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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Credit unions across the state began the work of cleaning up after Hurricane Jeanne last week. But for too many, cleaning up after Jeanne meant just clearing away the latest layer of rubble on top of the damage from the previous storms as credit unions and credit union staff joined their fellow Floridians in trying to clean up after the fourth major hurricane in six weeks. This latest week of what some credit union staffers had begun to call the Hurricane Two Step (preparation, clean-up, preparation, clean-up) began on an optimistic note for some credit unions in the Pensacola area as staffers with the Florida State Credit Union League showed up with generators, water, paper products, non-perishable food, charcoal, batteries, flashlights and other goods for the employees of damaged credit unions. League staffers Bill Berg and Amy Jowers along with FCUL Service Group employees Scott Morgan and William Ross made stops at 13 credit unions in the Pensacola area on their mission of mercy and they found the employees badly in need of help and some rattled by their experiences. The credit unions were suffering from the general chaos and lack of transportation and other basic elements of life. Most had some degree of the electricity back and were open in some capacity, but water and sewage services were still absent and many could only open in limited hours. Some credit union staff rode out the hurricane in their credit union buildings and saw first hand how the storm made toys out of dumpsters, road signs and flattened other buildings. The $19 million Gulf Coast FCU saw the storm demolish a new building in progress, a blow that cost the credit union roughly $250,000. “Credit union members, volunteers and staff have all been working together to help each other out,” said FCUL Communications Coordinator Amy Jowers. “In one instance, a credit union member heard about two of the employees having lost everything. She asked that $1,000 for each be transferred out of her account and into the employees’ account to assist them in their time of need.” Jowers said, “Even in the aftermath of Ivan, although devastating, we saw, first hand, the philosophy of “People Helping People” in action among our credit unions. It was absolutely amazing.” Even prior to Jeanne hitting, credit unions all over the state were focusing on the rebuilding and repair work that they needed to get done in the wake of hurricanes Ivan and Frances. Lyn Gills, marketing director for the $146 million First Choice Credit Union, headquartered in West Palm Beach, Florida, said her credit union had not really relaxed after Hurricane Frances. “After Frances of course we were worried about Ivan so we didn’t put our storm shutters too far away and didn’t put our disaster relief plan back on the shelf,” Gills said. “But after Frances we were ready to serve our members and we will do the same thing if Jeanne comes through.” “After four hurricanes in six weeks, credit unions begin to get the drill down,” said Mark Ivester, vice president of communications for the Florida Credit Union League. Dennis Driscoll, the vice president for card enhancements for Certegy, a card processor for about 2000 credit unions, has his offices at the company’s facility in the St. Petersburg area. “I don’t mind saying that we are tired,” Driscoll said. “Everybody down here is just ready for these things to be over.” Driscoll said that Certegy had what the company called `go teams’ which are teams of staff who, during crises like hurricanes, get on planes to make sure that Certegy’s operations continued in other parts of the country. The last five weeks in a row, he said, the `go-teams’ had to leave and to do so when they were not sure what they would find when they returned. Certegy’s building in St. Petersburg is at a very low-elevation, even for Florida, and that drove a lot of the company’s concerns. “When during one of the storms they were predicting a 14 foot storm surge,” he said, “that’s four feet into this building.” In the end Jeanne came ashore at Hutchinson Island, close to where Hurricane Frances same ashore just a few weeks before and some credit unions were finding it difficult to find their feet. As of close of business on September 27, a full day after the storm moved through, the League could not contact 19 of the 59 credit unions it tried to reach. Of the ones that it could contact, the situations varied from the $3.9 million Lake Worth City Employees FCU, headquartered in Lake Worth, which reported itself fully functioning, to the $6 million Rinker Materials Credit Union, headquartered in West Palm Beach that said it would reopen when its sponsor was able to repair its roof. The $1.2 billion Space Coast Credit Union reported that 10 of its 18 branches and call center were either definitely closed due to flooding and power outages or could not be reached. The branch at Port Orange has been flooded and the credit union didn’t know when it could open. The credit union’s Airport Branch had been closed due to significant damage and may not reopen at that location, the credit union said. By the close of business on September 28, the situation had improved somewhat but was still unsettled for many credit unions. On the upside, the League had either heard from directly or received assurances from the Florida Department of Financial Services that 60 of 65 credit unions across the state’s most heavily hurricane damaged areas had reopened in some capacity. However, that capacity still varied in some situations. The League quoted an employee of the $1 billion Fairwinds Credit Union, headquartered in Orlando, as saying that the credit union staff felt like they had been run over so many times they were starting to get used to it. Fairwinds has 15 of 18 branches operational. Fairwinds has also begun offering day care services for its staffers at its headquarters for their children who would otherwise be home due to school closings. The League’s Hurricane Relief Fund stood at more than $215,000 as of September 28, and the League reported getting requests for assistance from credit union employees and volunteers on an almost hourly basis. Disbursements from the Fund stood at $116,000. But perhaps the best news of all is that no hurricanes or tropical storms for at least a week are predicted for landfall anywhere on the U.S. coast, particularly Florida. -

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