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JACKSON, Miss. – More than a week after Hurricane Katrina blew a history making hole into the lives of many Gulf Coast residents, the volunteers, staff and members of the roughly 75 credit unions most seriously impacted are struggling to put their personal and economic lives back together. It will not be an easy task. From Mobile Alabama to New Orleans, residents relate stories of storm surges reaching over 25 feet to wash away whole gulf coast neighborhoods and, sometimes, entire villages have disappeared from the map. Communications across the region range from being close to back to normal in Alabama and middle Mississippi to still being patchy or impossible in the most seriously impacted areas. CUNA Mutual says that although it is still early in the assessment process losses will stretch into the tens of millions of dollars. “We are still very early in the assessment phase, but we already know damages are far more substantial than we expected,” said Mike Retelle, a CUNA Mutual claims manager. “Our preliminary estimates are about half of these locations [in the four state impacted areas] sustained some type of damage, up to and including total destruction,” he said. Coastal credit unions and those in the New Orleans area are among the most heavily impacted.” Catastrophe adjusters in Madison and those in the field are concentrating on credit unions where contact has yet to be established. “We have sufficient staff in the area, but it becomes an issue of accessibility. It takes time, and there’s only so much that can be done in a day,” Retelle said. Communicating by cell phones and land telephones continues to be challenging, although some land lines are becoming operational. Many areas are still inaccessible due to flooding, particularly in New Orleans, and authorities are limiting access to heavily damaged areas. As of press time, New Orleans had finished repairing the damaged levees that had let the water in but had only just begun to pump the water out again. The city has begun to try to recover bodies and only roughly 30 of the city’s 50 credit unions have checked in with the Louisiana Credit Union League. The League itself has been shut out of its headquarters in Jefferson Parish and has set up operations in a member credit union (see related story page 4). In Mississippi, the Mississippi Credit Union Association has returned to its offices, though it has not yet reestablished e-mail service. Across the devastated area, credit unions began to do what they could to get their operations up and running again, even if “up and running” might look a good deal different than before Katrina. In Pascagoula, Mississippi, the $3.1 million Jackson County Employees FCU began disbursing cash out of the back of a pickup truck in the parking lot of its building. The building is still standing, but it simply cannot be used. “What people need to understand is that when you have these buildings with water in them for so long.well, you just can’t really use them anymore,” said Charles Elliott, CEO of the MCUA. Elliott drove a camper van donated by the $404 million Merrimack Valley FCU, headquartered in North Andover, Massachusetts into the most seriously impacted zone on September 6, giving out water, supplies, hugs and some cash which Elliott said the MCUA had received from Southeast Corporate and which Elliott said he had carried down in green plastic garbage bags. “That’s a pretty common site down there,” Elliott said. Elliott said he left the camper van at the Jackson County credit union where it was now providing a home to one of the credit union’s employees and her three small children. He said the Association had been able to contact 10 of the 12 credit unions in the damaged area and estimated that one of the ones remaining out of contact might not reopen until the school system that sponsors it reopens. One key assessment that still goes on in Mississippi and Louisiana is the number of employees which remain missing after the storm. The LCUL still has one employee that, as of press time, remained unaccounted for and Elliott reported that not all the employees from the Mississippi credit unions have yet reported their whereabouts. “As of now we have no reports of any losses among Mississippi credit union staff or volunteers,” Elliott said, “but there are credit union employees who have not checked in yet.” Help On The Way In the meantime, as the credit unions in Mississippi and Louisiana struggled to get back on their feet, they have faced a very generous reaction from other credit union leagues and other credit unions, along with CUSOs and venders. Computer service providers and card processors have donated money and waived fees and PSCU, the card services cooperative that serves over 500 credit unions that use the First Data platform, has arranged for its members to be able to donate 1% of their interchange income to a storm relief effort. “There is tremendous power in a cooperative organization not just for processing and operational efficiencies but also, in this case, for the funding of relief efforts. By joining together the modest contributions of hundreds of credit unions around the country, we will be able to make a sizeable contribution that will help thousands of hurricane victims obtain food, clothing, shelter and medical assistance,” said David J. Serlo, CEO of PSCU Financial Services. [email protected]

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