The question of how much damage the storms might have done to credit union members remains weeks away from being tallied. Credit unions across the state have put different policies into place which they hope will help their members recover more quickly from the storms. Gold Coast has made loan programs available that offer money at reduced rates to help its members recover. The $1 billion Fairwinds FCU, headquartered in Orlando, has made money available and waived many of its customary payments for members who are in storm-impacted areas. -

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