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PENSACOLA, Fla. – Credit unions from the Florida Panhandle across to Louisiana joined their communities in assessing the damage and digging out in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. The storm came ashore early on September 16 at Gulf Shores, Alabama, and quickly moved inland, spawning over a dozen tornadoes, mostly in Florida. So far, 23 deaths in the U.S have been blamed on the storm which many residents of the impacted areas have dubbed Ivan The Terrible. But while residents in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were all evacuated because of the storm, the residents and credit unions in the Pensacola, Florida area took the brunt of the damage, leaving residents of Mississippi and Alabama sighing with relief. “Overall it seems like we got through ok,” said former NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar, now the leading partner in the consulting firm of Dollar and Associates. Dollar lives in Virginia now but still keeps ties with family in Mississippi. With the news that everything in Mississippi was more or less ok, Dollar reflected on the challenges he faced as a Mississippi credit union manager. “Storms always presented a lot of challenges,” Dollar explained. “You often had employees who were themselves worried about their family and property just like everyone else was, but they in turn had to be like a rock for those members who were contacting the credit union for reassurance that you and their money were going to be there after the storm.” A little bit down the coast in Alabama the situation was mostly one of lighter than expected damage. Unlike credit unions a relatively few miles down the road in Pensacola, Florida, credit unions in coastal Alabama were largely spared the full brunt of Hurricane Ivan’s wrath. “To our relief, many of our credit unions in south Alabama were very fortunate and survived the storm with minimal to no damages. Given the fact that Ivan was almost a category four storm when it hit the Alabama coastline, we feel very lucky to not have dozens of credit unions suffering severe flooding and property damage,” said Gary B. Wolter, CEO of the Alabama Credit Union League. Most of the problems the credit unions have been experiencing have been related to lost power and difficulty moving around, the League reported. Some credit union staff suffered property damage, the League added It’s in Florida that the situation has been the worst. Credit Union Times was unable to contact any of the credit unions headquartered in Pensacola, Florida on Friday, September 17, two days after the storm. Several of the credit unions had recordings on their phones indicating that they remained closed because of Ivan, but most had either busy signals, indicating that they might be down, or the phones simply rang, indicating that the credit union did not have power. According to a survey of Pensacola-area credit unions, conducted by the $36 million Escambia County Employees Credit Union, headquartered in Pensacola, all Pensacola headquartered credit unions had at least one branch open, although several had some branches closed or still had ATMs down. The $23 billion Navy FCU may have lost one of its Pensacola branches to the storm as spokeswoman Loren Carson confirmed reports that the storm had left it heavily damaged. Carson confirmed that the branch, which Navy established in 1966, had lost its roof and one wall. The credit union’s other branch in the Pensacola area, farther from the naval facility, was not damaged in the storm and neither was the call center attached to it. “That building had been built with storms in mind,” Carson said. “And we had already begun looking for an alternative site for that (damaged) branch because we had outgrown it,” she added. The $224 million Gulf Winds Credit Union reported that it still had two branches closed, one for lack of power and one for water damage and lingering flooding. Pensacola credit unions reported that their biggest problems were not damage as much as the problems of flooded roads, downed bridges and general debris that impacted the whole region. For example, putting ATMs where credit union members could more easily access their needed cash became a challenge leading at least three credit unions to send portable ATMs and to waive their fees on those ATMs as well as on others in the Pensacola area. The $589 million Campus USA Credit Union, headquartered in Gainesville, Florida sent one along with the $2.8 billion Vystar Credit Union, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida and the $21 billion Navy FCU headquartered in Merrifield, Virginia. In Navy’s case the credit union sent six different types of mobile ATMs, and the Campus USA staff took care to situate their portable ATM close to what became known as Insurance Row, the part of Pensacola where most of the insurance companies placed their emergency teams. Navy also reported that its call center, which was relatively undamaged in the storm, still had to be cleaned up and needed generators, portable toilets and water to open. Meanwhile the effort to provide relief funding continued. The Florida Credit Union League’s Hurricane Relief Fund has accumulated over $207,732 in pledges and cash for use by credit union employees and volunteers who have suffered property losses in this year’s hurricanes. But the League has called for more, explaining that the $66,500 spent so far had gone to victims of Hurricanes Charley and Frances, with most of those to Charley victims. Requests for help were only now coming in from Frances’ victims, according to Mark Ivester, vice president of communications for the League. Damage from Ivan may wind up being greater than that from Charley and Frances combined, Ivester said. And the contributions have begun coming in. Navy FCU said it is donating an additional $10,000 to the Fund, and the New York Credit Union Foundation announced it was sending $5,000. “The Florida Credit Union League was a generous supporter in 2001 when New Yorkers were in need,” said Foundation Chairman James Mack. “Now it is time for New York to provide support to Floridians.” [email protected]

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